Won't you be my neighbor?
Hi, I wrote this for my friend Shannon http://shannonvandewarker.com/ a few weeks ago and thought I'd post if for you to take a look at. Take a look at it and give me your opinion.
"Please... I need your help."
These are the words I've been waiting for almost a year. For the past almost two years I've been working on a church planting project with my church. In doing so I've explored several different ways of connecting to my community and have just now begun to find success. Before I share some of the things I've learned I'd like to frame this time for you. Try not to think of it as another blog post rather a discussion that requires interaction. I'd like to invite you into a discussion that would help to stimulate your thinking toward figuring out how to best live your life in a way that fosters authenticity in every arena of your life.
There are so many things I can say about what it means to be "mission minded" or "missional" but I won't... I'm not convinced any of that is beneficial to this conversation. You see too many times we get caught up in the phrases that don't mean anything to the people we live next door to. My neighbors on left are business owners, on the right, care givers, in front day laborers and behind police officers. None of them attend church or run in christian or catholic circles. They speak in terms like "relevant" or "missional". They speak plainly and are interested in things where we find common ground. I've found I have more in common with them than I thought I did.
There is a great need for people to engage within the communities they live in... and yet they fail to. I'm not sure if this is a specific issue connected to the generation of people in their 20's - 50's but I know its real... and sad. Somewhere along the way we've decided it was okay to stop talking to our neighbors. Maybe it's because of technology, maybe mechanical garage doors have helped... who knows. Whatever the case I've had to relearn what it means to be a good neighbor. I've done so by praying a lot, offering a helping hand to my neighbors and asking them for help in return. Do I need their help... No. I have many many friends and many of which are professional and licensed contractors. But... having all my other friends help me and ignoring my neighbors doesn't help to foster good relationships with the people I "actually" live with.
In the past couple of years my wife and I have spent a lot of time studying the best way of connecting in our community. We've learned about the needs of the community. That it needs places for kids to play, training for parents, marriage classes and and emphasis on community building. Divorce is happening all around us. Almost every house that we can see from our front and back door has been touched by a marriage in conflict and in half of the cases it resulted in divorce. These are things we made up, these are things that a local college found in doing thousands of surveys and things I've personally confirmed by a survey I conducted on my own. People want deeply to be connected to one another. That is the truth.
The neighborhood loves the sense of community. We joined our neighborhood watch and used it as a way to throw block parties. They loved it. At our first block party we had over 70 people show up with lawn chairs, beer, water, hot dogs and people stayed for hours. People that didn't know each other but had lived next to each other for 10 or more years. On Halloween my family and I sat outside and put lights where it was too dark and barbecued over 200 hotdogs and passed them out to about half of the people that showed up. People loved it. They would stop and talk about how they wish their neighborhoods did the same thing or how this was how it was when they were growing up. Having a safe place where people can get to know you and each other is a value to many.
I've been to many different neighborhoods and have taken my kids to the same kinds of Christmas and Halloween "hotspots" where people would put up lights and pass out "the good candy" as my wife calls it. I took my kids to these places because I wanted to have a good experience. Then it hit me... I can be a good neighbor and put up christmas lights and pass out "the good candy".
Instead of waiting to have a neighbor you like just become the neighbor you like.
Human beings are quite similar to plants in many ways. They are delicate, need attention, care, sensitivity, diligence, trimming and to be fed quality nutrients. Now I'm not the best gardener but I do love planting things and growing them. I get quite upset when a plant of mine suffers because I care. I think people are the same way. When we take a look at where we live how well would we say are a caring for the different relationships around us. If we are to use the planting analogy, are we watering? Attending to? Being sensitive to? Feeding into?
It's really easy to pull into my driveway and wave at people as I get out of my car. It's a lot harder to pay attention to my neighbor who has tears in her eyes because her husband left her and she needs someone to pray for her and be available to help around the house when she can't figure something out. It's a lot harder to volunteer to give a saturday morning to clean up a neighbor's driveway because they can't get to it due to working two weeks straight and having a new baby... LIfe is hard. It's easier when you have good people around you that you trust. I want to be that person and I hope that as I love people in this way they will see what I'm really about and who my God really is.