This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Your Neighbors.”
I’m a bad neighbor.
I couldn’t tell you the names of anyone I’ve lived next to since high school. Anywhere. Ever. Eighteen years, and I don’t know the name of a single one of my neighbors. I think the last name of the guy across the street is Yim, but I’m not positive about that. And I don’t know that from talking to him. I know that from one of my friends getting insurance information after somebody hit somebody’s car, which has happened a bit too often in the seven years I’ve lived in the house I’m in now.
Making it worse is that I’ve lived next to some decent people. The aforementioned Yim has helped me with lawn-mower problems before. Another former neighbor helped out with car problems once. And me? I don’t know that I’ve ever offered help with anything. I’m always glad to help when asked, and have done so on multiple occasions. But being aware enough to offer? I’m too oblivious.
I feel a little bit like I’m missing out, just on enjoying the benefits of that sort of relationship. It would be nice even to have the sort of acquaintance that I would feel OK asking a neighbor to get my mail if I’m out of town, but I don’t.
By and large, however, I’m pretty OK with that.
My Wednesday night Bible study group was recently assigned a curriculum by the church on gospel-centered life, and in one of the lessons, the author talked about the call to love his neighbor. He was doing a bit better than me; he at least knew one of his neighbors, he just didn’t care much for him. He wondered if he should be doing more for the neighbor, and, in particular, witnessing to him, but just didn’t feel any drive to do so.
Skipping everything thereafter in the lesson about how through his good works he got God to change him so he wanted to minister to his neighbor, and the rather large issues I take with that teaching, I’m also pretty OK with where he was, as well.
Increasingly, I feel like we’re living in a post-geographic world. I believe we should love our neighbor, but don’t believe that the idea of a “neighbor” means the same thing it did 50 years ago. And I think we need to be more open to God not being too tied up on geography, either.
I pretty frequently hear people talk about feeling guilty that they’re not witnessing to some person they encounter in their life. “I see ten people at the gym every day, and I don’t witness to any of them, so I’m a bad Christian.”
“Uh huh. And do you feel that God has put it on your heart to witness to any of them?”
“And the problem is?”
There are a lot of people on Earth. Like, really, a lot. And there are a lot of people we encounter as we go through our lives. And I don’t know that God calls us to witness directly to all of them. (I do believe He calls us to witness indirectly to all of them — we should live in a way that makes others want what we have.) I believe He often places us in relationship with certain people to play a certain role in their lives.
And I don’t think He limits that relationship to geographical proximity of residences. We’re in relationship with our “neighbors” at other places where we spend time regularly — our jobs, our churches, etc. We’re in relationship with our community of interest neighbors — the person at the gym or the book club or the improv troupe or the like.
And, increasingly, we have our virtual communities, the people we interact with on Facebook or other networks that we “see” more than our physical geographic neighbors. I don’t think those relationships are any less important to God just because they aren’t about residential proximity. In fact, I believe they’re more important, because they often involve a deeper connection.
And I would hope, that to those people I’m in community with, versus those that just live in my community, I’m really not that bad a neighbor.