Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat
Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Unitarian Universalists and Presbyterians are not, historically, natural friends. Universalism – the theological claim that all are redeemed by grace, and no one is condemned to eternal punishment by a loving God – arose in part as an opposing response to the strict doctrines of predestination and selective salvation that were the hallmarks of the Calvinism out of which Presbyterians evolved. But I have many wonderful colleagues and friends who are Presbyterian. And I am proud to stand firmly on the side of St. John’s Presbyterian Churchand Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services (PCHAS) as they continue to fight to open a housing development that will serve single mothers and their children.
Jesus knew a basic truth about human society. Wherever you have Empire, you have hierarchies of vulnerability in the population. Not everyone is afforded equal status, power, or even dignity. And while this is the usual way of Empire, this is emphatically not the way of God, as it is presented in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jesus repeatedly not only teaches that one must provide for the marginalized of society, he demonstrates it with his actions – healing the unclean, cavorting with women, welcoming children, offering compassion and care to stranger and enemy.
In our society, too, there are hierarchies of vulnerability. Not everyone in our culture is afforded equal status, power or even dignity in spite of all of our rhetoric of equality. These vulnerabilities are sorted out by virtue of gender, age, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status, religion and other markers of identity. When they combine, vulnerability increases. A poor woman is more vulnerable than one in the middle class. A poor, unmarried woman moreso. A poor, unmarried woman with children is even more vulnerable, and her children along with her. Life is precarious from that position, where one is stretched so thin as to be fraying financially, emotionally, physically, sometimes spiritually, and there are small beings dependent upon you for everything they need. These are precisely the people both Judaism and Christianity commands us to help.
Around the Meyerland neighborhood which is protesting the building of this facility, there are signs posted. Love Your Neighborhood, they say. Opponents of the project, which would help lift single mothers out of their struggle by providing shelter, training and resources, claim that the multi-family housing unit could adversely affect property values in the deed-restricted neighborhood. Despite the fact that this claim, a common one whenever multi-unit housing is proposed in a predominantly single-family housing neighborhood, isempirically untrue, it persists as their protest.
Love your neighborhood?
There is no neighborhood without neighbors. A neighborhood is not a collection of houses, boxes of potential cash to be jealously guarded, gated and made into fortresses. A neighborhood is a community of human lives and stories, of shared experiences and connection. A neighborhood is not private property, it is a commonwealth where people make a home, raise new generations, unwrap the gifts of a lifetime. Neighborhoods are vibrant, life-filled communities precisely because we do not choose our neighbors. Instead, they are places where we are called to practice the hard, messy work of being in community with those who are different from us; whose voices and stories and songs sound different from ours; whose food and pleasures and dreams taste different from ours. Neighborhoods are places where we all should know welcome and support. Not exile and isolation.
In the religiously liberal tradition, we understand that the Truth about the world, the Divine, human nature–it’s all continually unfolding. New discoveries bring new wisdom. New people bring new depth and insight. Any human being that crosses our path, be them sage or child, grandparent or stranger, powerful or dwelling humbly among the least of these–any human life and story can profoundly enrich and affect our own or the world’s. New neighbors bring new truth. We are all harbingers of transformation, all bearers of truth, all teachers of love.
The mitzvah is clear. We are not only to love the neighbor that looks and talks like us. Not only the neighbor that votes and worships like us. We are not to love only the neighbor whose car is as nice as ours, or whose family is put together like ours is. We are simply to Love our Neighbor.
To those who oppose the project, I would invite you to consider deeply what lies beneath your loud and resounding No. Can you recall a time when you were welcomed by strangers? When you were shunned by them? Consider that while being open and welcoming to the stranger and the poor can feel vulnerable,without vulnerability there is also no joy, and there can be no freedom. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost put it well in their book The Faith of Leap: “There is an exact equilibrium. The more security and guarantees we want against things, the less free we are. Tyrants are not to be feared today, but our own frantic need of security is. Freedom inevitably means insecurity and responsibility.”
To those in Meyerland who would welcome these women into their community: Don’t let the angry and overly loud voices of fear shout you down. Stand firm and resolved, arms wide open to receive the stranger. Raise your voices publicly in love and compassion, and know that you do not stand alone. And when your new neighbors do arrive, welcome them warmly and bring them a casserole. Bring one to the neighbor that opposed it, too – there is no neighborhood without neighbors, and God knows we people need one another
By Rev. Ellen Copper-David
Via Chron.com Blog