Anyone who has spent time with me around a table, the living room, or just read my blog knows that community is a topic I love to revisit over and over again. And there's good reason for it. Community saved my family.
In our greatest time of need it was community that held us up, loved us, and motivated us. And it wasn't always the community we expected. It was often the people we least expected who stepped up and provided the love and care we so desperately needed. Often, it was our neighbors.
I brag all the time about the neighborhood we had in Austin. It was a hodgepodge of people who just happened onto the same block, and we lived life together. Our lives were different, our spiritual beliefs were different, but we all needed each other. We were truly neighbors. We shared meals, grief, and a whole bunch of laughs. We lived in real community. London Road was the most influential environment in my life.
I read an article today about a Facebook post by the Satanic Temple in Minneapolis. They made a post offering to escort local people of Muslim faith about town who are in fear of backlash after the recent attacks in Paris. The article pointed out the irony of the post coming from a satanic temple and not a Christian church, and that got me thinking. People of the Islamic faith are my neighbors, too. Why haven't I thought about offering this kind of support? Are there churches out there who are reaching out to their Muslim neighbors to offer the same service?
There isn't a mosque in the small town where I live, so I really don't know if there are people of Islamic faith here. But how do I go about being a neighbor and a positive influence to the people of my community who most need the support of relationship?
I look at the way Jesus reached into all socioeconomic realms of society, and even stepped out of the very inclusive Jewish culture in which he lived to touch the lives of those who were different and in need. Jesus didn't qualify people for his love. He didn't screen them for eligibility for relationship. Everyone was a neighbor and equally able to share his time and care.
There has never been an person of influence in my life who has told me that any one person is of less value than another. But, whether it's media, or general society, there has always been a message that relationship with certain people isn't as valuable as some others because of their beliefs or lifestyles. I understand guarding myself from relationship with those who have no positive influence in them at all. This is understandable. But why are we afraid of the people of our world who are just different than us? Why has different been equated with bad?
It's fear. That's all it is. I believe it's the fear that someone different will change us fundamentally, that spending time with people who live differently or think differently will eventually cause us to live and think differently. And truthfully, any relationship will change us. Spending time with any person will change you in some way, and God designed it that way for a reason. We just have to choose what we learn from people and process it carefully and prayerfully.
I'm convinced that I can not be a light to the world if I limit my relationships, both surface level and intimate, to those who believe all of the same things I do. So, I'm opening the doors. More people. Different people. In the words of that creepy ghost of Christmas Present says in the Muppet's Christmas Carol, "Come in and know me better man!"
So, I want to thank all of the neighbors who have taught me this lesson. To the Lesters, Atwaters, Monreals, Kuhns, and Byron on London Road, thank you. To the Satanic Temple of Minneapolis, thank you for your example of kindness. And to all of the new neighbors I'll meet and fall into relationship with in the upcoming years, thank you in advance. I'm so excited to learn from each of you in this adventure we call life.