When you grow up in Texas, you grow up with a strong sense of pride in the land. If you travel elsewhere, any Texan that you meet will give you a knowing smile when you ask them where they are from. No matter where you are in the world, you can find a Texan just by calling out, “The stars at night are big and bright…” Texan highways are filled with rest stops that sell any and all objects in the shape of the state. Would you like a Texas-shaped branding iron to mark your steak? Or how about tortilla chips shaped like the Lone Star State? If you want to spend a bit more money, you can hire one of the several companies that specializes in swimming pools that look like Texas.
Pride In Our Neighborhoods
While most places don’t take it to such (possibly idolatrous) extremes, it seems there is something inherently human about loving one’s home. Homeowners and condo boards allow us to channel our pride for the places we live and say “This is where I live. These are my neighbors. This is where I belong, and I take pride in being a part of this community.”
Humans are drawn to community and take pride in the neighborhoods of which they are a part. Dallas, like Toronto and so many other large cities, is a “city of neighborhoods.” If you were to ask someone, “Where are you from?” they would be as likely to tell you which neighborhood they live in as they would be to simply state the name of their city. This pride does not just exist in large cities. I grew up in a small town and I will defend my little hamlet to the death from the ruffians and uncultured citizens of the identical town on the other side of the river.
However, there is something fundamentally wrong with my pride in my home if it is limited to place. I love all the quirks and intricacies of my town, but I do not truly know my city. Even if I can tell you its history, order from the secret menu at the cafe, and avoid its speed traps, I cannot truly know or love a place until I know and love its people, the coworkers, families, and neighbors. Until then, I just love a facade shaped like a city.
Love For Our Neighbors
The Gospel calls us to love our neighbors. In our highly transient world, where it is hard to put down roots, we have taught ourselves that our neighbors are those whom we interact with regularly: our coworkers, classmates, and acquaintances. Our sense of ‘neighbor’ has also shifted to the virtual world. Our neighbors are on our Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. We have substituted the people next door for the people who exist 18 inches from our faces. How can we claim to love our neighbors if we do not know the people who live closest to us?
I was highly suspicious when our pastor told us that we were going to be reclaiming the word “neighbor”. The goal was to return the word to its original meaning. Our neighbors would be those who lived around us. Our actual neighbors. We were not going to go “convert” them or paint our garages with warnings about hell. We were also not going to half-heartedly invite them to some program at church—all the great programs we had run were going on hiatus, so that we could “be a part of our communities”. Instead, we were going to take on the much harder task of simply being neighborly.
This meant that I could not be my normal curmudgeonly self. I was going to have to invite people to my home. Even worse, I was going to have to go to other people’s homes. How could I hide my disgust if they had weird pets like snakes or tarantulas? Would it be worth it to “love” my community? Couldn’t I just post support for the football team online? Surely there was a way that I could love my neighbors without having to know them.
People Worthy Of Being Loved
There was not much fanfare for our first neighborhood event; it was just a few friends from church and some coworkers who happened to live nearby. Our only mission was to “reclaim the front yard” for neighborliness. All too often we had hidden in the back yard behind privacy fences and hedges that protected us from others. Not anymore. We were going to be out front for all the world to see—friends and neighbors sharing a Saturday morning breakfast.
A small sign on the porch advertised free pancakes to passersby. There was no way to know if anyone would show up, but as the morning went on, a parade of people stopped by. Folks on their way to the park and families trekking to soccer games stopped by the front yard to get their fill of pancakes. As they waited around the griddle for a fresh stack of flapjacks, we got to know them and listened to their stories, hopes, and concerns. They got to know us and they got to know why we were doing this.
Our neighbors learned that we wanted to get to know and show love to the community—and not just because we were immeasurably proud of the place itself (although we were). We were opening our yard, our Saturday, and our lives, because we felt that our neighbors were people worthy of being loved. Not only did we love them, but Jesus loved them as well.
The afternoon after the breakfast, the emails and text messages came rolling in. “That was so much fun.” “Are y’all going to do that again?” “Can I bring something next time?” People who had never met before began bonding with each other. They wanted to look past the facade of the community. They wanted to love their neighbors. More importantly than that, they wanted to know where the love we displayed had come from.