by Mark Labberton
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 236 pages, 2010, $20.00.
—Reviewed by Scott Bessenecker, associate director for missions, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
For the reflective and contemplative person, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor will be a penetrating read and a helpful guide. Mark Labberton is a storyteller and a poet; his prose is thought-provoking and his stories are colorful. He skillfully dissects common perspectives about God, self, and others, and rightly identifies that it is in the powerful act of perceiving and naming that injustice springs. “Injustice wracks our world,” he says, “with the complex legacy of God’s treasured creatures misnaming God, misnaming ourselves, and misnaming our neighbor” (p. 123).
In God’s own sacrificial act of redemption toward his broken creation, we have a pattern for our own lives. God treats us the way he wants us to treat others. Entering into the pain of others, rightly naming ourselves and God are springboards to transformation: transforming ourselves and our world. It is a timely and poignant message for “us” who live in the comfortable insularity of separation from the crushing reality for “them.”
What challenged me—an external processor and activist—was reading through the many pages of introspection. Labberton describes watching street kids in India or a man riddled with cerebral palsy with what sometimes felt like clinical distance and academic reflection. After a good deal of writing on the injustice of misperceiving others, my heart jumped when he challenged us to, “Write down ten to fifteen things you could do in the next couple of months…” At this point, I was hoping he might call us to affect justice for those whom our misperceiving has perpetuated injustice.
Instead, he continues, “…to enlarge your understanding and empathy…” (p. 68). Near the end of the book, he encourages us to meditate on a photo of someone in need, imagining life in this person’s shoes. It is in these and other reflections which I felt an imbalance between the disciplines of contemplation and action.
It may be that activists like me need this counterweight of deep reflection. Labberton establishes that it is out of our perception and naming that action arises, and there are one or two passages where he describes very practical, real world responses to people suffering various forms of oppression which are accessible to insular North Americans.
But for those of us who long for help in walking out daily justice in an unjust world, the Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor may leave you yearning for actions that fully embrace the author’s spot on reflections At that point, I would guide you to the below resources.
Check these titles:
Heuertz, Christopher and Christine Pohl. 2010. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Volf, Miroslav. 1996. Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 373-374. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.