Friday 16 October 2009

Love Thy Neighbour

Trash on our screens

When I was growing up in Nigeria in the 70s and 80s, whilst there was a lot of homegrown material produced for television, I must say we were a dumping ground for a whole range of British situation comedies and farces.

Along with those were some upwardly mobile American ones about African-American families and businesses on the up or in trouble, I cannot say there was much we could identify with in many of these offerings as Nigerians, but sometimes our local fare only had a few geniuses and the rest did not impart knowledge, wisdom or insight, they just reinforced the bondage to animist customs and affirmed superstitions that flew in the face of logic and reason.

The embarrassment of neighbourly love

I could remember watching The Many Wives of Patrick (UK), Good Times (US), Sanford & Son (US), Different Strokes (US), and Only when I laugh (UK), but there were some borderline ones that tried to address racial harmony like Mixed Blessings (UK) and Mind Your Language, but the most obnoxious and entirely politically incorrect that today cannot air without getting millions of complaints of false concern would be Love Thy Neighbour [1].

This was a story about a white working-class family coming to terms with living with black neighbours in the 60s & 70s. Whilst the wives got along well, the husbands just jibed at each other, if they had kids, I am sure the street would have had weekly race riots for what the kids would have heard their fathers say.

Notable was also the older man in the pub who never bought a drink for himself or others but when rounds were being bought he was prompt to say, “I’ll have half”. He always ended up with half a pint of beer and his glass in a manner of speaking was never empty.

These people were neighbours but really, not much love was lost between them.

A commandment seeking obeisance

I, being in hospital for 18 days brought home to me some essential teaching about Love Thy Neighbour very radically different from that in the situation comedy.

In 9 different places, if you were reading the 17th Century King James Version of the Bible, we are told in the 10 commandments, by prophets, by Jesus and in the epistles after our devotion to God to “Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself”. In modern parlance, that would be “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

This might feel very grievous for some, a burden too heavy to carry, a situation that might have deteriorated to the point that the neighbour is accursed and the personification of everything evil.

Unnecessary conflicts and discord

It is amazing that some of the most trivial neighbourly disputes are in the courts or taking up police time and fertile ground for heart disease; people who have lived beside each other for years who have cultivated an air of indifference and a complete lack of consideration for each other, that they cannot abide each other.

The tension between them is so built, that if you as much as breathed the air that passed over your neighbour’s flowers there were grounds for grand larceny at the least – this ought not to be so.

Neighbourly conflicts could probably boil down to impatience, arrogance, pride, superiority, envy, jealousy or just plain pettiness. There is a possibility every dispute would have a sprinkling of these peace-less cardiac arrest herbs that we so liberally use to spice the potential discomforts of our entire.

A safety regulation

However, I see in this commandment, not some extraneous law of compulsion and duress, but the advice of safety that applies to all humanity regardless of creed, belief, disbelief or unbelief. It is a safety regulation.

In my case, I had cultivated a relationship with at least 2 of my neighbours on my 4-apartment floor, we had each other’s keys, tended our apartments when others were on holiday, watered plants, collect mail, visit each other and sometimes dined together.

We took the time to contact each other if the passing of time or the busyness of business meant we had not seen each other for ages, we were friendly enough, and maybe more could be done.

My neighbours are family and friend

As an expatriate, my immediate family is thousands of miles away, though I have friends here and I did learn I really did not have that many, most of those I have known for over 10 years live outside this country.

All these friends, family and some well-wishers would have liked to visit me in the hospital, bring me stuff I needed and minister to my needs in ways not to accentuate my vulnerabilities.

On this matter, in particular, it was my neighbour I could ask to go round to my home and pick things up that I needed, but they went beyond the call for help to visit, bring something, do my laundry and much more, I am so grateful for having neighbours I am in some fellowship with.

My other neighbour without prompting offered to do my shopping and did do it taking a serious burden of incapacity off me.

Your neighbour is your emergency call taker

In other, circumstances, neighbours are your emergency; friends and family usually arrive later and sometimes, it is your neighbour that makes those calls because you are already too far gone to do anything yourself.

A bosom friend's wife corroborated that view, she said she had at least 3 sisters in London, but for the day of trouble or distress, both her neighbours are her points of first resort, at least in the first two hours before everyone else arrives.

The importance of cultivating and building lasting relationships with your neighbours cannot be overstated.

Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself, is not so much a commandment attached to some nerve-racking drill, it is your safety being planned ahead for you on that day when your neighbour will be an angel, your Good Samaritan. Take heed, that your pride does not lead to a fall; when in that day you shall so helplessly need your neighbour to pick you up lest you perish.

My beloved, Love your neighbour as yourself. Please be reconciled, for your safety and for peace.


[1] Love Thy Neighbour - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] BibleGateway - Quick search: love thy neighbour

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