Neighboring, First Holy Communion and Democracy

by | May 7, 2012

I missed church on Sunday.  At least, I didn’t make it to my own church.  Instead, Sunday found me sitting in a pew in a Roman Catholic Church prepared to celebrate the First Holy Communion of Rachel and Lauren, the twin 8 year olds who live across the street.
Our families are engaged in “neighboring”and it’s deeply related to a healthy democracy.
Here’s how it goes.  The girls and their mom often watch Amigo, our little dog, when we are gone.  We help them out with projects from time to time too.  We often meet in the middle of the street just to say hi and to check out what’s happening.  We are frequently in each others home and have figured out we all like riding bikes!  And we are worried about environmental issues.
We have a lot in common and that helps.
Now, I have other neighbors down the street I haven’t yet approached.  They have signs hanging outside on their fence that I’m not quite sure what to make of.  One says “God bless Arizona.”  The other says  “God bless Israel.”
I’m all for blessing states and countries and I’m very pro-Israel.  But I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t really code language for something else, like: “We don’t like Mexicans and we don’t like Palestinians.”  Or even:  “God damn Mexicans and Palestinians.”
I’m not sure.  But this I know:  My husband and his family are of Mexican, Spanish and Indian descent.  And I believe in the human dignity and rights of Palestinians as well as of Israelis.  In fact, I believe in a world that works for everyone.  All families, all ethnicities, all religions, all species.
So, where does that put us as neighbors?
I confess I’m not really sure.
I’m reading Parker Palmer’s newest book, “Healing The Heart of Democracy:  The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.”  It’s very challenging.  And very timely.  Not just because of the world we live in, but because of the neighborhood I live in.
He notes that regularly, “we withdraw into the silence of private life or express ourselves with cynicism and anger that make the public realm toxic, producing more psychodrama than social change.”
You’d have to live in a cave to not experience that…no matter what neighborhood, state or country you live in!
Palmer suggests an antidote.
It begins with seeing democracy as a way of being.  It takes shape in neighboring and other local associations.  It’s open to “The Other”and practices holding tension creatively.  It’s a way of being that moves us beyond our own little privatized worlds.  And requires both chutzpah and humility to engage the process well.
All of this is needed, he suggests, to counteract the “culture of cruelty” that overtakes when fear-mongering outweighs facts or real conversation.
So, as part of creating a politics worthy of the human spirit, I’m practicing democracy in my little neighborhood.  I know I’ll connect with the girls and their mom in the middle of the street soon.  Probably this afternoon.
But what about my other neighbors?  That’s going to take an intentional action from me.  To get over my fear, my judgmentalism and my “privatized world” that could easily keep them out.
It’s the kind of intentional act Jesus told stories about.  He too highlighted neighboring as the foundation of a healthy kind of living:  the Kingdom of God.  Reaching out beyond the norms to embrace “The Other.”  Of course, his wisdom was grounded in the Torah, too.  All of this makes a very strong case for me.
So what’s a democratically-inclined person who longs for a world that works for everyone to do?
It might just be time to bake some banana bread and head on down the block to meet all of my neighbors!

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