Why I am a bad neighbor

Before I write this I must at the very least include a giant asterisk that clarifies the reality that due to my health I am unable to engage as fully as I would like or as I feel like I should. As I have said before, there are many factors that eat up my time and energy. Chronic back pain steals hours and days of my time. My chemo regimen also eats up about 10-13 days a month of usefulness. Appointments with oncologists, radiologist, brain surgeons, and naturopaths eat up another significant portion of time. Getting regular MRI’s, CT scans, getting my INR checked (my blood thickness related to my previous clotting and embolism issues), etc. also take up a large portion of time. And then there’s the emotional element of not knowing how much time I literally have and therefore the desire to spend more time with my family and less time with…with you…and my neighbors. So this blog was written more out of the dichotomy between desire and reality than anything else, between what I want to do and what I can do, between what I know i should do and what my body allows me to do. What a mess life can be!

I find being a neighbor hard. Seriously difficult.

I love showing hospitality, we have people in our home all the time. Inviting people into our house is something that both brings us joy and, for the most part, comes pretty easily for us (not quite as true for my son as it is for the rest of the family). I also love running into neighborhood people at the cafe, while walking down main street, etc. but when it comes to actually seeing and knowing those neighbors who live on my street…I’m pretty pathetic. I’m sure it depends on where you live and what type of people live on your block, but what I’m finding is that it takes much more intentionality to actually meet and get to know my immediate neighbors. And I just have not done the work! It is intimidating to me and sounds like a lot of work to find excuses to go to a neighbors door (one who I have not met yet). I’m not against doing that, and I have done so on different occasions, but when it comes down to my actual activity I seem to always find something else to occupy my time. The reality is that I’m just not that great of a neighbor.

We talk about neighborhood a lot in our life and work. In Grassroots Conspiracy neighborhood language is pervasive and important. And I do know hundreds of people in my downtown neighborhoods…but on my actual street…I’m pretty pathetic. I am. We had a new set of people move in a few months ago and did we bring ’em cookies? Nope. We have a few elderly women that live on each end of the street and have I ever tried to be available to them? Nope. There are homes on our street where I couldn’t even tell you how many people live there let alone their names…let alone say that I’ve had them over for dinner…let alone say that I’ve brought them some bundt cake.

The reality is that it just takes more work. I’d rather go sit in a cafe and meet people as they enter or exit because it is easier.* It’s not as if I dont know what to do nor is it that I’ve never been willing to do it. No, I’ve written a bit about it in the past and our family has done some intentional things in the past in order to meet those who live on our block (from putting our garden in the front yard to going door to door we’ve done different things at different times), but when it comes down to it I just find it incredibly hard.

Again I want to justify my actions a little bit. We knew more of our neighbors in our last house. We moved here in October and I got sick in May. So there has never been a real solid time where we’ve been free to invest as fully as we’d like. But regardless of my health I still have the same set of desires, the same expectations (though these expectations are not fair to myself or my wife), and the same level of awareness of what I’m not doing (or not able to do). Regardless of my health I am able to recognize that being a good neighbor can be just plain ol’ hard. It requires a different set of rhythms to ones life…rhythms that may be more difficult for you–they’re more difficult for me for certain.

I hope that you’re able to find space in your life to be present and available to those on your block. I think it’d change your life (though I’d go out on a limb and say that it’d probably make it harder in many ways…relationship always does that!). I think it’d be worth it. And I think I’d like to learn from you.

I hope that I’m able to find space in my life to be present and available to those on my block…but until then I’ll probably continue to park myself at the cafe around the corner.


* I’m not trying to downplay the value of going to a public space as a means to get to know people. I can’t imagine ever giving this up as a valuable practice. Rather this is a blog where I’m doing some general griping and simultaneously criticizing myself… apparently even some of the good things I may do…not sure this is the best way to go about writing this blog…but it is what it is right?

Listening to Mo

Mo and I have been friends for quite a while now (going on four years). We originally met in the now-burnt-down-then rebuilt-then reopened under a new name-and now closed again Marcell’s Cafe. She ‘baptized’ me into coffee shop life. Until I met her I was a coffee shop recluse, sitting in the back corner minding my own business and leaving everyone alone. Because of her influence I now annoy everyone in sight, make friends, and bug the heck out of store owners who want me to get my coffee and leave. (thank you Mo)

Over the past four years the two of us have awkwardly cried together in both coffee shops and living rooms. She’s been a great support for my wife and I all throughout the last eight months and continues to dream for how she can care for our family in the future. We’re as different as can be…and it hasn’t mattered a bit.

Early on in our friendship I asked Mo if she would tell some of her story for one of my Downtown Dispatches and lately it just keeps coming up in my mind. I think her voice is important and it’s worth reposting even three years later. I’m certain, as is true with much of anything I’ve said that’s dated three years, that there are tweaks and changes to how she perceives and understands her story today–but with that caveat please read her story, in her own words. I think it’ll be worth your time.

I was raised in a household where religion and faith were not emphasized. Whenever my grandfather came to visit around the holidays I would be dressed up and expected to accompany him to Catholic Mass. Sometimes my parents would come too. Usually not. My father was 3 months away from ordination as a priest when he stepped away from the church and it seems like that was a pivotal moment in his early adulthood. He won’t talk much about it though. My mother was raised Buddhist, but never spoke of it. While in high school, I fell in with a “bad element” and began attending church and youth group functions. My parents were dismayed. We settled on a compromise. I could be a “user” but not a “pusher”. Eventually I went on to attend seminary. One of the things that drew me to church was the fellowship of Christians and finding a social “home”. The idea of a church family was incredibly alluring to me.

After quite a lot of time and introspection, I have come to realize that the idea of family, community and love were what I was “in it” for. I never experienced a personal relationship with God, Jesus or Buddha. So it comes as no surprise that I am no longer practicing at faith. Unfortunately, within many families love, support and community come with the price that you observe the social contracts established. When I came to accept that I was gay, my church family reacted by casting me out.

I felt like the carrier of plague. I was treated as though contact with me might contaminate otherwise happily heterosexual church members. I was also constantly aware of how much I had disappointed everyone. I think that humans are by nature likely to revert to cliquish behavior and that within the microcosm of a Christian community you can often see the power that this instinct can have. Sometimes for good. In my case. Not so much.

Love tolerance and acceptance of people where they are in their particular walk is rarely extended to my gay brothers and sisters who are still struggling to maintain their connection to faith and a church body. I was subjected to a surprise “intervention” by my pastor and church body and when I responded honestly that I was not prepared to repress and repent for my sin of homosexuality, I was cast out from my church. With a series of benchmarks and “proofs” I had to provide if I wanted to repent at a later time and rejoin the family.

I absolutely love that Mo’s essay is short and doesn’t end with some kind of tidy and pretty conclusion. It almost needs an ellipsis to capture the hanging nature of it…and I like that…bu then again if you read my blogs you’ll know that I love ellipsises…is that how you pluralize ‘ellipses’?

I hope you find time in your life to listen to people’s stories. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with how they define themselves, it doesn’t matter if you have made similar or opposite choices…it doens’t matter. What matters is that each and every person is created by and indelibly stamped with the image of God and is deserving of dignity, of being listened to, and of being loved. Mo has definitely showed this to me as she’s listened to my ramblings for four years, I hope that in some way I’ve also listened her into free speech.