Give up loving your neighbor as yourself

March 10th, 2015

This Lent, I suggest giving up loving your neighbor as yourself. Likely, they deserve better. So do you.

Let me start by saying I think the amount of good going on in the world far, far outweighs the bad. For each terrorist, fraudster, bully or thief wreaking havoc, there are thousands more people doing the right thing, helping others, and shining bright light into the world. No doubt about it.

Even so, it needs to be said: We can do better on neighbor-love.

Because for all the amazing good that transpires without fail in the world each and every day, we are still putting up systems that don’t work for everyone. Here’s what I mean. We still put up with poverty. We still put up with homelessness. We still put up with persons of color being treated as second-class citizens. We still wage war to settle differences. We still burn fossil fuels, ensuring scarcity and hardship for generations to come.

Yes, we can do better on neighbor-love. That’s why my Lenten suggestion this week is to give up loving your neighbor as yourself. Strangely enough, that means doing better on self-love. It all hinges on the word as.

“Rabbi,” a fellow Jew asked Jesus, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” With 613 commandments, it was a favorite practice among lovers of Torah to reduce the Law to its essence. The prophet Micah reduced it down to three: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Amos boiled it down to one: “Seek me and live.”

Jesus settles right in the middle with two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets.”

For Jesus, Torah is all about love. Love of God and neighbor. And, equally as important, love of self.

In lots of circles, love of self gets a bad rap. It’s misconstrued as selfishness, self-centeredness or pride. Who wants to be seen as that? To be “good Christians” we gloss over the love yourself part. Big mistake. Because the love we show to our neighbors is a reflection of the love we show to ourselves: Love your neighbor as yourself. Not to mention the love we show God. Or the love we believe God shows to others.

If we don’t love ourselves well, how can we do right by our neighbors? You can’t give what you don’t have. Thus, we have put up with or perpetuate systems that devalue other human beings and the web of life itself.

The flip side of this week’s Lenten suggestion to give up loving your neighbor as yourself, is the permission to practice the art of self-love. In fact, it’s a plea!

By self-love, I don’t mean seeing yourself as better than anyone else. That’s just the other side of seeing yourself as less than others — both signs of lack of self-love. I also don’t mean feathering your own nest at the expense of others. Or not caring about your neighbors at all. Those aren’t expressions of self-love.

By self-love, I mean understanding and affirming that you are made in the image and likeness of God. Period. No matter your waistline, your skin color, what kind of hair day you’re having, your income, your employment or marital status, the behavior of your children or your parents, how well your church is doing or what your teacher once said to you.

Here’s what else I mean by self-love: Understanding and affirming that you are a miracle of life, a sacred expression of God’s unconditional, divine love.

And this: Thinking well of yourself even when you make a mistake. Giving yourself the gift of self-approval instead of incessant self-criticism.

And finally this: Accepting, honoring and valuing your own self.

That’s not to say that we ignore the ways we fall short of the mark. Or that we don’t ask God to help us do better. It’s just that shame and self-condemnation don’t work nearly as well on this as acceptance.

This Gospel isn’t just for privileged or middle-class people. This is for everyone. This is the Kingdom come. One person at a time.

When we are able to reverence ourselves as beautiful creations of God, then we can begin to truly treat our neighbors right. That reverence, defined as a deep respect tinged with awe, spills over into other relationships. Even into our relationship with God.

A few days ago, I gathered with about 20 spiritual but definitely not religious men and women. They shared openly and deeply about their experiences with religion, mostly Christianity. I was astonished that all but two of them indicated they felt church pushed a God who was distant, threatening, judging, punishing. Not a God of love.

From my 20+ years of exposure to mainline Christianity, I felt this was largely inaccurate. Most every church I’ve been to speaks of a God of grace. Yet, even in our use of the term grace, or undeserved love, there is still a subtle lack of acceptance.

I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t projected some of our own “less than,” self-critical, fearfulness onto God. I know from my own deep study that we have falsely portrayed Jesus as an anti-Jew. Have we also made God out to be anti-human?

It’s time to reframe all our relationships in light of the command to practice love of self. What about a Jesus who stands with and for all people, with and for all creation? Not against. What about a God who has created all humanity and all creation with the divine spark of beingness? What about a Holy Spirit who dwells within each of us? Period.

Maybe then we’ll muster the courage and will to stop putting up with our neighbors being put down.

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at

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