Church, Culture, Gospel, Queen Street, Reflections

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

The following is yesterday’s column for The Free Press of Kinston, NC.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

By Allen Bingham, Columnist.

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 20:34 PM.

Forty-six years ago, Fred Rogers stepped through the door of the American psyche, stooped to change into his sneakers, and sang to us “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?”

Someone wanted to be a neighbor. Someone wanted to be my friend. I grew up with this invitation increasingly being ignored as we built homes that moved us in a different direction.

In the world of Mr. Rogers’ first neighborhood, most of us parked our cars in the driveway or on the street and walked into our homes. While we walked into our homes, we greeted our neighbors and swapped the news of the neighborhood.

As we added carports and ultimately garages, we saw this ritual transform into folks returning home to their castles and pulling up the drawbridges behind them as they closed the garage door. Being neighbors at that moment moved from being in relationship with each other to living next door to one another.

The transformation was made complete as we moved from front porch conversations with whoever passed down the street to invitation-only backyard barbecues. We chose our friends and tolerated our neighbors as long as they kept the grass cut, the trash can hidden and the noise down when they partied. Some of us lament the mobile phone for leading us into an increasingly self-absorbed world, but we were well on the way long before the first bag phone landed in the American car.

Being a neighbor has always been a vexing question. When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he told the parable of the Good Samaritan as found in Luke’s gospel. And as he told the story, he revealed that neighbors are made known in their personal actions in a time of need and not their geographical proximity.

Several weeks ago the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin saw the breakdown in neighborliness on full display. A person who coordinated the community watch did not know his neighbors well enough to know that “the Martin boy from Miami” was visiting his dad for the weekend.

When the screams of the struggle echoed through their backyards, folks called 911, but no one came to break up the fight. And when you kill your neighbor, for whatever cause or defense, the fracture of relationship is severed forever.

The verdict revealed further fractures with our neighbors around the reality of race relations in our country. The “some day” of “we shall overcome” still remains on the horizon.

We can and should talk about the events in Sanford, Fla. I am in conversation with other pastors to shape these conversations together. But here is a problem we need to deal with.

Can you tell me the names of your 10 closest geographical neighbors? Do you know where they work? Do you know their children and if they live at home? Do you know your neighbor?

I confess that I cannot answer all these questions about my neighbors, and I am going to work on that.

So here is your challenge this week. Meet your neighbor, plan a block party and make it an annual event. Help the single mother down the street make a repair on her home. Volunteer with each other at your local school or down at the soup kitchen.

Start asking “Won’t you be my neighbor?” AND BE ONE!

Church, Future, Queen Street, Reflections

Thoughts About 100 Years of Ministry in Kinston

The following column appeared in the Kinston Free Press one week after Queen Street United Methodist Church celebrated 100 years of ministry at the corner of Queen Street and Peyton Avenue in what is now downtown Kinston, North Carolina. I love being in ministry with saints and sinners of Queen Street and look forward to the challenges of another 100 years of ministry in Kinston.

Column: After 100 Years, Looking Forward or Reminiscing

This past Sunday, Queen Street United Methodist Church marked 100 years since our foremothers and forefathers walked from the corner of Caswell and Independence to the corner of Queen and Peyton to launch a new ministry.

While the move was only two blocks west and four blocks north, it represented a move in keeping with Kinston’s growth. I have been contemplating that move and remembering two heroes of scripture who made a much longer journey — Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham was called by God to leave the comfort of kin and homeland at the age of 90 and invited to “Go West” until God told him to stop. When he “arrived” at God’s spot some years later, God further promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars.

We have to remember that Abraham and Sarah were an ancient (Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89) and childless couple when this promise was made. Abraham must have felt like a fool. It’s one thing to travel to literally “God only knows where”; it’s quite another to start a family at the age of 100!

The writer of Hebrews sensed that Abraham understood what it was to be a part of the larger human quest. The writer says that as Abraham traveled west he “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

As several institutions in our town turn 100 this year, what would “looking forward to the city” look like in our time? As Kinston rebounds from watching one industry after another leave town and even get dealt the blow of losing our Kinston Indians, are we “looking forward to the city” or just reminiscing? Are we dreaming God-sized dreams of what could be or languishing in stories of what used to be?

As I get older, I find myself leaning into the future with my kids.

I choose indoor plumbing over outhouses, air-conditioning over oscillating fans, iTunes over 45s, the Internet over chain-letters, and pesky mobile phones over shared party lines.

I choose a city that looks to what can be instead of what used to be.

I choose a city where God is the builder and architect and where the citizens seek the prosperity and peace of the city as a whole.

That kind of place will prosper, and my hunch is that her descendants will be like the stars.

Church, Gospel, Practices

James Bryan Smith on Becoming an Apprentice to Jesus

James Bryan Smith offered insights into becoming an apprentice to Jesus at The Renovare Conference in 2010. Take a listen to how one “Makes the Jesus Way My Way.”

  1. Deconstructing/Reconstructing Discipleship as Apprenticeship to Jesus
  2. Apprentice Principles
  3. Apprentice Practices
  4. Applying Apprentice: Implementing in Personal and Congregational Life

I am now reading with my Sunday School class Smith’s three book series (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community) that describes this apprenticeship. I commend the series that will help you learn a new life story, develop truly life giving practices, and develop a community of like-minded and practiced souls empowered by the Holy Spirit to become citizens of God’s soon-coming and already-arriving kingdom.

Church, Practices, Reflections

what scripture teaches us about fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline mentioned in the Old Testament:

” … and they fasted that day, …” 1 Sam 7:6
” … and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening.” 2 Sam 1:12
” … and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” 2 Chron 20:3
” … Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava.” Ezra 8:21
” … I was fasting and…

Fasting is mentioned in scripture … (via Simply Orthodox)