“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.
(pg. 59, “Racism and the Economy”)”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
What do you know about your neighbors? What about the neighbors around your church building? Is your knowledge based on your intuition, some good research (hopefully utilizing some of the excellent data available to you through FaithX)? Is your knowledge more anecdotal, based on passing observations or the stories of others? Each of these lenses offers some perspective on the neighborhoods around your churches, but they are only part of the picture.
Another valuable way of learning more about our neighbors and neighborhoods is the scientific practice of direct observation. What can we learn by simply noticing? There are many ways to notice. When I walk in my neck of the woods, I can marvel at (or criticize) landscaping or in- process home renovations. Sometimes I notice people and offer a greeting. Most of the time though, I am simply on my way somewhere and not really paying much attention.
In my work with local clergy, I often invite them to take an hour long walk with me through the neighborhoods surrounding their churches. Sometimes, people know their neighborhoods really well. Sometimes they are completely surprised by what they find. For example, one priest discovered a path from the neighborhood through the woods toward the church. We followed it and while there was some litter, it mostly seemed to be a place of exploration used by neighborhood kids (whom she had never met). One priest discovered a silk screen artist just around the corner from the church. He said, “I wish I had known he was here, because I just ordered t-shirts for the church carnival online.” Our neighbors and neighborhoods are filled with pleasant surprises and treasures, if we only have eyes and hearts to see.[Read more…]