Volume 4: Number 5 Who is my neighbor? Reflections on Luke 10:29

June 2, 2013

Volume 4:Number 5

Who is My Neighbor? 

Reflections on Luke 10:29

“And [the lawyer], trying to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:29)

Of course, our Lord responds with a parable. And not just any parable, but one of the most famous in all of scripture; one whose popularity extends well beyond the limits of the Church: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Even those who claim not to believe in Christ, or even in God, find redeeming value in this story. It has even been used colloquially by our legal system (the Good Samaritan law). Naturally, then, it is only appropriate for us to reflect on this parable from time to time, and to consider not merely the text (how were the Samaritans and Jews of First Century Palestine neighbors?), but also how it is meant to shape our daily lives now, nearly twenty centuries after the parable was first told.

Wonder has asked four authors to reflect on this parable, and the subject of neighbor this month, and each offers a unique and refreshing personal understanding of how we, as disciples of our Lord, interact with and relate to those around us. Each author shares his or her personal experiences, struggles, convictions and passion on a subject that we too often overlook.  We at Wonder hope that you find our authors’ work both edifying and enjoyable and that through these reflections we all prove better neighbors to each other and those around us.

Wishing you all joy in our Risen Lord
the Editors

Meeting our Neighbors
Kh. Amy Toconita Hodge

Stranger or Neighbor?
Ms. Julie Ann Miller

Neighbors Are Those Whom We Serve
Mr Alex Langley

Showing Mercy or Mercy Received?
Mat. Vera S Proctor

More information on the authors can be found here. 

Meeting our Neighbors

June 2, 2013

Meeting our Neighbors
Amy Toconita Hodge

Who is my neighbor?neighbor2

Often, when we consider this question, we consider it from the point of view of the one who acts. The choice is mine. I determine who I help. I choose to be neighborly to deserving others. I determine who is my neighbor.

Let’s turn it around.

We are acted upon each day. Some people open doors for us. There might be someone who lets us go ahead of him in line. Aware drivers allow us to merge. These people intrude upon our lives in kindness, patience, and generosity. We receive encouragement, interested attention, and respect.

On the other hand, what about the less convenient intruders upon our lives? There are those who barge ahead of us. Sometimes, they push us. People tailgate. We are sized up, dressed down, written off. We feel isolated, chosen against, judged.  Who is my neighbor here?

Let’s meet some neighbors.

scared-woman-682x1024At 10:30 one Saturday night, we barely hear a tiny knock at the door. It is a weeping young woman named CeCe, around 20 years old, unarmed, hopeless, shoeless. She wants to use the phone. My husband opens the door. I check her out as I talk to her. Cold and hungry, her eyes never stop flitting from side to side, she’s hunched against some unnamed threat, she cries endlessly. I stand in her way, deciding whether or not she is dangerous, as she tries to enter my home. It turns out that my next move will be to give her a hot dinner, and a thousand napkins to cry into. She ate quickly and like a wolf. She says again and again that she hasn’t been having a good day. We offer to help her find a safe place to be that night. We offer a crisis number, a shelter, again, and again. She refuses, wipes her tears, refuses help again and gets up to leave. I ask her to wait, and she does, just long enough for me to kneel at her dirty bare feet and slip a pair of my own shoes on her. When I arise, she looks me in the eye. I tell her that I don’t need to know WHY she is in the state she’s in. I tell her I don’t want to know anything personal if she is uncomfortable. I tell her that I just want her to be fed, feel safe, and that she is worth my time. She awkwardly tries to hug me and leaves. I stare out into the darkness after her. I call the police department to report this unsettling encounter.

And another…

In the middle school library, I approach a woman a little younger than me. She looks surprised and a little anxious, but I think she must always look like that. I know she has been coming to our school to check up on her boy, since I’m at school, too, checking up on my girl. The other mom knows who I am, although we have not yet met. She is embarrassed that her son is a bully, calling my daughter a demeaning, filthy word in another language instead of her name. My child pronounces the word perfectly in the other language but does not understand it. My girl asked me what it means, and I involuntarily squeezed my eyes shut, hearing her tiny voice say something so coarse. She wouldn’t have understood the word in English either. In the library, the boy’s mom tentatively answers me when I ask if that is her son. Now the dad is there too. We stand in silence, and then I introduce myself as my daughter’s mother. They glance at my small girl and then back to me, recognizing us. Realizing that there’s no smackdown coming, they relax a little. I continue to not give them any reason to be defensive. We wish one another well in this school which, both of our children will share next September. They back away and so do I.

I cannot understand bullying. I stared it in the face as a child as well, neither as the bully nor as the bullied, but as the bystander who refused to just stand by. It hurt to watch others hurt, and it was obvious to me even in childhood that both parties in a bullying situation are hurting. I can’t stand it. Seeing it from a parent’s point of view hurts even more. I am so relieved that my daughter is safer in her school now. It took a lot of work, from every angle, to dismantle the bullying group’s power in that school. The work continues. For some reason, it was important to me to stand face to face with the mother of this child. No words were exchanged, but we did not have to talk about it. We understand. This lady and I have been working on the same problem, from opposite sides. We were happy to see each other, although it was awkward in the beginning.

Consider this…

My husband is a great driver. He makes good decisions. If people get too close, he safely adapts, except with certain tailgaters. He was getting upset one night, telling me about someone tailgating him in rush-hour traffic, “I couldn’t BELIEVE how close the guy was getting to my car! I had nowhere to go! It was really scary, but I relaxed when I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw that the guy was just being inattentive and didn’t MEAN to get so close. He didn’t INTEND to do it, so it is not as bad. I didn’t do anything passive aggressive. I didn’t need to teach him a lesson.”

baddriver“Hmmm. What if he had been deliberate?”

My husband’s flash response was a tumble of all the ways you can “teach a lesson” to someone who intends to tailgate, from slowing way down to getting into position to tailgate him and everything in between. He is tempted to feel justified in returning ill intention when he sees the same coming his way from the other driver.

Here’s another.

Years ago, we young moms sat together in my home on the Feast of Annunciation, listening to one of our new-convert friends repeat her protestations about Orthodoxy. She did it every week. No amount of advice, patient listening, book suggestions, or priest referrals made a difference. She went on and on, every week, the chrism still shining on her forehead. This week, this day, she took aim at the Mother of God.

“This has to stop. You talk like this each week, we answer you, and you don’t want to hear or follow any of our suggestions. No more. You may not talk like this in your priest’s home.” I said.

She ran out of my house as dramatically as she could with baby, toddlers, and diaper bag in tow. I called the bishop, letting him know that the complaints I expected he’d get were true.

Who is my neighbor?

The Good Samaritan Painting

Cece is my neighbor, because she has allowed me to live out what I say I am. A Christian feeds the hungry, puts shoes on the shoeless.  Did I choose her? Was she my “ideal” neighbor that dark night? Absolutely not. She scared me by coming into my space, disheveled and uncooperative. I made a judgement call and chose not to greet her with fear. She would not allow me to help her on my terms. She accepted help on her own terms.

The bully’s mom is my neighbor. We are working on the same problem, from opposite sides. We are both right, in our own minds. We can set ourselves at odds, but in reality, we are better off if we acknowledge that we need one another to win for the sake of both of our kids.

The drivers – good, bad, and otherwise – are our neighbors. Whether or not people “intend” to be aggressive or distracted doesn’t matter. They act upon us and give us an [un-asked-for] opportunity to act accordingly. The Romanians have a saying: God gives us bread, but it is up to us to chew it.

The moms’ group friend is my neighbor. She was insensitive to Orthodox women, sitting among us and being so hard-headed as to ignore our attempts to understand and help her. I dealt with her with the same measure of sensitivity she used with us. She ran out crying, and then thought about things. Half a year later, she caught me by both hands, kissed me, and thanked me for using some tough love that day. She was my neighbor, and I helped her, though it might not have seemed so at the time.

Our neighbors are everywhere. Some of them are kind to us. Some do not do good and magnanimous things. You might say some of our neighbors have been beaten up by the passions, unable to defend themselves, left disheveled.

Each encounter can be transformative, even if we did not initiate or expect it. Most actions, even hostile ones, have the potential to become mercy in our hearts. We have the choice each day to live out our faith and act as the ones we say we are: Christians. Feed and clothe the unfortunate. Seek peace and connection. Do not return evil for evil. Speak truth in love. Your neighbors are counting on you.

Stranger or Neighbor?

June 2, 2013

Stranger or Neighbor?

Julie Ann Miller

One cold snowy morning in mid-April I got out of my car at the grocery store.  An elderly woman, perhaps in her 80’s, got out of the car next to me.  She looked at me and smiled, I returned the smile and greeted her.  cartsnowInstantly, her

smile broadened and she started chatting about the weather, she must have been a true Minnesotan since she saw nothing unusual about snow on April 16.  The date was significant to me since it was the date of my great-grandmother’s birthday and she had been in my thoughts and prayers that morning.  Right before we parted at the grocery door the woman mentioned it was her birthday on the Friday of that week… what a coincidence!  At that moment I was so glad I had taken the time to visit with this woman in the parking lot.

As I walked into the grocery store the little boy I was babysitting asked me why I was talking to the “old lady.”  I explained that she smiled at me and we started a conversation.  My explanation seemed sufficient for a four-year- old.

About a week later I had a similar question from my ten-year-old daughter.

peoplegasstationI had been out pumping gas and was buckling up my seatbelt when my daughter asked me, “Mom, why were you talking to that man?”  The gentleman and I had been discussing yet another cold snowy morning in late April.   As I explained to my daughter that we were just talking about the weather and laughing about the snow she stated, “But he is a stranger.”

During the short drive to school I stated, “We can be kind and friendly to those we do not know. Do you remember the verses from the Gospel of Matthew?  The ones when Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”   As I started the verses my daughter finished them for me and together we ended with, “…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”  These verses had been our Church School theme about two years ago, so I was impressed that she still remembered them!  I reminded my daughter that talking to a stranger is another way of fulfilling the command by Christ.

Just a few nights after the gas station discussion my daughter made another statement while driving down our street on the way home.  Sophia stated, “Mom, all these homes are on our street but we don’t know any of the people that live in them.  We only know the few people right around our house.”  How right she was.  We know those that live on our block but not on the entire street.  It was shortly after this comment that I was asked to write an article with the theme Who is My Neighbor?

All these experiences have made me think about the question, who is my neighbor?  We teach young children that our neighbor is someone who lives next door or across the street.  Eventually we might stretch the concept to those we might meet in a grocery store parking lot or at the gas station.  But if we read from Luke 10: 25 – 28 we could expand the definition of neighbor even further.  We are told in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as our self.   What we must then do is define self.  God created each of us in his image and likeness.  Self then is the image and likeness of God which then means that our neighbor is any one made in the image and likeness of God.  Thus neighbor is ANY person!

The Good Samaritan Painting

The dictionary offers these definitions of neighbor:

  •  a person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to
  • a person or place in relation to others near or next to it
  • any person in need of one’s help or kindness

Even the dictionary supports the idea that neighbor is ANY person.  Which brings me to a new observation: this definition would mean those living at home with me… husband, son, daughter, or my parents, siblings, and in- laws are my neighbors.  It would also mean visitors to our church are neighbors.  Yet often times it seems easier to treat strangers in a friendly neighborly way than our own family members.  As a member of a large church with many members I am still surprised at the number of parishioners I have yet to meet, let alone say hello to visitors on a Sunday morning.

holding-hands-368x275When the lawyer in Luke 10:29 asks Christ, “Who is my neighbor?”  Christ responds with the story of the Good Samaritan.  This too should be our response to Who is my neighbor. We should be able to offer help, a listening ear, a kind greeting or a warm smile to ANY person we come in contact with.  Which would mean an elderly lady in the grocery parking lot. a man at the gas pump, the person we pass down our street, a spouse, children, family member, parishioner or visitor.  In theory it seems so easy to be neighborly but in reality when I am running late on a Monday morning and trying to rush the family out the door and get stuck in traffic my neighborly skills are most likely lacking.  I hope and pray that I am given many opportunities to model neighborly behaviors to my children so that the next time I am speaking to a stranger my daughter makes the statement, “Mom, it is good that you were neighborly to that person.”

Neighbors are Those Whom we Serve

June 2, 2013
Neighbors are Those Whom we Serve
Alex Langley
Have you ever had a really bad day?  Is that a silly question?  You remember it well.  Nothing went right, you had too much to do, and not enough time.  Maybe it went something like this…


You just sat down to work on the first of two huge papers due the next day. Then a friend called.
At first you were irritated because you didn’t have time for chit-chat. Then the phone rings again.
‘Couldn’t he have just sent a text message?’  <sigh>
Still, you answered the call, and your friend said “Hey, I was just thinking about you.  Haven’t seen you in a while.  How are you doing?”
This was a good friend, and you knew he could handle the “truth,” so you vented, and let it all out.  Your friend listened.  Your friend encouraged you.  You felt better.
“Thanks for the call.  I have to get back to these papers.  Later!”
Without realizing it, as soon as you finished talking to your friend, you had a renewed sense of “I can do this!” and you cranked out both papers in record time.  They were awesome!  You uploaded your papers for submission with hours to spare, and decided to go out and grab a bite to eat.  You were starving.
As you walk over to the nearby sandwich shop, you see a scraggly looking man, long hair, sun-parched face, sitting the ground, missing a few teeth, holding a sign that says “Hungry.  Anything helps.  God bless.”hungry
You think to yourself  “Oh no.  I don’t have time for this.  I know what I should do.  But I’m hungry!  I’m tired!  How inconvenient.”  You try to look away, pretend you don’t see him.  But you look at him again.  You sigh and then walk over to him and say “You’re hungry?  I’m going to the sandwich shop.   What can I get for you?”  A few minutes later you come back to the poor man and hand him his sandwich.  He looks you in the eye and says, “I love you,” and a shiver crawls up your spine.  You immediately picture Christ on the Cross.  You smile awkwardly at him, and then you walk home.
You have just read a story about three neighbors.  “Wait…three?” you ask.  There was just the stressed out student and the homeless man.  Who was the third?


There are two possible answers to that question.  Let’s consider the simpler answer first.  If you recall what Jesus said about how you treat “the least of these”  in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46), we can see that the third neighbor was the Lord, himself.
And upon further reflection, it would also be appropriate to recognize the first helper, the friend who called “at the wrong time”, was also a neighbor.  Why might this be?
We all have needs.  We all have bad days.  Failures.  Frustrations.  Illness.  When you help another, you “Pay It Forward”, spreading good to others, that ultimately will come back to bless you down the road when you need it. We human beings are all part of one Creation, one System.  We are all connected,  (1 Corinthians 12:12), and therefore, we are all neighbors.  Do you agree?
So, who is my neighbor?  Is it the people that live next door to me?  Yes, of course, they are my neighbors.  Are my roommates neighbors?  Yes, of course.  Are my teachers, fellow students, and coworkers my neighbors?  Yes.  Of course.
In fact, every person you meet in your life is your neighbor.

Young Man and Woman Giving Food and Water to Homeless Man

Ken Blanchard, author of “One Minute Manager”, once gave a talk to a group of students at Biola University called “Lead Like Jesus.”  (Search Youtube for that video.  It’s excellent.)  One of the key things he said was that your neighbor is the person near you whom you can serve.  
In both the Mosaic Law, and in Christ’s fulfillment of that Law, we have this second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39)  Certainly the Lord did not just mean the people whose homes are right next to yours.  That’s where it starts, just beyond your doorstep.  Even your roommates are your neighbors, whether they are your best
friends or merely acquaintances.  If you are married, your first neighbor is your spouse.  If you have children, you know they are your neighbors, and much more.  Any person who is near you, you can serve.  That is your neighbor.
Sometimes loving your “neighbor” can be a challenge.  Have you ever wished your neighbor wasn’t your neighbor?  It’s ok to say “yes.”  It happens.  We have moments, or even seasons of weakness during which we feel we have nothing to offer.  Or we are just so tired, or maybe bitter, that we choose not to recognize anyone else as a neighbor.  When that happens, try a simple act of service to another person to help you snap out of that funk.


By God’s grace, someone may come alongside you and see you as their neighbor, and cheer you up, help you in a practical way, and then they move on.  And so do you, moving on to find the very next neighbor on your path in this life, who is Jesus to you, and you are Jesus to them.
May God grant you the grace to love every single neighbor you encounter as yourself.

Showing Mercy or a Mercy Received?

June 2, 2013

Mat. Vera S Proctor

On Lake Street, in the south-metro area of Minneapolis, the work and mission of FOCUS Minnesota, an Orthodox Christian outreach to the urban poor and needy, is confronted daily with the fundamental directives and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.  FOCUS centers in various cities throughout the US, are engaged in real grassroots Christian outreach to people among us – our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors – who are disadvantaged and needing in ways material, emotional, and spiritual.


FOCUS, an Orthodox outreach facility located in Minneapolis, MN

In the Gospel of Luke, 10:25-37 we hear the famous story of the Good Samaritan, a parable that Jesus used to answer a question posed to Him by a young man well versed in Jewish law.

An outline of the passage (the Spark Notes version) is as follows:

  • What must I do to inherit eternal life?
    •  The Law says: Love the Lord 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
      • Who is my neighbor?
      • Parable of the Good Samaritan
    • Which one proved neighbor to the man on the road? The one who showed mercy
  • Go and do likewise

Mercy suggests a gift of kindness, often unmerited and sometimes unexpected. It is not simply kindness; it is kindness in face of an opportunity to do otherwise. The reason why the Samaritan is called “good” and is described as “showing mercy” is that, as a stranger among the Jews, the Samaritan acted outside of his comfort zone and against his own history and community interest. He showed mercy when in fact he would have been justified to walk on by.Yet he didn’t; and we shouldn’t either.

hungrysoupBut the Gospel turns the ‘neighbor’ equation around. All of us tend to identify with the Good Samaritan, thinking ‘aha, so here’s our example – good and kind and magnanimous, overcoming all differences.’ And we start to believe that, in being like the Good Samaritan ourselves, we come from a point of strength – here, let me help you with that. But Jesus Christ turns this around. He doesn’t say that the neighbor is the poor guy bloodied on the road and so we should all be do-gooders to help “our neighbor” No, the neighbor is the one who showed mercy. Before we can go out and save the world with our expansive and self-satisfying “mercy,” we must first understand in our humility that the one who proved neighbor was the one who showed mercy…. upon us. For in fact we too are the ones in need just like the man lying on the road. We must realize we are just as needy and vulnerable as anyone we might serve. If we understand ourselves as being in need of mercy in order to give, only then we can “go and do likewise.”

IMG_0361There is a lot to discuss about service to the urban poor. And I mean specifically service in function of the gospel teachings of Christ. Having spent the last three years involved with an Orthodox outreach to those in need, I can tell you that we’re confronted with the real deal and we find ourselves engaged with authentic urban grassroots community work. The need is overwhelming and constant, and we try to return what we find with love. So the initial or fundamental task is to love on another, to serve and to encounter living icons that are made in the image and according to the likeness of God, just like you and me. So to ‘go and do likewise,’ we will emulate the Samaritan and will perceive in people: You need, you want, you are hurting, you are dirty, you’re sick, you’re drunk, you’re lonely, you scare me…this isn’t in my comfort zone. But when we understand that the neighbor is the one who showed mercy, we will perceive: you are funny, you are sweet, you’re confused, you’re searching, you’re thankful, you’re interested, you’re worried, you’re trying hard…. just like I am.groceries

We run a food shelf at FOCUS Minnesota on Thursday afternoons. One day a woman came in, Jan, who we see occasionally; she’s been to food shelf a few times, has come for clothing at our free weekly clothes closet and sometimes will come and eat at our Sunday night community meal. It was the typical rush right at 3pm when we open our doors and invariably there’s a line of people waiting for groceries. In the buzz, Jan walks up to the table and we assume she’s here for food. When we ask her for her ID in order to look her up in our file of clients, she fumbles with a piece of paper in her pocket, folds it and quietly just pushes it across the distribution table to one of our volunteers. The volunteer opens the piece of paper and discovers a money order for $25. A little confused he looks at Jan and she says “you helped me when I really needed help, and I know there are others who are in the situation I was in a few weeks ago, so I just want you to use this to buy food for the food shelf so you can help someone else.” She didn’t take food, but smiled and turned and headed for the door.  There is no question that Jan could have used the $25, just as there is no question that I would be extremely happy to have an extra or unspoken-for $25 in my wallet. Who is my neighbor? Well clearly it was Jan that day, who showed mercy to FOCUS, or to those in need through us, and we were humbled for we knew that we needed that $25 to help feed the poor. It will be the person who crosses the road for you who is your neighbor.

Eternal life,

Showing mercy upon those whom we encounter and who are in need is being obedient to Jesus’ teachings. But living a full life in Christ means taking on the possibilities, even more so the opportunities, to recognize and to receive mercy from others. You can come into this sort of exchange by stretching, flexing, and sticking your neck out so that you may come to understand – and be blown away by – the reality of encountering who your neighbor can be!


Volunteers at FOCUS prepare to meet (and feed) their neighbors

Volume 4: Number 5 Authors and Contributors

June 2, 2013

Khouria Amy Toconita Hodge, a Twin Cities native, grew up at St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN. She has a BA in English from Hamline University. She works as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor. She lives with her husband, V. Rev. Fr. Paul Hodge (Antiochian Archdiocese), and their two children. Follow her latest news and writings at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/amyhodge/mystory .

Ms. Julie Ann Miller lives with her husband, daughter(age 11)  and son (age 9) in St. Anthony, Minnesota. They are members of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis.  Julie Ann took a leave from her work as an educator 11 years ago to be involved in her children’s lives.  She volunteers at the elementary school and is the Church School Coordinator at St. Mary’s.

Mr. Alex Langley is a native of California.  He earned his BA in Linguistics and Computer Science at UCLA in 1993, and earns a decent wage leading a software quality assurance team.  He moved his family to Minnesota in 2005, and they are members of St. Mary’s OCA Cathedral in Minneapolis.  Alex is a husband of one, father of two, a convert to Orthodoxy and a tonsured reader.  His family enjoys working with FOCUS MN whenever possible.

Matushka Vera S Proctor was appointed director of the Twin Cities center of FOCUS – North America in 2010. Her educational and professional background is in communications, broadcasting and marketing and has worked in the fields of advertising, television, arts management and public broadcasting. Matushka Vera grew up in Chicago in the Serbian Orthodox community, and attended the University of Illinois, the Sorbonne in Paris France, and St. Vladimir’s Seminary with an emphasis in Liturgical Music from 1985-1988. She is married to Fr. Jonathan Proctor and they serve a parish, Holy Trinity (OCA), which is located on the east side of St. Paul, MN. They are the parents of two children, Marika and Leo, and have been part of the Orthodox community in the Twin Cities for 23 years.