The other day I picked up a book that reminded me that the literal meaning of ‘hospitality’ as found in the Bible means “loving strangers.”
Having just returned from a time of remembrance for those who fought for freedom, I heard the message of “how much” was given for the sake of freedom. It’s true! I could never fully understand the amount of sacrifice given for me to live in freedom today. This truth is also heard most every Sunday, the first day of every week, a day of rest and remembrance of the sacrifice and victory given by Christ so that we may be free! Many preachers and songs try emphasize how deep or great this love is for us. How can we measure this?
It just so happens this week is also when I picked up a book that caught my interest called, “The Little Book of Lykke – The Danish search for the world’s happiest people.” (Lykke is Danish for happiness) You see, the author, Meik Wiking, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, where they measure happiness. Denmark, Switzerland, and Finland are the top three in the world. The book shares a great deal of unique insight to metrics, while advocating for healthy neighbouring relationships. Interesting!
When it comes to loving your neighbour, many wonder how to measure its success (our Western cultures’ metric for most things), and whether or not “its working.” Perhaps we must revisit the remembrance day service, or the church service, reminding us of sacrificial love! There are times in history where people wondered if we forgot. Perhaps sacrificial love was forgotten for a time, but did that change the outcome of measurement as to the sacrificial love itself? And do the answers to these questions change your attitude about why or how you should love your neighbours?
Over the past year it became clear that our neighbour was in the process of becoming a single parent. Our relationship as neighbours grew slowly and steadily. How it had grown was something I was not aware of until the death of her father earlier this summer. At one point, following the news of her father’s death, she asked if I would be willing to do the funeral. You must understand that my role in the community is as a businessman, and, although I am involved as a volunteer leader in our church, I have never been asked to lead a funeral. Having said that, the request to do so was an overwhelming honour. And this made me reflect on how our relationship as neighbours had progressed over time.
Although the story of our neighbour is filled with tragedy and heartbreak, it was good to know that she felt she could come to us during such circumstances. We are grateful to be there for our neighbour, and we look forward the continued journey with her.
I recall a story of two neighbours who didn’t see eye to eye on a few things. The one who told me the story mentioned that he could never get excited about Halloween, especially when it came to all the decorated yards. “Things have come a long way from the day when a few carved pumpkins sat on the front step” he said. To add to the story, he mentioned a neighbour who celebrated the day, which was actually the whole week, with all kinds of lawn ornaments and things hanging from his trees. “There wasn’t much of his yard left untouched” he said. What was hard on the eyes, became harder when invited to tour the neighbours yard. To my surprise, the difficulty in responding to this invitation was overcome by the love of his neighbour. It seems that different attitudes on Halloween decorations could be set aside to demonstrate a love for one another.
On another note, this week marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation….you remember the movement which started with Martin Luther nailing 95 theses on a church door over in Germany. It was a time when various leaders were determined to tell the church that the Bible’s message of good news was that we are ‘saved by grace through faith.’ That was, and still is, the ‘good news’ that comes out of the Bible. And just to be sure, this was not to be confused with a message about earning your way! Another great reminder of the power of love. Can’t buy love, can’t make love, can’t earn love! So that leaves us with giving love. So it is great news that Jesus first loved us…without conditions!
Love God. Love your neighbour as yourself!
One of the greatest opportunities to meet neighbours is on October 31st. Perhaps the hallowed eve is a holy moment since it creates multiple opportunities for neighbours to connect. The beauty of it is its simplicity, especially when you witness the way neighbours come out to be part of something bigger than themselves. You do not need to organize anything, just make sure you are one of the many neighbours that join the parade, or stand on the sidelines to watch it.
So you may want to take a walk this Halloween to say “hi” to the families making their way around your block. Or you may want to stay on your front yard and make a hot cider stand at the end of your driveway. This is an evening when people use their imaginations, so keep this in mind on an evening when you know many of your neighbours will be outside. Perhaps you may want to display 95 comments on your front door for people to read when they come to your home (don’t take that too seriously).
FYI: The old English “hallowed” means holy, sanctified, “set apart” (as for service). Martin Luther’s 95 theses were meant for all Christians, or all “holy ones” – “saints”. He posted them in 1517 on “All Hallow’s Eve”, or “All Saint’s Eve”, at the All Saints’ Church (the University of Wittenberg campus church) in Wittenberg, Germany.
Martin Luther’s core message?: We are saved by grace, through faith, revealed by God’s Word in Christ.
It was my sister’s neighbour who is central to this story. He is connected to most of his neighbours. He enjoys the family life my sister and her family lead. You can tell by his interaction and desire to be among them. I’ve witnessed this in the few times I have stayed there. They all live in BC, about 9 hours from Calgary. On one visit, my sister heard that her neighbour needed to retrieve his truck from Calgary, and was trying to arrange a ride to go and pick it up. When my sister mentioned I was coming to visit from nearby Calgary, he asked if I would be willing to deliver it. And that is what happened! On my way through Calgary, my wife simply dropped me off at the address and I drove it to his place in BC which was only a few houses down the lane from my sister’s place. While I drove this one ton ‘dually’ (nice truck!) I reflected on how much trust must exist among my sister and her neighbour, and I reflected on what it must be like to live in a world where neighbours are able and willing to ask such things. He didn’t really know me that well, so he must have been riding on their relationship. By the way, the truck in the picture is a snapshot of a truck that was parked down the road from his….had us both thinking.
“The Turquoise Table” (Kristen Schell; Thomas Nelson 2017) is a new book about an old concept that challenges us to gather around the table…with our neighbours…in our front yard! Pretty simple concept, but perhaps a lost art. In fact, we may have almost lost our imagination as to how this can be reclaimed. Many families have gathered around the Thanksgiving table this weekend. The joy of this picture had once took place everyday…..and sometimes multiple times on one day! Today, it is a dream for some to be around the table for any given length of time with some of our family. Imagine the family gathering on a regular basis around the table as they did on Thanksgiving Day throughout the year. Now imagine your neighbours gathering around the table throughout the year. These simple acts are transformative for the lives of family members as they are for neighbours and their neighbourhoods!
Whether your table is one colour or another, may we grow in the direction of eating together around the table. Remember and believe!
I became involved with the Great Neighbours initiative and completed the block connector volunteer training in November of 2016. I made some attempts to meet my more immediate neighbours throughout the winter, but began a concerted effort to meet more families in the spring and summer of 2017.
I live on a very long and busy street, and my “block” includes 46 duplexes (family units). I began by knocking on doors, and was met with much enthusiasm by those who were home; however, I discovered that, while meeting people this way was fun and rewarding, it was also going to be extremely time consuming – and I wanted to meet at least enough people to get a sense of who would like to get involved in the initiative and help me put together a block party.
I remembered that, during our block connector training, Rick Abma from Good Neighbour Coffee / Neighbourhood Life was involved in delivering the training and had offered to come to our neighbourhoods to serve coffee and help “break the ice” with our neighbours.
I called Rick and he agreed to come to our neighbourhood on a Saturday morning in early July. My next door neighbour and I dropped off notices at every household on the block, inviting them to come to a “Pop-Up Coffee Bar” the following weekend.
That morning, Rick biked down the street with his coffee bar and, although we didn’t get a huge number of people out, many of those who did show up came from the opposite end of that long block. We had so much fun standing outside in the sun and getting to know one another! And, even better, they were all really excited about the Great Neighbours initiative… and every one of them signed up to help with the block party.
I have come to know these neighbours better over the summer and, without exception, they still talk about how much they enjoyed the “Pop-Up Coffee Bar” that Saturday morning. They all shared what happened that morning with their families and friends, and many of the people they talked to said they would love to do something similar in their neighbourhoods.
On a more personal level, I became involved in the Great Neighbours initiative because I believe it is important to reach out to people locally in order to create inclusive and safe neighbourhoods. I wanted to encourage people to meet one another to offer help and support, as well as to just have fun together. I wanted to see kids playing together and neighbours stopping to talk to one another. And I have seen all of this going on over the summer!
But something else happened too….
On July 31, my family learned that my oldest granddaughter required surgery to have a large tumour removed – and we had no idea of what might come next. As a result, I postponed the August 29 block party date to September 9. Then, on August 15, we learned she would need intense chemotherapy treatments beginning in early September.
I contacted the neighbours who had volunteered to help with the block party, and asked them to come to a short meeting a few days later. I knew I would be unable to fulfill my commitment as co-ordinator of the block party, but wanted to ask if any one of them felt able to take over my role so the party could go on as planned.
Unfortunately, most of them were either going to be away or were getting ready to return to work in September and so were unable to take on the jobs I had assigned to myself – so we agreed to cancel the party for this summer.
But the encouragement and support I received from my neighbours that night was exactly what I needed. They stayed well beyond the half-hour meeting I had requested. We talked, shared funny stories about ourselves, and got to know one another on a new level…and we agreed that we would meet for coffee and perhaps plan some smaller events in the months ahead. Who knew that the “Block Connecter” would be the one who needed to be connected?
Since that night, I have continued to receive support and kindness from my neighbours in the form of cards, emails, inquiries about my granddaughter during short visits outside…and watering my new grass, while I was in Calgary with my family.
This initiative is clearly one of the most important and rewarding things I have ever done – and I will continue my involvement as long as I am able, so others can also reap the benefits of living in such a caring community.
This past week I had the privilege to spend nine days of training in Terrace, British Columbia. At least 40 households seemed to have read our book, “Neighbouring for Life” prior to my arrival which proved helpful in preparation for the days ahead. Among the evenings of teaching and training were the small walks through various neighbourhoods. I was amazed at how people were in tune with their neighbourhoods, albeit they acknowledged parts that were left to be discovered. Day one began with the classic mapping exercise, defining neighbourhood boundaries to which we added names, attributes and matters of the heart. The participating neighbourhoods seemed to blanket the majority of Terrace leading to the vision of their collective community impact; if everyone invested in their neighbourhood by ‘loving your neighbour,’ healthier community and enriched lives would be inevitable. While travelling from neghbourhood to neighbourhood, I heard a variety of stories: Out of nowhere came a man from three doors down who suddenly suggested they should have a block party…..as if he had been listening to us the whole time. Another story highlighted the emergency appendix operation of a young man from across the street who now was telling us the story as we bumped into him on our short neighbourhood walk. More to come. The trip through Terrace was unbelievable! What a great community! I look forward to our follow up training in the new year.