Remember when Mr. Rogers would say, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
What does it actually mean to be a neighbor?
In the Christian faith, we believe that being a neighbor is one of the most important characteristics of living out our faith. How does Jesus finish this statement? “Love your neighbor…”
Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbor… only if it benefits you… only when others are looking… only when your neighbor is your best friend.
Your neighbor is… the young man working at Target… the immigrant family that doesn’t speak fluent English, but they’re trying to communicate… the lady in front of you at the bank who doesn’t know which line to stand in.
Our neighborhoods are filled with a rich diversity of cultures, languages, beliefs, and religions. Thanks be to God for that.
It’s through this diversity that we, as a community, can grow from our own unique gifts.
Near the end of 2016, with the guidance of Linda Madsen, a community inclusion group was formed to bring community leaders together to address racial tension. Thanks to the leadership of this group and the training of some staff at the YMCA in intentional social interaction, a series of community conversations have begun.
In June, the group hosted a second community conversation called a Marnita’s Table, named for Marnita Schroedl, who opens her home to the community to get to know each other over great food. The goal of a table is to have more than half of the attendees be people of color or an ethnicity other than white Caucasian. Those who attended these conversations at Faith Lutheran are from this community—they weren’t shipped in from Minneapolis. We are all neighbors.
When we held the first conversation in January, nearly 80 people came despite a snowstorm that morning. The goal was to get to know people that you hadn’t met before. Literally, to make strangers become friends.
This recent conversation, then, had a goal of digging a bit deeper. If we are all invested in our community and want to see this rich diversity thrive, how would each of us in attendance be able to make a difference? What could we do to help spread a message of love and unity… instead of fear of the other and fear of loss?
We asked each other the question about how do we respond to racial and ethnic equality?
The answers ranged from having an awareness and acceptance that it exists, to confronting that inequality and educating those who treat others unjustly.
One of the comments was that these changes are typically viewed negatively. What if we could all change that mindset? What if could all be less judgmental and all of us be more welcoming?
The final question we asked in our groups was how each of us could bring our own cultural stories and values to create a more welcoming environment.
At my table, a few of my new friends talked about how confused they were when they’d see their neighbors. I asked, what do you mean?
“In my culture, my value is that we always say hello to our neighbors! Sometimes, we say hi to our neighbors here and they’ll wave back, but not all the time. We don’t know why they do that.”
Your neighbors want to know you—to befriend you. Are we willing to take down our metaphorical walls and instead invite them to our tables?
If that sounds reasonable to you, then won’t YOU be our neighbor?