Originally posted on July 28, 2020.
Early last week, as I was coming out of a grocery store in Columbia, I heard a familiar voice call, “Hey, Janet!” It was James Gray, pastor, friend, and community advocate. As James does, he quickly began to share what is topmost on his mind these days, the pain—physical and emotional—that so many in our community are experiencing on a daily basis, often with little hope that the clouds will lighten or that a ray of sunshine will come forth.
Talking to Pastor Gray reminded me of several meetings I had last year with him and with Shaunda Hamilton. Shaunda transformed her pain after the tragic death of her daughter in September 2019, into community action, with the creation of Boone County Community Against Violence. Both Shaunda and Pastor Gray have recognized, on so many levels, the impact of violence on individuals, families, and the community at large. And Pastor Gray has spoken not merely of the violence but also on the lack of connection between people as being at the core of the problem.
That day in front of the grocery store, Pastor Gray told me that he was planning a meeting on July 24th at the Armory parking lot and that people would be gathering to talk of hope and inspiration. He saw this as one way of urging the clouds to clear and a ray of sunshine to emerge. I joined a small group of people that evening both searching for and trying to provide the hope and inspiration that Pastor Gray sought for in the community. Among the speakers he had called together were Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, Shelter Insurance President Matt Moore, Columbia Police Lieutenant Mike Hestir, and MU Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Cuonzo Martin.
My words echoed those of many of the other speakers. I told those present that the gathering recalled for me something my brother Ian, now a hospital administrator in San Antonio, had recently quoted to the people of Bexar County: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Those first two commandments are pretty straight forward, right? You’d think so, but, as Ian’s comments suggested, it’s in the implementation, particularly as to that pesky second commandment, that we sometimes get wrapped around the axle. Who is “thy neighbor” and what does it mean to “love” in the context of these times in which we live, of violence and pandemic.
As the speakers last Friday night so eloquently told those gathered, “thy neighbor” isn’t just the person next door. It isn’t just the person who looks like me, talks like I do, wears the same kind of clothes, eats the same kind of food, believes the same things, speaks the same language, or grew up with the same shared experiences. “Thy neighbor” means everyone.
Just as important, to “love” isn’t some esoteric emotion. As Coach Martin and Matt Moore told us, that “love” is believing in another person, telling that person that he or she can meet goals and reach for the stars, making sure that a young person has a square meal, and the resources and tools to attain those goals. And, as my brother Ian told the people of Bexar County, right now, to “love” your neighbor also means wearing a mask. It’s one of those visible signs that you value other people, that you care about and for them.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, I suspect that one of your core values is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The challenge for each of us, in Boone County and beyond, is to discern who is our “neighbor” and how we can live up to our responsibility to “love” our neighbor as ourselves. If each day we try to make one more decision based on that rule, maybe, just maybe, the pain that Shaunda has felt and the pain that Pastor Gray witnesses day after day will diminish.