Archive for October, 2016

Who is our Neighbor?

October 28, 2016

I am a bit of a religious geek. I enjoy studying religion and reading a wide variety religious texts in diverse traditions. Thus, I recently found myself reading some of the writings of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine quotes as passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans where Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Obviously, St. Paul is referring to the Jesus teaching to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

good_samaritan_wattsThe question that follows naturally is, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus is asked just this question in the Gospel of Luke. He responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a very compelling exchange between Jesus and the questioner, because ostensibly the questioner is asking about how he can “inherit eternal life.” The answer Jesus evokes from the questioner is, “Love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, for Jews living in Jerusalem at that time, there were a lot of purity rules. There were people who fell outside the Law and thus were not considered one’s neighbor. So the questioner asks, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus launches into the parable of the the Good Samaritan.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

Now if you are like me, and went to Sunday School and attended a lot of Church, you know that the parable of the Good Samaritan is often taught in a very moralistic way, which is unfortunate. It misses the heart of what Jesus is teaching us. It is not a moral to be learned, but instead a profound insight into a spiritually rich life of love.

At the end of the parable, Jesus ask the questioner, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The questioner responds, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus then instructs the man to, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus does not identify any particular group as neighbors. He does not give a long list of who is a neighbor and who is not. Rather, he points out that if one has compassion—Mercy—in one’s heart, then everyone is potentially one’s neighbor. Our neighbors are determined not by outside circumstance but by the love in our hearts. Love is how we, to use the biblical phrase, “inherit eternal live.” Without love for others, we are spiritually dead.

Love of neighbor is the forge in which the love of God is honed. Any hate or dislike in our heart limits our ability to love God. Hate makes it impossible to love God with “all of heart..and all of our mind.” It divides the heart against itself. Our flesh and blood neighbors show us the fullness—or lack thereof—of our love. If we cannot love our neighbor or, alternatively, be neighborly towards all, then our love of God cannot be “full hearted.”

Jesus is reminding us that the spiritual life is a matter of the heart. “Eternal Life” is inherited by those whose hearts are so consumed by love that hate cannot find a foothold. When love is complete—perfected if you will—“Eternal Life” exist in each and every moment.

Thus the path to “Eternal Life” is the daily practice of love towards friends, family, strangers, and enemies; all of whom are neighbors to the one whose heart if filled with love.

Peace, Paul

Photo: By George Frederic Watts – A collection of Symbolist art postcards, Public Domain,

Planting Pinapples, Cultivating Love

October 3, 2016

Recently I planted a dozen or so pineapple plants. To start a pineapple, you plant the top, removed during cleaning. Older plants produce multiple “suckers” that can be also planted. Over time, one or two plants can multiply into dozens of plants.

Our pineapples are descended from pineapples given to us by friends. (We have both white and yellow varieties in our garden.) It is almost certain that the friends who gifted us with our first pineapples, likewise started their pineapples from fruits given to them.

img_0348Pineapples are a type of bromeliad. As such, they do not need a lot of attention—at least in the backyard garden. They grow well, if slowly, in the little soil that is available on a volcanic island. While there are areas with deep soil on the island, we cannot afford to live in those areas. Instead, we live on a newish lava flow and have only a few inches of cindery soil that we have augmented with homemade compost in our “garden.”

It can take two or three years for a pineapple plant to bear fruit. The fruit itself takes many months to mature. Which means—to go all Buddhist on you—that when the pineapples do fruit, I—the person who planted them—will no longer exist.

The person who harvests, cleans, and enjoys the fruit will be a different person, though they probably will still be called Paul. For this person,
the fruit will be a gift—the result of genetics, environment, generosity, and some human effort. And since life is fragile, it is possible that some person—not named Paul—will be enjoying the fruits of my recent toils.

If we reflect deeply, we may recognize that all of our actions are like planting pineapples. We say and do various things today, which will bear fruit in the future. As with pineapples, our actions happen within a larger environmental context that shapes how the fruits of our actions mature.

The question to ask ourselves is, what types of seeds are we planting today? What kinds of fruits do we hope to see in the future? If it is the fruit of love, then our actions, words, and thoughts today should be loving. If it is compassion, peace or happiness, then those are the things that we need to be sowing.

To borrow from a famous but anonymous quote, “The best time to begin cultivating and practicing love is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Peace, Paul