Almost two months ago, I received an early Christmas present from InterVarsity Press: a copy of Mark Labberton’s new book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. The book opens with a story that I’ve heard Mark tell twice, once when he was speaking at the 2007 Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors Conference and once at the 2008 gathering of Presbyterian Global Fellowship. Doris, an elderly woman from the church he then pastored, was carjacked. Her response to the carjacker is an incredible example of Christ’s love in action. No summary can do justice to the story. It needs to be heard as Mark tells it, so . . . read it. This book is work checking out if for nothing else than its introductory story.
The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is about much more than Doris and her carjacker, though. Labberton shows throughout the book how the ways we see and name others affect the way we act toward them. As Labberton writes, “The burden of this book is the injustice against misperceived people living misnamed lives in a misnamed world. The individual and collective injustice of misnaming is near the hear of our daily personal and global undoing” (p. 125). When we name someone by their ethnic background, or economic circumstance, or distance from us, we often unconsciously justify our unjust actions (or lack of action) toward them. Those actions reveal the true state of our hearts, hearts which often see with distorted lenses and name with prejudiced assumptions because of our brokenness.
It’s worth noting that the book is intended to be read slowly and interactively, too. This is why I’m just now – a month after Christmas – finishing and writing about the book. Each section ends with thoughtful questions or exercises for reflection to ensure that the message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Thinking through some of these questions helped me recognize the subtle ways I misperceive and misname people. Examples from my work at the cafe frequently came to mind, particularly the example I wrote about for the House of St. Michael blog.
All that is to say, it’s worth reading, and reading slowly. And it’s worth sharing, so I want to give this book away. If you’re willing to read this book and then talk about it with me, it’s yours. First come, first serve. Just contact me, either by email or by commenting here or on Facebook, and I’ll gladly pass along the book to you.