“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

Over the years, I have lived in the northeast, the midwest, the west and now the northwest. My family has lived primarily in rural America.

My children cannot remember having sidewalks, curbs or city gutters in front of our house.

Most of the years I have been married, I have lived in church owned parsonages that were adjacent to the church building.

My neighbors were normally very stable people.

They didn’t move very often and they were of very similar race, creed and social economic backgrounds.

I generally was liked by my neighbors; Sometimes we would converse over the property lines and even have a cool drink together after a hard day of doing outdoor chores. Sometimes our children would even play with each other.

These were good times.

There were other neighbors that were not at all like me and my family.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a high school education or employable job skills, so they didn’t have stable employment nor established home life.

Regrettably many of these people lived paycheck to paycheck and when sickness, car troubles, or layoffs happened they were in a real financial bind.

Sometimes they could recover with family and public assistance, but more times than not they fell on hard times: This is when they came to my home in very serious need.

They might need shelter, food, clothing, medicines, but more than these material things they needed to talk with someone.

They wanted a friend and I could only provide so much friendship.

I didn’t know their circumstances so I could only “feel” so much of their pain and honestly I only wanted to expend so much emotional energy.

Sometimes I was able to completely help them with their earthly needs. Other times, I could only partially assist them, and a few times my offers of assistance were too little and too late.

Little did I know that this was short-sighted thinking.

Who is our neighbor? As my family and I came to The Dalles a short fourteen years ago, I am still learning the many nuances of who my neighbor is.

A neighbor could be someone who has adjoining properties, but this would be way too simplistic.

For many young people, neighbors could be friends many hundreds or thousands of miles away.

They are able to get emotional support and advice for living.

Numerous surveys over the years have told us that we think we have more friends than we actually do.

The average adult in the USA only has two or three very close friends that will come their aid when a crisis happens.

How can we love our neighbor?

I would imagine that the first way is by meeting them and showing genuine kindness.

If a person is willing they could learn about their neighbor’s spouse, children, likes, dislikes and their occupation(s). One could also pray for the success for a neighbor.

One of the benefits of close neighbors has traditionally been a safer neighborhood.

As a city and community, what would the benefit of treating other people as our neighbors?

When we go to the grocery store, it wouldn’t take too much time to wish people a good day or help them load a grocery bag in a cart or the trunk of the car.

When we see another adult, child or a teen doing something that is nice for another person wouldn’t it be gracious to thank them for their kindness to another person?

Unfortunately common courtesies seem to have been forgotten in our hustle and bustle world.

We can certainly brighten a person’s day by saying, “Have a wonderful day,” or “God’s blessings to you.”

It would also make a cashier’s or a table server’s day a bit more upbeat by saying thank you for their service.

No doubt each of us can have very bad days, but on the whole if we are kind to one another we can have a more joyful community.

So, we can love our neighbor with gifts of money and actions, but let us also be mindful of kind and caring words. “Please,” “thank you” and “How may I help you?” are not worn out words that our grandmothers taught, but they can truly lift another person’s spirits.

May we all be bit kinder to our neighbors both near and far!’

John Westhafer was called to The Dalles in 2002 to serve as Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church. He has served congregations in Iowa and California. He has been married to Carol Westhafer for over 30 years and they have three grown children. The couple's interests include community service work, walking and coloring with crayons.

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