Summer is almost over, and I hope many had a chance to take a break from the routines of life ... September brings new beginnings
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” – Fred Rogers
“The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31
It will soon be five years ago that I moved into the parsonage on the corner of 50 East Court Boulevard in West Lawn. I’m very comfortable in my home. It’s more than I need, but I appreciate the two and half bathrooms and the door from the garage into the house, especially in the winter time.
This past fall, my neighbor across the street, whose name I can’t remember, remarked that he never sees me. I told him it was probably because I live mostly on the other side of the house away from his own. The truth is, entering through the garage, I rarely see any of my neighbors. On occasion, when I’m letting Summer outside or putting out the trash, I’ll see Mark or Chris, or their daughter Ruth, who back up against me. If I had to give myself a grade as a neighbor, I’d say “barely passing.”
I have become familiar with Dick and Jean, an elderly couple, who live across the street opposite my driveway, mostly because they like to sit out on their front porch in the summertime and we exchange waves when I’m pulling in and out. When the Spirit convicts me, I’ll walk across the street and sit and talk for awhile. A few years ago, Jean’s son died unexpectedly and she asked me to perform his funeral. As a result, we’ve become closer.
When I first arrived, a neighbor who lives catty-corner to the parsonage was the first to welcome me. But somewhere along the way, I clearly said or did something to offend him. He no longer returns my wave. And, over the winter, stopping for coffee at Wawa, when I saw and greeted him, he walked past without ever saying a word. My daughter tells me not to worry …that “he’s just weird. ” But, it’s unsettling. I don’t do well with the feeling of having wronged someone, or even more, with being disliked. The sad thing is, for now, I haven’t the courage to approach him.
This “loving our neighbor as ourselves” is not as easy as it sounds. It takes an investment. It requires getting out of our comfort zone, time, and sacrifice. Author Peter Block writes about a breakdown of neighborhoods in America… “the problem is,” he writes, “people don’t feel like they ‘belong’ to such places, resulting in ‘an age of isolation.’ …We may live in a particular location, but it’s hard to sense that our lives are with others.”
Being neighborly, “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” “doing unto our neighbor as we would have them do to unto us,” is sacred work. Diana Butler Bass writes that it is through our neighbors that we come to know God…that love of God and love of neighbor are closely connected. For this reason, if we want to join in on the spiritual revolution she is convinced is already taking place with young people across the country, we need to reconnect with our neighborhoods.
I’m personally in agreement with her on this one. I believe the moving of the Spirit is toward things local. It always has been. With modernity, in our pursuit of who knows what, we chose to look beyond our next door neighbor – who may or may not want to have anything to do with us! But that doesn’t change the point. We need neighbors and neighborhoods to become human.
So, what grade would you give yourself as a “neighbor”? What grade would you give our church? I find myself feeling more and more convinced of our need to reach out right here to our surrounding neighborhood here in Lincoln Park. I’m aware of its rich history of neighborliness and I would like us to become a part of its resurgence. “It’s a beautiful day for a neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.”