Last fall, there was a terrible commotion down the street from me—firetrucks and police cars were everywhere, blocking the road. Only later did we come to find out that one home had caught on fire and the fire had spread to the house to its west. Firefighters arrived quickly and saved both houses, though there are still visible reminders of that afternoon in the ongoing repair work to fix the structural damage.
More than being a teaching opportunity for my children, who were frightened to see the damage and hear the sirens, it was a wakeup call for me upon realizing I did not know the names or telephone numbers of either of the households involved.
Not the Neighborhood We Envisioned
I’ll be the first to admit that I have fallen short of my own lofty vision when it comes to creating a neighborhood feel as we settled into our new abode. I had hoped that it would include cookouts and progressive dinners, splitting perennials, neighborhood babysitters, graduation parties, and watching fireworks together with gaggles of neighborhood children running around.
First, that is not the neighborhood we found. Second, six years later, that is not the neighborhood vibe we’ve cultivated.
What we found was a working class neighborhood with high rates of turnover and scarcely any children. I’ve often thought to myself: If I brought the proverbial jello mold to every new neighbor we get, it could be a full-time job!
This isn’t unusual, of course. It’s a near archetype of suburban America. And, though it is not unusual, it is unfortunate. This disconnect begins to hit close to home when we hear St. Mark describe the Greatest Commandment (which is actually two-fold): Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; and loving your neighbor as yourself.
The Ministry of Ordinary Places
This mission humbly asks that we devote ourselves to the overlooked spiritual practice of paying attention to wherever God has placed us. That’s where we begin, and, though it’s not terribly complicated, it will ask more of us than we ever imagined. – Shannan Martin
It was about this time that my unfamiliarity with my neighbors began to get the better of me, and providentially the time when I got my hands on Shannan Martin’s Ministry of Ordinary Places. Shannan is hobby-farm blogger turned city-dwelling writer in the industrial Midwest. She has been captivated by getting to be a part of her neighbors’ lives and is compelled to be a part of theirs. She is an old soul, and the experiences and relationships she shares in her book invite readers to imagine the possibilities in our own lives if we sought to meet the needs of our own neighbors. To live as though God intended our loving ______ (insert neighbor’s name, here), next to loving Jesus, as the most important thing a Christ-follower might do.
No Better Time to Start
February often gets a bad rap. It is stuck between the newness of the new year and mired in the grey skies and chill of mid-winter. What better time is there to begin to reach out to a new neighbor, or someone who could use a hand shoveling their driveway?
But where to begin?
Will I come on too strong if I suddenly start taking an interest in folks I have never spoken to before?
How to Reach Out to Your Neighbors
Here are eight simple points I’ve taken from Shannan’s playbook that serve as a springboard for fostering neighborliness in a season where I am earnestly seeking concrete suggestions. Maybe you are, too. More than that, winter, when we are shut up behind closed doors and windows for a season, is an isolating experience for all of us. Now is the time to spread some unexpected caritas.
- Ask for help // Let neighbors teach you, lend things out, offer insights, and come alongside you in times of need. Do the same for them.
- Cook + share // Make big pots of soup, or kettles of tea, cookies, lasagna—and share!
- Walk your neighborhood // This will nearly force you to run into folks and introduce yourself/check in with them.
- Keep an eye out for one another // Houses and children, alike.
- Offer a ride // Be a resource for someone who doesn’t drive/missed their bus/relies on public transit.
- Dig into local issues // At the neighborhood school, in the local paper, etc.
- Answer the door!
- Be the neighborhood kid hangout // And be prepared to feed them.
Monumental in Simplicity
As Christ-followers, we are called to be long-haul neighbors committed to authenticity and willing to take some risks. Our vocation is to invest deeply in the lives of those around us, devoted to one another, physically close to each other as we breathe the same air and walk the same blocks. Our purpose is not so mysterious after all. We get to love and be deeply loved right where we’re planted, by whomever happens to be near. We will inevitably encounter brokenness we cannot fix, solve, or understand, and we’ll feel as small, uncertain, and outpaced as we have ever felt. But we’ll find our very lives in this calling, to be among people as Jesus was, and it will change everything. -Shannan Martin
Nothing in this book is monumental. In fact, had it been published sixty years earlier, I wonder who would have read it. They wouldn’t have needed a guide to being neighborly; it was already built-in. Our mobile, ever-extending lives have morphed into something so transient that we often do not know the names—much less the needs—of the ones who live right next door to us.
Admittedly, this vision of neighborliness is my New Year’s resolution. It does not have to be yours, too. The good news is, it can take as much or little time as you have. You do not have to be wealthy/single/married/empty-nesting/young/old to do this and do it well.
Imagine how the dynamic of a neighborhood—of our own lives—might change by inviting one new person into it? After all, through hospitality “some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13: 1-2).
Have you read this book? How are you trying to reach out to your physical neighbors?BIS Reads: Ministry of Ordinary Places #BISblog // Click To Tweet
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