Posted in Living Peacefully

Making Small Talk & Neighbors

 

They pulled in late on a September Saturday afternoon. The house next door had been vacant for months, and we were glad to see a truck roll up the steep driveway that is a twin to our own. It was our energetic Labrador that made introductions, immediately tearing across the short space between houses and lapping the truck in joyful circles. My husband apologetically introduced himself (and Maxine) and welcomed them to our neighborhood.

It was apparent from the dress of the mother and older girls that this family was Middle Eastern. In friendly, broken English the father introduced himself, his wife and children, and shook Jason’s hand. It was a small start to what would become an intentional relationship. It was just small talk.

A few days later, Jason noticed them piling trash at the street. Since we live outside the city limits, we have to pay for a trash service. Day after day, they moved trash from the street to their home, not understanding why it wasn’t being picked up. Jason went over, motioning and mimicking through the language barrier until he made sure they understood to call the number on our trashcan for service.

When I asked Jason how the conversation went he replied, “I just don’t want him to think we’re those kind of people.” He wanted them to know we cared, but the language barrier was so great and our conversation so small.

We noticed the mother or father walking the youngest child, who is around nine or ten, to the bus stop each morning. They would watch furtively over their shoulder and stand several yards away from the other children who were waiting for the same bus. Again, in the afternoon, one of them would wait at the stop – within eyesight of their house – to retrieve her.

It wasn’t until around Halloween that we realized their apprehension was for good reason. While working in our garage one day, I noticed some boys headed up their driveway. I thought it was unusual, but just figured they were visiting the youngest girl. Soon, I saw the boys run across my yard as if the devil himself was after them. This happened a few more times during November, until one day around Thanksgiving I heard one of the teenaged daughters step onto the porch and scream until the boys were out of sight. I ran into the yard to help, but she was distraught and the boys were gone. That day, Jason and I resolved to be the kind of neighbors they needed.

Months passed with only waves and smiles across our yards – but we were far more intentional about it then we’ve ever been before with other neighbors. Then one afternoon my doorbell began frantically ringing. I opened it to find the youngest daughter, distraught and in tears. She’d gotten off the bus to find no one at home and couldn’t get in the house. She wouldn’t come in, but did accept the use of my cell phone. She called to learn that her parents would be some soon and had gotten stuck in traffic. We sat on my front steps and talked about her school, riding the bus, and what she had for lunch at school. Just small talk until her parents arrived.

The next time her parents were gone when she got home, she didn’t ask to use the phone but just sat and talked with me. I told her that I was glad she came to our house when she needed help. She replied, “My parents say your house is a safe place if I have trouble.” I was glad our small talk was working, but I wasn’t sure if they really understood just how much we were glad they were our neighbors.

Then we got the sign.

We put out our sign on a Sunday afternoon with little fanfare. That evening we heard some noise in the yard and looked out to find our neighbors and many of their friends taking pictures of our sign with their phones. Honestly, we just weren’t sure what to think about their interest.

When the doorbell rang the next afternoon, I assumed my friend had gotten off the bus to an empty house once again. When I opened the door, I found two of the daughterstreats with radiant smiles. With arms extended they offered me homemade pastries and this explanation, “We made this for you to say thank you for the sign. We want you to know what it means for our family that you are telling the neighborhood you are happy we live here. These are from Egypt, our home. We made so you know we are glad to be neighbors. We have never seen a sign like this. Why do you have it?”

I told her that we belong to a peace church and that many of us were putting these signs in our yards. When she asked what I meant by peace church, I went on to tell her that we believed in truly loving our neighbors in word and deed. Then, I told them what we believe following Jesus means. They are Muslim, but they smiled and said, “This is what our world needs now.”

We continue to make small talk. Last weekend, they asked us to get their mail while they are out of town in May – at least we think that is what they said.

We’ve made small talk. It’s a small sign. These have been mustard seed moments. Loving our neighbor in small ways that make a big difference, at least on our street.

Advertisements
Posted in Living Peacefully

Child of the Book

 

I was taught to hold it as soon as my small hands were able to grasp it. Miniature covenants filled nursery rooms where I was sent to make friends. We were all supposed to learn to The Book together. It was going to save us.

I hid its words deep within my soul and memory, told that in my darkest hour they would rescue me from fear and loneliness. As a child who was already fearfully lonely, I drank them in trusting they would slake my thirst for hope.

 These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng,

and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,

a multitude keeping festival. [1]

The classrooms were simple. The teachers were untrained and sometimes unskilled. But the story was enough. It captured my imagination and my faith’s desire. I excelled at knowing The Book. I could quickly manipulate its pages and was taught to use it, accordingly, as my sword.

It was a story unlike any other. Its characters were real and I could see them in my mind. I often wondered about their lives outside the written tale captured on the page. Unbound by time, it bid me come and join its narrative. We were warned that some of our own friends would not continue on this journey along with us. And even though we were cautioned that the price for being a child of The Book might cost us everything one day, I don’t think I ever believed it as a child.

O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house,

and the place where thy glory dwells. [2]

I went on to study The Book with an aim to make teaching it to others as my vocation. Belief in its pages became more nuanced and intentional. My mind was stretched. Theories and difficulties of historical and textual criticism came and were answered in my mind. Questions about interpretation were satisfied and I moved on. Then I learned the largest threat to this child of The Book would come from a place I never suspected.

While the story had continued to compel and speak to me of a new way to love my neighbor as witness to Resurrection Life, for many of my fellow believers it did not. They began to hear voices tell them that this story needed polish in order to be sold, then purchased, by our culture. Soon the story wasn’t to be approached without multi-media support. I was told that children just couldn’t learn it without a video and high-energy game to capture their attention first. Even then, it seemed our culture wanted to hear moral tales that resembled popular psychology more than the story I knew as a child of The Book.

I would soon realize that there was no place for a child of The Book, even within the institution that nurtured them. Yes, I had great dexterity at reaching and equipping people of The Book. And, again, yes I had degreed myself to be at the top of my field. But my love for the story wouldn’t be enough to sway the marketers and captain of this new industry. The Book was a product and it was their job to sell it. My way of telling the story and loving people, just wouldn’t produce enough.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after;

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

and to inquire in his temple. [3]

Time and perspective has allowed me to see that it was not me, in myself, that wasn’t productive enough to serve the institution of The Book. No, it is that the story itself is no longer enough. Like people of The Book throughout time, the institution has been swayed by its surrounding culture. No longer set apart as holy, they bow willingly to the idols of success, wealth, intellect and power.

Yet while I can remove myself from this failure, I am still a child of The Book. I feel its rejection keenly. When it is too old to be relevant, so am I. When it no longer sings, neither do I. When the story isn’t enough, I find myself without a home, a stranger lost and alone in a place I pledged to serve yet can no longer have voice.

Maybe this is what my teachers meant when they said being a child of The Book could carry a price. It is lonely and isolating. No longer welcomed by the institution of The Book, I am also rejected by those who spurn it as well. I find myself standing alone between the two, wondering why The Book and I aren’t enough.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 They are planted in the house of the Lord,

they flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They still bring forth fruit in old age,

they are ever full of sap and green,

15 to show that the Lord is upright;

he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. [4]

As I grow older, I am still a child of The Book and it is still enough for me. Within its pages I find the only instruction that eases the pain of the world around me. But I have no place to serve The Book, no place to bloom. I sometimes fear the time has passed for me to serve The Book and its people. I am bound by age in an Age that can only esteem the idolatry of its time.

These days I often cradle with it open in my hands, letting my eyes roam its pages and feeling them cool beneath my fingertips. Its passages are familiar. They are a balm for this un-healing wound I will carry until these idols fail, or I am called to meet author of The Book.

 

 

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 42:4.

[2] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 26:8.

[3] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 27:4.

[4] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 92:12–15.