A month ago, news feeds and Facebook threads were alive with the news of Christian persecution in Iraq. Christians around the internet cried out for mercy in the wake of news of civilians being slaughtered, women and children raped, families forced to flee. Reports leaked of starvation and hunger; the UN reported that the country was on the verge of a mass humanitarian crisis.
But today there’s more being posted about nude celebrity photos than what’s going on in Iraq.
I was reminded of this when I saw the following video. It was surrounded by several posts regarding #celebgate and had garnered almost no attention. In fact, I think the only reason I saw it was because it’d just been posted just a moment previously by a friend of mine who’s particularly passionate about this topic.
It’d be easy for me to heap on the “you should be praying about this, thinking about this, obsessing over this” brand of guilt that is all-too common in Christian circles. It’d be easy to write a blog post with a catchy-title – even a controversial one – to make a compelling case for why we should all care more than we do, to subtly compel everyone to feel guilt about not being as moved as this man by the suffering of his neighbors.
But the reality is that emotion, human emotion, is produced by experience. Even Jesus did not experience emotion abstractly, but rather he experienced it in the context of grieving, in the moment when real pain, real life reached out and touched him. John 11 shows us a Jesus who viewed the tomb of his friend and wept over it. There. In a place where his friend was buried. In a place of grief, mourning and loss. He did not weep with a vague notion of the idea. He wept in the midst of an experience.
What American Christianity needs is not another dose of abstract guilt but experience with tangible, real love. What America needs is to scrape our knees and get our hands dirty with love. The problem is, we keep convincing ourselves that the only possible way to do this is by going somewhere else.
But what struck me in viewing this video was that this man is not a Christian. The man weeping in this film does not share the same faith, convictions or beliefs as his Christian neighbors, and yet he is weeping over them.
Now, the following may seem like a harsh statement, but I don’t think it’s unfair: how many American Christian leaders would find themselves weeping on national television over a similar plight of their Muslim neighbors? Put differently: how many members of the ‘moral majority’ would break down sobbing during an interview if there was a sudden forced deportation of peaceful, loving Muslims from our country?
Better yet: how many of us regularly weep over the ragged veteran sitting day after day at the corner of Main Street, the one with a hopeless expression and a cardboard sign? How many of us regularly break down sobbing on national news for the plight of 1,750,000 homeless people that live in our neighborhoods? How many of us weep over the fact that there’s nearly half a million orphans living in the US, that every year 20,000 children age out of foster care without being adopted? What about the rampant sex-trafficking that takes place in our own backyards?
Grief over the pain of the world doesn’t have to be abstract. In fact, it can’t be. And to believe that this is the case, to believe that the only problems to be fixed involve places over there ignores the reality of human depravity and the calling of the local church.
When I saw this video about Iraq, I was motivated to continue to pray for Iraq. But I realize that’s the most I can do regarding that situation: pray. And any guilt beyond that pushes me to the brink of apathy, depression, immobility, uselessness.
Which is a shame because there’s plenty more to be done. There’s more to Christian life, faith and hope than just praying for something over there. There’s more wrong with the world than something a miracle of God, a missionary, or perhaps government intervention can help.
And it happens every day.
Because when I wake up and walk out my front door, I pass my neighbor’s door.
There’s 613 laws in the Old Testament. When asked which of these, above all the others, is the greatest, Jesus answered:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’- Mark 12:30-31
Love God. Love others. And the “others” that we’re supposed to love isn’t an abstract. It isn’t over there, it’s right down the road.
The way to love and care for those over there is to start by loving and caring for those right here, where you are.
When Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor, he couldn’t have been more clear. He literally meant the people to whom you have immediate access.
The word Jesus used for ‘neighbor’ (πλησίον) means: near, adjacent or adjoining.
To further elucidate his point, he told the infamous parable of the good Samaritan, in which “your neighbor” is the person you literally have to step around and over to avoid loving.
There is no concern in the Bible for loving someone over there until you’ve first accomplished the task of loving the person near, adjacent or adjoining you.
Because Christ was human. He understood that human experience deals with just that: experience.
It deals with spheres of influence.
And our human sphere of influence is only so big. There’s only so much we can do.
And if we’re wondering to begin, there’s a video from an Iraqi non-Christian that gives us a beautiful example: love the people next door, weep for their hardship, pray for them. It doesn’t matter what their religion. It never has and never should.
If you want to love and care for people over there…we have to start by loving and caring for those who are right here.
Because as Jesus says:
There is no commandment greater than these.- Mark 12:31