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Lent day 4 – connecting with neighbours; connecting in our community; breaking from our tortoise-like protection and being vulnerable not only to people we already know like us, but to everyone else out there. Scary stuff. Essential stuff. Commandment stuff. It’s always seemed to me a little oxymoronic that we are commanded to love our neighbour. Odd isn’t it, because if we’re doing it out of duty, out of fear, out of commandment can it really be considered love? But I’m using a phrase more and more these days…”fake it, ’til you make it” – meaning no matter how we start in our feelings towards someone, if we act lovingly towards someone, if we are kind whether we want to be or not, if we respect and honour someone regardless of their actions towards us, if we give ourselves utterly to someone – no matter our original motives – love will abound in the end.

So our immediate neighbours are those people either side – the people whose parcels we hold onto, whose children we see go to school and grow in front of our eyes – the people who annoy us with their music, but we smile at them anyway – the people who we hear shouting, and are thankful we are alone – the people we hear laughing, and we feel desperately alone. They are the ones who hear our shouting, our music, smell our rubbish, have their roses crushed by our little ones, and still help us pick our fence up, still thrust a cup of tea in our hand when we are staring at our house on fire, still get the jump leads out a 6am when they hear our engine ticking over silently. And Jesus loves them. I mean, really really loves them. So the least we can do – even if they never offered us a thing, even when they don’t “behave like a neighbour” towards us, is to offer a smile, to strike up a conversation.

And if we’re prepared to do that for mere acquaintances, what about the people who we already have as integral parts of our lives. I am guilty as anyone in this of not loving my neighbour when they are someone I am familiar with, when it’s someone I expect to love me back, when it’s someone I don’t necessarily think of as my neighbour.                                                                                                    Because your mum is your neighbour as much as the dying mother in Africa. Your daughter is your neighbour as much as the girl trapped in sex trafficking. Your friend beside you who you have taken for granted is your neighbour as much as the homeless man who you throw change at to salve your embittered conscience. The friend you turned your back on, but who will be devoted to you unto death is your neighbour as much as the child you comfort on your lap. The ex-lover who hurt you is your neighbour as much as the counsellor who is helping to heal you.

And so as well as having a stroll in my street to converse with someone I’ve never spoken to before (actually easier than it sounds, I’m forever talking to strangers at the supermarket or at the cash machine – maybe it’s a northern thing?) I’ll be having honest conversations with the people I bump into every day, conversations that may be scary and leave me open and vulnerable, words of encouragement and affection that people may not actually be ready for or even think that they want. But they’re words that are needed to build community, words that will bind and strengthen, words that are unconditional – not dependent on whether they are reciprocated or returned. Because the Command isn’t “Love your neighbour so that they’ll love you back”, or “Love your neighbour because they’ve ‘behaved’ the right way” – it’s Love your neighbour as yourself. Period.

Connection is integral to community. Making new ones and maintaining old ones. And of course a perfect way to do that is to share stories. Share a story today with one new person and one person you’ve known for as long as you remember. Just share. And connect.