What does it mean to love our neighbor?
It’s a question James Barnett from Neighborly has spent 10 years exploring. I’ve known James for a couple of years, and I’ve learned so much from him about what it means to love our neighbor. I’ve come to understand that loving our neighbor can often look many different ways, but it very often involves stepping out of our comfortable routines to enter into the margins with the people Jesus loves. It’s the thread tightly woven into what Neighborly is today, and in fact, it’s where it all began.
I find James’ story and that of Neighborly so interesting and unique, because it indeed started with entering into the margins. James sold all he had and intentionally chose to live homeless for 2 years as a way to commune with those living in poverty, get to know them, become their friend, and most importantly, to love like Jesus loved when he walked this earth. The perspective he found under bridges and in cardboard boxes during those years lead him to the beginnings of Neighborly - which he launched while still living on the streets! It’s a story that James can tell much better than me of course, so I’ll link to more from him at the end of this story!
You may actually recognize Neighborly by its former name, “Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself”, because for a good length of time, they focused much of their efforts on exactly that - clothing our neighbors down the street and around the world. However, Clothe Your Neighbor has recently reimagined their vision, and really, brought all they do back to their roots - living out what it means to love and truly know thy neighbor! They’ve realized how all forms of poverty are closely connected, and are championing ways for all of us to join those in the margins, and get to know our neighbors!
I LOVE their vision:
The vision is to reimagine charity. The vision is that those alleviating poverty wouldn't just know of, but genuinely know those experiencing it. The vision is to stop calling our neighbors "the poor", but to call them by their names. This vision is fueled by a perpetual hope that another world is possible and is led by a bunch of idealist, ragtag, storytelling, mischief-making, radicals, who are brave enough to not only see and love those in the margins, but to join them there. This vision is to do anything but "keep calm & carry on". The vision is to get angry with injustice & liberate those bound by it. - Neighborly
So, what does it mean to love our neighbor?
These are a few of the things I’ve learned from James:
1 - Getting into the margins with those Jesus loves is paramount for getting to know our neighbor.
By sharing experiences, stories, and life together we have a chance to truly understand each other, care for one another, and ultimately get to truly know and love one another! Examples of this might be inviting a homeless friend to your home for dinner, welcoming a refugee when they first enter your city, or mentoring a young parent in a transitional housing program. The key is interacting with and truly getting to know your neighbor!
2 - Following Jesus means first learning who He is and then going out to do and be as much like Him as we can.
Sounds simple right? James argues otherwise, and challenges us to ask, “Are we really following Jesus?” At the beginning of his own personal journey, James was challenged by the Lord as to whether he was really following Him to the extent he thought he was. One of my favorite passages James often recites while reflecting upon that time is Matthew 25: 31-46, which he summarizes as: if we don’t have a relationship with those in need, we essentially don’t have a relationship with Jesus either. It challenged James to think differently, and it’s one that challenges me too!
3 - We’re not to just care for the poor, but ask why they’re poor, and then disrupt the systems that create poverty.
By understanding why people find themselves in various forms of poverty, we can come to understand the systems that often keep them there. Asking why they’re poor prompts us to seek to understand, and when we seek to understand, we start to truly begin to get to know our neighbor while finding tangible ways to disrupt systems.
At the end of the day, I can’t help but think about how well the mission of Neighborly aligns with my vision for Lovelight stories. I love the many causes Neighborly supports through getting in the trenches alongside our fellow humanity! It’s by entering into the margins, conversations, and stories of each other’s lives where the redeeming love of God can take-root and overcome the perils of our world. TOGETHER is where we find joy, love, light, and hope!
Neighborly has a brand-new reimagined mission and website! James’ incredible personal story that lead to the founding of Neighborly is depicted in a clean timeline here. You can even see and hear James tell the story about his experience living homeless on that same page. By the way, he’s one of the best communicators I know! I very highly recommend listening to how all of it began!
How can I get involved?
There are so many ways!
You can now: write your neighbor, feed your neighbor, clothe your neighbor, welcome your neighbor, heal your neighbor, and more. There’s initiatives happening right now to serve alongside the elderly, refugees, day laborers, and more!
You can join a list of people who are likeminded like you and passionate about a certain cause, so you can “find your people” and make change happen! You know I joined! 😉 Their related Biblical Case for Activism is an incredible article piquing our curiosity around advocating for our neighbors. It’s so insightful, and I’d encourage reading it!
When you donate, you can track the impact with the Humanly app and GPS coordinates you’ll receive upon donating. It’s. so. cool. Watch how it works here!