Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Another crazy thing happened on my block recently. I was in my home office working on worship when my dog started barking like she does when people approach my gate. Being the holiday season, I guessed it might be a package delivery. So I put on slippers in case someone came to my door. Sure enough, a UPS van was parked across the street.

The worker, however, wasn’t moving my way, even though it was sleeting. Instead, a white car had parked in front of the van. Its driver had exited and was talking with said UPS guy. I stood in the doorway waiting. But rather than cross the street, he handed the car’s driver two packages and said my next-door neighbor’s name.

Suspicion bells rang loud in my head. So I got the man’s attention. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are those for Jeanne?” He said, “Yes,” as he watched the car’s driver sign his gizmo and walk toward her car. “Then who’s this?” I asked. “I’m Jeanne’s roommate,” she said. “I’m holding these for her.”

The suspicion bells ramped up their volume to deafening! After all, Jeanne’s husband of 40+ years had died not long ago. She’s lived alone ever since in a house she owns outright. Why would she suddenly get a roommate?! I said as much to the lady and the UPS guy. Committed thief that she was, she said, “I’m new. How else would I know her name?” Never give up, apparently.

I told them that, if she wasn’t lying, she’d be glad for me to hold the packages and to know she had a good neighbor. The UPS driver decided in my favor. She gave up the packages and quickly drove away. When Jeanne got home, I took them over, and she and I laughed nervously about this audacious robbery attempt.

This past Monday, the same UPS driver delivered a package to my house, and thanked me for helping out. I took a moment to bask in the glow of being Shane the Good Neighbor, Crime Stopper Extraordinaire! Or whatever. Mostly, I’m glad Jeanne’s grandkids will get their presents.

But it’s not lost on me that, had it been earlier in my life, I wouldn’t have been so helpful. In other places I’ve lived, I didn’t meet my neighbors. I wouldn’t have known about their losses, their goings-on, their families. That thief would’ve gotten away.

I remember talking with a local Muslim friend years back. He married a woman from abroad, he told me, who’d moved to Plymouth, where he grew up. He’d lived in the same house for years, so she was horrified to learn, upon arrival, that he didn’t know his neighbors. She decided a block party was needed. He got nervous, “What if they don’t like me? Reject us for being Muslim, or whatever?” She said, “Don’t care. I intend to be a good neighbor,” and sent out invitations. Nearly everyone came and said the same thing: “I’ve been waiting for someone to do this!”

They didn’t want to live isolated, apparently. But they lived busy lives, their homes were spread out, they worried about being rejected, like my friend. So no one made the first step to create community. I’ve wrestled with that attitude, personally, for years.

Which teaches me a) The next time you hear nonsense about American Muslims being “too foreign,” ignore the speaker’s ignorance or enlighten them graciously. We’re all human, all children of God. More importantly, b) Jesus was onto something by focusing on living neighborly. I read recently of studies that measured the impact of community on happiness. Unsurprisingly, people who act like good neighbors (and who accept help from neighbors) are much happier throughout life than those who value independence more, who doggedly cultivate self-reliance. I’ve seen that work in my life, certainly, and pray it continues as I keep growing.

So maybe, as the year ends and you make “to-do” lists for 2016, you’ll include the goal of being an even better neighbor. Not only has social science shown it adds happiness, Jesus himself called it a top priority. Besides, you may get more packages!

Grace and Peace,
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