Up in Washington, D.C., there are plenty of ignorant folks who assume evangelical southerners like me are judgmental, closed-minded, and prejudiced in all kinds of ways. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s reality, and I’m sure my friend Macie Anderson has been on the receiving end of it as well.
Macie lived in the D.C. area for a couple of years, and there was no hiding her Mississippi origins. Her twangy accent often adds syllables to words; she designs and sells southern-themed t-shirts and crafts; and she proudly shares many of the conservative political views that reflect her red state roots. Macie is also exceptionally hospitable, which is probably a reflection of her southern roots. But not only that, she’s tenderhearted towards outsiders, which is a direct reflection of her Christian faith.
That tenderheartedness has recently led her to stick up for Muslims, in particular, in the face of some of the heated rhetoric of this election cycle in the United States. Along those lines, I hope you’ll read something Macie recently wrote about what it means to be a good neighbor. Think it over and ask yourself what kind of neighbor you are.
I wish you had a Muslim neighbor — one who lives in a home where fresh garlic and spices always flow out with the wind. I wish you could taste authentic Pakistani food made by sisters-in-law whose families live together. I wish you could see these women in their beautiful hijabs and giggle when your son says they look like Jesus’ mommy. (And I wish you could see these women also giggle when you tell them what he said.)
I wish you had the chance to give your heartfelt sympathy when your neighbors learn the news that many of their family members were murdered in their sleep in their home country, and this is why they are thankful to be in America. Oh, how I wish you could see the sparkle in five sets of dark brown eyes when you brought home another baby boy, a long-awaited new playmate.
I wish you had the chance to sit under a tree on a cool spring day with an elderly Muslim man and talk about the state of the world and the human condition. I wish you could both agree to disagree on some beliefs and agree to agree on many. I wish you had a Muslim neighbor.
I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor — one who trims his hedges with an actual machete and doesn’t waste the coconuts that fall from a decorative palm in his yard. If you had a Jamaican neighbor, you’d know how to cure hiccups in an infant. (For the record, you wet a tiny piece of paper towel, place it on the baby’s head and watch them settle into sleep, hiccup-free.) If you had a Jamaican neighbor, you’d know which international grocery stores to avoid and which ones had the cheapest mangos. I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor.
I wish you had a Jewish neighbor. A family who serves you matzah and cheese as a snack and writes to you “MAZEL TOV!” when you graduate high school. I wish every time you saw Mogen David wine you remembered their children’s bat mitzvahs and how your dad got to wear a yarmulke, and how people hugged so tight and ate so much amazing food afterward.
I wish, when you saw a group of Orthodox Jews walking down the street in your town, you remembered the song, “Tradition,” from Fiddler On The Roof and secretly wished your life held that much tradition. I wish you could work for a Jewish family and have the honor of cleaning their home before Passover — top to bottom, get every last breadcrumb out — tradition. I wish you had a Jewish neighbor.
Now, I wonder. What would any of the above neighbors write about their experiences with me? I hope they’d tell you about a family who didn’t misuse their faith to justify anger and malice. I hope they’d recall a young family who didn’t teach their children to fear people who may dress or talk or worship differently from them. I pray they would say to you, “I wish you had a Christian neighbor.”