New Rules for the Global Neighborhood

05/10/2011 10:26 am ET | Updated Jul 10, 2011
  • Steve McSwain Speaker, Author, Counselor to Congregations, Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions, and Spiritual Teacher

In the Twitter world, he's known as "ReallyVirtual," an appropriate designation for Sohaib Athar, the Pakistani whose "real time" reporting of the assassination of Osama bin Laden has given him notoriety he'd probably prefer not to have. I've read most of his tweets and what's clear is that he was just as surprised as the rest of us when he realized that what he was hearing and observing in "real time" was the assassination of the world's most notorious terrorist.

What's also clear from Sohaib's tweets is that he had only recently arrived at Abbottabad, Osama's hideout in what has been described as a quiet community two hours from the capital city of Islamabad. He had gone there looking for greater security, as well as little more peace and quiet. It wasn't long, however, before he was reporting on what will likely be part of the defining legacy of Obama's presidency.

As for me, I woke up that morning to the news of Osama's assassination. And, perhaps like you, the first word in my mind and out of my mouth was "Finally." So, I've been digesting the news stories, commentaries, and endless blogs about the surreptitious operation by the Navy Seals. Nothing has so struck me, however, like the irony I see in Sohaib's reaction. When this Pakistani tweeter realized he was unwittingly witnessing the assassination of Osama bin Laden, his spontaneous and unedited response was, "Uh oh, there goes the neighborhood."

What did he mean, " ... there goes the neighborhood?"

  • Perhaps the same thing whites meant when other people of color moved into "their" neighborhoods in the sixties;
  • Perhaps something of the same thing most felt when, on 9/11, mingled with a cold sweat, as well as an indescribable sadness, there was this sense something had gone terribly wrong and our neighborhood would never be the same;
  • Sohaib's reaction might be similar to the kind of resistance we see almost daily in the hallways of Congress to a more equitable distribution of the tax burden in this country. "We can't increase taxes on the neighborhoods of the elite. After all, they deserve the credit for making your neighborhood and my neighborhood a little nicer, even a little safer!"

"Uh oh, there goes the neighborhood!"

  • Could this be the same spirit that insists what America needs are bigger, more secure walls around our neighborhoods ... so our borders will keep out the misguided masses who have mistakenly thought our motto was, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?" Which means, parenthetically, somebody should replace the plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to reflect our new, emerging policy -- "Go away you tired, you poor, you who want only to take our neighborhoods and steal all our jobs ... "
  • Wasn't Sohaib's reaction similar to that of Catholics during the early days of Vatican II reforms? Or, similar to the reaction of many Protestants whenever anyone dared to read from anything other than God's own Bible -- the King James? I hear Sohaib today in the endless debates about whether women, gays, or lesbians should actually be regarded as human beings and so granted equal rights in the neighborhood; and,
  • Furthermore, some Christians have given up on the neighborhood altogether. They've decided it's time their neighborhood was raptured away, leaving all others behind. Seems some of them have even predicted a new departure date: May 21.
"There goes the neighborhood!" I don't know what Sohaib really meant. What I do know, however, if the neighborhood is to survive, we need new rules.

New Rules for the Neighborhood ...

Rule 1: We will stop viewing the global neighborhood as an "us and them" but a "you and me." Many neighborhoods occupy this small sphere, but we've only ever been one people. In the west, however, our distinction as a fiercely independent people has made of our neighborhood a political, economic, and military superpower. But, the neighborhood is changing. America will no longer dominate the economic neighborhood ... will no longer be able to display its military prowess in everyone else's neighborhood and just expect people to salute our pre-eminence. It is time -- past time, in fact -- for a new distinction in the American psyche -- one that regards the world as a global neighborhood with global needs we share equally.

Rule 2: We will stop trying to make all neighborhoods look alike, think, act, or even believe alike. If history has not taught us that diversity is a permanent human trait that can only ever be respected and encouraged, then there isn't much history can teach us. We must stop the madness of trying to make our particular version of democracy work in everyone else's neighborhood. Our religion, too.

Rule 3: Which prompts another rule for the new global neighborhood. Religions, including and especially my own, will stop sending missionaries to convert the souls of the wicked and, instead, send missionaries to change conditions in which people live. Many Christians and churches are doing this already. But, for much too long, the Christian church has been driven by a limited vision of the "Gospel" or "Good News." It is more than simply forgiveness for personal screw-ups or a ticket to ride a monorail to some eternal Disneyland. Jesus said, "I have come to bring good news," (Luke 4) which he described as rescue of the poor and freedom for those held captive by destructive and discriminating religious and social systems gone mad. If there is a future judgment, it will not be for the purpose of determining whether people have gotten on the "right" train to eternity. I'm not sure the point of Jesus' parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25. What I do know, however, is that the sheep were rewarded, not because they subscribed to the "right" beliefs or followed the one-and-only path, but because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the infirm, and so on. This is new rule of compassion in the global neighborhood, the kind of compassion that will change the neighborhood.

What are some new rules for the neighborhood as you see it? I describe many of mine in the book, The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. But, I'd like for you to share yours. Send them to me via email. I will assemble a list of the most serious ones -- those that would help to truly create a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. May I hear from you? I'll list these in a future blog. I look forward to hearing from you.