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My wife and I love watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. One of our favorite segments is when he does hashtags, where he casts out a theme and lets the tweets flood in. A while ago he did #MyWeirdNeighbor.
One man tweeted, “My neighbor used to steal my paper, read it, then knock on my door to distract me while his wife put the paper back.” A woman tweeted, “So my neighbor likes to stop traffic on our street and ask if they are hacking into her internet. Then she knocked on my door one night to tell me my other neighbors were keeping a spy in their attic. They don’t have an attic.” I like this one: “Was grilling out with friends when my neighbor said hello, raised a pack of hotdogs, and asked if I would grill them for her.”
I’m guessing we all have our weird neighbor stories. If you don’t, it’s possible that you might be the weird neighbor.
When Jesus called us to love our neighbor, we like to explore all the nuances and think about it in the broadest sense (Remember the lawyer’s question–“And who is my neighbor?”). This is good and right, but I wonder how often we overlook it’s most basic meaning: the person who lives next door.
Farmer and writer Wendell Berry once quipped, “Love your neighbors—not the ones you pick out but the ones you have.” That includes the weird ones.
I shared in my last post, “Love Where You Live,” that I’m reading the book This is Where You Belong: the Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick. Warnick talks about “place attachment,” and offers insightful observations and practices for how we might cultivate a deeper sense of connection to the place and people where we live.
One of these practices is get to know your neighbors. She makes the argument that the stronger your “neighborhood cohesion” and the more connected you are to your neighbors, the more “at home” you will feel in your town.
Neighborhood cohesion, however, is not easy in modern western society. In the 1950’s, 44 percent of neighbors socialized with each other at least once a week. Neighborhood block parties, potlucks, poker games and social gatherings dominated a person’s social life. By 1971, that number had dropped to only 24 percent, and it continues to plummet today.
Add busy and frenetic lifestyles, and getting to know your neighbors becomes all the more difficult. In his book The Vanishing Neighbor, Marc Dunkelman points out that in the wake of World War II, “being neighborly” meant engaging with the people who lived next door—taking over baked bread or watching their kids in a pinch or holding their mail while they were on vacation. Over the years, the term has come to mean almost exactly the opposite. Today “being neighborly” means minding your own business and leaving those around you in peace. “The sense of warmth once suggested by the term,” writes Dunkelman, “has been replaced by a kind of detachment.”
There are hopeful signs though, especially among younger generations, who desire to re-establish a sense of “being neighborly” that means community and relationship. There are some simple ways that we can begin to nurture this in our own neighborhoods. Get out and walk more (you’re bound to bump into a neighbor). Go meet the neighbors you don’t know. Offer to help them with yard work. Invite them over for dessert or a meal. Consider throwing a block party.
In fact, if you’re feeling even a tinge of inspiration after reading this post to get to know your neighbors better, you have the perfect opportunity on September 28 for Good Neighbor Day.
That’s right, Good Neighbor Day. It’s the most important holiday you probably don’t know about. I had no idea there was such a thing until recently. It’s a national holiday, conceived by Congress and made official by Jimmy Carter in a 1978 presidential proclamation. Soon after peace talks at Camp David led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Proclamation 4601 exhorted Americans to remember “that the noblest human concern is concern for others….For the most of us, this sense of community is nurtured and expressed in our neighborhoods where we give each other an opportunity to share and feel part of a larger family.” The document concludes with a call to observe September 28 as National Good Neighbor Day, “with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
There are a lot of goofy holidays, and anybody can come up with one on the Internet these days. But this one seems legitimate and worth celebrating. In fact, in these chaotic and turbulent times, I think we all could benefit from making a bigger deal out of Good Neighbor Day.
As followers of Jesus, where love of neighbor is at the heart of our call, we shouldn’t need a holiday once a year to “be neighborly.” But these days I’ll take whatever helps. And maybe something like Good Neighbor Day is just what we need to help us slow down, look around, and embrace with compassion and kindness the neighbors we actually have.
Yes, even the weird ones.