The human imagination is a powerful thing, especially when it operates without our conscious awareness!
When Margaret and I lived in Tyler (in northeast Texas), one of our neighbors owned three German Shepherds. When we moved into the neighborhood, a few of our new neighbors warned us about both the dogs and their owners, but we didn’t think much of it. It didn’t take long for us to begin thinking A LOT about the family and their supposed pets (I’m still not convinced that they were domesticated in any way; more like a pack of wild, canine bullies). Our neighbors refused to control them: they barked at all hours (if one started, all three joined in to make sure the whole neighborhood could hear them), they attacked other dogs in the neighborhood (at least we think that’s what happened…litigation still pending) and their owners became indignant any time they were confronted about controlling their “pets.” It was a nightmare, and the only logical conclusion was that our neighbors were sociopaths! What else would drive someone to act this way!? We couldn’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would behave this way, so the only possibility was mental illness combined with criminal intent!! At least, that’s what we told ourselves.
In the absence of real information, our imaginations ran wild with potential explanations for their behavior. And in cases like this, we rarely fill in the gaps with a positive or generous explanation for behavior that we don’t understand.
Around the time that our frustration reached a fever pitch, I discovered the Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. I was introduced for the first time to the concept that we’ve been exploring for the last two Sundays. It was interesting and eye-opening on a number of levels, and I loved the potential that it represented for our community. UNTIL. I loved the concept until I realized that when Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, He included my sociopath neighbors with the three dogs from Hades.
As I sat with this notion of neighboring for several weeks, I began to realize that I had fallen into a trap from which I would need to extricate myself before I could fulfill Jesus’s command. When we don’t have information, we tend to supply negative information to fill in the gaps without even realizing it (our imagination is at work even when we aren’t fully aware of it!). I made assumptions about our neighbors that were based on very limited information, and I hadn’t bothered to get to know them in a meaningful way.
Jesus is inviting us to a deeper level of engagement with the people around us. There are all kinds of barriers that keep us from doing this work (including the ever present ‘I don’t wanna!’), but as we will see this Sunday, none of those barriers are insurmountable. And the pay-off is worthy and eternal in nature. See you Sunday!