Won’t you be my neighbor?
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!