February 13, 2015
Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.
It seems straightforward enough, the injunction to “Love thy neighbor.” As is true of all oft-repeated phrases, we hear and speak it without pausing to think about what it actually means or entails. It sounds good, so it must be right, must be something we can all agree to, can all agree to do, and to teach our children.
Loving my neighbor is doable enough when it looks like being gracious with my colleagues, patient with my students, and forgiving of the sins others commit in traffic. But all of that’s the easy stuff, the “givens.” Not being an asshole takes effort, to be sure, on some days more than others, and for some of us so than others, regardless of the day. But not being an asshole is kind of the baseline for living inside of society and relationship; “love thy neighbor” in its fullest expression asks us to go past the bare minimum of human decency. Way past.
I am in the midst of teaching Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” surely one of the most impeccably crafted pieces of writing in American history. (If you’ve never read it, you should. Find the full text here.) For King, loving his neighbor meant affirming the humanity of those who refused to acknowledge the humanity in him. All men created equal meant equal on all sides, meant not falling into the trap of those who opposed him and resisting the temptation to demonize or lash out while still—and this is important—doing his utmost to highlight and bring an end to the injustice all around him which was, of course, put into place and perpetuated by his neighbors.
This week has been full of news stories that make it really, really hard for me to think about this loving-thy-neighbor business. I want to indulge in the feeling of hatred instead, or at the very least, a sense of superiority and self-righteousness. I want to draw dividing lines, “us” and “them.” But even if and even when those feelings are justified, I know they are not productive. They do not provide a way forward. They are not going to help me or anyone else grow. They are not what I want to model for my son.
I’m still, and probably always will be, working out what it means to love my neighbor while also being mad as hell about things that matter. What it looks like to be heartbroken by the actions of some of my human neighbors and at the same time remind myself that their lives have as much inherent value as mine. That they are just as human as me, as my loved ones, as my child. I know this to be true even if I don’t always believe it.
HAZELNUT LINZER COOKIES
These beauties were made using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen; I haven’t reproduced it here because a) there’s no way I could get the wording/instructions any better than Deb, and b) the only adaptation I made was to use jam (some strawberry, some apricot) to sandwich the cookies instead of chocolate-hazelnut spread, since I am apparently the only person on the planet who does not care for Nutella.
Love, of whatever shape, nature, or structure, is probably the best thing we humans have going. It’s this unaccountable miracle, and I, for one, welcome the chance to celebrate it. As silly of a holiday as Valentine’s Day has become in the mainstream, I am happy to use the day as a chance to take stock of all the things love has given me, the ways it continues to expand my human capacities, and how grateful I am for the gift of its presence in my daily life.
Shmoopy as it sounds, this weekend I hope that you feel present to the love in your own life, no matter what you are or aren’t celebrating.