A reflection the readings for Proper 25A by the Rev. Karla J. Miller
Every morning, I walk my dogs through my neighborhood. After hooking up the leashes, my dogs bound out the front porch and take a left to leave our quiet dead end street. Before we get to the busy avenue, filled with rush hour traffic, they stop at the two family house on the corner, to bark, whoops, say hi to the shy pit-bull, Zena, who lives with the twenty-something couple renting the first floor apartment.
We then take a right on the busy avenue, and walk a block. Sometimes, the pit-bull that belong to the scrap collector across the street, are out in their yard, and we “bark” hello. This neighbor drives me crazy, because at least twice a year, he has a huge sign propped up against his tiny house, at least 8ft high, spray painted with the words,
“PiT bULl pUPpieS 4 sALE”. My heart breaks for this momma dog that is overbred, but there are no laws to prevent this treatment of her. And my neighbor, obviously living hand to mouth, is doing anything he can to put food on the table. If I were in his place, would I do differently?
It doesn’t matter. I probably would never be in his place.
As we continue down the block, we round the corner to Pleasant Street. A Near Eastern family rents the three family home on the corner. The grandfather, usually dressed in a dhoti, is very sweet and says hello, not to me, but to my dogs. If his tiny granddaughter is outside sitting on the stairs, she will squeal “doggeeeeees” and point at my canines. I smile and share my good mornings, and hopefully move on. Sometimes, more often than not, my little devil dog, Cooper, takes this moment to pee or poop on the sidewalk right in front of them. I embarrassedly apologize, and clean whatever I can. They just smile and nod at me. I am thankful for their graciousness.
We continue our jaunt. For a few blocks, we simply stop and sniff (well, I don’t) the bushes and lawn ornaments.
We rush by one of the houses because the father of the house has some anger management issues. He once threatened to “kill” my spouse when the dogs ran up on his lawn to greet his dog. It was a little scary. But, it’s the way my neighborhood rolls.
We continue, up one more block, past the Center for Tibetan Buddhist studies, where quite often run into a couple of monks, dressed in crimson robes. Many of my neighbors are from Tibet. I never have visited the center, in spite of my good intentions to do so.
After a brief playtime in the park, we head home. We pass Halo’s house. Halo is a 205 pound spotted Great Dane. His family lives hand to mouth, and I am working on finding a way to get their cat spayed so there are no more kittens coming out that home. The mom, who is a little rough around the corners, said she feels like I am her sister, and is appreciative of my endeavors. I tell her, well, it’s what neighbors do.
We round the next corner, and I wave to my Haitian grandfather friend, and we amble towards our street, and wave to the Italian elders sitting on their stoop.
That’s my neighborhood. It is rich and diverse, full of conflict and old stories of the past, crammed with immigrants and long timers. I know very few of them—with most of them I couldn’t even have a conversation, because we lack a common language.--in more ways than one.
So when I read the Gospel for today, lingering on the words, “Love Shall Your Neighbor as Yourself,” I wonder what that means in my neighborhood. How do I love my neighbors?
Indeed, I am friendly. That’s my general affect. I used to visit at length with one elderly neighbor, until he tried to come into my house, and later I found out he was an sex offender. How do I love him?
How do I love the family down the street, who is getting evicted because they haven’t paid property taxes for the last twenty years? How do I love the family who let their small poodle walk around the streets, despite my urging to keep her safe in the yard?
The dog was killed by a speeding car? Sigh.
Jesus knew what a crazy hard commandment this is. Loving your neighbor as yourself, when taken literally, as I am today, is a deep and difficult command. Some of my neighbors I just plain don’t like. Our diversity creates some conflict, and xenophobia not to mention those generation old grudges some of them carry against one another.
I have learned much, however, from my neighbors. And for me, I have learned that to love them is not to judge them (or at least I try not to) or reject them. To be helpful when I can, and not to carry my own grudges when they make choices that I think are, well, stupid. Indeed, I see Jesus in my neighbors, and when I remember to recognize him, oh, how much love fills my heart.
But seeing and remembering is the challenge. But one thing I know, if I can learn to love my neighbors, then I will know how to love the whole world.