Could It Be You?

Dear Will:

My wife and I recently snuck off for a weekend getaway to Mendocino. Words fail to describe how beautiful it is there. God definitely put some of his best artists to work there during the Creation.

We spent a couple of hours one afternoon browsing through the shops in town, including one which, as it turned out, sold a lot of hemp products and books on the occult (it also had a “smoke shop” upstairs—we decided we weren’t the target audience). While I was reading up on why hemp fabric makes superior clothing, a loud horn shook the town (it has only 1,100 residents, by the way). When we asked the shopkeeper what was up, she calmly told us that it was the alarm for the Volunteer Fire Department.

Sure enough, as we left the shop and rounded the corner, we discovered that the fire station was open and the truck was gone. I suppose I knew that there were still volunteer fire departments functioning, but I have to admit that I imagined the scene as it might have played out in an old black and white movie, with some guy leaping up from the barber chair, his face only half shaven. In truth, I suppose that in this case the volunteers were accountants, construction workers, retirees—people like you and me who had agreed to drop everything when the blast sounded. I’d guess that some do it for fun, some for the thrill or the glamor, but all of them are motivated to one degree or another by a desire to look out for one another. In that respect, I guess a volunteer fire department is the ultimate in neighborliness.

When Jesus taught about loving our neighbors, he told of the Good Samaritan, illustrating as he did so that we should cultivate a genuine concern for others regardless of their race or religion or gender or political persuasion. He wanted us to recognize the brotherhood that binds us rather than the differences which seem so often to pull us apart.

Such thoughts are especially on my mind lately as I see our nation tilting, inexorably it seems, toward war. Throughout the ages nations have struggled to find ways to peacefully resolve their differences, the result being that hatred and misunderstanding lead us to kill and be killed. I can’t say that I feel like there is a lot I can do about all that on the global stage, unfortunately; but at a minimum I know I can try to be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful, a little more aware of those around me—probably starting right next door.

Here is, perhaps, a silly example of what I’m talking about. My next door neighbor owns a doughnut shop, and periodically he shows up on our doorstep with a dozen—just because. Although he speaks little English, he has found a way to speak a language that my children especially understand. As a result, I don’t ever think about our obvious cultural differences; instead I try to figure out something nice I could do for him to reciprocate.

In short, I’m feeling like the alarm has sounded and it’s time for me to get up out of the barber chair and figure out who needs my help. Could it be you?


Saving You a Seat

Dear Will:

As I write this, I’m on Alaska Airlines flight 352, returning to Orange County after a fly-in-fly-out business trip to Portland (such trips are my favorites: maximum mileage but still home in time to tuck in the kids). I’m trying to remember how I survived without a laptop computer, and it’s a little fuzzy to me.

It occurs to me that, strange as it is, for all I know you could be seated beside me there in seat 12C. You could have been the person in front of me at the grocery store on Saturday (I’m easy to spot: I’m the guy with the cookie-faced two-year-old and seven gallons of milk). We’re neighbors, and yet we don’t know each other. We’re strangers, and yet we share a common bond. The notion prompts a couple of thoughts:

“We’re neighbors.” Jesus taught that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor (remember the Good Samaritan?). The lesson of that story is that, as children of God, we should reach out to one another in times of need, pausing to help regardless of the differences, either real or imagined, which may separate us. The tale reminds us of our common bond as children of God.

“We’re strangers.” This last Sunday we dedicated our sacrament service to that scripture in Ephesians that says something like (I’ll get this wrong, but you’ll get the idea): “Therefore are ye neither strangers nor foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God.” Paul’s point was that, no matter how our backgrounds or ancestry may differ, our faith in Christ joins us as if we were countrymen. It is a powerful metaphor, reminding us as it does that we are all in this together.

This note is intended simply to reiterate that, as your neighbor, I offer you my help. And as your fellowcitizen in Christ, I pledge to you my friendship.  Call me some time if you feel like it. And let me know next time you’re flying to or from Portland and I’ll save you a seat.