catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 18 :: 2012.10.12 — 2012.10.25



At Mission Year, the organization I work for, we use the term “neighboring” to describe our intentional approach to getting to know and love our neighbors.  Even though Jesus clearly calls us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” many of us still do not even know our neighbors.  If we do not interact with our next door neighbors how are we going to be ready to respond to the “neighbors” that Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan, those who are alienated and in need?

Our pastor once did a 25-week sermon series on “Who’s my neighbor?”  Each Sunday he went over another characteristic of who the man in the parable of the Good Samaritan could be.  Our neighbor is the one who is beaten, sick, neglected.  Week after week we learned another characteristic of who our neighbor was.  By the end of the series we all felt like telling our pastor, “Okay, we get it, everyone is our neighbor!”  That was the point: to get us to live and love as if everyone is our neighbor.

Our neighbors are those on the other side of town with whom we never cross paths and those who live next door. Our neighbors are the people we choose to have in our lives and those who look, act and vote differently than us.  Our neighbors are the drug dealers hustling to survive and the police officer trying to catch them in the act. Our neighbor is the woman who sells her body on the corner and the little girl who passes by her on the way to school.

My wife and I relocated into an urban neighborhood on the west side of Chicago eight years ago to learn to be good neighbors.   Neighboring has helped connect us into the life of the community.  The issues of the neighborhood have become our own.   We have been rescued from our own private worlds and woven together with the lives of others.  This has led to deeper communion and sharing of suffering.

Neighboring is a way we create beloved community.  Meeting as neighbors breaks down “us vs. them.”  Neighbors live side by side as equals.  Neighboring enables bonding over common experiences. Neighbors experience life together.  When our neighborhood got 18 hours of nonstop rain and our basement flooded, we were able to experience that with others on our block who also had their basements flooded.  When we had a giant hailstorm that pelted all the cars, we knew we were not alone.  When the lights went out on our block, it affected us too and we were able to call the city to help get everyone’s lights back on.  When someone needs a ladder, we loan ours out.  When our front yard needs cutting, one of our neighbors does it out of pure kindness. When we were blessed with an abundance of donated groceries, we shared the blessing with others on our block.   

When the cops bust someone we know or the ambulance comes again for the woman at the end of the block, we all feel it together.  One day I was at one of our Mission Year community houses and a neighbor’s house caught on fire.  We ran outside and stood with others as the firemen doused the house.  We stood there speechless as a mother came running toward the house screaming hysterically for her baby.  We were all relieved to find that her baby had been rescued from the flames by a family member.  We suffered and celebrated together as neighbors. Neighboring allows us to engage more fully in the joys and struggles of our neighbor which is really what it means to be the body of Christ.

Neighboring is not only for those who relocate.  Because of gentrification, the return of the middle and upper classes to the cities, the poor are being displaced, pushed out into the suburbs and surrounding rural communities.  Immigration patterns have changed, too.  Where once immigrants were heading to major cities, now they are moving into more rural areas and smaller cities. This creates an amazing opportunity for every single one of us to practice neighboring in our cities, whether we live in cities with populations of under a thousand or over a million.

Neighboring is not only developing relationships with neighbors we know, it’s also reaching out to those who are new to our neighborhoods. When I lived in New Jersey, refugees from Kosovo fled civil war and moved into our community. We were able to welcome them into our small rural community, take them grocery shopping, help them get their driver’s licenses and adjust to being new neighbors in a foreign land.

Neighboring for me now is a deliberate choice to step across the boundaries of our property to strike up conversation.  Sometimes I just make excuses to be outside. I will pick up trash in my front yard, water the flowers, sit on the stoop.  I will say “hi” to people who pass by our house.  When I see other neighbors outside I will take advantage of the opportunity to have some interaction.  One of our volunteer teams got creative to get to know their neighbors and fix a pesky problem at the same time.  On their way to the bus stop, they noticed a huge bush that was blocking the sidewalk and forcing everyone to walk in the street to get around it. They decided to go door to door and ask neighbors if they had some pruning shears. They purposely went to Jay’s house last because they knew he would have them and they wanted to have an excuse to stop and meet their other neighbors along the way.  They were able to meet many families they had not met before and even greet a new family on the block. As expected, they ended up at Jay’s and borrowed the shears to cut down the rogue bush. Their simple experiment with neighboring ended up blessing the whole neighborhood. Finding creative and strategic ways to share life and build community is what neighboring is all about.

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