Pope Francis was famously approached by a non-believer and told him, “We must meet one another doing good.” That is to say, what matters most is not a professed belief, but instead it is about how we live our lives.
Those of a certain age and others who actually read their history book in high school know about Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. He delivered it to several hundred thousand Americans gathered on the National Mall before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in what became known as The March On Washington. What is less well known is that others spoke on that day, at that event, among them Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who spoke in his own way to the very same thing about which Pope Francis instructed us more recently. Rabbi Prinz said, “‘Neighbor’ is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”
Neighbor, he believed, is not restricted to the people who live next door, across the street or down the block. It is about how we treat those people, of course, and we typically treat them better than we treat others, simply because we know them and have some level of personal relationship with them. But Prinz told us that neighbor is a moral concept and not limited to those whom we know personally. We must meet one another doing good. It is about how we live our lives.
We live in an age when so many powerful people inveigh against connection, who use their power to separate us, to demonize those “others,” the ones we don’t know, and to take away their rights and even their tools for self-sufficiency. They tell us that wealth, health and even nutrition – everything – is a zero-sum game, where others advancing will somehow diminish you. Theirs is a dark and false religion that serves to frighten and divide us and ultimately to impoverish us. But life with others is not a zero-sum game.
What if Pope Francis and Rabbi Prinz are right? What if those “others” are our neighbors? What if we have a moral connection to them, perhaps a moral obligation in how we treat them? What if we were to meet one another doing good? It is about how we live our lives.
Christmas is just behind us and surely it was a day when the stories of long ago were repeated from pulpits all across the land. But what of the messages? Were they perhaps less about scriptural belief and more about how we live our lives? In fact, that is all we can control. And those stories told every year really are all about how we might live our lives throughout the entire journey. That is what matters.
We are faced with challenges that seem to be more vexing with each passing day and solving them becomes more difficult with each of us who gives up in frustration and no longer yells back at the television or the radio or the newspaper over injustice done to some of our neighbors. A sense of powerlessness grips us, as those in power continue to self-serve, all the while labeling their infidelity in manipulative, patriotic sounding terms. We’ve been made to feel afraid and no longer consider our extended neighbors, so we disconnect and hunker down and things get worse. Even so, what is important is how we live our lives.
It is about whether we pick up the trash in the park and put it in a waste can. None of us will get a merit badge for that, nor will someone come to pat us on the head and tell us how good we are. On the other hand, we will have changed ourselves for the better and even changed the world with such a simple act. Let that be a place holder for any act of doing good, doing what needs to be done and meeting one another there. It is about how we live our lives.
Each day presents us with another 24 hours to use – to live – as we choose. If Rabbi Prinz was right, that neighbor is a moral concept, and if we were to remain mindful of that, which of our choices might be different? If Pope Francis is right, that we must meet one another doing good, then our choices matter not only to the people we are and to the people we will become, but they matter enduringly to those we touch as well, including our children and their children.
We are, indeed, neighbors, and we must meet one another doing good. It is all about how we live our lives.
What if that applied to our politics? Things might be better.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same. Thanks. JA
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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