Neighbors Near and Far
By: Andy Whitaker Smith
At the seminary I attend, one of the requirements of the Master of Divinity program is that at some point before graduation, a student must take an immersion trip. This trip is led by a faculty professor, and the class goes anywhere from a nearby Benedictine monastery to South Africa, which is where my wife and I went for our class last year. The goal of the class is to be a part of a context different than one’s own, and to see how ministry is being shared in that context. One of the many of the amazing experiences we had during our week there was the simple reality of being able to travel to the other side of the world. This reality has become more and more apparent in our present time, not only with travel but with online communication and networking groups created for the purpose of spreading community and connection. For many of us now, this is something we have been born into, and so it is just a natural part of our lives. In this embodiment of connection, we can be as connected to someone on another continent as we are with our next door neighbor; and as we become more accessible to different parts of the world, the world in which we live becomes that much smaller. We see that we live in a place in which having these relationships is part of the norm of society, and with that is a desire to continue strengthening those relationships so that we keep progressing toward a future in which we not only tolerate one another, but more importantly we accept one another.
At the same time, I wonder how often this causes us to look past those right in front of us. While we can contact people from other countries as easily as our neighbors, how well do we know our next door neighbors, if we know them at all? I remember as a child knowing everyone on my block and my grandparents’ block by name, and they knew me. My grandmother would take me to visit the elderly ladies who lived around her, and I would almost always spoil my lunch with all the candy and cookies they fed me. How often does that happen now in neighborhoods? There are many who argue that the increase of online communication is taking the place of our personal communication, and I believe it is worth paying attention to. But on the other hand, our neighbors today consist of more than just the houses we have lived next to all our lives. Our community extends beyond our town and beyond our country. The existence of one community affects the existence of another, for good or bad.
Near the end of the film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says in realization, “If I ever have to look for my heart’s desire again, I won’t have to look any further than my own back yard.” I disagree with that statement. While there are those who find their destiny in the place they have always lived, there are those who realize they must venture out into the world to discover where it is God is leading them. And there are those who have felt God’s call to leave home, but for whatever reason do not answer it, and spend many years in regret, sometimes for the rest of their lives. There is more of our world than we can see from just our backyard, and as we become more connected with each other, and become more aware that there are those who not only need acceptance, but need sustainment, recognition, healing, and justice, we become more aware that our responsibility to be part of these changes is part of God’s calling us for all our communities to be involved with one another.
As Superman once said: “I just wish you could all see the Earth the way that I see it. Because when you really look at it, it's just one world.”
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