How To Love Your Neighbor

Our culture is drunk with a compassion for humanity. This would be fine and dandy but for the fact that we haven’t a drop left for actual human beings. We simultaneously want cooperations that behave generously, philanthropically and kindly to the poor, and anti-begging laws to keep the poor away from us. We somewhat vaguely want to make the lives of women to be easier, and we are willing to kill the unborn human for it. We believe that all of humanity deserves free medical treatment, which is of course a noble goal, but a the same time we want no more than the answer “fine” to the question “how are you?” no matter what the person’s actually state of being. We want everyone to have a job, and we treat service-industry workers like ghosts. We are a pluralistic society, true, but only in the sense that we love plurals more than singulars, mankind over a man, with an unhealthy appreciation for the brotherhood of man at the expense of a man’s living, breathing, drinking, and vulgar brothers.

But there is hope. There is a moment in all of our lives when this appreciation of the singular human is restored — the moment of holding a newborn baby. Here the full value of the human person floods us. Our natural inclination is not simply to give the baby his necessities, but to gaze in silent worship at the tiny fingernails, the nose barely more than a lump, the searching, seeking eyes. Why? Surely it is no mere matter of size, for we hardly go into joyful conniptions over a dwarf, nor do we assign value to our brothers and sisters with a ruler. No, we adore him for his innocence. We adore because the newborn is new, the most ancient of novelties. We adore because we are seeing him for the first time.

Then these newborns grow and — unless we are their parents — we lose our instinct of awe. This is a tragedy, if only because it is not true. We marvel at babies because they are new, but I maintain that the claim of subsequent aging is a puffed-up myth. Human beings are always new. Their toddlerhood is their first toddlerhood, their adolescence their first adolescence, and their adulthood– whatever on earth that means — might as well be their infancy. When we meet a man on the street, we are meeting a newborn.

If the Hindu concept of reincarnation were true, then perhaps we would have an excuse to be bored with other human beings, an excuse for our current treatment of our brothers. Here is a baby, we might say. This is his 47th infancy. His hands are small and they will be small again, and again, and again. But the Christian worldview — in a stodginess that allows me to breathe freely — denies this, and denies it adamantly. A human life is almost blasphemous in its existence. You are born once, an entirely unique and unrepeatable human being. You will die once, never to return. You are a blight unaccounted for. I hate to say it, but Katy Perry was right: Babies are fireworks, from the ignition of conception to the explosion of death. We crowd the streets with our neighbors to gaze and wonder at an eclipse that will not repeat itself for another 300 years — but is it not equally true that our neighbors will never repeat themselves, and that we should look at them with an even greater reverence?

But we don’t. And we would be damned by our silly world, never to see our brothers and sisters in the light of day, if it were not for this:

It is an incredible fact — and one that I should be shot for not noticing until now — that it is not only acceptable, but rather expected that you treat your lover like a newborn baby. You develop pet-names, speak softly, create a nonsense language, marvel at fingers and hands — you smell the top of each other’s heads, for goodness’ sakes! And these actions — while certainly part of eros — are not immediately associated with sex. You’d hardly find an honest woman who would claim that goo-goo talk with her man is only foreplay. This is not to say that these things cannot be part and parcel of the awesome and beautiful marital act, but simply that they are first and foremost a product of the reality of love between the husband and wife. In somewhat of a profound mystery, Love urges us to treat another like a newborn. It is Love that inspires us to reject the lie that human beings grow old, and thus boring, and instead to call a human being what they are: Baby. Love is not blind, it is the gift of sight! It removes the cataracts of boredom and repetition, allows us to see each other for the first time.

For the Christian, this should be no surprise. Look at what our our great Lover and Bridegroom calls us to become: Little children. Look at the name we are blessed with: Children of God. There are no adults in the eyes of God. Why? Because God is Love, and Love sees for the first time.

Did He not tell us this very truth? When Christ said “I make all things new,” he was really saying something extraordinarily practical: He was telling us his name. He did not say, “I will make some things new,” nor “I sometimes make things new.” No, Christ defined his whole being. I am He who makes all thing new. I am Love. It is the very nature of God — unbound by time — to see us as when we were created. We are forever his newborns. This is why the prophet Zephaniah proclaims that “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Quiet me? Sing over me? These are not the actions of the aloof dictator or heartless clockmaker that the world would have God limited to. These are the actions of a Father marveling at his newborn baby, the actions of a God of Love and Truth and Beauty and Goodness, holding you, filled with joy over the fact of your fingers and toes, overwhelmed by how immensely beautiful you are. This is our God. Thus, becoming “like little children” is not an action that requires a great effort on our part — it is simply the recognition of who we truly are. When we live like little children we are happy, not only because we are free to put all concerns in the hands of God, but also because we are for once free to be ourselves.

As Christians we are called to see our brothers and sisters with the eyes of God, and thus with the eyes of Love. We are called to see their immense value, not for what they do — Heaven knows we can be a vindictive, spiteful bunch — but for who they are. Obviously, this does not mean treating every man we meet like a baby. But it does mean that we should allow the wonder, the mystery and the beauty of life — that unrepeatable, ever-new gift — to fill us every time we are with our fellow man. This is his commandment, that we love one another, that we see each other in the light of day, that our joy may be full. Let us be born again indeed.

  • Lauren Rose

    This one is really fantastic. Especially the part about how we are so eager to see eclipses and stars that only appear once every “x” amount of years, and while that is spectacular in and of itself, we (often) fail to notice that the very people beside us are only here once. Ever.

    Wow, that’s so powerful! Thank you for the insight, as always!

  • Fisherman

    That was poetry Marc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeni.wilmot Jeni Wilmot

    “We believe that all of humanity deserves free medical treatment,”

    …but want to kill babies that aren’t perfect. So sick of the double standard for special needs kids.

    Just thought I’d use your line for my angst. Keep up the good writing!

  • http://www.michael-carper.com/ Michael Carper

    This was great. We’re all born again.

    • Ryan

      Love it. But I could really really use some insight on how to love those among us that are so hard to love. (those who support killing babies, those who bash us for having morals, president obama, etc.)

  • Jay E.

    Good Lord, that was beautiful! Sing to the Lord a new song!!!!

  • Eli Roberts

    That was fantastic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=63705478 Laura Camp

    Wonderful insight about the behavior of lovers.

    • Laura

      Indeed

      • Bob S. in NC

        I agree – I found myself saying, “Duh – why of course! Why didn’t I see that before!”

        Such mystical yet earthly imagery is rare…and thus precious!

  • Mike

    Where do you find the time to eat and sleep my boy? You write so well that its as if you labored over your computer for days… You write so often that it is as if your blog is just a stream of contiousness flowing from your fingers. All from someone who is younger than some of my T-shirts. You should change your blog name to Channeling Chesterton. Tell me how you do it?

  • Pietra

    How to tell when a blog post is lightning-bolt good: 80% of the post is read with the reader’s mouth open like a fly-trap, exclaiming “Ohhhhhhh!” over and over.

    You know, the very best part of your writing is actually not your insights, incredible as they are, but the way you articulate them.

  • Oscar G

    Thank you for this, Marc, it was deeply moving and beautiful!

  • http://www.onemoremum.blogspot.com/ Mrs L

    Stunning. So beautiful.

    A quote comes to mind:
    ‘Everyone wants to save the world but no one wants to help Mom do the dishes.’ -P.J. O’Rourke

    And also the poem ‘The World State’ by Chesterton himself- I assume you know it?

  • http://knowledgehungry.wordpress.com/ Jeanne G.

    This is wonderful, Marc. God bless you!

  • MEG

    Wow. God bless you, Marc. The Spirit is clearly alive in you. I am going to use this with my Confirmation class on Sunday night – not sure how yet, but they all need to hear this. Thank you for what you do here, Marc. You inspire us all.

  • Janie

    Wow. I feel as if I could be talking to Chesterton. I always regretted being born too late to meet him, but your writing is so reminiscent of his. It really brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for adding more beauty to this world.

  • Mags

    Your brilliant. Great post.

  • Pippa

    Thank you so much for writing this – It is beautiful, and it is really making me think.

  • Bob S. in NC

    I’m 57 and I felt like scales were falling from my eyes, heart and mind. Yes, I “sorta” knew these things but hadn’t heard them expressed so clearly and eloquently. Thanks, Marc, for forcing me to slow down and really, slowly concentrate on this important reflection.

    God bless you and all who read this blog!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    An Idea stepped in flesh into the world – Lord preserve us! You are wise — because, in part, you speak the worlds of dead living people, to living dead people. Which in the first come from the Living Life Himself.

    Cannot forget the Chesterton story about how being born is the ultimate adventure…

    And the Song “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath

    God Bless! Let us defeat the zeitgeist!

  • http://www.facebook.com/iancelada Christian Celada

    beautiful!

  • http://ohnimus.wordpress.com/ Christian Ohnimus

    Wow. Such an inspiring post. I don’t even know what to say except that I’ll have to reflect on this more.

  • http://surrealhours.blogspot.com/ Anna

    This is—I couldn’t find another word—sweet.

  • Sonia

    I love this. Thank you!

  • Aurora

    I strongly believe that this is the best thing you have ever written, and that is SAYING something. You truly, truly have a gift, and I pray that you never stop writing.

    God bless you, Marc. You are a beautiful soul, and our Jesus Loves you so, so much.

    • Virginia

      I agree. Thanks for letting God use you so wonderfully. :)

  • Angela Pea

    Absolutely wonderful, Marc. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Inara-Howard/1229293869 Inara Howard

    Wow. So true…and so beautiful.

  • Mary

    Ive just discovered your blog (a friend linked me your open letter to Obama; so amazing). I have been reading backwards from there, and let me say that I find every thing you write to be so beautiful. I am currently going to a very liberal liberal arts college, and I have felt my faith being tugged at on all sides since arriving here. There is not even a church I can go to with in walking distance (I have no access to a car, although am trying to find a bike so that I am able to bike the 15 miles to church). Just reading a few of your posts has been like finding water in a desert. I can feel my faith being refreshed and nourished. Thank you so very much. I hope to be come a regular reader. I cant guarantee my self that that will happen (school…grrr…) but I just wanted to take the time to tell you just how much your posts mean to me. Thank you.

    • Marc Barnes

      People like you are the reason I write! Thank you for reading, and I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Ryan

    Love it. But I could really really use some insight on how to love those among us that are so hard to love. (those who support killing babies, those who bash us for having morals, president obama, etc.)

  • Jay David Ramos

    I am speechless! This is THE BEST article I’ve read in a long, long while! I read a lot of write ups and blogs, like those of Fr. Robert Barron, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Chesterton, etc. And I know you’ll probably just dismiss my impression of you, but WOW, just WOW! Bookmarked! I’m following your blog from now on.

  • Jay David Ramos

    I am speechless! This is THE BEST article I’ve read in a long, long while! I read a lot of write ups and blogs, like those of Fr. Robert Barron, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Chesterton, etc. And I know you’ll probably just dismiss my impression of you, but WOW, just WOW! Bookmarked! I’m following your blog from now on.

  • Bridget

    Oh Marc , you have a crazy , insane , beautiful , talent that you must never forget or misuse , lest heaven smite you.

  • Édouard

    This reminds me of a Linus van Pelt quote:
    “I love mankind… It’s people I can’t stand!!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/mclessard Mariclare Elizabeth Lessard

    I’m in love with your mind.


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