As a boy I never really thought of the importance of neighbours in my life; the collection of friends and strangers that lived in my crescent were just the backdrop to my adventure-filled childhood. They were the friendly people that moved out of the way when I zipped by on my wobbly training-wheel-clad bicycle. Maybe they looked on in kindly concern as I dug ‘the biggest hole ever!!!’ in the field behind our houses. It says something about the quality of my neighbours that I was able to run and play without too much worry. Whether we knew it or not at the time, we had a gracious neighbourhood. Almost each person who lived on our street contributed to the feeling of care and warmth that made our street feel like home.
The same is true today. When everyone in Chestermere; you, me, and the people down the street, when we live in close proximity to each other we begin to create something called, ‘neighbourhood.’ What kind of neighbourhoods are we creating? Each neighbourhood takes on the characteristics of the people who call it home. Small and subtle acts of kindness can very well shape the culture and ethos of a neighbourhood for years.
We’ve all had experiences where we’ve entered a room full of friends and we knew right away that we were welcomed. Was it something about the people? The environment? Either way we knew that we could be ourselves – loved and free to join right in. That’s a grace-filled environment. It’s the place where we feel right at home.
Jesus once said that loving God and loving our neighbour goes hand in hand. I used to shrug off the “loving your neighbour” part as a well-intentioned, but secondary notion. A kind of warm-and-fuzzy bonus teaching, something you’d expect ‘hippy’ Jesus to say. But I think there is something more to it than that. I believe how we love our neighbours and neighbourhood is actually essential to who we become, as individuals, and as a city. When we create a gracious environment for everyone around us, we are reflecting something profound that God has built into us – the capacity to love others. An important and beautiful part of us comes to life when we create tangibly welcoming space for neighbours. Jesus was onto something here.
This new column, “Into the Neighbourhood,” is my way of exploring these simple words of Jesus: love God and love your neighbour. I’m grateful, each week, for the next few months, to be given the chance to experiment with the ways that we might create gracious neighbourhoods. This summer, with BBQs, block parties, or impromptu conversations at the dog park, we’ll be given hundreds of opportunities to become gracious neighbours. I hope this column will be a refreshing reflection and reminder of God’s love for you and the neighbourhood that you help to shape. I’ll bumble through stories and try to duct-tape ideas together, but I hope these weekly reflections will help us see our neighbours, and ourselves, in new ways.
When we see how we can each contribute to making our neighbourhoods gracious and welcoming spaces that we can all call home, we set the stage for authenticity, we expect and anticipate imperfection, and we begin to see each other as God sees us – profoundly beloved. Because of this, we are free to embrace our neighbourhoods and all their quirky messiness and complexity. Like those neighbours that showed kindness to me, a little boy on the wobbly bike digging holes in the field, I hope that through this column we’ll discover that healthy, vibrant, fantastic neighbourhoods can be part of our story, too.
Into the Neighbourhood Experiment: Think about your neighbourhood, is it a gracious space for everyone who calls it home?