God Next Door III – Pictures of Community

Ok, so I’m continuing my reflections here…

Chapter one is somewhat of an analysis of the current urban/suburban setting with 3 possible scenarios considered:

Community Lost – the basic idea is that the impact of urban environment on relationships is negative (when compared to rural community life). The causes are a more segmented life with fewer opportunities for connections,a more densely populated area causing people to withdraw into themselves to survive, the diversity of the setting heightens suspicion of people ‘not like me’, and finally the commericalised nature of the city means that most relationships are transactional. As Simon states, this is a pretty negative take on urban relationships and is probably an idealising of rural environments!

Simon quotes Claude Fischer who says that the two norms govering neighbourhood relationships are “the neighbour should be ready to help in a time of genuine emergency and secondly at all other times the neighbour should keep his or her distance”, the same kind of relationship you have with a person on a train.

Its a pretty low bar for relationships when it comes to neighbours and while I think there is some truth in Fischer’s statement, I also tend to think most people want more from a community than that. Some stumble clumsily towards it while others prefer to avoid the ‘danger’ of broken relationships by not even going there at all.

As I have observed some of our own local relationships I have seen neighbours deeply embedded in each others lives – to a point that I could not deal with, but I have also seen neighbours fight and simply stop speaking to each other. Conflict resolution around here is not brilliant – easier to just ‘move on’.

I must admit I am wary of having my neighbours so much a part of my life that they feel free to drop in at any time and stay for as long as they like. There is a part of me that warms to the thought of such connected lives, but then a part of me that also values the privacy of my home and the ability to confidently retreat.

Having seen the way some neighbours can come and never leave I have probably swayed to a safer position. In some ways this is out of kilter with what I hope to see develop and yet if I am to survive in this setting for the long term then it is just common sense.

Community Found – Simon writes of the way different groups ‘find’ each other in the bigger city – often ethnic or common interest groups and there is a genuine experience of community that goes on here.

I live in a suburb that is marketed as ‘what a community should be’ but ultimately that comes down to us to make the slogan a reality. The ‘commonality’ for our family around here is pretty much stage of life and not much else. I imagine the POMs and South Africans may connect because of common heritage, but for the Aussies its less of a draw.

These groups have been seen as a ‘survival mechanism’ for people living in the suburbs – again pretty bleak in its outlook and probably not true of my own experience. Many people survive just fine with minimal local connectivity, but they do find community in other places.

Community Liberated – This is the community that is not bound by place but is operative in various networks around the whole city. Community liberated does not mourn the loss of ‘place’ as the component of community but chooses to celebrate community in other forms.

Simon goes on to say “The neighbourhood’s role in daily life has changed. If ever it was a place of primary community, its not now… Neighbourhood communities are now optional”

For those of us who draw our missional energy from the motif of incarnation and the embodiment/expression of the gospel locally this does present challenges – because it is true.

There’s no question community is much more diverse than the local area. There’s no question that even for myself some of my best connections are well beyond my backyard, yet at the same time I feel a compelling desire to try and re-invigorate the richness of local relationships. At times this has been very frustrating because others do not share this dream or if they do, the time available for creating community is limited because of work/commuting requirements. And then there are my own limitations – wanting to get involved, but at a level that suits me.

This post was interrupted as I opened the door for the local area co-ordinator for disability services who was dropping by to pick up a young boy who was playing with Sam this morning. She tells me Brighton is an exceptional community for connectedness and people helping each other out. I find myself intrigued by her observations and wondering what other communities must be like…

So I guess the question that percolates for me from these thoughts is, to what extent ought we try to create community locally and to what extent should we just take it as it comes?

Should ‘local churches’ be focused on their own area or should we be about empowering people to be salt and light in their workplaces and other ‘liberated’ communities?

Its a tough tension because many ‘local churches’ are full of busy people, doing good things with their lives outside of the suburb the church is in. Does this matter?other boleyn girl the divx download

10 thoughts on “God Next Door III – Pictures of Community

  1. Hi mate – i found your comments re: “Community Lost” challenging. Here’s some “out loud” thinking…

    You said, ” I must admit I am wary of having my neighbours so much a part of my life that they feel free to drop in at any time and stay for as long as they like. There is a part of me that warms to the thought of such connected lives, but then a part of me that also values the privacy of my home and the ability to confidently retreat.

    Having seen the way some neighbours can come and never leave I have probably swayed to a safer position. In some ways this is out of kilter with what I hope to see develop and yet if I am to survive in this setting for the long term then it is just common sense.”

    I’m not sure this is, as you say, “common sense”, well not in a vulnerable, reciprocal, welcoming the stranger, kind of way.

    This kind of thinking seems to suggest a reinforced deliberate distance from your community – a safe perimeter around your castle that disallows simply anyone coming inside your world, so as to protect yourself and your family from becoming too connected (not sure what that means???).

    This seems on the surface to contradict the notion/dream of rooting down in a place and not only offering hope and love to your community, but also exposing yourself to be in a vulnerable position where you are open to learn and receive from those around you (not just those in your faith community).

    I know you guys are committed to Brighton as an incarnational mission experience, but I wonder if there has to be some sort of reckless abandonment, a “letting go” of those safe perimeters, if we are to truly connect with our neighbours on an equal, reciprocal level, rather than us occupying the position of “saviour” and them the position of “lost” – not words we would necessarily use, but i wonder if self-protection reveals we still hold to a “we will save the world mentality”.

    But maybe, as you say, this isn’t a good way to survive long term as a missionary – I just wonder if people around us need missionaries, or if they simply need fellow, broken but recovering human beings???

    just thoughts,


  2. Hi Matt

    I was certainly aware of the tensions in what I wrote and of the ongoing struggle I (as an introvert) have with a life of being connected with people and probably living somewhat contrary to my more selfish and retiring nature.

    I guess the question is where we draw the boundary lines in our lives. I think we all need them but we may draw them in different places.

    Quite simply if my house was a drop in zone and people came when they wanted and left when they wanted then I would probably opt out very quickly. Its beyond what I could cope with.

    I need to reflect more to discern whether that’s a weakness or if its just a fact.

    I tend to think we need to do what we need to do if we are to be there longer term.

    Would be interested in others thoughts on this.

  3. I find myself hesitant to say anything because I feel like what I might say is so predictable from me. Nevertheless, these are my reflections.

    I think that there is a need to build community in several spheres. As a Christian, I think that the ecclesial community that we are called into is the shape of our mission and the first shere – “they shall know you are my disciples by the way that you love each other”. I also think that the openness of the general suburbanite to Christianity is minimal, not because its not good news but because people think (or experience, to our shame) that suburban comfort is better news. This leaves us with the need, I think, as Christians, to practice a kind of community in suburbia which is not suburbanly comfortable. I think that loving each other requires a proximate life which includes economic sharing.

    On the other hand, there is also the need, I think, to reach out beyond that ecclesial community. This is the second sphere. I guess it is the practice of our hope that people might come off suburban comfort and onto Christ. I find few willing to do so to my shame and the shame of the church who, with me, are too suburbanly comfortable.

    Peace to you all,


  4. Hamo,

    I hadn’t seen your post when I replied. I totally agree that there need to be boundaries. In particular, I think that a nuclear family does not have the capacity to be radically hospitable in a sustainable way. I think that requires my first sphere of community, the church, to share a commitment as well as an economic capacity to hospitality to the stranger in concrete ways.


  5. i think maybe it has to do with whether home-based hospitality is to be the site whereby which people experience the reality of our faith.

    For us, with 4 kids, having an open home is the most radical thing we can try to commit to aswell as the most vulnerable. How open? I guess that’s the choice each family has to make.

    But, if the majority of our living/interaction happens beyond the walls of our home, I wonder if our home then not only becomes a personal place to retreat in to, but by default, a place to protect against the intrusion of others. And my concern is how this may retard open communion with others and potentially reinforce the natural tendency amongst suburbanites to replicate this, rather than subvert it.

    For Tam and I, “mi casa et su casa” has become our site to wrestle out what it means to be faithful to Christ in this life time… what a challenge to truly believe and practice the mantra that “my house is your house”. I truly believe it may take the rest of our lives to barely even scratch the surface 🙂


  6. Matt – I’m interested in how you would go getting space and time alone in your way of life.

    Is it ever an issue?

    For me it is something of a balancing act getting the time alone that I need to function well and the time with people.

  7. We also need to recognise the privacy of the neighbours. We have some neighbours who had their car broken into, so they are building a brick wall at the front of their house. It is very clear in a over-the-fence conversations that they are happy to keep the relationship at that level and no more. But we keep the friendship at that level and trust that one day the walls (not necessarily his brick one)will be broken down.

  8. All our kids are now at primary school full-time so when I’m not at uni, I can negotiate the use of the space to service my own private eeds as well as my relational needs.

    However, before the kids were all at school, we have had other families living with us too but I made sure i was using the services of a spiritual advisor/counsellor, as well as creating sacred spaces (geographically) that I stepped into regularly.

    Saying that I am a “2” on the enneagram doesn’t mean this choice to keep an open house is an easy thing to do from a personality point of view. The past three years has seen me consistently humiliated (in the words of Rohr) as I have recognised time and time again how often I have sought to serve others for selfish gains (the need to be needed). So if there was ever a time in my life where having people in our space was going to be hard, the last few years would have to have been the hardest time for me so far.

    Maybe however, having moved beyond the office of “pastor” at a big mega church 3 and a half years ago, my relational interaction “stamina” has enjoyed the challenge and stimulation that an open house has provided.

    I think my initial point was less to do with whether people have an “open” house, and more to do with whether radical hospitality was a way of positioning ourselves in a receiving and vulnerable (risky) stance rather than always being in control as the do-er / saviour ,”out there” in the world.

    For me, community seems to need less contriving but more space in which the chaos of reciprocal relationships can play out. And for us, our home is the most obvious and accessible place for that to happen.

  9. Appreciate the discussion here guys

    Its interesting Matt that your ‘selfishness’ expresses itself in the ‘need to be needed’ and mine in shutting people out.

    And yet at the same time perhaps it is as healthy to be someone who recognises their need to be needed as it is to recognise one’s need to be alone and away from people?

    I imagine it is at the extreme end of the spectrum that these things get distorted and wrong.

    I may also have given the wrong impression of how we live. We do have a very open home, but I am aware of my need for space.

    I would exert that need in the same way towards all of my relationships whether they are my church friends or community friends. In that sense it isn’t at all contrived, but more a function of who I am.

    I ponder the ‘radical hospitality’ option, but I don’t think its my kids that hold me back (although I could use them as an excuse!) Its more that I would not be able to function that way in the longer term.

    I guess the question we are chewing around is whether one mode is preferable for developing community.

  10. Pingback: Backyard Missionary » Blog Archive » Radical Hospitality & Incarnational Mission

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