Who is My Neighbour?

NeighbourhoodI was not exactly eager to spend an entire Saturday at another seminar. Especially since 4 out of the next 5 Saturdays were already being claimed by other church commitments. “What’s the point of a seminar on “life in the neighborhood” when I’m hardly at home in my neighbourhood anyway?” I wondered. I need to be at home more just to do the dishes and get the laundry done.

Still, I had signed up for a Forge neighbourhood engagement seminar, so off I went to join a number of other members from my church and a room full of other interested folks. I listened to the excellent presentation by Karen Wilk, an Edmonton pastor and Forge National Team Member. I watched the videos. I worked through the case study. I read the packet of material. I shared with the people at my table.

Some of what I heard challenged me:

What does it mean to love my neighbour–not just in general, but in concrete and specific ways?

How might neighbours move from being strangers to acquaintances to having authentic relationship?

Some things raised questions for me:

Is loving neighbour really equated with loving God as some of the resource material seemed to suggest?

Is neighbour interpreted too narrowly and literally to apply only to the person next door?

Doesn’t Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan broaden the definition of neighbour?

What about the people we work with or go to school with?

Isn’t my online community part of my neighbourhood?

Why is this–and apparently every other model of mission I know–more suited to extroverts and adding yet another layer of guilt on introverts?

As you can tell, that Saturday seminar got me thinking! At the end of the day, Karen encouraged us to take action related to life in the neighbourhood, so I decided:

(1) To re-think my schedule and clear one of my upcoming Saturdays – without more margin in my life to take care of my own household, “life in the neighbourhood” just doesn’t make any sense;

(2) To be deliberate about connecting with a new neighbour – at this rain-soaked time of year, it’s all too easy for me to drive in and out of our garage without talking to our neighbours or even seeing them, but I could change that by walking to pick up our mail or getting together for coffee;

(3) To reflect more on neighbouring in the context of technology – isn’t my Facebook or Twitter friend also my neighbour? Is a virtual community a real community? How does technology shape and re-shape my understanding of my neighbour, and is that a good thing or something to guard against? These and other techie/nerdy questions weren’t addressed at the seminar, but based on the not-quite-three-years that I’ve been active on social media, these are important questions for me.

Your turn: What about life in your neighbourhood? Are your neighbours strangers, acquaintances, or a regular part of your life? In what way are you and I online neighbours even if we don’t actually live next door to one another?

4 thoughts on “Who is My Neighbour?

  1. These are great insights. One of the things I’m pushing for is changing our language about people outside of our church community. I think scripture only refers to insiders as some variation of the “people of God” and then others outside of that family of God are called, gentiles, samaritans or another ethic group…this lead me to thinking about how the church has often call ourselves “Christians” (in the Philippines “Born agains” is the popular term) and everyone else “non-Christian.” As if “Christian” is the weight of measure. In or out is defined by if you’re in the club or not. This is so ethno-centric and egotistical, and it’s been bugging me for a while.

    My conclusion here in the Philippines is that we need to get rid of the term “non-christian” and replace it in our language with neighbour. The Filipino language does this normally with words like “kapwa” and “kapitbahay” describing the other. These words do not only describe the other but they imply a connection between him and I and even a responsibility for one another because we are neighbours.

    This was most evident after the last 2 typhoons in Dec 2013, 2014 when the nation poured out thousands of hours of relief volunteerism and millions of dollars of funding to relieve the suffering of a specific part of the country. It was a beautiful expression of the culture God’s spirit shaped here, before an organized religious system ever arrived…

    So, from now on I believe my language needs to shift, out with the term non-christian and in with neighbour!

    Blessings April thanks for sharing!

    1. Darnell, I love your change of language, and join you in that shift. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment in the law, he replies that we are to love God and neighbour, and he doesn’t differentiate between insider/outsider.

      In this seminar, the focus was clearly on the neighbour who lives in our geographic neighbourhood, and while I definitely agree that’s one aspect of neighbouring, it’s not the only one. Jesus’ own answer to “who is my neighbour?” is the story of the good Samaritan who helps a man who has been attacked and left for dead. The man who helps him does not live in his geographic neighbourhood and perhaps not even in the same town, yet Jesus calls him a neighbour and an example for us to follow. That connects with your example of responsibility for one another and people joining together in the Philippines to relieve suffering in another part of the country. That’s all part of what it means to be a neighbour.

      I really appreciate your comment here and look forward to some conversation in person too. I continue to pray for your ministry, and for relief and recovery in the Philippines.

  2. In May we moved to a lakeside retirement community. We all live independently in our own homes, but we look out for each other here. We talk to each other, pray for each other and even check on each other after storms. I thought people no longer knew how to create community until we moved here. We have never been treated as outsiders. That type of acceptance encourages even more acceptance and the sense of community becomes even stronger.

    1. How wonderful to have that kind of community with your neighbours! It sounds like a healthy combination of caring and being cared for, of having strong relationships that are also open enough to welcome newcomers. I’m glad to hear that your move is turning out so well.

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