My next door neighbor on one side is D, a 94 year old WWII vet who still lives alone in his house and loves harvesting fruit from his numerous trees in his yard and sharing them with the neighborhood. He has an organ in his living room and loves to play it, reads Readers Digest religiously, and ALWAYS has Fig Newtons in the cupboard. The neighbors on the other side are a couple - J and E - married just under 40 years, and their son M. J is retired, and E loves to buy sweet little gifts for my children for most every holiday. M just graduated from college and is looking for his first serious job. Next door to them are F and D, and their son P - engineer and nurse by day, avid food gardeners by evening and weekend. And across the street are P and K, who run their own successful business and while staying at home raising 4 boys, 2 of which are now in college. Also across the street are R and K - college professor and hospital pharmacist, god music and game lovers; P the 84 year old neighborhood watch wonder woman, and her son D who is mister fix/build anything. My neighborhood. My community.
A few weeks ago, as I began a new job as a community organizing specialist, I sat in on a meeting of pastors meeting with a leader of The Missional Network. Alan, the speaker, told a story of a time he asked a room full of church leaders to write the names of their neighbors on a piece of paper. Then write something they would only know about their neighbor from being in their house. Then add something you know they are yearning for. The people in the story were unable to do it, and from the looks between my colleagues around the room, they weren’t likely able to do it, either.
The culture of now is a culture that yearns so very deeply for real relationship and community, yet denies many of the opportunities available to create them. Church is a place that, traditionally, has meant to meet these needs, but theologically has alienated those who feel “othered” time and time again. What would it mean if pastors, and church leaders, and church members, were able to name their neighbors and the joys, struggles, and truths of one another simply because community mattered. Not because they might get them to go to church or whatever, but simply because we remember that community is rugged, and other, and holy, and true. And when we see others as they truly are, we give chance for others to see us as we truly are - L and J, the organizer nun-mom who swears like a sailor and never forgets a birthday, and the contractor energy saving man who will spend his days off solving a neighbors heating crisis or fixing all the bikes on the block, and their kids H - who is the most friendly,and welcoming girl to ever live, and S who smiles at everything and climbs on anything and shares his snacks with all the dogs walking by.