I wonder if I should blame Mr. Rogers & Sesame Street for my fascination with community. That song, Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood, plays in my head when I take walks around my home. When I come in from taking a walk I want to change into a different sweater and shoes.
I take walks almost every day with one or more of my kids.
In December we found some treasures on our neighborhood walks. Liam was happily chatting, non-stop, about Minecraft when he let out a gasp. “Mom! Look! An ornament!”
There was a single ornament hanging from a leafless tree. Bright, shiny, and red it dangled on the limb reminding us to look up. After that we realized that each tree on the street was adorned with a single ornament. It’s made our walks a little bit more fun.
It turns out that some of our awesome neighbors had taken the time to hang an ornament from a single tree in each neighbor’s yard. It’s a thing that could have easily been missed.
Kind of like our neighbors.
We have to choose to see each other.
Keeping my head down on the trip from my car to the door is easy, but so is looking up and waving. Giving a short ‘hello’ across the street. Making eye contact with the woman who walks past my house ever single day.
It’s important to see each other.
I know I became very comfortable being surrounded by people who thought exactly the same as me, who believed essentially the same as me, who homeschooled just like me, and whose income looked pretty similar to ours. Not a lot of growth takes place under those circumstances.
Living an insulated life leaves us stagnant. That’s not something I want.
I’m in the middle of reading Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness. It’s so good. Dr. Brown is a quantitive researcher. Her work is phenomenal. In Braving the Wilderness she asserts that ‘we are experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection…’ She writes (p58)
“In the case of the United States, our three greatest fault lines – cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage – are race, gender, and class.”
In the book she outlines four steps that we can each take to heal these fault lines. In a nutshell the steps are: meet people and talk to them. She also says that what we’re experiencing right now is necessary. I would also agree with that. Without holding a magnifying glass to our current situation we won’t be able to explore it.
It’s not enough to just look. We’re going to have to get comfortable with discomfort. I’m going to have to get comfortable with discomfort.
It’s too easy to make the people we attend church with our only community. There is something cool that happens when you form a relationship with someone who challenges your thinking. Being challenged can solidify your faith. It can also loosen chains that have an invisible grip on your heart. Forming a relationship with a person whom you do not agree with completely teaches us what love really means; it leaves deep ruts where others can travel.
Hide all the people you want on social media, but please have coffee with someone you don’t see eye to eye with.
If that’s too much, though, start by just seeing the people in your community. Shannan Martin calls it the ministry of paying attention. Simply notice who is already in your world.
- Ask the clerk running the cash register how they are and mean it.
- Notice who takes walks past your house and give them a wave.
- Introduce yourself to a neighbor who has recently moved in.
Paying attention doesn’t hurt. It’s not a sacrifice. It won’t cost you a penny.
Noticing the people around you will gain you the world.
Paying attention empties your heart of you and makes quiet space for Jesus.
So many of us are searching for community, for a place to belong. Community is everywhere, though, built in around us. All we need to do is see it.
What I love about paying attention is that you start you can’t stop – you’ll begin seeing people everywhere. I was at the bank last week and the man sitting across the street from me looked so familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
Then I ran into the same man at Kroger while he was putting up the produce. So I smiled and waved – and he did the same. We know each other now. Our worlds have one more thing in common. I wouldn’t know that if I had not been paying attention.
Community is built in all around us. We don’t have to travel to find our people.
People are all around us. We only have to pay attention to make them ours.
Be brave, misfits, and pay attention.