The peculiar thing about living in a mass media culture is that we feel as if we know people we actually know nothing about, like Don, or Hillary, Barack, George Jr. and his good old dad, Ron, Bill, Beyonce, Oprah, Kim, Miley — the names are endless because so are the celebrities.
On the quasi-Christian front there’s Billy, Frank, James, Tim, Joel, John, Joyce, Beth, although we might want to plop Pastor (or Doctor) in front to designate the spiritual and material separation between them and us (except for the women! No woman should be a pastor, right? Jesus said that somewhere, this we know, although it’s difficult finding where He used the term pastor in the first place . . . )
We have friends, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, who vehemently defend the words, lives, and actions of their particular political idol, and in order to maintain a relationship with them (we’ve never had the two in the same room, and suspect this to be a very bad idea indeed), stay off hot topics, like current events, politics, education, food, religion, technology, science, medicine, patriotism, foreign policy, finance, and anything to do with human relationships. It’s wise to block their Facebook posts.
So enamored are they of the person they address by one name, first or last, that their loyalty to a face on the screen exceeds what they grant to a friend, or family member — these latter someone they know well enough to get genuinely irritated with, because at some point during the day, we’ll mess up and do something to offend. But their idol — whom they know only through what they’re told by Bill or Glenn or Arianna or Thom — is perfect, and when he or she isn’t, well, what are friends for but to understand and forgive one another?
Somehow, I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and in synthesizing the entire law and prophets into two statements, He simplified something that we insist upon keeping complicated.
We are to love one another.
Now before we jump to extending our feelings, emotions, loyalty, and sometimes money, to people we’ve never met and certainly wouldn’t be invited to eat (National Prayer) breakfast with, it might be good to look around us and see if there are any humans nearby whom we actually know: parents, children, and siblings come immediately to mind, and because they are so immediately at hand, we frequently discount their importance.
“Oh, I see them everyday,” we shrug. “It’s not like they’re important or anything; they’re just . . . family.”
Yes, they are just family, and if and when the wrenching day comes that they die and are no longer in our lives, nobody will be putting a flag at half-mast for them, because in the world’s eyes, they don’t really matter. But in our eyes, can we think of a single half-mast-flag-worthy personage who has left that depth of impact upon us? Media, religious, and political celebrities are names, personalities, flat, two-dimensional images whose essence is defined for us by newspapers, magazines, movies, talk-show commentary, videos, agents, speech writers, marketing managers, social media, and history books.
So why do we accord them so much of our love?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus told His disciples — His very close friends — in John 13:35. A few verses earlier, in 13:15, He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
He listened to them, He bore their shortcomings, He patiently taught, He loved them to the end (John 13:1). He knew them, because He spent time with them, and He addressed them by name.
These are actions we automatically take with the loved ones in our lives, because our commitment to each other transcends (or should transcend) our differences, foibles, failures, and flops. Only when we are given really bad advice — like parenting tips from “experts,” or relationship instructions dictated by gurus who misapply Bible verses or commonsense — do we close our hearts, push away, and reject, actions we find acceptable because, for many Christians who listen to two-dimensional religious, political, and media celebrities, this is how God works.
But Jesus showed us how God works: He loves us, and wants us to do the same.
What better way to learn what love looks and feels like, than to practice on the people immediately around us?
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