For some reason, making friends of those who live just next door seems a little bit difficult to me. I mean, we probably have very little in common. They don't attend my church, the school I just graduated from, or any of the weekly activities I'm involved with. I know nothing about them but that the people to the North of us have an alert black dog and a young son, the people to the West must like to garden because their yard always looks great, the old folks across First street are doing construction in their yard, and whoever lives in the yellow house has an alarm that goes off every morning at 7:00.
But we are called to know our neighbors. We are told, in the same verse and with just a little less emphasis than that of loving God, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
It is easy to jump to what we are always told by pastors and parents (and which is all true) that our closest neighbors are those who live in the same house we do, and to focus on those relationships. Yes, very true; but the Samaritan and the Jew weren't siblings, spouses or roommates. The command to love one's neighbor as oneself extends far beyond the walls of your home.
This week, I am getting to know my neighbors. Not just waving when I walk by and they are out getting their mail. Not retrieving my or my family's wandering pets and other animals from destroying their property. Not sending them Christmas cards that say all the generic things on them and none of the important things. Not overhearing conversations, arguments or party music from a house or two away, and deciding from that what they are like.
Emma (my roommate) and I were just talking about inviting some of our neighbors over for dinner. To start out, we decided we will have to knock on their doors and meet them, or happen to catch them when they're out in their yards pulling weeds or getting home from work. But that very day, before we had the chance to even start something, one of the neighbors knocked on our door, and handed us an invite to a block party in his yard, and stayed to visit for a few minutes. The invite is on the fridge, and we are all deciding what food to bring to it tonight. Then I was ambushed by bees in the yard, and, reacting much more severely than usual but having no allergy medicine, I walked over to the house with the lovely yard and knocked, and made an acquaintance while asking for help. And then yesterday, the woman with the dog who barks at me every day and the little boy with the tent in the backyard came out and visited through the fence and asked if her dog Shadow bothered us by his barking. Now I just need to ring the doorbell of the yellow house at 7 one morning until I wake the sound sleeper who lives there - but considering the volume and insistence of his alarm, the doorbell might not do the trick.
This is real life, and these are real people, and we have a real job to do in making where we live a beautiful and pleasant place, and to share the joy that we have been given with others. We are not called to live secluded lives, never stepping foot outside our doors unless it's to get into our car and drive to our own job, school or church. We are not called to develop ties with third-world countries by means of the internet or mail system while we ignore the broken people in our neighborhoods. We are not called to be friends with only those who are 98% like us in belief systems, ideals, religions and political views.
We are called to know, to help, and to love our neighbors, and that includes the ones who are unlovely. It includes the ones who are on the opposite side of a fence that is more like a wall. It includes those who look like they are too snooty to interact with people from the lower-middle class, and those who chain-smoke in their alley while their kids frolic in the dirt, barely dressed. And it definitely includes those who are only removed from you by two walls and the different sidewalks you use.