The Neighborhood Liturgies


Love Your Neighbor

I’ve heard it said recently that “the politics of Jesus are: love your neighbor as yourself.” It got me thinking. I was taught that the great commandment was about being nice. I mean no one wants anyone else to be mean to them. Be good to your neighbors, be good to people. Tip extra, lend a helping hand, add an extra buck when you check out at Walgreen’s for hurricane relief (I did this today, actually).

All good things, don’t get me wrong, but I think in my world, straight/white/cis/middle-ish class America, that’s as far as it goes. It gets turned into something along the lines of “like your neighbor and like yourself.” We don’t move beyond our personal bias or paradigm, rather we project them on the circumstances of others. For instance, if you believe that poverty is usually the result of poor personal choices, your “love” might look like giving them some budgeting advice and some Dave Ramsey YouTube links, while totally ignoring the socio-economic forces that actually put them in that position to begin with. Or it’s like a church group parachuting into a rough part of town for a day, picking up trash and handing out boxes of food, and then leaving until next year’s “outreach day” comes back around. Love’s got to go deeper.

“Love your neighbor” was first spoken to a small band of nomads in the desert. Jesus later re-emphasized it to a small nation under the boot of oppressive occupation. In this context, “love your neighbor as yourself” comes across as a call for solidarity. It’s “love your neighbor as yourself, because your neighbor is yourself.” It’s an urge for unity, pointing out our oneness. We’re all in this together, and we’re only going to get through this together. We need each other.

This kind of love goes beyond just doing nice things for other people. It’s lashing yourself to another’s thriving. It’s taking time to understand why this certain neighborhood in your town is the way it is, listening, and then acting in whatever way you can to lift it up. Being willing to take a back seat and center another’s point of view. Trusting and acting on what another says, even if it runs incongruent with your paradigm, and most importantly doing this in your own backyard, with the people whose lives border yours. Then keep expanding who your neighbor is.

John taught us that Jesus exemplified this by going all the way to a wrongful execution to demonstrate solidarity with humankind, to love his neighbors. He taught us that the way we live this out is the only measure by which we can lay claim to the moniker “Jesus follower.” I’m speaking from my tradition and the way we see the world, but this is a universal truth that all faiths (and non-faiths, I see you, humanists) have uncovered. As we love, deep love, the other, the pain, suffering, and injustice that burdens the world around us begins to lift, and all are raised up.


Peace and tenacity,

Phil Britton

(originally posted on

Charles PorterComment