Truly Noticing Those Around Us

This morning at the JRLC Day on the Hill
This morning at the JRLC Day on the Hill

As I turned off the Texas interstate onto the winding country road that leads to Camp Allen, I was immediately struck by what began to take place. The driver of every car that passed me waved at me. My first thought was, “These are Episcopalians leaving Camp Allen who know me.” Then I thought, “Maybe they’re not being friendly, but rather trying to alert me to something wrong with my car!” And then a smile came across my face as my small town childhood clicked in… waving to other folks is what people do in the country.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, uses a phrase in his Ted Talk entitled Why Aren’t We More Compassionate? that really caught my attention. He talks about walking in New York with a sociologist, discussing the challenges of those who are homeless and how we have all developed an “urban trance” making others virtually invisible. Goleman’s suggestion is if we do not notice others, we won’t empathize with others, which means we will not bring any form of compassion to others. 

Interesting contrast: waving at every car that passes you versus being completely oblivious to others around us. While I have certainly experienced different dynamics between rural and urban settings, I have also consistently experienced a lack of personal acknowledgement in all settings. 

One of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith is both our connectedness and our interdependence: “Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29 and “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5.

And then there is what we prayed on Ash Wednesday during the Litany of Penitence:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us.

Urban, rural, or suburban trance, we are called to not only notice, but be in relationship with, those around us. How else can we fully embrace our Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves”? 

My prayer for all of us this Lenten season is that we may, in fact, truly notice those around us. 

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