Tag Archives: neighbor

Why Neighborhood Relationships Are Sacred


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.) The 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.

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.”

That commonality has sacred implications.

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.

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 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.

Why We Must Teach Our Children to Not Give Up Doing Good


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The joyful anticipation of the beginning of Summer break became tainted with disappointment as we walked home from school that day. My fifth grade son and his friend and I sauntered down the sidewalk in conversation as the warm breeze brushed over our bodies; a reminder of God’s never ceasing hand at work.
Our journey came on the heels of the fifth grade awards assembly. You know the drill: outstanding students in academics, athletics and extracurricular activity are recognized before an assembly of teachers, staff, students and parents. My son and his friend did not receive one. Both are smart, kind kids. But they did not fit the criteria for the awards. They understood that.  However, a dissonance remained.
“Why didn’t the volunteers for Circle of Friends get any rewards?”
Little did they understand the depth of the question.
Circle of Friends is the name of the group  in which they both participated. It’s focus is on engaging students from the mainstream classrooms with students with special needs. Normally these particular students are not integrated into the regular classrooms due to the severity of their disabilities. The group offers a community in which all learn from each other. My son and his friend volunteered for it. My son’s eyes lit up when he shared about his experiences.-building snowmen, going to McDonalds for Shamrock shakes, and enjoying parties together.
During the assembly, most every type of extracurricular activity was recognized. Except this one. Which seemed paradoxical in a sense; given the philosophy behind the group.
But here’s the rub. We don’t “do good” for the recognition.
Wrapping our heads around that reality? Well, that becomes a challenge. Especially when our hearts depend on Earthly motivation to reach out our hands.
Sometimes, the blessings appear invisible. We may not see the immediate “return” on our investment.
Serving a meal at a shelter? May not yield one thank you.
Sacrificing snacks and beverages  to the needy neighbor kid who practically lives at your house? May not immediately result in a verbal recognition of your actions
Embracing a person in a vulnerable season of life? May not guarantee their back turns away from you at some point.
Extending an olive branch to the person with whom you butt heads in church? May not resolve the conflict instantly.
So while I understood the disappointment tugging at the hearts of my two tween companions that day; even resonated with them, I held a greater truth in my heart. One which can only be learned through experience.
 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
The truth is this: sometimes we are witnesses to the harvests of our own sowing but sometimes we are privvy to  the harvests sowed by others.
The harvests visually remind us of the obedience of its workers; workers who may not be aware of the abundance of the harvest’s yield. When it emerges, it may not even be in our lifetime or in our vicinity.
Ann Voskamp writes, “Believe it: Every tremor of kindness might erupt in a miracle on the other side of the world. http://annvoskamp.com/2015/09/when-you-just-want-to-know-its-all-going-to-be-okay/
So “keep on keepin on.”  When recognition fails. When fatigue sets in. When results appear far-reaching. A harvest awaits…

How Redemption is Found in a Changing Landscape


As I step outside on this spring day, my eye catches the transforming landscape across the way.
For as long as my family has resided next door to Ray, the small strip of land between our driveways has given witness to the hand of our Creator.  On Summer days, my first glance captured the vibrant multicolored blooms lining my black tarred driveway. Further up the strip, tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers and giant sunflowers towered over anyone standing in their midst. Often our home was blessed with portions of this majestic bounty.
Ironically, as the fruit blossomed, his health withered. In the last five years, the strip of beauty gradually shrunk to a small rectangle. Patches of Earth spawning bits of grass spread where blossoms once lived. But not on the whole piece of land. Despite Ray’s fragile health, his passion for producing a bountiful harvest remained. His adult children now took on his role.
Once again, the symbols of Spring emerge. Traditionally, speaking, planting activity along his side of the driveway should be visible. But it isn’t. A few weeks ago. Ray died.
Much will change this summer. The blooms and the outdoor conversations will cease between us.I have written previously about those unfiltered moments between he and I. Ray resisted the longing arms of his Creator. Yet, God’s voice continued to speak-through the colorful display of nature dotting the land between our homes-and through neighbors. I’m not sure what decision Ray made at the end. We will never know.
Though death has occurred, God’s hand is still working.
Today, there is new movement across the way. Yes, the evidence of death lies blatant. His voice no longer calls to me as I venture out to get the mail in my bare feet; an act for which he would chastise me. “You need to tell your husband to buy you some shoes,” he would say with a slight smile. His blue chair in the driveway appears lonely.  But the ceasing of one rhythm in my life has given way to a new one.
Laughter, the aroma of bbq, footsteps, and machinery compose the new beats. An audio soundtrack accompanies the visual changes. His son and grandson inhabit Ray’s home now; moving forward in steps of restoration and healing.  The deterioration of health coincided with the deterioration of his home. Although his son, lived there, Ray resisted any transformation of his home. I suppose whatever bits of feisty independence remained were reaching to exert control.
Now, a beautiful new landscape develops. Outside, large machinery reshapes overgrown, dried, brush.  New colors and textures emerge on a three dimensional canvas. One which flows inside as well. Fresh coats of paint bring life back into  these old walls. Brokenness begins the journey to restoration. Both in things and in relationships.
Redemption.
As I gaze out my window this morning, I watch a neighbor transport tree trunk sections on a dolly across the street to his home.  Until yesterday, the trunk, rooted in the ground, supported death.  Life had ceased in the body attached to it.  What will become of it now?
And then my mind made the connection: The hands of my neighbor, a skilled sculptor, will carve into the wood. Beauty lies beneath; anticipating it’s birth.
Transformation.
Tomatoes and blooms yield to new. different. hopeful.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19).
The master hand of the Creator is at work. That which is created takes new forms. The process is not yet complete. But what a privilege it is to watch it unfold.

How a "Cranky Man" Opened My Eyes to Divine Interruptions


His presence in the doorway, caught me off guard.  Normally, I observed him shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. ”  During my visits to my grandmother’s room in this assisted living facility, this elderly man and I routinely passed each other. Often, his facial expression spoke of anger and his sharp outbursts to others to “Move out of my way!” convinced me that avoidance might be best. In fact, he was known in my head as “cranky man.”
So on this particular day, I was startled when I spied him pausing in the doorway of my grandmother’s room. The door had been left open to the main hallway because my mother, sister, and I were cleaning out her room. A few hours earlier, we had laid her to rest. Her death brought an end to a deterioration of her health; culminating in a recent diagnosis of bone cancer. It was a day full of emotion, pondering and celebration. As we focused on going through the items during what was already a long day, “cranky man” wandered in to ask how things were going.  I must admit that two thoughts came into my mind upon his greeting: 1) “It’s the cranky man who tells us to be quiet” 2) “I just want to finish”.
Ironically (and I’m convinced divinely appointed), my young son came running in the room which caused the conversation to turn to the energy of a 10 year old.  Being polite, I asked our visitor where he grew up.  To my surprise, he answered, “Chicago.”  Well, of course, that drew me in. On top of that, he had been a pastor. Who knew that we shared two common elements in our stories?  For the next hour, I was engaged in conversation with this man who I merely knew as my grandma’s neighbor.
I listened as Bob (no longer the “cranky man”) shared the most amazing story of his childhood. Placed in an orphanage as an infant, he was later  adopted by a couple. His parents, both followers of Christ, added two more sons through adoption. As Bob told his story, his eyes conveyed the love he had for his father; a man whose life radiated Jesus.
Bob’s father was a physician and felt a tug to leave a potentially comfortable place in life to a small town in Illinois. The size of the town wasn’t an issue of adjustment. However, it didn’t believe in medicine! Despite the very real possibility of being ostracized from their new neighbors, moving plans proceeded. As a young boy, Bob wondered how the family would be treated. Would people befriend them?
Perhaps church would provide a place of welcome and refuge for this family of five. Boldly, they made their way to worship one Sunday. What would happen if anyone knew of his father’s occupation? Bob fearfully waited for reaction…..A man suddenly stood up; pointing at Bob’s father.  News travels fast in small towns. The rumors of a physician coming to the town had been realized. The man; recognized. A demand to leave followed.  Apparently, the perception of medicine was correlated to evil. Firmly, and bravely, this physician responded that his family was staying.
To three young boys, one had to wonder if they perceived that action as a blessing or a curse.
However, in telling me the story, his eyes lit up as he shared the courage his father showed in choosing to  stay despite the church praying for him to leave. What would give his parents the courage to make such a choice? Where are they finding peace in this tension?
What Bob so powerfully witnessed was the hand of God moving beneath the scenes. This physician brought healing to wounds of the flesh but also restoration to wounds of the soul. The knees of three young boys ached from their nightly prayer routine. Patients names were added to other list. Sometimes, the prayers lasted an hour. Despite the admonition to keep the information confidential, the manifestation of the hand of God appeared before their eyes.
The transformation that took place in that town as a result of his father’s legacy continues to reap fruit. In fact, with tears in his eyes, Bob recounted the day his father died suddenly. The entire town shut down for the funeral.
The conversation morphed into lighter substance. We laughed about his rebellious antics which resulted in being kicked out of a prominent Christian college. We agreed that we would meet up again. How could I not? I longed to be blessed more from his gleanings!
In one hour, Bob let me into his soul.
How many other times have I tuned out such an encounter? What more of God’s character and works would I know if I learned to open my eyes and my ears to the nudges of the Holy Spirit?  What blessings do we miss when we don’t tread in the places resided by the “least of these?”
I would have never imagined that the most profound moment of that day would come after my Grandma’s funeral.  God is Good.

The Hard Work of Being Neighbors


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?

"If the Church Would be the Church"


My neighbor and I have some lively discussions. It’s refreshing; actually, since our demographics differ greatly. He is an 80 year old widower, father, grandfather, vet; and agnostic   I am 50, wife, mom, and Christian.  We talk about everything: parenting, economics, the state of the country, gardening and when the Spirit opens a window of opportunity-religion. Although his wife was connected to a church family, he had (and continues to have) no desire to learn more about the character of God nor be part of  the body through whom the Holy Spirit here on Earth.
The funny thing is, we share similar philosophies regarding many issues such as parenting, lifestyle and a belief in right and wrong.  The difference of course is that I see my worldview reflecting the “kingdom” on Earth in which I live.  One that is supposed to radiate light to others; one that should bring a salty flavor to those who encounter it; one that turns the human ways of looking at things on its head.  It is indeed a Kingdom that began as God chose to be in covenant with imperfect human beings and through whom would show the other nations that “I am your God”.
As our recent discussion turned to the issues of abortion and valuing life, I heard him passionately state his sadness and anger at the act.  Personally, I  believe abortion to be more than a legal issue. I think there are a plethora of social layers that must be addressed in order to decrease abortions, I stated to my neighbor, “Well, it would help if the Church would be the Church.” 
He stared at me for a minute before replying, “You know…that’s a good one!  That is really true. ‘If the Church would be the Church’, he mumbled to himself. “I’m going to remember that.”
When I said that, I wasn’t referring to protesters outside clinics  or social media comments. I was referring to being the hands of feet of Christ who bear the image of God through actions that seek to restore and bring wholeness-providing, shelter, materials, friendship, help along the journey of giving life. Hopefully, it would result in reducing the possibility that abortion would even be considered as an option.
Because of Ray’s reaction to my statement, I am left pondering the question, “Why is he not seeing the Church?” 
Who else is not drawn to it because its visibility has diminished; it’s saltiness has become stale; its light-dim?
Certainly, we, in our humanity,  can’t fix everything.  Earth is a taste of Heaven.  But at the same time it’s just that-a taste.  Shouldn’t there be something about living in God’s Kingdom that would make people walk away from life as they know it in order to be part of such a place?
Casting Crowns’ song, “We are the body” so eloquently asks the questions we as the church should be asking. (the song is based on James 2)
But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing
them…..There is a way?
As Jesus is the way.
In my next post, I will share some creative ways that the body of Christ’s arms reach others in their dire circumstances and show them Jesus is the way.