I had conversations with four neighbors the other day that I’ve yet to meet.
It wasn’t hard to do. Do you want to know my secret? I gave them free food from my garden.
If you want to meet your neighbors, grow stuff and give it to them.
To think I took all of these classes in seminary and at different churches in order to learn how to “reach out to my neighbors.” What a waste of time and money. A garden and a little generosity was all I needed in order to be a normal member of my neighborhood.
I’m not surprised that it’s hard for us to connect with our neighbors in general, let alone to talk about deep, meaningful, life-changing things.
Some nights I run out to the neighborhood co-op to pick up milk or eggs. As I walk down the street, I see the flickering lights of television sets, evidence of neighbors holed up in the solitude of their own property, living the American dream of wealth, self-sufficiency, and pleasure.
I’ve been taking steps toward building a different lifestyle.
This past weekend I set up cages for our tomato plants and built a border around one of our flower beds. We planted beans, cucumbers, summer greens, nasturtiums, and sun flowers in our raised beds. I had to build a trellis or three for the cucumbers and beans, and I also worked on the borders for our garden paths.
While working on them, I saw four other neighbors that I chat with on a regular basis. They’re walking in and out of their homes, but I’m outside, ready to have a conversation, to pass along some garlic scapes or a handful of arugula. When I see other neighbors I’ve been meaning to meet, I pull out a few heads of garlic as an impromptu gift.
My pastor often talks about slow growth and committing to communities for the long term. That’s something I’m learning from our garden. Our cucumbers and tomatoes are flowering, but they still have a ways to go. Growing vegetables takes initiative, but you can’t speed up the process all that much.
Who knows when we’ll eat strawberries from our new plants or grapes from the vine I just planted.
Who knows what will come of these relationships around me. I’m learning to be present, I’m trying to pull my head out of the junk that eats up my time and turns me into an isolated narcissist who feels busy and stressed all of the time while wasting my time on nothing in particular.
Opting out of today’s entertainment, self-sufficient, me-first culture is all about these small acts of resistance that can reshape a neighborhood shovel full of dirt at a time. I’ll never wander my neighborhood with tracts or try to force my beliefs on anyone.
I choose to venture door to door with garlic, fresh made jam, and lettuce.
I hope to spend time on my front porch because it’s the only place I’d want to be.
There’s no strategy here. This is just life. The thing about life is that you can’t refute it or deny it. Life digs into the dirt and takes root, and when it grows like a sturdy fruit-bearing plant, those with a chance to taste its sweetness would never think to turn it down.
I used to hide out in my Christian fortress where I wondered how to “reach out” or to “do” “outreach.” I didn’t realize that I’d already lost because I was asking the wrong questions. I’d forgotten how to just live among people. And the challenge is that many of us in America at least have forgotten how to live as well.
We’re all cooped up in our own fortresses, whether that’s a church, gated community, suburban development, hip urban neighborhood, or wherever we feel safe and unable to speak to anyone outside of our immediate circles.
When we learn how to live among people, we can build community and relationships. Those relationships become a sort of fertile soil where new life can take hold. When we learn how to live among others and generously share God’s blessings with our neighbors, we’ll create new spaces to belong that we could never construct from our couches.
Life in a community takes hard work and patience. Slowly but surely my roots are going deeper and relationships are starting to grow. There’s no agenda or plan here. I’m praying for life and for health. I’m also praying that our tomatoes do well enough that we have plenty to share.