This summer has broken me. There are times in our past that have those brown historical markers posted as we look back through our memories, a signpost indicating that something significant happened here. An ebenezer, a stone of remembrance. This summer will be one of those times for me.
This is the summer when scales fell off my eyes and God showed me some ugly truths that I had never seen before. This is the summer when ugliness reared its head in the form of articles and posts shared all over social media. Articles that degraded and dismissed whole segments of the population in one pompous, sarcastic paragraph. Memes that cruelly belittled black people, immigrants, or people receiving government assistance, as if the person posting said meme was better than all of these. Articles and memes that showed up on my social media feeds only because people I know and care about were the ones sharing them.
This is the summer when politics threatened relationships in a way I have never before experienced. When all that seemed rational was vilified and all that seemed ludicrous was celebrated until we were dizzy with disbelief over what was happening all around us. When the view that seemed right to us was labeled as arrogant and we were told that if things didn’t turn out right in November, it would be our fault.
This is the summer when I began to realize how rampant racism still is. When my eyes began to see that it is still very much a burden to be black in this so-called land of the free, and my heart began to long for diverse unity. This is the summer when I noticed, as if for the first time, that 99% of my friends look exactly like me. And this is the summer that I stopped being ok with that.
This is the summer when God enlarged my heart to love the kids I didn’t like. The ones coming to my church who were often dirty and loud and disruptive. The ones God cares about, even if I was counting the minutes until they would go back home so I could hear myself think again. The ones that, by the grace of God, I slowly realized had disrupted my heart as well as my class, and the ones my heart now breaks over.
This is the summer when God asked me over and over again, “Who is your neighbor?” This is the summer I learned that my neighbor is not just the person I enjoy being with, not just the person who is easy to love, not just the person who looks like me and thinks like me and lives inside my comfort zone. This is the summer God commanded me to look harder. To ignore what I’ve always assumed and confront what I’ve never thought about. This is the summer God taught me that to defend minorities, reach out to the poor, and love the marginalized doesn’t make me a Democrat. No, it makes me a Christian.
This is the summer when I realized that I can’t assume that everyone in my circle will see people with a different color of skin or who receive a check from the government or who speak heavily accented English or a different language altogether as their neighbor and treat them with love instead of contempt. And this is the summer when, although it has been so painful to see friends and acquaintances sharing their own ugly opinions or endorsing someone else’s, I am learning that people who disagree with me are my neighbor, too.
I said at the beginning of this post that this summer would forever be a marker for me. Actually, I can’t say that for sure. But I pray it is. I pray that as God keeps pressing on my heart in these areas, that I would begin to see new neighbors all around me. That I would reach out to them and learn from them. Hear their stories and help bear their burdens. As painful as this summer has been, I want to keep diving deeper into the lessons God has been teaching me. And I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a scary thought. I fear I will see more ugliness in my own assumptions and beliefs than I realized was hidden in me. I fear that my whole world will be changed. And at the same time, I pray it will be.
Who then is my neighbor? I think this is the summer I began to learn the answer to that question.