Who is my neighbor?
October is Mercy Month at Redeemer, and this year our theme is “Who is My Neighbor?” While, of course, everyone around you is your neighbor, this month the Deacon Team is calling you to be intentional about knowing the neighbors whose lives look different than yours so that you can better understand their experiences and their needs. Redeemer has a great capacity to meet the needs of our neighbors — through talent, through time, and through treasure. Our members also have a great heart to meet the many types of needs around us. The deacons believe the place we as a body need to grow in order to bring these two pieces together is through building relationships.
I’d like to talk about what I’ve learned from my friend Christopher. You may know him; he’s a student at IUPUI and a budding entrepreneur; he’s a swimmer and a runner; he’s a traveler; he’s a funny, thoughtful guy who asks probing questions in Bible study and always has an affirming word to offer.
Christopher is also legally blind. In getting to know him, I had questions that I wasn’t sure how to ask, or if it was even appropriate to ask. So I did not ask them. But as we got to know one another, he afforded me opportunities to ask and learn. He’s allowed me to share these thoughts with you.
I learned that he would like me to identify myself by name when saying hello to him so that he can be sure to connect with me immediately and relate more quickly. So now I say, ‘Hey, Christopher, it’s Drew.’ He also appreciates when people verbally respond instead of nodding their heads, because he cannot see the body language. He’s asked friends to let him know who is in the room so he has extra awareness. These were small ways I could be aware of his reality, which was not my own, and change my behavior as a result. These were small ways I could understand his needs and be a neighbor to him.
Being friends with Christopher also helped me understand ways the world around us could be made more equitable to the reality of his experience. For example: Christopher uses public transportation, and when the new transit center was unveiled downtown, he struggled to understand its layout. In response, he created 3D models of the transit center to be shared with others. I did not know such a thing was necessary because I did not personally need it. That was a powerful moment of awareness for me: as the majority of the world can see, the environment is geared toward their needs by default, more-so than Christopher’s, whose needs are in the minority. It was through our friendship that I gained greater understanding, awareness and empathy.
I mentioned before that I did not know when to ask Christopher questions, or if I should. I learned later that it is also difficult for Christopher to know when to broach the subject of his blindness with people. He wants it to be known and cared for in relationships, but doesn’t want to be so boxed in by that part of his identity that it becomes all that he is known for. So relationship requires intentionality both ways, and, as Christopher eloquently told me, “We will need this person’s forbearance when we make mistakes, and their endurance when we are struggling to hear and struggling to ask.”
When Christ calls us to be a neighbor, he compels us to do so regardless of boundaries. One of the most well-known passages in the bible about being a neighbor is the parable of the good Samaritan, who stops to help a badly wounded Jewish man attacked by thieves. A key component of the story is one person serving another regardless of their significant differences. Now — the Samaritan could see the traveler’s needs, as the Jewish man was bleeding and unable to walk. So some needs around us are simple to perceive, their solutions simple to enact. Some needs are not, particularly when we are looking across cultural, physical, racial, and socio-economical differences, to name a few. How do we meet the needs that we struggle to see or understand? Through relationships. This is a challenge to all of us; to me; to Christopher; to you.
For me: I do not know what it is like to live without sight. Without hearing. Without the ability to walk. I do not know what it is like to drive while black. I will never have to give my son “the talk” of how to survive an encounter with the police, as I have learned that so many black parents do. I do not know what it is like to be a Syrian refugee, or a Burmese immigrant, newly arrived in America with no understanding of the language or customs. I do not know what it is like to parent a child with autism or with developmental disabilities. I do not know what it is like to live in generational poverty. How can I care for others both outside this church and within it without understanding their needs and their experiences? How can I share their joys and their sorrows? How can I help bear their burdens? How can I know the actions that need to be taken to make this world more equitable to their lives and experiences? It begins through relationships.
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells his listeners to go and do as the Samaritan has done. And so being a neighbor is an action, a doing, which means that relationship is not the end, but a beginning. It is a critical entry point to a larger understanding of the many nuanced needs around us, and it is an essential step toward us serving as a neighbor — to knowing what actions need to be taken to meet these needs.
So let’s you and I seek opportunities in the coming days to put ourselves in places we might not ordinarily go; to meet people we would not otherwise; to engage in conversations we might not normally have, so that we may build these relationships. Let us consider what behavior we might need to change, and what patterns we can alter as a result. Let us listen well in these times; and let us do so for the glory of Christ, who meets the needs of his people, and calls us to go and do likewise. May we look to Jesus in moments of uncertainty, seeing how he went before us to do this very work; how he moved across boundaries; how he felt our pain; how he’s met our needs time and again.
We’ll gather on the 29th in the Underground during the CT&T hour to talk more about the month in retrospect. I hope you’ll plan to join us then, and hopefully with a story to share.
Drew Myler, Deacon