Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
On the second day of Eid (in some places, the observance lasts three days), Arshia, Nabiha and Deborah came to the Pilgrim Church office. They waited patiently as I concluded a lengthy telephone call. When I was able to meet them, they thanked Pilgrim Church for the public display of the large sign reading “To our Muslim neighbors: Blessed Ramadan” throughout the holy month. It was especially meaningful this year, they told me, because of the heightened anti-Islamic attitudes following the Orlando massacre, and the tone of some throughout the presidential primary season. “This has been a particularly difficult Ramadan this year,” one of the women said.
I mentioned the donuts that had come the previous day (see the post “Ramadan Donuts for Eid”), which they knew nothing about, but did recognize the name of the person who had left them. It made them smile. They were deeply moved to know that we would use a “Ramadan donut” for our communion bread.
In return, I was touched when a young girl handed me a greeting card that read, “So nice of you” on the front, and inside, “You couldn’t be more thoughtful, and I couldn’t be more thankful.” Surrounding those words, all over the interior of the card, were signatures, and notes of gratitude, from many Muslim community members in Duluth. It was my turn to be deeply moved, that such a simple gesture of solidarity and respect should carry such power, and that these neighbors most of us scarcely know should take time to pass a card around, to visit, to bring donuts, to reciprocate with simple, powerful acts of their own.
On Sunday, July 10, Rev. Paul VanAntwerp reminded us that the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells of a small but powerful act of compassion by one who is considered “the enemy,” in response to the question, “Exactly who is my neighbor whom I am to love?” In the face of violence and hatred in recent days that sets our minds reeling and sickens our hearts, it is vital that we ground ourselves in recognizing acts of grace and compassion wherever they occur. And they do occur, all the time. But we must remember to look for them, and to savor them.
Thus grounded, we can be about DOING acts of grace and compassion. “We can do no great things,” Mother Teresa of Calcutta said; “Only small things — with great love.” Small deeds may not themselves overturn whole systems, and yet, nothing is more subversive than actions motivated by love. Thus it is after each of the recent public tragedies — Orlando, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge (and these are just the events to make the biggest headlines) — we hear the words and see the signs, “Love is stronger than hate.” We hear stories of ACTIONS taken to love the neighbor who has been, if not enemy, at least stranger.
There is much healing to happen, much work to be done to dismantle corrupt systems and confront peacefully the powers of hatred, fear, and institutionalized injustice. Such work can only be sustained by recognizing where grace is already at work, and joining in the small acts as well as the big ones. It begins with donuts, thank-you cards, and conversations that turn strangers into neighbors.