Neighborhood: But who IS my neighbor? week, we welcome back veteran communicator Terry Gallagher.)

Even those who don’t know much about the New Testament know the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story has become so familiar that the expression “good Samaritan” has entered the vernacular to mean any person who helps out a needy stranger.

But not all of us might remember that Jesus told that story in answer to the question, “But who is my neighbor?” He was talking about the rule in Leviticus calling on us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” His hearer, “an expert in the law,” was testing Jesus on the meaning of the word “neighbor.” Did it include only people like us? When Jesus told the story of the outcast who rescued the poor traveler set upon by robbers, he was making the point that members of a hated group of outsiders can be better neighbors than people who are part of our own ethnic group or social class.

In his Sept. 8, 2008, column in this space, Prof. Wayne Baker described a study conducted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: “The mainstream is less accepting of Arab Americans than of any other group—African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians. They prefer more ‘social distance’ from Arab Americans than from anyone else. For example, they’d rather have anyone as a neighbor rather than an Arab American.”

Believe me, I’m not pointing any fingers. As much as I like to think of myself as open-minded and accepting of other people, I actually live in a very segregated neighborhood.

In this series this week, I’ve been talking about some of the benefits, and some of the drawbacks, of living in a neighborhood. Like the man testing Jesus, though, I’m still wondering “who is my neighbor?”

How do you answer that question?

Please, share with us your thoughts.
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ABOUT TERRY GALLAGHER: After working more than 20 years in higher education, Terry Gallagher is exploring new ways to use media and messages to build stronger institutions and communities.  Most recently, he has joined the board and helped launch communications efforts at the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, a new group with a long history.

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