The beauty of community pops up in the most unexpected places. Sometimes it’s in the produce section of a grocery store.
Last week, a big party took place in my town. There were no formal invitations. Instead, signs posted in the ground along a busy road beckoned people to mark the date. It wasn’t held at a fancy venue in the evening. But rather at a family owned grocery store in the middle of town at 10:00am.
Truthfully, I almost forgot. I had woken up later than expected on Friday and I was preparing to go to the fitness center, I remembered. And, despite my commitment to remain consistent in my workout routine, I knew I had to go to the party. Danny has been a part of our family’s sphere for twenty years.
Truthfully, most of the town could say the same.
Danny is a familiar face in our community. He is often trekking down the main thoroughfare, hanging out in the grocery store, or prompting the train engineer to honk as the commuter train approaches the station. Danny is known to all of us. But more significantly, we are all known to Danny. By name.
Our town, like many others, has experienced change. In the last twenty years, we have grown from a small sleepy, agricultural suburb to one with big box stores and increasing housing developments. Our schools added buildings and the students contribute to one of the now three high schools in our area. We have adjusted to growing pains that occur when communities change zones and character. We have argued sharply about referendums, and local politics.
But we are still neighbors. I believe we all honestly want the best for each other. Even when things get hard and messy. But we all need to be reminded of our identity as a group of people doing life together. One that shares backyard bonfires, block parties, snow hills, volunteers at schools, participates in church together, and sometimes fights.
Danny reminds us that we don’t need to be related to have each other’s backs. Having lost his mother to cancer and navigated through a life involving developmental disabilities, he knows the significance of depending on your “people.” And he has modeled that for us. So, on Good Friday ironically, one hundred people turned out to sing and to celebrate forty years of a life that transforms a neighborhood. One that challenges us to see the Imago Dei in those around us.
It’s through each other that God speaks into our lives in the most profound and unexpected ways. Sometimes, it happens in a crowded, impromptu party “room” that resembles a space next to apples.
For more info about the party, read here:https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/opinion/ct-sta-slowik-berkots-birthday-surprise-st-0421-story.html
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“Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?” The song plays as a soundtrack in the back of my mind as I scurry around town checking off items on my list: pay the water bill, deposit money at the bank, pick up a few items at the grocery store, and indulge in an iced coffee (well, that wasn’t actually on the list.) Familiar characters from Sesame Street serenade me with their chorus.
I find it amusing and yet profound that those simple lessons from childhood continue to speak into my life today. The voices challenge me to think about the answer to the question. In a culture of fast paced, rapidly impersonal exchanges with humanity, recognizing the faces in my community becomes challenging.
Who are the people in my neighborhood? Some are close friends; people with whom I have shared life for up to two decades. We become extended family; sharing the old fashioned act of borrowing a cup of sugar, watching each others’ children, providing meals in times of adversity, driving kids to school and generally doing life together.
The People Who make Up Our Rhythms
Other people in my sphere are not people with whom I interact daily but are familiar faces in the routines of my life. I think of the cashier at the grocery store with whom I exchange pleasantries and small talk a few times a week as she scans my forgotten items for dinner. We don’t know much about each other but have gained glimpses into each other’s world through finding common humanity as we share a laugh or frustration. The woman who waits on my family as we grab snacks at a fast food restaurant on our way to church also comes to mind. We know her now on a first name basis and when we arrive, she already knows what will be ordered. Though not all these relationships have the same depth, they have one thing in common: “connectedness.”
Losing our connecting opportunities
One morning, as I woke up to the radio station set to my alarm, a woman’s voice convicted me that I also woke up to a new reality. As she spoke, I listened to her happily testify to an app she uses to order food and beverage. No phone call. No waiting in line. Simply show up at the appointed time and pick up the order.
What is happening to our connection to one another? I confess, as someone who is middle aged, it’s tempting to fall into the “when I was growing up…” train of thought. Every generation waxes nostalgically about their past while struggling to embrace changes in culture. However, this particular movement away from human connection really tugs at my heart.
The digital age appears to create an abundant number of ways in which we can increase our connections to one another. Social media allows us to initiate relationships with people across the globe. These relationships can offer opportunities to engage with diverse voices. However, it becomes tempting to quickly gravitate toward others according “categories.” therefore decreasing exposure to others different from ourselves.
The sacred significance of face to face encounters
I also wonder how many encounters in the “flesh” are being missed by engagement primarily online. If God’s character is revealed through the Imago dei found in all of us, what are the implications if we create barriers to encountering the breadth of human creation? C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.”
A few years ago, my 18 year old son was searching for a local job. I was surprised at the impersonal process he encountered. Most applications he submitted were online and involved personality tests, questions with limited options for clarification, and background history. Only a few of the many applications submitted resulted in an interview. Most of them yielded no feedback at all; even with follow up phone calls. After a year, he finally landed a position. Ironically, it was one with a pop up store which interviewed on the spot after he inquired about a position in person.
I am reminded that not so long ago, looking for a first job involved filling out a paper application and then walking into a neighborhood shop inquiring of vacancies. In person. No personality test. No exhaustive background check. Risky? Probably. But a certain amount of risk is always involved in entering a relationship. What do we learn about each other as the relationship builds and more of our stories are disclosed?
Changing our social habits
Changing our habits does not come easy. Convenience will likely be sacrificed in order to engage in intentional connections. I am mindful of my own struggles yesterday. As I waited in the neighborhood pharmacy drive through, the woman in the other lane engaged in what felt like a lengthy conversation with the employee. The woman’s dog had accompanied her and became the theme of a mutual adoration for pets. At first, I felt frustration bubble below the surface of my skin. My patience was running low as I typically expect a quick turn around in a drive through. However, my own passionate thoughts about the void of human interaction broke through my impatience. I was waiting for a sacred purpose.
Isn’t this where it starts? I asked myself. Simple observations, Impromptu connections. Transformation on a small scale. Yes, I sit longer while they talk. When these connections multiply within my neighborhood, we all benefit. Trust. Education. Understanding, People are more than their names or titles. Imago Dei. A ripple of connections not only strengthens the fabric of a local community but also has implications globally..
I am inspired by Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.” By reframing how we view our interactions, we can see them as opportunities for transformation: for others and ourselves.
Something amazing happened today.
A conversation took place on my Face Book wall. A significant conversation with lots of opinions. And it was civil.
I enjoy social media for the opportunities to engage with friends that I may not see in person regularly as well as hearing from a variety of voices. I post information that resonates with me as well as perspectives on issues that may challenge us to consider another view.
I have learned in the past, that some newsworthy topics are not suited for online conversation. Knee jerk reactions quickly shutdown productive engagement.
As much as I wanted to share my point of view, I waited. I read. I contemplated. And then my eyes came across a quote which aptly described my thoughts. And with a mixture of hesitancy and conviction, I pressed “share.”
And comments commenced. Lots of narratives. Different views. Listening. Responding. Reflecting.
A group of people who didn’t all know each other engaged in a civil, hard conversation without name calling, stereotyping, or political labeling. Loving your neighbor is not defined by convenience.
“Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.” Luke 6:36.
Conversation involves risk; “laying down our lives” in order to listen. Long ago, hard conversations took place on front porches. Now our porches have moved. We must be intentional in finding them.
Setting aside time to truly connect with others is not always convenient; particularly those whose ideologies oppose our own. Our agenda and comfort level may have to be set aside. It will involve sacrificing time and tools of power.
But loving our neighbor was never defined by convenience anyway.
This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
The party is obvious to anyone driving past the house on the corner.
Every July, our neighbors throw a gigantic party. Initially, it began as a venue for their friends and family. But as the years passed, the party expanded. Now, those of us who live near, are invited to their festivities.
Hundreds of people gather together in eclectic community. To say this group is diverse is an understatement. Our interests and geography vary as well as our political opinions. And the biggie?
Not everyone is a follower of Jesus. In fact, there’s a lot of swearing and drinking that goes on.
But, still, we gather. Sharing food, small talk about kids, who we are, how we know our neighbors. We watch the same magic show every year. Our kids mingle in the bounce house and admire the visiting reptiles.
At night, the chatter becomes music set against the background noise played through the speakers. The Christmas lights sparkle in the darkness. There is an an energy at work that I find comforting.
And apparently, so did my son. One year, my youngest son and I went back over at night. We climbed up on their iconic double decker truck and took in the atmosphere. There was nothing deemed inappropriate for him to observe. He was the one who asked if we could go back. We sat there, underneath the stars on a warm July night, taking in all that was happening below. The chatter, The laughter. The connecting.
Our neighbors are notorious for their wild reputation. But they are also known for their generosity and hospitality.
As someone joked, “you do something to upset them, they’ll take care of you. If you need anything, they’ll take care of you.”
My neighbors don’t realize it but they are demonstrating a taste of God’s Kingdom. One in which all are invited to eat with Jesus. One in which everyone comes as they are, yet, are transformed simply by being in his presence.
Kingdom parties do not involve exclusive lists. There are no stipulations. Big. small. crowded. intimate. coffee. feast. But they do usually require stepping out of our comfort zones to issue the invitation.
“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14
When are you having yours?
On November 9,the day after the Presidential election I woke up to a raw reality.
A tidal wave of voices-loud, vulnerable, celebratory, discouraged, respectful, disrespectful, urban, rural, old, young, male, female-washed over our shared land of Earthly citizenship. The feelings of divisiveness that had been bubbling below the surface for so long exploded. Americans of every political perspective spoke: some through words, others through actions. And running through it all was a question that lurked in the hearts of all: Does my narrative matter-to anyone?
The Pharisees challenged Jesus with this question: What is the Greatest Commandment?
Jesus gave an unexpected answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.“
The Pharisees themselves didn’t fully grasp the implications of their own question.
We don’t often grasp them either.
How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t see your neighbor as yourself?
You see, for the past year, opinions, pleas, conversations have flooded social media, workplaces, social gatherings. There are lots of voices and not all of them are audible. But does anyone really listen?
It’s much easier to reduce people to labels and perceptions that keep people at a distance.
Listening takes work. Especially when passions are at play. Many times, our passions are viewed in the context of our narratives. The problem is that our narratives are not complete. We are still living them. There are more experiences that will shape us, new information that will challenge us and people that we need to encounter-that will further expand our perceptions of what it means to be Americans, as well as fellow Creations of our God.
Investing in others’ lives takes work. Lauren Winner writes about the spiritual practice of hospitality in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She writes, “God’s creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.”
Further,Winner suggests that the invitation happen in the context of our messiness; not when we think we have our “home” orderly, That, my friends, requires vulnerability. Letting go of the walls of our cause and standing in the same space. Acknowledging that at our core-we our both humans-created in the Image of God. We come bearing our imperfections and our common longings for validation.
It’s easy to love neighbors like ourselves. When we feel misunderstood, we tend to look for comfort in those who share our views. We long for someone to listen and validate our pain and hopefully our identity as we see it. But when we engage in those interactions, we must be aware that there is a bigger narrative at work. One that involves the stories of people different than us.
To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others.
The show “Breaking Borders” (Travel Channel) brilliantly challenges us to come to the table-a symbol of community-and know your neighbor. Really. By Listening, Restraining the temptation to exert control with words. Hearing each other’s stories. Asking questions. Understanding that perspective is shaped by our personal stories.
Who would have thought that Israelite settlers and Palestinians living in the West Bank could engage in civil conversation on the politics of homeland? But it happened. Despite disagreements. Sharing stories and breaking bread together remove walls. We recognize that most of “those” people are really like us.
Loving our neighbor can only come about through recognizing that Jesus makes it happen. Even if our neighbors don’t know him. He’s the root of our love.
God ordained love. The kind that transforms the way we see each other through our Earthly lens. Love that is born out of the Holiness of God’s character. Sacrificial love as described in 1 John 4:7-9.
Navigating through these tumultuous waters is not easy, friends. Can we covenant to doing the hard work together? To venture into those sacred spaces as we are led? And to be willing to be transformed in the process?