The Colonnade: Who is my Neighbor?
(Dr. Seiple with Morocco’s Sheik Kabbaj)
Nouakchott, 8 December 2014—I touched down at Charles De Gaulle Airport to this Caritas in Veritate tweet from Rob Joustra: “Globalization makes us neighbours, but it does not make us brothers.”
Yesterday was a sad and strange day. Our traffickless neighborhood witnessed several police cars, ambulances and even a firetruck come to the house next door, just 75 feet from our driveway. Soon we got a call from another neighbor on the street: our neighbor next door, Mark, had died.
When we moved to the neighborhood in August, Mark was putting his house up for sale. It sold quickly, and I actually thought he had moved…until I knocked on the door, doing the due diligence of a good neighbor, seeking permission from him to put up a basketball hoop on our driveway.
We chatted for a while, he signed the home owner association paperwork and that was that: a random meeting of neighbors demanded by covenanting neighbors—the home owners’ association—between a guy who had just moved in and a guy who was about to leave. And now one is dead.
Mark’s family began to arrive. By the time I had to run to the grocery store for baby formula that evening you could see people moving inside, stunned silhouettes.
As I got into our car I could feel the suffering as it seeped through the walls and across the 75 feet to our driveway. I couldn’t help but ask myself this question: “You are about to travel across oceans and continents to meet with global neighbors, but what kind of neighbor have you been here?”
And I couldn’t help but ponder the twofold irony: 1) I have tried to love my global neighbor, but I couldn’t find the time to love my local neighbor; and, 2) My faith commands me to love my neighbor, but the only reason I had any interaction at all with Mark was because of a document I had signed to move into the neighborhood…itself a distant legal echo of my faith tradition.
My wife and I talked things over. We decided to drop a note in Mark’s mailbox on the way to church (again, more irony), writing to a family whose names we did not even know, offering to help any way we could. Within hours we got a phone call of appreciation…and perhaps the start of a new neighborliness.
I arrived in Mauritania a few hours ago. Mauritania was always my mom’s favorite country. When dad was with World Vision, she led a couple of women’s delegations here. What she cherished most were the long rooftop conversations over tea between the women of her delegation and the women of Mauritania. She also loved to get the Henna done to her hands with her American and Mauritanian friends. Such memories also prodded me about what it means to be a neighbor…although I probably won’t do the Henna.
And despite the attempt of the 2.5 hour visa wait to destroy my feelings of renewed neighborliness, that wait was actually quite pleasant as I met a fellow American in the mining industry. It was a surprising conversation, confirming some of the exchanges I had a month ago in Dubai at the World Economic Forum’s Summit regarding the Global Agenda Councils.
My council on the role of faith was approached by the council on mining—two councils I would never have put in the same sentence—to begin a more intentional conversation. It turns out, as was confirmed in my visa line conversation, there is a desire among elements of the mining community to work better with the local context, especially the faith communities. Clearly there is some self-interest involved—on both sides—but just as clearly, it is an effort at good neighborliness that could serve everyone.
While waiting, I also met a Finnish colleague who is attending the same workshop as I am. It turns out that she wrote her undergraduate thesis on the “Track 1.5” approach, and she had recently met Christy Vines, IGE’s Center for Women, Faith & Leadership (CWFL) Director, at a conference in San Diego. She agreed that now is the time for efforts like CWFL to do research and make recommendations regarding the role of women at the intersection of religion and security, positively and negatively. We are all neighbors—brothers and sisters—with local concerns about such global phenomena as terrorism.
I am in Mauritania to meet with my Salafi neighbors from across the Sahel, North Africa, and the Middle East. It is perhaps strange how this Christian neighbor became involved in such an effort, but it began in June of 2012 in Tunis. At this meeting, I suggested that evangelicals from America meet with Salafis from the Middle East to discuss what their holy scriptures say about loving one’s neighbor. A friend from the Swiss government liked this idea, and we had such a meeting in September of 2012 (meeting again in Tunis the day after Ambassador Stevens was murdered in Benghazi), and then again in Istanbul in March of 2013. I missed last month’s meeting in Istanbul, but was able to make this one.
The organizing principle of these meetings is very simple: how can religiously-inspired actors be encouraged to participate in the political process of a country?
It’s a simple principle but a difficult undertaking. On the one hand, there are those in the Salafi ranks who use religion to validate violence, which, in turn, invites violence from governments across the region and the world. On the other hand, there are those non-violent Salafis who understand just how much violent Salafis defame Islam…but these non-violent Salafis don’t trust the democratic process—as many understand the sovereignty of the people (democracy) to be in direct conflict with the sovereignty of God.
These kinds of conversations about how to live with our deepest theological and political differences is the must-have conversation of our times. But it takes time: time to be in relationship with one another, time to begin thinking of each other as neighbors.
Please feel free to pray for me these next couple of days. Such meetings are always intense.
I have had many people tell me that what I do is complicated. My response is always the same: it’s no more complicated than loving your family, or your neighbors. Which, per the above, I’m not very good at.
But we’ve got to try, we’ve got to take the (repeated) first step of seeking to understand who are neighbors really are—in their own context, in their own identity—a process that demands time, and listening.
Put another way, if we don’t love our neighbor in a logic and language that s/he understands, then it isn’t love. Which means we must make and take the time to learn the language and logic of love…if we are to be good neighbors.
So take the time to meet the neighbor next door…even as you also take the time to understand your global neighbor. We’ll all be better for it.