Last month, Wes and Heidi Jensen, their four children and two vicious Corgis moved in next door. They came to Zion from California.
What? Yes, on purpose. No, I don’t know why and I don’t care. The important thing is that I have to break in some new neighbors. It’s a delicate situation.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus commanded everyone to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Since then a lot of discussion (and considerable violence) has gone into exactly who the Lord was referring to as our “neighbor.”
Is it our actual neighbors, the people next door? Our church congregation? People who think like us? Our friends? Political contemporaries? The world in general?
When I was a kid, I didn’t even know who or what “thyself” was. Turned out it was me. I was supposed to love all my neighbors as much as I loved myself.
Although I was only 10 at the time, most of the neighbors had already called the cops, the fire department and the old man on me. I wasn’t sure how this love commandment would work because I’d certainly never do that to myself.
I have a better understanding of the commandment now. Today, there are exactly 38 people I love as much (or more than) myself. Yes, I have a written list. If you have to ask, you aren’t on it.
Note: It’s actually 39, but I can’t very well write “Jennifer Aniston” on my list. My wife would see it and cross me off hers.
Back to Wes and Heidi. Although they’re my neighbors, I most certainly do not love them as much as myself. Hell, they just got here. What if they’re Republicans?
On the day the Jensens moved in, I went next door and introduced myself. It went well. Probably because neither of them had ever read The Salt Lake Tribune or knew why the roof of their new house has a patch of shingles that are a different color.
While I helped with a few boxes, we fished around for common ground. We’re carbon-based life forms, we both come from California, we own dogs and are relatively happy to be where we are.
As it so happens, Wes and I both work from home. He’s self-employed in some technology field. When asked, I admitted to writing for The Tribune.
Heidi: “What do you do for the paper?”
Me: “I make fun of Mormons.”
Since it was impossible to look more Mormon than they did, there was an understandable pause while they digested this bit of news. Meanwhile, I remained an unknown quantity. Was I going to be a neighbor difficult for them to love or even tolerate?
It got worse when I told them I had a garage full of cannons that I sometimes fire off for fun.
I went home and told my wife about the new neighbors. Being a better Christian than me (so was Judas Iscariot), she immediately baked the Jensens an apple pie. When she was ready to deliver it, I asked if she was sure that was wise.
Me: “What if they have an apple allergy? That pie could kill them.”
Her: “You’re not getting this pie.”
I decided my wife had the right idea. If you can’t love your neighbors right up front, it’s always best to give them the benefit of the doubt before you start ignoring or even hating them. The best way to figure that out is to be of service to them.
I could mow their lawn. Wash their car. Loan them tools. Invite them to sit by me in church. I could even help them fix their roof if the occasion arises.
On second thought, I’ll just buy them helmets.