Note: During the month of August, I will be going back to previous SUMS Remix issues relating to hospitality in the home that have not been published here on the Wednesday Weekly Reader. Why? In these crazy times, we could all use a refresher in how to be a better neighbor. I’m also posting these to support an Auxano initiative during the month of August, Building Bridges to our Neighbors.
In the fall of 2019, the motion picture “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks as beloved television icon Fred Rogers made its debut. Rogers was the creator, showrunner, and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968-2001.
As a musician, puppeteer, writer, and producer, Fred Rogers’ gentle demeanor brought beautiful simplicity through nurturing interactions with young children to over 30 years of viewers. His enigmatic theme song, from which the motion picture takes its title, includes the following lines, which many adults can recall:
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Fred Rogers was also a Presbyterian minister, and it’s likely those lines were inspired by another story of a neighbor.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus asked the expert in law, in effect, “Who is your neighbor?”
It’s almost 2020, and the question remains, “Who is our neighbor?”
From the television neighborhoods of Beaver Cleaver and Andy Taylor, to Mr. Rogers, to Sam and Diane, to Jerry and Kramer, to Rachel and Monica and Phoebe and Chandler and Joey, to Phil and Claire, to Jack and Rebecca and Randall and Kate, it’s a question that mainly depicts an unfulfilled longing for a neighborhood that actually works.
It occurs to me that this is not a neighborhood; it is only a collection of unconnected individuals.
Philip Langdon, A Better Place to Live
Long gone are the days where kids played in the yards and streets all day “till the street lights came on” and where neighbors talked across fences or on front porches.
It seems as if the people we live closest to appear only briefly when the car leaves the garage in the morning and comes back in the evening.
It seems as if the idea of “neighborhood” has disappeared in reality if not actuality, and with it the idea of knowing for, and caring for, neighbors.
As Lance Ford and Brad Brisco write in “Next Door as in Heaven:”
What does all this neighborhood business have to do with the gospel? As Jesus followers – people of the Good News – we follow the one who said the most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have a tremendous opportunity before us: to take notice and help resurrect rich relationship in our neighborhoods.
If anyone should “neighbor” differently, it should be us.
According to Leonard Sweet, if we really want to learn someone’s story, sitting down at the table and breaking bread together is the best way to start.
THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
Written for those who are trying to nurture authentic faith communities and for those who have struggled to retain their faith, The Tangible Kingdom offers theological answers and real-life stories that demonstrate how the best ancient church practices can re-emerge in today’s culture, through any church of any size.
In this remarkable book, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay “two missional leaders and church planters” outline an innovative model for creating thriving grass-roots faith communities.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
You may have watched it in person in the early 80s-early 90s, or you may have binge-watched it last weekend, but there’s no doubt the sitcom “Cheers” depicted a fictional, but aspirational setting where “everybody knows your name.”
Authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay remind us of another similar setting from the same time period, what sociologist Ray Oldenburg called “the third place.” Different from home and work (the first and second places, respectfully, “the third place” is somewhere people can relax, in good company, on a regular basis. They are places of familiarity, where people can find and make friends.
Following the concepts that Starbucks introduced at about the same time, many churches tried to make “third places” out of their programs or spaces on campus – mostly without great success.
What if we turned our thoughts and actions from church-campus based instead to a neutral, public place, or our homes?
As the authors say, “Good things just seem to happen when we share spontaneously.”
I’ve concluded that, almost without exception, relationships are formed, important dialogue and conversation begin, and powerful moments of ministry occur during spontaneous, unplanned moments while we are sharing our lives together.
What’s the big deal with food? Go through the Gospels and note how many stories include sharing food. This is a great opportunity to see something that is so often missed when we look at God’s mission in the world.
The fact that there’s almost always food around isn’t surprising, since our scriptures are written in an entirely Eastern context. In Eastern cultures, food, the home, and hospitality are the center of culture, life, and relationships. Gook, like music, is something anyone can share and enjoy with others, even if they can’t speak the same language. Food is tangible and gives you something to do when you’re socially nervous. Food relieves tension. It brings complete strangers to the same table without any instructions or barriers. Food satisfies our greatest physical need and allows people to show creativity and thoughtfulness. It invites participation and is welcome in any setting.
Furthermore, God uses the banquet table analogy to speak about heaven, salvation, and evangelism. Christ uses the phrase “bread of life” to refer to himself. God even brings back the tree of life found in Genesis and plants it right in the middle of heaven and causes it to produce a different fruit every month!
I’m not sure what definition you use for evangelism, but my favorite has to do with “changing people’s assumptions.” To me, if we can dismantle their stereotypes of Christians, we’re on our way to helping them see the Kingdom in a new light. This is why having fun, enjoying life, and celebrating people, food, art, music, recreation, and rest become so critical in seeing friends find God.
Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community
A NEXT STEP
According to authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, it’s normal to feel some tension related to “living out.” Living on mission can be challenging. It isn’t always immediately clear what we’re supposed to do.
For some of that tension, it’s important to remind ourselves that keeping track of the results is not our job. In fact, the only tension we should carry is the tension of responsibility.
Use the following ideas from the authors to get out of your house with the purpose of connecting someone.
- Spend some time with a friend who is having a rough week.
- Take your kids to a park or playground where there are other families to build relationships with.
- Help a neighbor with a project or chore.
- Using a hobby or personal interest, find a way to make new relationships with sojourners.
- Invite others to join a personal or family meal.
- Respond willingly to at least one interruption that comes along this week.
Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 134-2, released December 2019
Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.
August Special: When you purchase a SUMS Remix annual subscription during the month of August, you will also receive a PDF containing all seven issues of SUMS Remix that have a “hospitality in the home” theme. The PDF will be emailed to you after purchase.