Let’s assume that most of us are “pretty good neighbours”. We keep our place neat, seldom make too much noise, shovel our walks and give friendly greetings to those living around us when we see them. This is good.
But just exactly who is my neighbour? The Art of Neighbouring, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon is the title of a book and subsequent spin-off sermon and small group series that we are starting this week. The implied definition of neighbour is given through a bingo card with nine squares. You are the centre. Who are the people living beside across and behind you? Modify if you are fortunate enough not to live on a full grid. We, for example, can’t see people behind us, and so will use four houses across from us and two on either side. But am I allowed to skip the house that for some reason I have never gotten to know and suspect I won’t be best friends with?
Well just exactly who is my neighbour? Luke 10 includes the story of the Good Samaritan. Oh, you know that one? Yeah, you are a neighbour when you help someone in need. Love your neighbour as yourself. The authors of this series ask the question “what if Jesus meant us to love our actual neighbours?” I don’t know about you, but I can only say that perhaps I like some of my neighbours. Love requires a relationship. Love leads to an opportunity to be served. Love and neighbour equals sacrifice.
Which brings me to the horror of the murder of George Floyd. A stark reminder that there are huge unspoken barriers to being a neighbour. Rampant systemic racism does not produce good neighbours. When you speak to a neighbour who is black how do you enter this conversation? Your gut screams “avoid it” just like we have often thought being colour blind is the solution to racism. That is the equivalent of saying history has not happened and race does not exist. Things are the way they are because of slavery, which was supported by theology and preaching, and a bias that has wormed it’s way deep into our souls. You may not practice overt racial discrimination, but make no mistake, if you live in North America this is not somebody else’s problem. We are a racist society. We may be people in that society trying not to be racist; but we are still a racist society. You get treated somewhat according to the colour of your skin. I am part of the reality of white privilege, which means I am given the benefit of the doubt before any questions are asked. I may prove them wrong, but I start most conversations on top of the hill. I can’t imagine what it is like to be presumed wrong just because of how I look. We need to own and name these realities if we hope to move forward out of them. Humble honesty about our brokenness is the Christian teaching of confession….and naming the truth begins to set you free from its power.
So when we start this difficult journey (it is the “Art” of neighbouring because it needs to flow from the creative depths of your soul, not the “duty” of neighbouring which requires going through the motions) let us be clear that it is going to be difficult. Difficult in the “worth the effort” category. Difficult in the “whoever wants to follow me must take up their cross” category. Difficult in the “change the world one relationship at a time” category.
So, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” If you want to really experience your truth, I recommend that you find someone or a group of people outside of your home with whom to do the exercises of this series. We are recommending online small groups for now. But please recognize that your answer to questions and your accountability for living out the basic command to love multiplies exponentially when you say it out loud and do it together. For the sake of your neighbours, partner up with people on this same journey. Feel free to ask staff to help make a connection, but please engage in this neighbouring journey. We can change the world one neighbour at a time; we were called to do so; this is a basic building block of following Jesus.
~Pastor Erick Schuringa