Love your neighbor as yourself.
When he was a young boy, my father sleepwalked. He lived in a small town where most everyone kept their doors unlocked. One night, my dad roamed out of his house and woke the next morning in a house several blocks from his. “Boy, who are you?” his naturally distraught neighbor asked. He told her his name. Given the town’s size, she knew of his family and returned him. Did he answer her question, though? Did he really say who he was? No, he didn’t, because there's an enormous difference between how we identify ourselves and the reality of who we are.
Deciding to follow Jesus is a lot like waking up in a strange place. After a long night of self-centered dreams, we find ourselves in a world where our reality is exclusively defined by how well we understand the realities of others.
Who Are You?
In Christ’s paradigm, loving others as we love ourselves begins with concretely understanding who we are. Like my father, the first question we face when we “wake up” to new life in Christ is, “Who are you?”
This begs the incontrovertible truth of being. Essentially, it asks, “What can you tell me about yourself that has been true from the start?” It wants facts that are immune to interpretation. At that level, then, my answer is easy. Who am I? I’m a gay, white male. Other things about me—my values, tendencies, fears, and aspirations—I pick up along the way. They’re personality traits. My personality changes as needed, while my being remains unchanged.
Bottom line: God creates beings; we create personalities. Our beings define who we are, while our personalities describe how we are. It’s vital to understand this distinction. So stop for a moment and fill in the blanks:
Who am I? I’m a ___________, ____________, _____________.
Jesus commands us to love people, not personalities. When we know and accept the basics of who we are, we can know and accept our neighbors exactly the same way. Their personalities may be loathsome, irrational, hurtful, and altogether toxic. We may despise what they’ve done with themselves as much as they hate what we’ve done. Yet we can still love them for who they are—not person-to-person, but being-to-being.