The Lost Art of Being Neighbors
The old man who lived across the street from my childhood home had a wonderful bed of tulips in his back yard. I stumbled onto them one afternoon as I cut through on my way to a friend’s house. I had a long stick in hand and was swinging it like a Zorro sword. I was an awestruck six-year-old when I witnessed the top of a tulip lop right from the stem with one quick swipe. So I did what any kid would do… I swiped the heads of every one of Mr. Clapham’s tulips clean off their stems.
Bummed that I had to more destruction to pursue, I finished the journey to my friend’s house. He wasn’t home, so I hiked back through Mr. Clapham’s yard. As I approached, he came out to greet me. He then used his massive hand to snag the back of my shirt, lifting me off my feet and used his other hand to smack my rear end harder than anything I’d ever experienced in my young life.
I whimpered off and eventually made my way home where I would change out of my sopping underpants and sulk the rest of the afternoon away. That evening, he told my parent’s what had happened. They called me out and coaxed me into apologizing directly to Mr. Clapham.
I later learned that the bulbs for those tulips were purchased by he and his wife in Holland, Michigan prior to her passing away two years after my birth. Having no children that lived, watching the tulips bloom always helped him remember her and the life they shared.
And I took that from him through an act of childish whimsy. I was glad he whooped me and I remain grateful for that lesson to this very day.
Building Friendships of Neighbors
I tell this story about Mr. Clapham because of a book I recently had the pleasure of reading from author Dave Arnold; Building Friendships: The Foundation For Missional Engagement. This is one of those books that came to my attention at just the right time – funny how God does that.
You see, I’ve been thinking much about the degradation of neighborly relationships lately – relationships we’re commanded to pursue with loving fervor.
The title of the book did throw me at first, though. When I think of building friendships, I think of it in a social context. Pursuit of friendship as a means of missional intentionality is something I never considered. As Arnold points out, missional engagement usually evokes immersion, incarnation, outreach, and church planting while overlooking the idea of friendship. Yet, building friendships is the foundational component of missional engagement.
If we are to live out a gospel-centered life that reaches every corner of our neighborhoods, cities, and culture, we must learn to befriend others. To know one another. To connect with one another. To form trusting relationships where we earn the right and the ability to share the gospel.
This easy and quick read is hard-hitting. Building Friendships provides readers with many true and inspirational stories from Arnold’s experiences that complement direct and clear, biblical insight to show how we can build friendships in our neighborhoods, cities and communities. He, in fact, challenges us to rethink what it means to be missional as we serve Jesus as broken people in a broken world.
Will You Be My Neighbor?
I’m a product off the Fred Rogers generation that asked “won’t you be my neighbor?” We embraced the individuals (and characters) that entered into our lives, brought their talents, taught us lessons and made our communities into the wonderful, cooperative places that makes us all we can be. As I grew older, I witnessed many neighbors moving to acres of land outside the city, staying put but putting up privacy fences, posting signs, installing alarm systems and doing everything possible to not-so-subtly tell everyone to “leave me alone.”
We shun beggars and are skeptical of those in need out of concern for the potential that they have identified us as “marks” within a system that promotes perpetual assistance and does little to build up individuals to break out of that system. Even worse, we keep people at a distance because they don’t fit the profile of the part we ourselves want to play.
There are very few Dan Claphams in this world as a result.
Recapturing What it Means to be a Neighbor
Yes, Dan Clapham gave me a spanking that made me pee my pants. That’s a feat not even my father accomplished – and he had well more than one shot at it. But Dan Clapham also gave me a little manila envelope with three bi-centennial silver dollars in it stating they were “from Santa” the first Christmas I was alive. I still have them and cherish them as a remnant of human compassion.
Dan Clapham was kind to me when and spoke to me like a more mature person when I was very much a child. Even after the beheading of his tulips and the swat that followed, he always bought from me when I was forced to peddle fund-raisers for school or Little League baseball. It was usually an overpriced bag of pistachios. When I would take them to him, he’d pay me and tell me to have a seat with him on his porch where we would eat them and talk about the happenings of our neighborhood and lives.
He never had an agenda other than to know me, about me and assure me that he cared. Often times, that’s all any of us needs in our lives. Someone we can count on, that we can trust and that we know will be there to steer us right… or perhaps slap us out of a funk when we’re (be)heading down a wrong path.
God bless you Mr. Clapman. Looking forward to the time when we will meet again in eternity and can laugh together about how you taught me to be a neighbor.
About Chad Gramling
Chad Gramling makes his home in Indiana with his wife and three daughters. He's the founder and primary blogger at 1Glories, a vision cast onto his heart and detailed in Listen Up Kids: Foolish Dreams, Syncing with God & Running to Win.