Hello! It’s been awhile since I’ve updated this space - and I apologize. Our house had a bout of the flu, and then we went out for town for a few days, but now I’m back - and I have so much to share! But…not all in one post.
I’ve been reading a book called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, which digs in to the Great Commandment - our call as followers of Christ to love God first, and love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
One thing that struck me right in the beginning of the book is Pathak and Runyon’s suggestion that we in the church have done a really good job of turning the notion of “neighbours” into a sort of metaphorical picture, rather than a concrete reality. If you know the Parable of the Good Samaritan (if not, you can read it in the Bible in Luke 10:25-37), you might remember that Jesus tells this story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” And the answer Jesus gives, in this story, is that the one who showed love to a man who was beaten on the road was the true neighbour. And this person wasn’t who people expected; he wasn’t someone of power or prestige. Not someone you’d want to hang out with. But he was the one who showed love.
So - what we tend to do with this parable, this story, is to hear the words of Jesus and recognize that our neighbours are those who we show love to, and who show love to us. And that may come from unexpected places, so we should treat everyone like our neighbour. And that’s good and beautiful and correct…except for that if everyone is our neighbour, then no one is. And we so easily create this metaphoric neighbour-thing, and forget to love our actual neighbours. Those people who live and work and play right next door from us.
I’ve long been drawn to expressions of church that intentionally, tangibly love their neighbours. Their literal, actual, physical neighbours. I love to hear stories of churches starting non-profit organizations or providing space for community or spending time in a nearby park or volunteering in a school down the street - all to serve the neighbourhood. I think God has placed us in our particular places and times and contexts for a reason, and that we are invited to join Him in what He is already doing, right in our own backyards.
So, Jeremy and I have decided we want to find real, intentional ways to love our neighbours here in Oshawa. Last Sunday, we hosted an ice cream party in our front yard for our neighbours. My 23-month-old daughter and I went to each of the 20 houses on our street and handed out invitations for people to come to our front yard, bring an ice cream topping if they could, and enjoy some ice cream on a warm summer evening together. When the night came, Jeremy and I set up a simple folding table in our yard with some big gallon buckets of ice cream and some paper bowls and plastic spoons, and we waited. And waited. No one came for 30 minutes, and just when we were about to pack up and go back inside - EVERYONE came. Out of 20 houses on our street, 15 of those households came to eat some ice cream with us. 25 people total, ages 2 to 85, came and ate ice cream together. And we watched as people who had lived across the street from each other for 30 years finally learned each others’ names. We met our neighbours and they met us, and we heard little snippets of each others’ stories. And the two comments I heard over and over as people eventually went back inside their homes was (1) how nice it is that we can now use names to say hello, rather than just waving, and (2) how we all couldn’t believe that no one had ever done this before, when it’s so simple, so fun, and so meaningful.
The next morning, I watched with pride as two of my neighbours, on their regular morning walk up and down the hill in our street, stopped and said hello - using names - and chatted for a moment. I’ve seen these neighbours walk past each other and simply wave almost every day since we moved here, but this day they could say each others names, remember a shared experience together from the night before, and connect just a little deeper.
Just a little bit of ice cream, and our neighbourhood was already just a little better.
It reminded me of these words from Jeremiah 29:4-7:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Okay, so no one got married and we ate ice cream, not garden vegetables - but in a small simple way, we were trying to seek the peace and prosperity of our little piece of Oshawa. I want to be the kind of follower of Christ who deeply loves my neighbours - both literally and metaphorically. And I am so grateful and encouraged and inspired by how my neighbours came together a week ago, and I pray that God planted some seeds that night. Who knows what He can do with a little bit of ice cream?