Who is My Neighbor?
— Michael Moore —
My wife Denise and I were in New Orleans for my birthday last year. We enjoy visiting the city any chance we get. The food, the music, the culture, the humanity… all of it is incredible and speaks to our souls. This visit was different though. We were walking down Pirate’s Alley near St Louis Basilica when we met a man who was asking for help. For years, I have had opportunities to walk with the poor and the disenfranchised. Sadly, most of the time, it is a quick conversation that ends with me giving some financial help or a meal to the individual. The first time that such an encounter touched my very soul was on the London Underground in the mid 1990’s.
It was crowded and people were rushing to and from the platform on their way to who knows what. My ex-wife and I were in London sightseeing and at the end of a long day were heading back to Bicester where we were living courtesy of the US Air Force. There was a young woman slumped against the wall with a battered paper coffee cup in front of her. She had a sign that simply asked for help. Despite the rush to get to our train, something inside of me made me stop in the midst of the crowd. I dug into my pocket and the only thing I had left was a Five Pound Note. I took the “fiver” and knelt down in front of her and touched her hand. For the first time, she looked up and looked into someone’s eyes. She was no longer “invisible” but had become visible as a child of God in the eyes of another. I gave her the “fiver” and also offered her a blessing. It wasn’t much, but you could tell it made a difference to her. And, obviously, twenty years later, it still resides deep within my soul.
So we fast-forward to New Orleans where Denise and I meet someone asking for money. Denise has always had a heart for the disenfranchised and she spent years in Mobile, Alabama working as an advocate for those experiencing homelessness and working for racial reconciliation in the interfaith community. Like so long ago in England, I did have some money in my pocket which I gave to him. We also took some time to get to know Winston. Winston is suffering from cancer. He showed us the port in his chest where he receives the chemotherapy medicine. He also shared a life that had its share of ups and downs. Like the young woman in the Underground, Winston wasn’t used to people actually stopping and seeing him as someone other than one of the “invisible” folks society passes by every day. Denise and I got to know Winston and at the end of our conversation, we prayed with him. Winston is on Denise’s prayer calendar and we continue to pray for Winston daily.
We also prayed for James who we met in Mobile while we were delivering Thanksgiving Meals to the homebound and unhoused for a friend. We spent some time in conversation with James and not only did he let us pray for him, he prayed for us. God was definitely in the midst of that homeless camp and reconciliation did occur.
It is in getting to know people who are different from us that we come to see God in our neighbor. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and I think the only way we can really do that is if we get to know them. These are not moochers or freeloaders or scammers as the folks on the political and religious right would lead you to believe. These are fellow travelers on this journey called life. They are our sisters and brothers. When we get to know each other by name, it goes a long way towards healing a world that is so fractured. Try it. Get to know your neighbor. You may be surprised. You may be blessed. We were!
Michael Moore is a retired Air Force Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel who is also a Presbyterian minister. Living in the Florida Panhandle with his wife Denise and their two dogs, Buddy and Pixie, he enjoys photography and writing. He blogs at https://scotsirishpadreblog.wordpress.com