A tale of two neighborhoods

I woke up this morning, threw on my Monday morning game face, and made my way out to the Nissan Sentra in the driveway. I was wondering as I was walking if I’d have enough gas in the tank to make it down to Thomasville once again, some 50 minutes drive away. Having worked for over a year from home, the principals of commuting while not lost on me – were difficult at best to reintroduce into my “getting older don’t want to change” routines.

I’d like to meet the person who gets to write, “OBJECTS IN REARVIEW MIRROR MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”, I thought – as I stared back and saw a floursecent lettered NO PARKING sign in the corner of my next door neighbor’s property.

It’s not even a nice sign (the word, “bass turd ized” comes to my mind’s eye) as I discover that they’ve duct-taped the sign to their old real estate “for sale” sign. I hear Mike Wazowski from “Monster’s Inc” in my head saying, “If you’re going to threaten me,  do it properly”. Take a little pride, you creetans.

I pulled out of the driveway, rolled my dew-laden windows down, and made sure I was seeing what I was seeing by rolling in reverse right up to the sign. Sure enough – the bile in my liver and the cones & rods in my eyes confirmed what I suspected – Riverpointe Dramapalooza 2011 was in full force. People were losing their flippin minds.

When I paused here to consider what line most appropriately summarizes the feelings I have towards some of the people in my neighborhood, this one came to mind immediately:

Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” (Matthew 17:17)

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I was raised by parents that were awesome neighbors, growing up. My father Michael Edward spent more time in other people’s driveways, under other people’s cars, than he did in our own most weekends. He was the ultimate “widow-server” and go-to guy when someone needed a tool or a hand with something heavy. Same thing with Mom. Looking back – she was above and beyond when it came to her emotional generosity to people who in hindsight, treated them like animals.

I’ll never forget the day a uniformed police officer came to our house. Someone had called them to report child abuse. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face – the anger in his eyes. The disappointment and dejection in my mother’s.

We all knew who had called.

The same family we’d asked to speak to their son about jumping his bike on our sidewalk for hours on end.

(KER-BONK………….KER-BONK……………..KER-BONK…………….KER-BONK…………KER-BONK…………..KER-BONK…………KER-BONK……………).

I swear in my mind’s eye I can see them peeking from their blinds when the police came. I want to say they were, but so much time has passed, I can’t be sure anymore. Got to love those neighbors.

The Department of Social Services started coming once a week, through Easter week. They asked us questions about our parents…sat and observed us playing. When they had seen what they’d come to watch, they left. There was no abuse. No yelling. No hitting. No “gotcha” moment on record after an interview with one of my siblings. No bruises. Not a blankity blank thing. Just the realization of what had just happened, and a new respect for where “bottom” could be in a relationship with someone.

What also remained long after, was a palpable disdain for neighbors – in general. A disdain for people, I think, to a greater degree. No matter how well they had treated the men and women on the periphery of their existence, those same people repaid kindness with scorn and disdain, in virulent proportions, with very few exceptions.

It wasn’t any surprise to me where the folks eventually moved to.

About as far away from people as you can get, in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

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When I came into work this morning, I was re-reading a blog post from Austin and AnnMarie Preik. I was thinking about their new “neighborhood” in Africa, as I looked at the photos of their house being built…

You know what I was thinking?………..”it must be great to have no neighbors“.

I mean – look at it. I watch African hunting shows on the “VERSUS” channel that look more populated that that picture. I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that the appeal of that stilted house didn’t flood my mind like their own flooded roads- for just a moment. Especially when I considered the rubber band bound package of 3 page single spaced letters sitting in my glove compartment waiting to be injected into the mailboxes of the 6 board members before their next meeting, where my name would once again be spoken aloud, my debase debauchery debated over Krispy Kremes.

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At one point, I had the bright idea to watch a video on YouTube, featuring a pastor named Francis Chan. He pondered what a church would look like – if we started with a Biblical blueprint. He wondered aloud, if a modern day Sunday gathering would qualify as a “church” in light of the largest and most glaring conditional requirement. The requirement to “one and other”.

Love, one and other. Confess your sins – to one and other. Forgive, one and other.

Crap.

It would seem, that to be like Jesus – to aspire to be most like him in the most important of his priorities – involved being surrounded by people. Surrounded by neighbors. Dependent on others and benefactors of others. It involves saying, “I’m sorry”, a lot. It involves going to people that have wronged you, and calling them on it face to face. It would seem, after watching Francis struggle in his discoveries and then going back myself to read what he had read, that you are most like Christ, when you are surrounded by people that a lot of the times won’t like you. Or don’t get you. Involves getting close enough to a large enough sample size that precludes the possibility of doing/saying/thinking something that requires forgiveness and love. Double crap.

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I’m left with two thoughts this morning that serve me equally in life value as I move forward today.

First – that stilted Preik house could be in the middle of the North Pole. And in 3 months time, the Preiks would have 16 Eskimos in their living room playing Bible trivia and handing out North Pole Starbucks gift cards when Nanook got the Jonah question right (those people know their whale stories, btw). Isolation, for someone like AnnMarie – in the context of community, is one of those words that have no definition in her love language. They’re like tractor beams of “one and other”. I’m sure if I could spend time with her talking this morning, there would be equal numbers of check marks in the “good story” and “we got hurt” columns. And yet…

Second – you can go just about anywhere in the world, and always have someone close enough to annoy the bleeping snot out of you.

My parents, several years after their northern exodus, were awoken to the sounds of nail guns and compressors and generators. It seemed that a nice teacher from Brooklyn had bought the 200 year old abandoned house down the road from them – the only standing structure within 2 miles – and decided it would be quaint to rebuild it board by board. A development that stirred Dad’s self confessed need to practice shooting his shotgun and .45 caliber handgun during the workmen’s lunch breaks.

It was a a project that would require no fewer than 3 years of early morning bang bang starts.

It seems that life, is not without a certain sense of irony on the “run can’t hide” side of it all.

So as I contemplated my “next moves”, and got past off of my mental mechanations (if I shared 1/2 of the stuff I thought about doing in my neighborhood this year, one of you would have to call the police as I would be a confessed danger to myself, or others), I decided to call Mrs. Next Door. I apologized to her answering machine, and assured her no one’s tires would ever touch her lawn again. I encouraged her to call me, or better yet, come over and talk to me if she ever had an issue with something – that she was always welcome.

And then I thought about the statement my other neighbor made to me the other day about the people that come and park on my property, and road, each week. He asked what we did in our house each week that some many people came. I told him that we had small group – prayed for each other, studied with each other – just loved on one and other. He turned back to me and said,

“They can’t get people to come to church as regular as the folks that come to your house do”.

I told him he should come over one night – bring his wife and kids. We would love to have them be a part of what was going on each week. He said he’d consider it – and not in the polite way most folks answer with. He meant it.

A man I had fought with and for an entire year not spoken to until the day God screamed at me to go up to him on his lawn and apologize for being an ass, to. I’ll never forget that day – and he hadn’t either. He had seen – and experienced – something different, and it intrigued him enough to note who was coming to our house and when – in a good way.

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And so, a crazy Pastor from California and a couple in Africa that I miss…a lot…had more to say about what went down this morning, than every screaming cell in my body did. How long must I suffer these fools? Apparently – til each of them has seen Christ in me through forgiveness, or benevolence. Whichever comes first. The sooner I realize why I’m here, the easier it will be for me. I got that, this morning.

Good thing, too.

I had a whole bottle of “Round Up” in the garage fired up and ready to go.

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