Reviving the Art of Neighborliness

Today I conducted a funeral for a man who was a longtime resident of Laurel, MD. The man was in his early 80’s. In recent years he and his wife had become Florida winter birds until this past year when the man got sick with cancer. And yet the sanctuary was packed with people, all kinds of people, young and old. There’s a reason for that…

Laurel has that classic small town feel, even with all the growth and expanding diversity Laurel has seen over the last 30 years.We have an historic district, a mayor and city council, a Main Street, and lots of community events. There’s a Masonic lodge and a Moose lodge, a Rotary Club, and a plethora of other kinds of clubs and fraternities. Of course there’s a Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.

It’s not too difficult to get to know your neighbors here, and yet Laurel is one of the most transient places I have ever seen. Situated right between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., most people move here for a few years at a time and then move on. Hardly anyone decides to retire here.
NeighborsI’ve conducted many funerals for longtime residents of Laurel, people born in the 1920’s and 30’s. And I’ve always heard these things said about them:

“They were the neighborhood parents and grandparents. Everyone knew they could go to their home and called them Mom and Pop.”

“He never knew a stranger and treated everyone the same, whether it was a homeless man or the mayor- made no difference.”

“She and her girlfriends got together every Thursday night at the Tastee Freeze for coffee and ice cream. They never missed it.”

“I could rely on him for anything, and anything he had was yours.”

“I never met a more generous, warm, welcoming woman in my life. Her home was my home.”

I have to admit, it’s hard to find younger, more mobile people described this way today. It’s not that people have changed. I don’t think human nature does change. It’s just that with our high mobility and ever complex schedules and lifestyles, we’ve become detached and isolated from each other. Now it’s possible to live right next door to someone, never know anything about them except their name, never enter each others’ homes or have anything to do with one another.

Recently I heard someone describe the decline of neighborliness this way: we’ve gone from homes with front porches to homes with back decks. So true…

In an ever complex, highly mobile, fast-paced world, we need to re-discover the art of neighborliness.
I want to suggest a few things:

  • Let’s slow down to get to know the people around us. What’s going on with them and their families? What do they like to do? How can we support each other? Invite them over and hang out.
  • If we’re too busy to be a neighbor, we’re too busy. Slow down a bit and make being a neighbor one of our personal priorities, higher up on the list. Schedule neighbor times.
  • Use social media to be a neighbor. Instead of just posting the latest meme or complaining about your hangnails, use it as a way to encourage and love on people. For example, I have friends in California I have never met in person. In some ways, they have been better neighbors to me than some of the people in my own neighborhood. They’ve been there for me in critical times with phone calls and gifts, and when I need a boost, they send thoughtful notes. Even through we’re on separate coasts, they’ve shown me how to be a good neighbor.

All of this reminds me of a very practical admonition given to an early Christian community in the book of Hebrews:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

I know there are many many other ways to be better neighbors. What are some ways you’ve experienced good neighborliness? Leave a comment, and in the spirit of being good neighbors, let’s continue the conversation on our virtual front porches…

1 Comment

Filed under Church Culture and Leadership, Cultural Quakes

One Response to Reviving the Art of Neighborliness

  1. Carol

    It’s not just the mobility and the busyness that separates us. Even more alienating, IMO, is our dogmatic ideological mindsets and hedonistic cravings driven by an economy based on materialistic consumerism.
    We are a very diverse species within which each individual has unique interests and desires, situational circumstances and dreams. A healthy society sustains a balance between libertarian individuation and communitarian cooperation.
    We live in a Hobbesian society where ruthless competition and predatory selfishness has become mainstreamed.
    After the last Presidential cycle, I have begun to believe that many (most?) professing American Christians have more faith in our dysfunctional political process than in Grace to heal our social ills and solve our economic problems.
    “Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace.” ~Simone Weil
    “As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.” – Vaclav Havel
    “Without commonly shared and widely entrenched moral values and obligations, neither the law, nor democratic government, nor even the market economy, will function properly.”–Vaclev Havel, Czech Politician
    “The law is only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better… Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.” ~Vaclav Havel
    “You may ask what kind of republic I dream of. Let me reply: I dream of a republic independent, free, and democratic, of a republic economically prosperous and yet socially just; in short, of a humane republic that serves the individual and that therefore holds the hope that the individual will serve it in turn. Of a republic of well-rounded people, because without such people it is impossible to solve any of our problems — human, economic, ecological, social, or political.”– Vaclav Havel
     Great nations rise and fall.
    The people go from bondage to spiritual truth,
    from spiritual truth to great courage,
    from great courage to liberty,
    from liberty to abundance,
    from abundance to selfishness,
    from selfishness to complacency,
    from complacency to apathy,
    from apathy to dependence,
    and from dependence back again to bondage!
    –Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

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