Saturday, May 31, 2008


It's probably obvious that I am in full spring fever mode. We got a new couch for the front room that we never really used because the old couch was a) ugly, b) excruciatingly uncomfortable, and c) faced away from the window. So when it's rainy, which has been often, I sit on the new couch and look out at my front garden.

When it's sunny, I sit on our new bench on the porch, light some incense to keep the mosquitos away, and listen to the burbling of the fountain and enjoy the flowers and the birds flocking about splashing in the water while pretending that I am a large rock instead of a potential predator. Since I am the shape of a large rock, this is not that hard for the birds to believe.

Sometimes, I bring out the guitar and play a bit and maybe sing a few tunes. It's wonderfully relaxing, and occasionally passersby will stop by and make a request, like "Why don't you shut the hell up?" "How about some Eagles?" or "Do you know any Joni Mitchell?" --which is, of course, a silly question, but one that launches a bit of musical nostalgia.

I find it wonderfully relaxing and spiritually uplifting to enjoy my garden and the flowers and the breeze and the incense. Sometime I say Vespers out there.

But then there's my neighbor across the street. I was just blissing out, breathing in the mildly humid air, when out came the wife. She is a tiny little thing, very quiet, but she's always seemed to be nice enough. She did a bit of yard work, but then the garage door opened, and I started listening to her husband, who is an incredibly large, toadlike man with the foulest mouth for several miles. He immediately began to berate her quite profanely for not doing something he wanted done quickly enough. A few more f-bombs and I felt my stress levels rise, and I retreated into my house. I mean, Robert Frost would have loved this guy (Good fences make good neighbors, you know.)

Then I had a thought: "Love your neighbor as yourself." I find this person's behavior so mean and disturbing, that I feel like the lawyer did when Jesus expounded this commandment in Luke 10:25-37: I want to ask, "Who is my neighbor?" All the while I'm hoping, "Please don't let it be him, please don't let it be him, please don't let it be him..."

But of course, that is the entire point of the commandment. We aren't promised that we should only love those who are nice, or only those with whom we agree, or only those who love us too. We are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are anyone whom we can help. Our neighbors may be people who stress us out. Our neighbors may be people with whom we dispute frequently. But we still should love them as we love our own selves.

I certainly fail to meet this standard much of the time. This is a hard but precious teaching, but just imagine what would happen if we tried to live this. What if +Peter Akinola actually took this seriously and loved +Gene Robinson as his neighbor? What if Jack Iker loved +Katherine Jefferts Schori as his neighbor? Wow, what if Fred Phelps and his band of followers would love... I don't know, anyone else in America without screaming that homosexuality should be a capital crime and so on? And expanding beyond the religious sphere, what if George Bush really loved the poor?

Who is my neighbor? The person I feared it would be.


Katherine E. said...

So true!

(Thanks for visiting...Love the "Katharine Jefferts Schori is my co-pilot" line! )

J. Michael Povey said...

Hy my friend

Good blog, I am with you.

But remember that in the Frost poem, the Narrator (Frost?) is not in favour of fences. It's his neighbour/ friendly antagonist who pleads for them.


Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say '.Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."