Figuring out Friendliness in the Fenced in Life: the less talked about underbelly of the Missional Movement.
I’ve lived in this rental home for almost a year, for which we are very grateful, since we wanted to take time to find our next home to purchase. But one thing that has stood out is how we have not had one neighbor take the time to introduce themselves to us.
All most everyone I have engaged or attempted conversation seemed shocked or interrupted, most just continued walking away. They drop their eyes and move in and out of their houses like nervous and frightened mice. It’s like a game of catch, but no one…catches what I throw. I am left standing there like the neighbors dog, toy in mouth, fenced in and wagging the tail….all desire and little response.
This disinterest was accentuated the other day when I was hiking with my wife up on a local mountain where we are seeking to purchase a home. We ran into a mom, her child and dog who were also hiking up to the top of the hill to catch the evening sunset. We began to chat and share about the unfolding things taking place with our next step in home buying. We interacted in a calm and delightful manner that set in motion potential next step connections with a new neighbor. When I left that conversation, I was struck how easy it was in light of how difficult it has been to find conversation in my current neighborhood.
As we were returning to my truck, we happened upon a herd of deer making their way through the wooded hillside. The last in line, stopped and stared at us. We stood there eye eye with these potential neighbors and they didn’t drop their eyes and run. It was a pause of attentiveness that didn’t feel fearful, but inquisitive. They then bounded off to dinner, leaving me aware of the gift of attention that I had been missing.
This is an example of why the suburbs can so tough on the soul and on living with an intentional Christian mission of being open and available to others. It takes a lot of work to find one’s way into the busy lives of hard working, over-extended, exhausted families.
They’ve have little time for their own kids, spouses, homes and friends let alone an outer circle of unknowns. Finding space for the nosy or needy neighbor is fairly low in their priorities. I get it, but I also know that the isolation or the unrelenting to-do lists can prevent us from enriching opportunities or reprieve from hamster wheel life. Slavish subservience to routines can lead to boredom, addiction, sickness or even in the extreme, disease like alzheimers. Like our bodies need a variety of healthy food, so our souls need a variety of contact with words and ways outside our comfortable patterns.
It’s been my experience over the last 12 years, that urban life can be an extreme in the other direction.
I moved into our former neighborhood with the intention and longing to be present in a posture of neighborliness. I thought the aspects of urban neighborhood life like front porch sitting, public transportation, within walking distance shopping and church services, a local park and public nature trails would be pregnant with potential personableness. But for me the majority of my interaction with people in the ‘hood, devolved into being a commodity not a community.
I was a resource to use, not a relationship to discover. That never ending request for cash, complaint or concern began to erode my ability to love and be loved in a healthy way. I had to fight becoming distant and dismissive of people because of the disillusionment of disappointment. When people use you…you can get used up. Add to that the odd way they get mad at you when scraping their fingers on the bottom of your empty bucket and your humanity can snap!
I have found that the call to love others as we would want to be loved, can been hijacked by christian mission and service.
Mission-minded paradigms turn a natural way of being about one’s day to day life into a strategy that is measured and evaluated based on outcomes. This can suffocate the soul and turn God given graces meant to produce abundant fruit into agendas, duties and demands. Under this impulse, everything we do becomes a vehicle to accomplish something connected to a mission statement or vision. These intentions can generate tons of energy and meaningful activity but underneath the frenetic faith, the air in the soul tire can go flat.
This is particularly more pervasive in urban areas where the realities of poverty, addiction and crime are daily challenges and opportunities. Working poor neighborhoods made up of people just getting by, are ripe for mission driven types who tend to see everything as a cause(I know, I am one of them). Great good can be done, but often at the expense of authentic relational depth.
Task association can build a type of community but when the task comes to some type of an end, so does the relationship. This can be a reality seen in good works, volunteerism and even church attendance. Our lives revolve around doing something or being with someone, somewhere, but the relationship is connected to the context not the friend.
We know this reality in it’s more familiar description as ‘work friends’, a second class sort of friendship. One that is based on task, business or paycheck. Some people are better than others at pushing against these confinements but most fall in line and rarely break out of their boundaries.
You know you are caught in these relational ‘location loops’ if you run into someone outside the context of community and feel awkward like a school kid running into their teacher at the store. It’s an unnerving discombobulation, we don’t know how to interact with them outside the reality we most often engage them within. I found this relational oddity at work over and over again with the invite based friendship contexts of missional based neighborliness.
True friendliness is a rare commodity today. The kind of genuine togetherness that results out of being at ease with oneself and motivated by discovery not conquest or context or ‘building community’.
I am guilty of all the above in my long education in life lived for and with Jesus. I am not advocating abandoning evangelism, mission or ministry, I am just wrestling with how to do or be about such impulses in a manner that doesn’t lead to the commercialization or commodification of community.