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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 at what was happening.

What’s also clear is that he had only recently arrived at Abbottabad, bin Laden’s hideout. He had gone there looking for greater security as well as a little more peace and quiet.

It wasn’t long, however, he realized he had witnessed the assassination and then tweeted, “Uh oh, there goes the neighborhood.”

What did he mean?

· Perhaps the same thing whites meant when other people of color moved into “their” neighborhoods in the ’60s.

· Perhaps something of the same thing most felt when, on 9/11, there was this sense something had gone terribly wrong in our neighborhood and nothing would ever be the same.

· Athar’s reaction might be similar to the kind of reaction we hear almost daily in the hallways of Congress whenever it is suggested we need a more equitable taxation: “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 borders to 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?”

Isn’t Athar’s reaction similar to that of Catholics during the early days of Vatican II reforms? Or that of Protestants whenever anyone dared to read from anything other than God’s own Bible – the King James?

Some Christians have given up on the neighborhood altogether. They’ve decided it’s time their neighborhood was raptured away, leaving all others behind. Some of them have even predicted a new departure date: May 21.

“There goes the neighborhood!” I don’t know what Athar really meant. What I do know, however, is that if the neighborhood is to survive, we need new rules.

Rule 1: We will not view the global neighborhood as an “us and them,” but a “you and me.” Many neighborhoods occupy this small sphere.

In the West, however, our distinction as a fiercely independent people has made our neighborhood a political, economic and military superpower. But the neighborhood is changing. America 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, 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.

Rule 3: Religions, including and especially my own, will stop sending missionaries to convert the wicked and, instead, send missionaries to change conditions in which people live.

Many Christians 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.”

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.

The point of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25) 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 and cared for the infirm.

This is the new rule of compassion in the global neighborhood, the kind of compassion that will change the neighborhood.

Steve McSwain is the author of “The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God.”

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