Like a Good Neighbor

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On my way to the bus stop this morning, walking the narrow balance beam of a tiny sidewalk, I found myself doing it again. A car sped past me at twice the speed limit on the one-lane street crammed between a chain-link fence and front porches, and I yelled at the driver: "Slow down!" Even though he had his windows up and couldn't possibly hear me, and even though I wasn't in any immediate danger of being run over, I still felt compelled to throw some cautionary words at him.

In such moments, I make an assumption about the person behind the wheel: "He must not live here." If he did live here, my reasoning goes, he might be more concerned for the safety of the neighbors. He might be respectful of the laws that rule our tree-lined streets. He might care what people think about his concern (or lack of concern) for safety and peace.

Of course, with one of us on foot and the other heading the opposite direction at 50 miles an hour, there's not really an opportunity to have this conversation. My assumption could be wrong. But the general principle stands: when we live in a place and think of it as our home, we take better care of it. We pick up trash in our front yards more readily than we would at a tourist trap. We are quicker to help with volunteer maintenance of the park down the block than we are at the one 25 minutes across town. The same principle applies to our community of friends and family: church members, next-door neighbors, and kin are often higher up on our list of folks to help with our limited resources than the stranger we read about in the newspaper.

Who is my neighbor?

A certain degree of care for "me and mine" is natural to all people, regardless of religious affiliation. But for Christians who acknowledge a call to honor the image of God in all people in all places, we need to go beyond a natural degree of care to demonstrate the divine, mysterious origins of our love. However, we are limited in our time and money. We could come up with a thousand creative ways to be good neighbors to everyone we can think of, but we simply can't act on them all.

Perhaps we could start by simply extending our commitment to neighborliness beyond our homes and churches to our workplaces. As another distinct place to which we are called in our daily lives, the workplace is one more canvas on which to paint beautiful images of God's love and care. What happens when we think of the workplace, too, as an environment in which people have neighborly responsibilities toward each other and the local ecosystem? Simple practices may begin to emerge such as:

  • Driving respectfully through the neighborhoods around our place of work, especially if those neighborhoods are residential, but even if they are not.
  • Planning creative ways to connect and celebrate with people who work at neighboring businesses and live in houses nearby—like a block party!
  • Organizing to serve one another's needs when crises arise.
  • Keeping a "neighborhood watch" mentality and inquiring kindly when someone is showing signs of distress.
  • Taking walks or bike rides around your building during a break to get to know the landscape, the people, and the animals who call that place home even when you're punched out. Maybe you can pick up some trash or pull some weeds on the way!

Such practices might not be met readily with the warm fuzzy feelings of a job well done. If people resist your efforts, the loving choice might be to give them space, but don't be afraid of being vulnerable or looking weird. ("Why in the world is she walking by the ditch?" "She's watching the tadpoles grow!") After all, sometimes it's worth breaking unwritten rules to paint a stunning picture that opens people's eyes to new ways of thinking, doing, and being—that liberates their imaginations for what's possible as creative coworkers in God's world.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • If you moved into the neighborhood where you work, would you treat it differently than you do now? Why or why not?
  • What kinds of plants and animals live on the property surrounding your workplace? Is there something you or your company could do better to share the space and be good stewards of creation?
  • The story of the good Samaritan demonstrates stopping to help even when it is not required, even when it offends cultural taboos. What taboos in your place of work are worth breaking in order for you to be a better neighbor? How could you go beyond the lowest threshold of what is expected of you?

Links for further exploration:

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