Neighboring – Defining Our Neighbor
Guest post by Amber Hacker
This weekend, May 27th and 28th, is Neighboring: A Love Works Weekend. It is a weekend dedicated to going out into the community and serving at organizations all over Chicago. As one of the members of the planning team for Love Works Weekend, I’ve been excited about this upcoming weekend for months. This Sunday, I plan to serve at Cornerstone Community Outreach, which is an organization that offers shelter and services to homeless and low-income families. I first started serving at Cornerstone a number of years ago with some of my colleagues at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). IFYC is an organization working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions can bridge differences and finds common values to build a shared life together.
That’s right, I’m a Christian that works at an interfaith organization. When I tell some of my Christian brothers and sisters what I do for a living, I receive a range of reactions: furrowed brows, polite head nods, enthusiastic reactions, and challenging, critical statements about my chosen career path. One of the first things I do when I describe my work is to define what I mean when I say “interfaith” – which, frankly, can be a scary word since there are many common misconceptions about what it means. At IFYC, we define interfaith as “respect for people’s diverse religious and nonreligious identities, mutually inspiring relationships between folks of different backgrounds, and common action for the common good.”
Meaning, you don’t have to water down your identity to come to the table of interfaith cooperation.
Whether you’re an evangelical, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or an atheist, you don’t have to compromise what you believe (or what you don’t believe) to engage in interfaith work. We may not agree on who gets into heaven, or if heaven exists at all. We may be divided across political lines. But we can all agree that hunger is a problem in our community and we should tackle it together because when we start from a place of shared values and combine our social capital, we are better together.
Let me be clear — I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. I have been wrecked with a transforming relationship with Jesus. I don’t have to compromise my deeply held belief that Jesus is the Son of God to engage in this work. I am an interfaith leader – not despite the fact that I’m a Christian, but because I am a Christian. I also believe the Christian community has a biblical calling to engage in social justice and interfaith work, especially when that work is alongside folks of different traditions.
For me, that calling comes from one of the most familiar and beloved parables of Jesus: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable in response to an expert in the law who wants to know how Jesus defines the “neighbor” you are called to love as you love yourself. The story is an example of two religious groups – Jews and Samaritans — that had deep animosity towards one another. The Samaritan, who was someone from the oppressed group in that time period, showed compassion and mercy to the Jewish man who was robbed and left for dead. What Jesus is saying here is pretty radical. He is emphasizing that your neighbor is a broad definition – and the importance of caring for your neighbor, especially when that person is from a different background and tradition.
There are four Greek words for love in the Bible – the specific word for love used here is “agape” which means an unconditional, full and complete love. Agape love is the love that God has for his people – a God that loved us, every single one of us, so much so that he sent his only son to die for our sins. So who is our neighbor that we are called to love in this agape way? The atheist that I disagree with on whether God exists? That’s my neighbor. The Christian that shares my faith but doesn’t share my political perspective? That’s my neighbor.
While I have deep differences with these folks – these neighbors – they are the individuals I encounter when I serve at places like Cornerstone Community Outreach. Folks that may not share my faith or political perspective, but share my belief that all lives have equal value and deserve access to basic necessities. That’s not to discount the importance of fellowship with my fellow Christians. I love opportunities to serve alongside my Christian brothers and sisters, and I’m looking forward to doing that this weekend. But my hope is that while we’re neighboring at Love Works Weekend, we might have the opportunity to encounter other folks who may not share some of our most deeply held beliefs. And perhaps we might see that as an opportunity to engage and build a relationship with our new neighbor.
Amber Hacker and her husband Jason live in Chicago’s Ravenswood with their four-year-old son. Amber is the Vice-President of Operations & Communications at Interfaith Youth Core, where she’s worked for over ten years. She loves making pizza, hiking, productivity tips, watching vampire related shows, and listening to the sound of her son’s laugh.