Loving God and neighbor

Practical strategies for reaching over the fence to the other

In my last column I talked a lot about the differences between ‘charity’ and ‘justice.’ I then outlined many of the issues without spending a whole lot of time on solutions. So where do we start? I'm glad you asked.

As I mentioned at the end of my last piece, we start on our knees. We cry out to the God of all justice and have faith that Yahweh is listening and responding. In all seriousness, that is the best thing we can possibly do.

Trusting that God has it all under control and is faithful to hear our pleas is hard to do, especially when we see so much that is wrong with the world. Thankfully, the Psalms give us permission to question what God is up to, while at the same time calling us to place our trust in Him. It is ok, possibly even vital to our faith journey, to live in that tension - between lament, question and hope.

Loving God and neighbor over the fence

But what comes after prayer? What can we tangibly do? Well I believe it has to start with the two great commandments of loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

What does that look like on a practical level? Here’s where I think we’ve complicated things.

It’s really not rocket science to figure out how to love our neighbours as ourselves. It doesn’t take a weekend of ‘strategic planning’ or eight years of social work school (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). It’s simply about taking the time to figure out who our neighbours actually are and then loving them in ways that will make sense to them.

That requires a willingness to ‘settle in’ to a neighbourhood and put down roots. We can’t even get to know our neighbours enough to love them if all we do is keep buying into the cultural lies that tell us to buy a ‘starter home,’ wait for it to grow in value, sell it, and move to a so-called ‘better neighbourhood’ and keep doing that every few years. That’s not the Jesus way.

I know the verse to 'love God and neighbor' (Luke 10:27) is kind of overused these days, but the truth is the Word did in fact become flesh and move into the neighborhood (John 1:14). That was Jesus’ model for us too. We are the presence of Christ where we live, today.

We all have a story to tell

In my work with The Salvation Army over the past 25 years on the streets of Toronto, I have met hundreds of beautiful people.

All of them created in the image of God. All of them with stories to tell. All of them having come from some community somewhere in a small town or city of Canada or another part of the world. All of them having slipped through the cracks of those communities, which without a doubt were full of churches.

Is it possible that those churches were all known for their differences as opposed to what they have in common? Is it possible that those churches didn’t actually know what it means to love their neighbours as themselves? I think the answer is yes.

As I’ve run out of space here, I’ll expand on these preliminary ideas in my next article as we continue to look for practical ways to ‘love our neighbors,’ and how we can affect positive and tangible change in our neighborhoods. And, how simple it can actually be.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Dion Oxford is the Mission Strategist for The Salvation Army's five homeless shelters in Toronto, called Housing and Homeless Supports torontohhs.org. Dion along with his wife, Erinn, and daughter, Cate, live in Toronto and are committed to journeying alongside people in the margins of society. He blogs at dionoxford.com