Who Is My Neighbor?

So often when we think of our neighbor we think of someone like us…people whom we chose to buy a home near, people with whom we associate on a daily basis, our circle of friends and acquaintances.  The story of the “Good Samaritan” (http://www.craigkeener.com/tag/good-samaritan/) in Luke chapter 12 is one that focuses on a different kind of neighbor.  The Jews and Samaritans were not “neighborly” with one another.  They avoided each another and did not consider themselves friends or even acquaintances. Who do we avoid – and even go out of our way – to NOT get to know today?

A good assessment is to look at whom you would consider a neighbor.  Are you friends with someone outside of your faith tradition?  I do not just mean another version of Christianity but perhaps someone who is Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or Hindu? The answer is sometimes “yes,” but too often it is “no.”  Some of us likely have already formed opinions about people from other faith traditions that include our own filters of experience, media and long held beliefs formed by family or peers.

We are sometimes taught to fear other religions and to avoid them.  Yet what do we have in common with our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions?

Though we may not see Jesus in the same way, we do learn that people who hold a sincere faith are genuinely seeking truth.  All religions contain some concept of compassion and desire to help people and society.  Yes, there are extremists…Christians who have killed for their religion (remember the Crusades?) and all religions have people who twist the core beliefs.  We will all be familiar with the word “terrorists” which is now most commonly associated with Muslim extremists (a very small percent of all Muslims world-wide) though it could mean any person or group that inflicts “terror” upon people. Take a look at this thought-provoking clip from the “Poetry Slam 2017” on the words “terror” and “Islamophobia.”

If we want to be change agents we must start with ourselves.  We can only identify our misunderstandings through listening to our neighbor’s narratives and by building friendships with people of different faith traditions.  We need to openly explore the beliefs we have held and be willing to change them when confronted with truth.

Education is the key (a wise professor once told me “when we realize how much we do not know we are finally beginning to gain wisdom”), and that is a life-long process.  The Pluralism Project  or Interfaith Youth Core have great resources.  Yet nothing can impact us as much as long term friendships and even beginning conversations with diverse neighbors.

You can also learn more about Interreligious Dialogue and its importance in social work at this year’s NACSW conference. I would love to see you at my workshop. By engaging in interreligious dialogue you will positively impact your social work practice and your personal life, leading to the betterment of society.

Julia Pizzuto-Pomaco, PhD. teaches Interreligious Dialogue at a public university in NJ, has a BSW and MSW, and is the pastor of “Grace Community,”  which is a church “without walls.” Julia has been a member of NACSW since 2004.

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