I had a dream; a dream of some people picketing a block party with signs and slogans that said, “No More Counting!” and “Never mind the Numbers!” Perhaps I dreamed this dream due to the plethora of people who can preach a great message on how numbers do not matter, but find it hard to apply when it comes to their own evaluations. Our culture loves to communicate success and measure movement by the numbers. So when it comes to block parties, for example, we spend a great deal of time on getting the numbers up. We work hard to make all things presentable. We treat it much like a function that needs to be successful only to find out at the end of the day we never really engaged in any of that ‘loving your neighbour’ stuff. But those decorations were GREAT and we didn’t run out of food. Yet we still needed to ask ourselves the question, “Do you think everyone enjoyed themselves?”
The truth is that a block party is more successful when it focuses on the relationship journey of neighbours. And if you were wondering about how well you hosted, you may want to consider a ‘third space’ to place a block party next time. A ‘third space’ is a park, road or any area that is neutral to you and to your neighbours, which means it’s not anyone’s turf. Therefore, you are free to come and go as you please because its not your party, but instead is owned by all the neighbours.
Let’s make sure that we are not setting ourselves up with expectations that don’t actually count (pun intended). Instead, set yourself up in a way that provides the greatest opportunity for building relationships.
Our neighbours longed for their grown children to gather for a brief reunion. Under normal circumstances this is understandable, but our neighbours revealed they have not talked for a few years. At this point they were glad just to be able to come together and eat dinner. It was at the dinner table that the surprise came: “When we sat down at the dinner table we began by saying that we would say grace. This created a reaction from one of our children, who obviously wanted the privilege to say grace before the meal. We were astonished to say the least. But having not talked for so many years as a family, we were not only delighted to be at the table together, but that one of our children was so willing to take the lead at a time like this.”
The beauty was in the story itself, but as neighbours, we were so blessed by their excitement to share this story with us.
Easter is simply about new life we receive from the good news of Christ overcoming death. Unreal. Unbelievable. Actually believable! Since the good news has been so far removed from our culture, it takes intentional action to engage in those who live around us to help become reacquainted with how good the news is. Our presence among neighbours is valuable to bridge the good news of Scripture with culture. Much like two best friends from high school, who find they have very little in common at the 25th reunion, need something to help to help them reconnect. Just when life seems sucked dry, life is breathed back in.
There is a saying in the Bible that says, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and and the one who has food should do the same (John 3:11).” In today’s western culture we may be hard pressed to find anyone with less than two of anything. Needless to say, it was our neighbours who have been consistently giving our family their extra clothing. To be sure, the clothing they give is of great quality. And it’s not just one piece, it’s four bags full. This is generosity that came unexpected. We were simply asked to pass anything on that didn’t fit. To our surprise, there was a great deal that fit. The casual men’s shoes, some dressy women’s tops and a few other things fit well. On that note, I am always learning how there are so many ways that fit how we can love our neighbours.
In all of this, I must say that we can never duplicate what others do, nor should we, but simply keep our neighbours in mind as we live life with love. We can only do what we are capable of doing and we can only love in ways that we are made to love. So should we all now develop our own ‘share your clothes with your neighbour’ program? No, because the way in which one person loves should never dictate your ways of loving, but it should inspire you to take what you are able to do and apply it to loving your neighbours. This should keep us from saying, “There’s no way I am going to give my clothes to my neighbour….are you nuts?”
This week I responded to an invitation to lead Neigihbourhood Life at a church, and thought it may be a good little piece to share….
“Yes. Sounds good Marc.
One contractor created a sauna near the back alley of his home, generating interest from neighbours. The interested turned this “hot spot” into a connecting place for neighbbours (believe it or not). There is nothing here for you or I to duplicate. Neighbouring is much like google; you develop the ‘platform’ and see where it takes you. Of course, it takes an open mind and an open heart and an imagination that leads to vulnerability, trust and love of neighbour without condition. The sauna is a surprise to some, but the concept is unique to its unique neighbourhood.
This led the young builder to the next step. A few of those who gathered in this neighbourhood liked the idea of a neutral space for some of the families to hang out. It started with the neighbourhood men and a pool table. One of the men said he wouldn’t mind paying $50 a month to help the cause. This turned into momentum for this builder’s dream, and so he literally took the growing contributions to the bank. The bank responded favourably and construction began. A home for the pool table and a serious ventilation system that would help suck out the smoke from the new cigar club that formed in this same neighbourhood.
Oddly enough, one unwritten rule came into play. In order for the neighbourhood to grow, family members are encouraged to show up independently as to enhance connecting among neighbours.
A simple gathering of neighbourhood leaders from all over Alberta took place this weekend. The word ‘retreat’ was fitting since our time was gently structured with questions and statements that would make a person think, at the same time allowed us to spend quality time listening to each others stories. Therefore, the participants also became the presenters and there was no threshold between the front and the back. There was no main stage or speaker and the music was a growing collection of musicians from the families who represented the various neighbourhoods. Our gathering took place around tables where we would meet each other at random and enter in a discussion about how to love our neighbours. It seemed that hanging out with people who are intentional about loving their neighbours shed light on how this can be so different from loving without being intentional.
Earlier in the week I went to four different venues in which I presented material on how healthy and vibrant neighbourhoods come to be. Time well spent! But this was nothing compared to the intentional delivery of a small coat my wife sewed for the new born in our neighbourhood. And then, how our retired parks and recreation neighbour felt the need to stop us on our walk to show us his new dog. Many neighbours had to drive around him, which only created opportunities to acknowledge each other. And on the way back we decided to knock on a neighbours door to re-invite him and his wife to see our coffee roasting shop (since he has consistently shown great interest in this), and he answered the door mid shave, but with great joy! The pure motives to love our neighbours can only be surpassed by our intentional efforts. So often the fear and busyness of life can actually keep us from experiencing life.
Historically, third spaces were intentionally set up for people to have informal opportunity to ‘bump into each other’ as a way to enhance community development. These spaces were referred to as a “PUB” which literally stood for PUBlic place. Other third spaces have been noted as parks and roads which are specified as public property. Not all of these spaces are conducive to public interaction. Therefore, there is a growing need for intentional third spaces.
Soon we will be issuing a press release for such a space in Lacombe, Alberta. The name:
Good Neighbour CoffeeHouse!
It will feature a coffee roasting area and our Good Neighbour Coffee which has featured the true stories of what’s been happening in our neighbourhoods. Our board of directors have been meeting weekly, the last being with our interior designer. And of course the design and space will lend itself to the intentional efforts that has been the heartbeat of Neighbourhood Life. Opening May 2017!
More at https://twitter.com/GNCoffeeHouse
When we have no impressive buildings and no swollen budgets to sustain our work, often only then do we only realize that the best we have to offer this post-Christendom world is the quality of our relationships, the power of our trustworthiness, and the wonder of our generosity.