Why Neighboring Matters

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Do you know your neighbors? Can you name the people and pets who live in the houses on your block? Have you shared stories and/or meals with one another?

When we moved to our current neighborhood three years ago, we were determined to get to know as many people as possible. I had just finished reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, so I was motivated to draw a map of our block, post it on our refrigerator, and start being, well, neighborly. Why? Because neighboring matters.

Both my husband and I grew up in neighborhoods where we could leave the house in the morning and play all day with friends. We were welcome in one another’s homes, our parents made sure we were safe and reasonably well-mannered, and neighborhood moms dispensed many a popsicle and Bandaid. Casserole dishes crossed streets and warmed hearts after births or illnesses. We knew about major life events and both celebrated and mourned together.

Neighboring matters because people matter. We are stronger when we work together, when we build relationships and communities. Humans are meant to be connected with one another.

Unfortunately neighboring doesn’t happen automatically. Relationships aren’t built overnight, getting to know folks takes time and effort (as well as trust and vulnerability), and one must actually get out of the house and into the neighborhood to truly be a neighbor.

We’re still working at it in our neighborhood. We know most of the people on our block by name. We watch each other’s cats at vacation time. We exchange gardening tips. We check on elderly neighbors, and we keep an eye on each other’s houses. One young family even hosted “Neighbor’s Table” potlucks last summer, hand-delivering invitations door-to-door. Lots of people walk their dogs, and my husband (an extreme extrovert) is always ready to strike up a conversation.

Our hope is to continue cultivating relationships and growing a neighborhood web of interdependence and friendship that enriches everyone’s life. Are we there yet? Not hardly, but we’re working on it.

What simple things might you do to begin neighboring (or increase your efforts) where you live?

For Further Reading/Reflection:

Check out The Art of Neighboring website and book.

Here’s an interview from NPR with Professor Peter Lovenheim on the value of getting to know your neighbors.

Community Dinners is an interesting take on how a worshiping community decided to get to know its Seattle neighbors through dinner churches and how that has expanded in surprising and wonderful ways.

Check out the story of Sarah and her backyard dining “room” where she connects people and creates community. Here’s her Neighbor’s Table Facebook page.

Photo: Carl Mueller, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

2017: The Year of Interdependence

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The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  — Thomas Merton

Citizens of the United States have long prided themselves on their independence, on the notion that anyone can succeed with a firm tug on the old “bootstraps” and a little bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, that ideal that’s been held so dear and romanticized is not true. We are bit islands unto ourselves with equal opportunity and equal outcome.

Life can be hard. It’s often unfair. Some folks just can’t seem to get a break. Lots of people are left behind. One in five children in America is hungry. It’s tough to earn a living wage. In short, our independence has not served us well to knit a strong fiber of community, a viable safety net, so that all citizens can live decent, relatively secure lives with access to the basics of food, housing, work, and healthcare.

2016 was a particularly contentious year, with the presidential election bringing to light the fears, concerns, and anger of people of both major parties. Many are now hopeful that there will be change for the better. Many now fear that we will suffer greatly. We are a nation divided in our quest for independence and our vision of what it means to be “America.”

In response to last year’s division, I’m going to work this year to lift up examples and possibilities for interdependence in hope that we can all begin in some small ways to work together for the common good. Folks, we need one another. We need to listen. We need to share. We need to tell stories and listen to stories and write stories. We need to open our homes and hearts and minds in ways that move beyond  social media rants and fake news.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have much at all at this point except a desire to make a difference, to be as Gandhi once said “the difference I wish to see.” Will you join me in my quest? Will you commit to finding ways to be interdependent, to knit together our fabric of community in your neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship, and families?

I hope so. I think we can have some fun in the process. And I pray we can leave this world in just a little bit better condition–one conversation and one person, one day or hour at a time.

Photo: Nic McPhee (Creative Commons License) Thanks!

Enough

Adventures in Thanks-Living

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Enough! Enough already! Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy! What’s going on, people?

This is not the way I would normally start a blog post, but these are the thoughts running through my head against the backdrop of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary gospel (Luke 10:25-37) and my social media newsfeed. Basically it’s a verbal mash-up of who’s my neighbor and who’s acting like a neighbor versus brutal public murders of black men and police officers, anger and hate-filled rhetoric flying willy-nilly in all directions, and competing claims about what will make America great again. Lament seems the only viable response.

And yet…

Jesus calls us to action. He calls us to show mercy, to go and do likewise. Sure, Jesus wept and grieved and mourned for the brokenness of the world in which he walked; however, he was not stymied by the enormity of it all. Sure, he wanted…

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Whatever Shall We Do?

Whew! June has been quite the month in the social media and news world. There’s been more than enough of tragedies, disasters, political posturing, and hateful rhetoric, and we still have four days to go. Summer is here, tensions are rising, anxiety is growing, economic disparity is widening, and our elections in the U.S. are less than five months away. What’s a person of faith to do?

Public faith in actionHow about starting with a book discussion this summer? Released last week from Brazos Press, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, is a wonderful new resource to stimulate discussion and provide additional study and resource suggestions.

I just finished reading the book and have already found it useful in sermon preparation, in conversation, and in challenging me to think outside of my own preconceived notions about how the world ought to operate. Volf and McAnnally-Linz make it clear from the start that the book is framed from this basic commitment: “Christian faith has an inalienable public dimension” (3). They argue that Christ must be the center and norm not just of our religious/faith and family lives but also in every aspect of the public sphere in which we move and breathe. Importantly, they encourage readers to see the book as a call to action, that of following Jesus and patterning the entirety of our lives after his example. Jesus was definitely a public figure; as his disciples we, too, are called to be active in public life to work for justice, top seek the common good, and to be God’s hands, feet, and heart in the world.

Public Faith in Action will appeal to a wide range of folks from theological thinkers to folks in the pew who are trying to make sense of the craziness they perceive all around them. The book is divided into three parts: Commitments, Convictions, and Character. The core of the book explores current issues—ranging from wealth and poverty to borrowing and lending, and from life and aging to marriage and family—and identifies relevant Christian convictions while also faithfully exploring ambiguities. Woven throughout are stories that illustrate the markers of character and convictions.

Whatever shall we Christians do about the current state of affairs? We can begin by recognizing that our response is a matter of stewardship, of being responsible for our actions and choices, of spending our time, resources, and talents wisely. It’s about stewarding relationships as we work together to knit the fabric of community through conversation, fellowship, and sharing.

Now get your hands on a copy of Public Faith in Action and read it post haste. But whatever you do, don’t stop there. Engage others in conversation and reflection, ponder what you as a person of faith are being called to do, and then commit yourself fully to act on your convictions for the sake of this beautiful, broken, and beloved world.

Click here to be redirected to the book website. Click here to watch a short YouTube video of Dr. Miroslav Volf discussing the book.

(Image: Courtesy Brazos Press)

How’d all that STUFF Happen?

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I kid you not; STUFF multiplies like dust bunnies under the bed. I’ve been working toward greater simplicity for several years now, and I still have too much stuff. For the second year in a row I participated in “The Month of 100 Things.” This Facebook group pledges to rid their lives and homes of 100 unnecessary things during the first month of the calendar year. It never  fails to amaze me how much can be gotten rid of in 31 days!

From cleaning out a drawer in the office to my closet, it was pretty easy to eliminate 100 things that weren’t either necessary or perceived as beautiful and essential. And then tonight, on my way home from a meeting, I hear The Minimalists on WITF-FM (NPR) say that the average American home has over 300,ooo things in it. Goodness! How much do we need to consume to be happy? How much do we have to hang on to “just in case” we might one day need it? Hmmmmmm….maybe I’ll go clean out another drawer.

What are your ideas for avoiding the consumption of excess stuff?

Check out this blog post from embracinghomemaking.net aptly entitled “200 Things to Throw Away” to get  started (if it doesn’t exhaust you just by reading the list!). I really like the Oscar Wilde quote “There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid others would pick them up.” There’s that “fear” thing again! Remember there’s enough if we all just do a better job of sharing.

(Photo: Kevin Utting, Creative Commons. Thanks!)

Popcorn Please

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Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference in a day. For the Blezards almost nothing spells comfort like a big bowl of popcorn made the old-fashioned way: on the stove in a big pot with just a splash of oil, some sea salt, a little curry and red pepper powder, and a good upper arm workout. This simple treat is a Sunday night staple in our house and go-to weeknight comfort food after long meetings.

The simple pleasure of a big bowl of popcorn is much more than food to fill the belly. The taste, smell, and texture are infused with memories of childhood family television nights, memorable movies watched on the big screen, teen sleepovers, and making sticky-sweet popcorn balls for the holidays.

During this Lenten season, I am giving thanks for the simple things in life. Popcorn on a cold winter night is one of those simple pleasures that might easily taken for granted but is oh so worth savoring.

What are the simple things in which you take delight?

Oh Ashy Day!

Ash Wednesday Snow Day

Ashes and snow. Black and white that melts into shades of gray. When our bishop made the ashen sign of the cross on my forehead today I was both reminded of my mortality, of my foolish and sinful nature, and of the amazing hope of real life–eternal life–that I have in Jesus. Yes, this prodigal love and unmerited grace that Jesus extends reminds me of the pristine, sparkling snow that covers the dull, dingy landscape of this Pennsylvania winter. The love of our Lord makes everything new and clean and brightly hopeful again. Nothing, and no one, is beyond his gentle reach.

We live in the already and the not yet, in the gray area between yesterday and eternity. We are no longer forsaken but truly forgiven. Still the ash cross reminds me that my days here are numbered. I came from dust (really stardust if you want to be accurate about it) and to dust of the cosmos and beyond comprehension.

So Lord, teach me to number my days. Instruct me to amend and consider my ways. You do not desire pithy piety or rusty religiosity. You desire a real fast from my earthbound self, a radical reorientation and returning to your way. Yes, Lord, this cross on my forehead and the snow all around remind me of your glory and your goodness. I am so thankful that you love my dusty and imperfect human being self and that you are constantly reforming me to reflect your light and love. Ashes and snow. Dust and stardust. Grace and mercy. And above all love. Oh, ashy, snowy day!

 

Bittersweet

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We were on the road at 5:00 a.m. today. Let me be clear that there is not enough caffeine in the world to make that hour palatable to my taste. But there was a plane to catch–at Dulles. So the daughter and I headed out into the fuzziness of night breaking into morning to send her back to the Twin Cities where husband, dogs, work, friends, and her life are located.

If roadtrips were ascribed gustatory characteristics, then this early morning sojourn would definitely taste of bittersweet. I’ve done it twice in one week (it being putting daughters on planes), first to BWI and now to Dulles, one to London and the other to the heartland. Both trips have left a dual taste of sadness and gladness in my mouth.

I am glad that both daughters have launched into “adulthood” (for what that’s worth) and continue to develop into unique and amazing individuals. I am sad because each time I send them from the safe arms of home into the hum and pitch of this beautiful, broken world I am reminded of the fleeting and precious nature of life and relationship.

Yes, bittersweet is the flavor of the day. I can own that reality. I can drink that cup of co-mingled joy and sorrow. And, I can truly say that I am grateful for every minute of their precious, wild, and wonderful lives. I send them into this world knowing that they do not “belong” to me but rather to the Creator of all that was, is, and is to come, to the cosmos and the grand human narrative. They are meant to live their own lives, make decisions, face consequences, craft their futures. And that is as it should be.

How thankful I am to be part of their that journey, to be connected to their stories, to hold them in my heart. I raise a glass of bittersweet tears, and I suspect some of you will understand this toast all too clearly. Here’s to holding loosely and to letting go. Here’s to drawing wide hopeful margins with myriad colors. Here’s to love that lets love take flight.

Photo: Benson Kua, Creative Commons. Thank you!

Practice. Practice. Practice.

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Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. If you want to write, you have to make like a Nike commercial and “just do it.”

I write almost every day; most of it is work-related, but I probably average about about 1,500 words. I write mostly about stewardship, discipleship, and faith. Some days I craft articles or draft profiles. Other days I write sermons and blog posts. Once a week I write a reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary. Social media posts are a regular complement to the longer pieces. When I have the opportunity and luxury of choice I write poetry and dabble with fiction. Other writers are far more prolific than I am–and decidedly more disciplined, too. Still I write because it’s part of who I am.

When I don’t write I become cranky, slightly out-of-sorts, a bit moody. It’s the same as with physical exercise. Our bodies need to be active, to move, to stretch, to be strengthened. The same applies for our writing muscles and creativity: Use it, or you just might lose it.

What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write (at least this is my view) at our age, so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on. — C. S. Lewis

Here’s the thing: writing requires regular, everyday effort. I don’t know of anyone who simply sat down, faced a blank screen or clean sheet of paper and wrote a best-selling novel or a Broadway-bound play on the first go. So I’m grateful for C. S. Lewis’ reminder that every word written carries one further on, and I agree with him that craft matters, that every effort should be keen and thoughtful. Whether it’s fiction or poetry or feature articles or even a letter to a friend (perhaps particularly a letter to a friend), it’s a worthy effort and deserves to be treated as such.

This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. — Brenda Ueland

It is easy to become discouraged. Some days it seems that no words will come or that those that do spit themselves out are facile or nonsensical. On those days, remember this quote from pioneering writer and free spirit Brenda Ueland in her book If you Want to Write (Greywolf Press). In fact, she felt so strongly that everyone has something important to say that she titled a chapter in the book with those words. If you are not familiar with Ueland or this book, by all means read it.

Don’t be discouraged dear fellow writer. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and keep those words coming. Read good prose and poetry. See excellent plays. Listen to good music. But most of all, WRITE. Every day. Yes. Every day.

I’d really like to hear your thoughts and strategies for hammering out those words. Please share your wisdom in the comment section. Thanks!

Photo: Ramiro Ramirez, Creative Commons. Thanks!

 

 

Happy “No Fear” New Year

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The year just passed was a real “doozy.” Yes, there were many good things to affirm and celebrate, but 2015 was also a year marred by fear, hate, violence, and nasty political posturing and rhetoric. We wrestled with (or avoided) legitimate concerns about climate change, poverty and income inequality, safety and security, homelessness and the plight of refugees, racism (and a host of other -isms), and the continued slaughter of black men and youths. Yes, 2015 is better left behind, and I pray we’re wiser for having lived through it.  Continue reading