I’m not the kind of guy who would tend to pick up a book on how to be a good neighbor. It’s not that I think that I’m a great neighbor already; it’s just that I don’t care. And this is the problem. Two things led me to read this book: 1. Tim Challies had it as one of his favorite books of 2012, and 2. We were moving into a kid-friendly neighborhood. It was time to make some changes in how we approach those people leaving twenty feet from our living room.
Let me get the minor criticisms out of the way to focus on the strengths. This book is poorly written overall with a lack of any compelling power. The two authors do my least favorite style of writing by putting their names in parentheses after using “I” in the text. This ping-pong method is futile as there was no real difference between these two guys. Even the fact that there are two guys is irrelevant. Also, they focused so much about buiding friendships and hosting block parties, there was no discussion (really, none) on presenting the Gospel or even what the Gospel is. OK, the criticism is over.
This is an important book for me to read at the right time in my life. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly grouchier about being bothered at home. I viewed our house as a refuge from the world, and I know that it should be to some degree. However, in the four + years we’ve lived in Okinawa, we’ve never invited our neighbors over for a meal or a glass of wine. There seems to be something wrong with that. This book’s main thesis is this: When Jesus said to “Love your neighbor,” He meant, “Love your neighbor.” The book’s strength is this simple truth. We want to spiritualize, allegorizing, and metaphorize our Lord’s words, but we must ask how well we are reaching out and loving the family across the street or next door. I know that we’ve done a poor job of this in the past.
Pathak and Runyon have a simple exercise: sketch a map of your neighborhood and write the names and a few facts about those living close to you. If you are like me, your map is embarrassingly empty. When we moved to the Okinawa “suburbs,” I knew something needed to change. With children running around like feral animals, and Power Wheels and balls strewn around like a suburban apocalypse, I needed another way to respond. The book helped me to frame how I think about our neighbors. They are not an interference or a bother; rather, they are people made in the image of God. I am part of community not only at work or at church, but also at home. I am my neighbor’s keeper. This rethinking has helped us get to know those around us better, and we’ve enjoyed the interactions. I think that I could fill out that map much better after two months here than I could after four years in our last place.
I’m not ready to have a block party as the authors seem to focus too much on, but I’ve had a great time talking to our new friends around us and hearing their stories, and getting to know their children, the kids that our boys will eventually play with.
Regardless of any of the criticism I have about the book, the main message is useful to us. I see that when Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, he means Terrance; Kevin & Ann; John & Daisy; Sherman & Daisy; Anthony & Sonya; and Clark.
See more about the book here: http://artofneighboring.com