I have a best friend that I’ve known more than 10 years. We live on opposite ends of the country, but we still talk like we live at opposite ends of the street. Just like you and your best friend, we talk about life, sports and spirituality. However, when we talk, my friend and I always end up talking ourselves into extreme, transformative ideas – ideas that slowly, but surely take form, take action and become reality.
My point here is not to boast about having a good friend. My point here is to prove that relationship means something. In fact, it means everything. Relationship means not just knowing about someone, but also knowing someone inside and out. It means not just talking about someone, but talking with someone about their past, their dreams and their goals. When relationship happens, transformation happens.
Relationship is important in our cities and communities if we want to see change in the lives of those around us. There are successes and failures of transformative efforts on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum and if we come to a middle ground, we can wind up at relationship. While one side focuses on the individual and his or her righteousness, the other side focuses on group systems and social justice. Both righteousness and social justice are good, but what happens when we become so focused on a person’s rightness or a system that can fix a person’s rightness that we overlook actually talking to the person in question rather than just about them and their issues. What happens when we forget relationship?
I’m going to quote Jesus on this one from Mark 12: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When we forget relationship, we are most certainly not loving our neighbor as our self. On the contrary, when we forget relationship, we begin to live out the idea that “Jesus loves you, but I don’t love you.” We begin to tell people how to live, but not live life with them.
Transformation moves at the speed of relationship. Earlier, I said that I’ve had a friend that I’ve cultivated a relationship with for more than 10 years. Because of that, we can pitch each other outlandish ideas that slowly become not so outlandish. The point is this: My friend is much more likely to listen to and consider crazy ideas and change if he hears it from me than if he hears them from a stranger who is telling him to do something he’s never thought of doing. This is also applies to the alcoholic standing on the street corner or the woman being exploited; they’re more likely to change if we love them like Jesus told us to and if we have a relationship with them. If we want to see lives, cities and our world transformed, we have to be bold enough to establish relationships and love our neighbors, whomever they may be, as ourselves.