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the instruction we got …

The instruction we got was crystal clear. The instruction was to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is our primary human task.

I fail at doing it fully, you fail at doing it fully – we all do. But the good news about that is that since we never complete the task, it can remain the central, in-progress project for our entire lives.

It can – and should – compel our focus for a lifetime.

To love our neighbors as ourselves can’t simply mean to regard them positively in our minds and hearts. After all, we don’t love ourselves that way.

We love ourselves by working to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves, to protect ourselves from harm, to give ourselves comforts and opportunity and liberty.

Loving our neighbors must be like that: it must be made manifest with what we do with our dollars, our time, our actions, and our compassion.

In a recent interview, Diana Butler Bass said the brave thing that needs to be said about this: everyone is our neighbor. Everyone, the victimizer and victimized, is our neighbor.

We are one body. If part of our collective is sick, deluded, abused, insane, the rest of us cannot escape the suffering that that part will cause us. To be well, to be safe, we’ve got to help everyone get well.

I believe that the charge to all of us is to keep asking, day after day: how can I live up more to this instruction to love my neighbor as myself?

How can I love my neighbor as myself in this situation?

How can I today do it a little more courageously, and with more challenge to my ego and my comfort?

And how do I do that with the neighbor that I might be tempted to hate, with the neighbor that I deem evil, the one who is against what I am for?

As clearly as it has been told to us, as clearly as it has been given, we have still strayed very, very far from this core instruction. But it waits for us, waiting for us to see its wisdom and understand its promise. And life will keep showing us the tragedy and waste that unfolds when we do not follow it.

May you hold this in your heart today: may I love my neighbor as myself. And everyone, everyone, is my neighbor.