A Better Solution

for the week of February 25, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

A city councilman in Erie, Pennsylvania, has identified an important issue. He thinks something should be done about it. His proposed remedy won't work.

Jim Casey thinks relationships with one's neighbors is important. On his view, television, computers, and other devices that tend to close us in our houses or apartments have made neighborliness obsolete for many people. Security, civility, and quality of life would be enhanced if people got to know each other.

So Casey put an idea before the Erie City Council to study whether it should require all new homes in that city to be built with front porches. "We need to get out and meet our neighbors," he said. "If porches can help us get back to that good quality of living, then good." We could wish it were that simple!

Thinking that porches will create better communities is akin to thinking laws could cure racism. True enough, some laws needed to be passed. Those laws established a minimal standard of what would henceforth be regarded as acceptable. But they didn't make a single bigot open-minded and tolerant. Neither will front porches create community and neighborliness. It takes much more.

A verse in the Old Testament says this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). When Jesus referred to this text approvingly one day, a certain fellow in his audience became defensive. "And who is my neighbor?" he wanted to know. So Jesus told what just might be the best-known story in all literature. He told about a Samaritan who came to the aid of a Jew who had been beaten, robbed, and left to die. The same poor man had, by the way, been sidestepped by two people of his own ethnic and religious group (Luke 10:25-37).

The Gospels aren't anti-Semitic, and the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn't to put Jews in a bad light. Let it be White and Black, Catholic and Protestant, American and Iraqi, Agnostic and Christian, Straight and Homosexual, Hip-Hop and Classical the basic problem in human relations isn't a lack of front porches but a lack of mutual respect.

According to Jesus, the way to love your neighbor is to take a risk, extend a hand, and do something positive in the life of a person outside your customary circle of friends. In your neighborhood, workplace, or church, you know who and where "they" are. This week is your chance to approach just one.

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