Months ago there was a story on the local news about five children, aged 3-12, who were removed from a home where they lived with no electricity in what cops described as unimaginable filth. The news footage seared my heart & made me ponder how the neighbors reacted when they heard the sordid details lurking behind their neighbors’ door.
I wondered why no one had called to report the squaller; surely somebody around the house knew there were kids were living there! Nope. What merited a call to authorities was the foul smell surrounding the place. Let me just go there. What stinks to HIGHEST HEAVEN-is the mindset-your trash is cramping MY style. That’s how most humans, we CHRISTians included, operate. If you want to mess up your life, fine! But you keep your crap to yourself!
Not that this is the ideal time to be cheeky, but you can bet your buttons that things would’ve turned out differently if Alice Kravitz had been peering from her window across the street. As annoying as that nosy bitty from Bewitched who kept tabs on her neighbors may have been, even Sam was thankful for her bug eyes a time or two!
The story pricked my interest in what it means to be a neighbor. This ancient term of endearment is used by everyone from Mr. Rogers to Eminem-but who exactly are we supposed to consider as a neighbor? I studied the word origin & set out to discover how JESUS defined it. The Good Samaritan is arguably the best known parable CHRIST used to teach the subject and HE went above & beyond to illustrate HIS perspective on who we consider as a neighbor. HE was straightforward and there’s no wiggle room for religious rhetoric, affluent arrogance or piety. We treat everyone we have contact with in the same manner that we wish to be treated.
When we moved to South Auckland, New Zealand, we were the palagi or pakeha-colored people on the block. One of my Chipper’s favorite tales is about the first time we visited the the church where we’d been given work visas to minister. New Zealand was so beautiful in the travel books & websites we’d drooled over and I’ll never forget the first glimpses of massive mountains, neon blue ocean & lush meadows as we flew over the country.
My picturesque vista faded the closer we got to our slice of paradise, Otara. By the time we pulled into the church car park, I was a nervous wreck and that was BEFORE our car was engulfed by ponytailed or dreadlocked brown people with a gazillion tribal tattoos, the men in skirts had swooped in to attack us! (Lava-lavas aren’t skirts but I didn’t know THAT back then) This lil’ ol ‘Southern Belle was ready to grab her hoop skirt & high tail it back to South Carolina! FYI: If you’ve wondered if Troy’s hair is fake, trust me! I’ve seen the boys when they get out of bed! Gerri Curl don’t do much for that funk!
Boy was I wrong. They were shaking our car like crazy fools-but not to frighten or harm me. How ignorant can we be? That was their way to say WELCOME TO OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! I never felt unsafe once I let my guard down; I knew they had my back & they found out quickly that I had theirs. We were NEIGHBORS and we took care of each other. THE BLINDSIDE always reminds me of our Polynesian family, who to this day, call me Mums (they aren’t kids anymore, most are parents now). I’d pierce anyone with my tongue or if need be, my foot, who so much as looked at one of my boys or girls the wrong way and the way BIG MIKE took care of his Mama (Sandra Bullock, I love her), my boys did the same for me.
Later on, we moved smack dab into an Indian community. That was a unique experience-southern Americans, working in New Zealand-living in a Hindu neighborhood! We stood out as it was-so I kind of hated that the nature of our shifting there leaked before we could get our boxes unpacked.
Keeping it real, I can’t report that we won even one of our HINDU neighbors to CHRIST, so in the eyes of many, we were FAILURES at what we had been sent to do. But, I was there and though it hurt to be criticized, I got over it. I KNOW my family did all that we could to show JESUS while we were there. And, when our time in their community came to an end, several of our neighbors helped the CHRISTian neighbors-load our moving container. One family brought over a lovely curry. Why? Because, we’d become neighbors. I learned many things during that time. One-there will always be the people who have no clue what they’re talking about, but for some reason WILL DO IT anyway. More importantly, basic RESPECT earns extensive kindness.
The elderly Hindu woman who lived across the street went teary eyed when I walked over to say goodbye. We hadn’t been able to carry on a real conversation since I didn’t know a dozen of her words & she spoke even less of mine. But, she had a pet rabbit and I had a yorkie and almost every afternoon we’d spend a few “smiling moments” together while our fur babies frolicked for a bit. She knew that I liked her and I knew that she felt the same about me. We were a world apart, different in nearly every way and yet somehow we’d ended up as neighbors. I have to tell you about the gift I came up with to give her. Our vet advised us not to fly dog, Phoebe, since she was only four pounds and six years old. The lady lived with her son and his family so, I called her ten year old granddaughter over who spoke English and asked if she could translate my offer. She patted my arm so sweetly then politely explained that they had a pet rabbit because their religion did not allow them to have dogs. OOPS…my bad!
Our neighbors aren’t limited to people who live beside us or in our community. Jesus drew us a detailed map with that parable. We’re all neighbors-black, white, yellow, gay, straight, CHRISTian, Democrat, Republican, Green, Atheist, Muslim, divorced, unemployed, white trash, gang banger, ex con, working girl, dirty, rich…you get my drift. We don’t have to condone lifestyles and YES, we are told to share the TRUTH, but we are never told to do it with contempt, malice, or cruelty. Of course, we need to guard our faith and never let sordid lives muddle our own-but JESUS said LOVE your NEIGHBOR, while you live a holy life. You can’t live holy if you HATE!
What gets my goat is how most CHRISTians are more than happy to write out a check to SEND somewhere OVER there, but when it comes to taking care of the person next door, across town or in the next county..well that’s really not our problem now is it?