Each morning as I lock my front door and begin walking to my car, I either see José getting into his vehicle, Vicky returning home, or Larry running past me with his dog. We smile, wave, and exchange brief pleasantries. I have heard stories about vibrant neighborhoods that have a deep sense of commitment to the people and place where they live. They not only are cordial toward one another but also care for one another in tangible ways. They not only wave to one another but also welcome one another into their homes and lives. Is there something more to being a neighbor than simply being nice? Lance Ford and Brad Brisco’s Next Door As It Is In Heaven addresses the complexities of living as a Kingdom representative in your neighborhood.
Influenced by a variety of factors, neighborhoods themselves have undergone substantial transformations. The developmental phenomenon of the suburb bundled with the popularization of the automobile and entertainment industry changed the relational landscape of the neighborhood over time. These changes helped usher in a new set of values for the American people: those of privacy, convenience, and consumerism.
Now, instead of living with our extended family, we own separate houses. Instead of walking to work, we drive to work. Instead of taking a stroll through the neighborhood or visiting with folks on a front porch, we stay inside and watch television. Now, more than ever, we feel a sense of detachment from both people and place. Thus, we are no longer a localized people, rooted in our neighborhoods, but a preoccupied people, focused on ourselves. So, how do we shift gears, so-to-speak, and cultivate a genuine love for our neighbors while gaining a greater appreciation for the places we dwell?
Although Ford and Brisco put forth a number of ways to change our mindset and actions, I have selected two of my favorites from the book.
Hangouts: The Importance of Third Places
Ray Oldenburg popularized the terminology of first (home), second (work), and third (common) places. Third places are more public than private and offer unique opportunities for individuals to interact with one another in a slower-paced setting. There are a variety of settings that could be considered “third places” but their vitality lies in their ability to foster relational proximity between people. Oldenburg offers eight characteristics of these spaces that help to define the “third place.” They are as follows:
- It is found on neutral ground
- It acts as a social leveler
- Conversation is the main activity
- The space is accessible and accommodating
- There are “regulars” (people who frequent the location regularly)
- The setting is low profile
- The mood is playful
- It is a home away from home
Not only are these places inhabitable, they are creatable as well. Brisco writes, “In addition to identifying third places that already exist in our communities, we will also need to create third-place environments where informal meeting places may not exist. We need to become place makers.”1 Are we willing to leverage what we have for the good of our neighborhoods and ultimately, the Kingdom of God? What could a porch, patio, basement or driveway become or be used for?
Here Comes the Neighborhood: Moving from Scarcity to Abundance
Do we believe that we have the resources, individually and collectively, to meet a variety of needs within our community? Many do not. Without realizing it, many of us are operating from a posture of scarcity. By scarcity the authors mean the assumption that “we lack the resources and capacity to meet many of our day-to-day needs, let alone the needs of our neighbors.”2 The irony is that we have a plethora of assets to be used to help others but we often live in fear of their depletion, which can produce insecurity and an unwillingness to give.
Think about it: when presented with a need, do we immediately think through how we can personally meet the need or is our reaction to sub-contract/outsource the need to organizations? Our responses reveal whether we are operating out of scarcity or abundance.
In making the shift to abundance, the authors write, “We learn to inventory our collective resources, focusing on what we have rather then what we don’t have. Our neighborhoods become competent communities when neighbors themselves shift from complacency to caring. We care for our neighbors as we care for ourselves.”3 This mindset, unlike the one before it, helps us to see the surplus of resources within our community and become people who innovatively care for others.
They conclude their book on an even more practical note, addressing common questions/objections to engaging our neighborhoods and living as Kingdom representatives. They also provide tips and ideas for how we can begin creating rhythms and spaces in our own lives to welcome those next door.
(Originally posted at the Ecclesia Communities website)
2 Ibid., 57.
3 Ibid., 61.