Rob Bell, Walmart, and Loving My Neighbor

Last week I found myself in my third least favorite place in the world: Walmart. Maile and I had some time to kill, and we still had a few last minute Easter things to pick up for the kids, so we entered.

I should have known better.

When it was time to check out, I took the five or six items in my cart and made my way to the express check out lane (20 items or less). By that point we were running short on time. Wouldn’t you know it? I found myself behind three people, each with carts full to the brim.

Definitely not 20 items or less.

At one point during checkout, one of the ladies sent her teenage son back into the expanse of Walmart to get something she

had forgotten. The line was 15 people long, at least, a seething caterpillar of silent humanity. I wanted to bash my head against the blue handle of my shopping cart.

* * * * *

One Sunday at church, the sermon was speaking directly to me. I felt this connection between what was being spoken and this inner part of me. Everything the pastor said resonated with me.

Then this couple started whispering to each other in front of me, giggling and playing with each other’s hair and generally making a nuisance of themselves. I wondered if it would be inappropriate for me to use my Bible as a sort of hammer.

Sometimes I think I have anger issues.

* * * * *

These days everyone seems taken with the topic of eternal life: Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” took over the blogosphere for weeks on end, and Harold Campings prediction that the world will end on May 21, 2011 has even been analyzed by CNN. Everyone seems to have their take on when a life beyond this one will begin (if at all), and what it takes to be in good standing when it does (with whoever is in charge at that point).

It reminds me of the question a religious scholar asked Jesus:

“Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

Isn’t that what we’re all really after? Eternal life? Even if you don’t believe in heaven or hell, I’d imagine you are looking for peace and joy and happiness now – a sort of kingdom of God on Earth.

In typical fashion, Jesus replies with a question of his own:

“What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

The man replied, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Do it,” Jesus said, “and you will live.”

“And how do you define neighbor?” the man asked.

That’s really the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Who is our neighbor?

* * * * *

My friend Carmen lives in Kano, Nigeria. This morning her Facebook status was:

“Tears in my eyes. Powerful story. God working in the world.” She linked to a news story entitled: “The Muslim Who Risked All for His Christian Neighbors.” It is a beautiful example of what Jesus was talking about when he told the story of the Good Samaritan.

Who are the “neighbors” that you find the most difficult to love? Someone with a different ethnicity or sexual orientation? Someone who has hurt you in the past? Someone with different political persuasions?

Would it change your perspective on them if you truly believed Jesus’ words, that access to eternal life depended on your ability to love them?

28 Replies to “Rob Bell, Walmart, and Loving My Neighbor”

  1. Yep, we forget about the neighbor part, don’t we? I love this – “Would it change your perspective on them if you truly believed Jesus’ words, that access to eternal life depended on your ability to love them?” Something I’ve been pondering lately, that perhaps eternal life is more about depth (impact) than duration?

    1. Depth versus duration…interesting question Dianne. Have you been reading “Love Wins”? :)

  2. Hi Shawn, thanks for the link to that article. For more context and for a similar story of another Muslim protecting another Christian, see my blog:

    My Holy week/Easter thoughts have been centred on the story of the last supper, crucifixion and human failure. No one acted as they should have. The last supper Jesus had with them, his followers were still all squabbling about who would be the greatest in a political kingdom, the priests in the temple built to God (“my Father’s house”) were willing to sacrifice and slander an obviously great, good, and miracle-working man (by all signs, the Messiah) bent on preserving their own privilege and comfort. Even Jesus’ best friends ran away from him in the time of his greatest need for some very human companionship. And yet, in love he died and in love he came back, and only then did his followers begin to understand the meaning of those metaphoric stories he told about the mobs who would kill the prince and about how the kingdom was about servanthood rather than rulership and humility rather than vaunting oneself up, and loving and allowing oneself to be loved by the most despised in society before one has a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven means.

    1. Thanks again for posting that article on Facebook, Carmen. We need to hear what is going on.

    2. Just because I think you’ll like the connection, a long-time friend of mine has become well-known for his writing and his on-site presents for Jesus in Lebanon. It’s all about presenting Jesus as He really is, not about “Christianity” (for surely a fight of sorts will ensure). The way to a Muslim’s heart is thru the Savior, not the religions built up around Him. Carl Medearis has a blog He wrote the recent release, “Tea With Hezbollah” Cool title, cooler book.

  3. I’m an EMT and a 911 dispatcher. About half my day centers around dealing with the hard-to-love; the people who make poor choices that affect, endanger, or harm others, many of whom are innocent, many of whom are children. I spent my early months of training running (and reading) criminal histories. It took me a little while to get over myself. (Oh. Yeah. Right. This is a fallen world.) In a strange way doing this job has brought me closer to God because when you stare anger, violence, bitterness, betrayal, brokenness, sudden loss and disappointment in the face you realize how much you need Him, and how much the people you encounter every day need love and compassion to a degree you could never muster on your own.

    1. Kim, mind if I (a new Smucker fan) step in just to express appreciation for your experience and your nicely articulated comment. Good takeaway for me.

  4. Yup, similar themes today indeed!

    I can love someone a lot easier when I get to know them. It’s easy for me to hate the caricature of you that I have in my head. Much harder to hate you when we’ve sat down and had a cup of coffee and talked about our kids or our jobs or that funny episode of 30 Rock that we both liked. When I reduce you to a label, I can hate you. But as soon as you’re a real person, it’s much harder for me to do that.

  5. Well, shoot. I was all happy and ready to bash the walmart people with you. I was ready to agree that your bible should, in fact, be used as a hammer of the large cartoonish variety. And then you go and challenge me like that? Man! I have some issues with some people in authority and I was gently reminded by my darling husband to be mindful of how I speak about them. Darn you both! I do believe in loving my neighbor. I guess it’s time to act like it. (Was brought here by @kt_writes and @bigmama247).

    1. Thanks for visiting! This all sounds good, but as far as actually changing how I think and act…that’s a work in progress.

  6. Great Post.

    Just picturing Maile in a Wal-Mart was enough to make me chuckle. Classic.

  7. Thank you for your honesty regarding annoyance with people—I’m right there with you, far too often than I’d like to admit. (Driving is the worst environment for my frustration with others, so I walk or bike whenever possible.)

    And I wish more people were examining the “who is my neighbor” question more closely. It seems like most Christians take that to mean the people who live next door or sit at the next desk at work. In most cases, those are people who are fairly similar to us—loving them doesn’t force us to really stretch. I guess what I’m saying is that we tend to isolate ourselves, which means we never get to know people who are really different, which means we’re never put in a position to really love them, face-to-face. Instead, we just hate the idea of them. It must break Jesus’ heart.

  8. Great post! It’s interesting you mentioned neighborly love because I had recently written a blog on the section in Matthew 22 that spoke about the exact thing. I do believe Jesus’s words that next to loving God, we must love everyone as we do ourselves and this is the action that will grant us a place in heavenly paradise.

  9. OK, I’m in. Your Tweets have teased me, now your friend the guy who buries dead people for a living while awaiting a Royal Wedding invitation or NFL draft call, whichever comes first, has sucked me in. You writing is my kind, but probably better since my stuff is pretty serious about fathering, grandfathering, rites of passage and such.

    Funny, neither you nor Caleb make it easy or apparent to sign up as subscriber (Hey, I spend lots of time and have my own three blogs, you’d think I could figure it out). Is there a secret code or handshake, and could I have it?

    1. Thanks Gary. I’m currently reworking my blog so you might want to wait to subscribe until I get that put together. I follow Caleb’s blog on Google Reader – I’m sure he’ll chime in here to let you know how to subscribe.

  10. Hi Shawn, First I just want to say thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a gracious, encouraging comment — I appreciate your perspective about the whole platform thing.

    Second, my dad just sent me Rob Bell’s book, which I am anxious to read. I read the Time story while standing in line at Barnes and Noble, and of course have heard all the commentary around the blogosphere/twittersphere these last few weeks, so I am anxious to read it myself. Of course, I might be biased, because I do like Rob Bell and loved Velvet Elvis, but I’m trying to stay open-minded and not automatically assume I’m going to agree with everything he says!

  11. I find it hard to love Christians, mostly because I find it almost impossible to trust them. But I’m trying very hard and it’s getting easier as I meet ones who are kind and loving. I’m going to have dinner with some of them tonight. I’m glad they’re in my life. :-) I’m glad you’re at Blog Rocket and I look forward to reading more of your posts. :-) You seem like a kind Christian too.

    1. Thanks for your comment Krista – I’m probably fairly average as far as niceness goes :) Looking forward to connecting with you at Blog Rocket.

  12. If you would like to stoke the flames of your ire with regards to the people of Walmart, I suggest you google just that: people of walmart. Just sayin’. ;-)

    (And, for the record, just kidding! One of the most convicting things I ever read was in C.S. Lewis, where he said something like “loving one’s neighbor as one’s own self means being just as forgiving of one’s neighbor’s sins as one is of one’s own. Ouch! That hit home!)

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