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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Neighborly Anxieties: Part Deux, or The Outcome

by Tom Pappas

I recently wrote about two situations that were hard for me to address involving neighbors. The outcome is worth mentioning and so I will. 

The troublesome rental: I contacted six of the neighbors who had signed a letter of concern – one in person and five by phone; that situation seems to be smoothed out. My energy was boosted to approach the people west of my house about the bushes that encroach on the sidewalk.

The trespassing bushes: It took three tries to catch the “Wests” but I looked over the fence and they were having lunch outside.  I scurried around to the gate unfolding my picture of the dangerous fallen branch suspended by their foliage over the sidewalk.

Their response is worth quoting.  “We never go out there. [duh] Thanks for telling us. Someone was scheduled to take care of that in May. We’ll call today.”  Clearly I went through a lot of anguish imagining possible negative responses.

Get ready for irony.  A week after the Wests liberated the sidewalk from overgrowth I received an official letter from the city engineer indicating that I would need to trim the junipers that crowded the sidewalk in front of my property. YGTBK. 

Laurel and I made separate trips to the end of the driveway and came up with this scenario that was agreeable to the city engineer. The violation belonged to the neighbors to the east.

We share a double driveway with them. Our house numbers appear two times - on both our side, and in between the driveways where they are separate. The East’s don’t have house numbers posted. The inspector assumed the address on the sign between the drives belonged to the Easts.

I shielded the Wests from a letter by my intervention, but I got the letter that should have gone to the Easts.  No good deed goes unpunished.

God is the God of everything. God is with my anxiety about the possibility of disappointing. God is with me in the tension that comes with confrontation. God is with me through the consternation of injustice. God gives me the satisfaction of looking back with a smile of contentment and being able to eventually laugh at this good and crazy world given to us to experience.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Blessings of Daughters & Fireflies

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Jesus may have had John the Baptist, but my daughter has fireflies.

Last night Isabel had barely put her head down on the pillow before I burst into her room and dragged her out of bed.  “They have arrived!” I announced, only a little overdramatically.  We ran down the stairs together, and out the back door.  Sure enough, the backyard was filled with fireflies, lighting up the night.  For a few blessed moments in the fading light I watched my daughter run around the backyard trying to catch these messengers of good news. 

And what was the good news?  Here is the back-story:  It was almost 10 years ago that my wife went into labor with our first child. We thought Isabel’s arrival into this world was imminent.  But the labor stalled out.  In that anxious time, our good friends came over and together we took a walk along the Potomac River. It was there, along a wooden walkway beside Teddy Roosevelt Island that we saw hundreds and hundreds of fireflies.  It was one of the most magical things I have ever witnessed.  Soon after that Kathryn went into labor. On June 23 Isabel was born.  

Ever since then I have been more attentive to the June arrival of the fireflies.  It is amazing to me that every year, no matter where we live, they show up just before Isabel’s birthday.  As if to remind me that something really good happened around this time.  As if to say, “Someone special is on the way.” 

There is a rabbinic saying that every time a person walks down the street, a choir of angels precedes them, shouting, “Make way, make way, for here comes the image of God!”  Maybe the fireflies are really angels announcing the good news. Who knows?

Jesus had prophets foretelling, angels singing in the night sky, and a wild man in the wilderness, all of them saying something important was about to happen. I have June fireflies and Isabel, and for that I give thanks to God.   

And what about you?  What reminders do you have from God’s creation that something important has happened?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prayer for Spontaneous Cooperation

by  Angier Brock

A couple of weeks ago, two friends and I hiked the Delicate Arch trail in Arches National Park, Moab, UT. Because they go there often, my friends were terrific guides to that strange and beautiful land. As for me, I could hardly stay on the path for trying to take in the combinations of colors, the juxtapositions of textures, the play of light and shadow, the mixture of shapes both graceful and grotesque. If you have been there, you know that the Utah desert is one of the many places in this world where even expert photographs cannot do the landscape justice. Nevertheless, many of us (and there were plenty of us out that day) had our cameras pointing every which-a-way as we tried to capture something of the grand drama of the place. 

The trail was also a good place for people watching, but nothing I saw along the way quite prepared me for the interactions of hikers at the Delicate Arch itself. Nearly everyone wanted photographs of themselves with their family or friends standing next to or under the immense arch. With so many people converging at the same time, accomplishing that goal could have been complicated. Someone could have been bossy or pushy or impatient—in any one of several different languages. Most of us were hot, tired, and thirsty. The hiking equivalent of “road rage” could have erupted. 

Instead, quite spontaneously, cooperation happened. Those whose shoes worked a little better on the slick rock or who were a little stronger of body or a little steadier of balance helped those who needed a boost to cross from the trail to the arch and back. People from one group handed their cameras off so that someone from another group could photograph them, and then cameras traded hands again and someone from the first group reciprocated. Everyone was able to manage the terrain; everyone was able to get the desired photo. It felt like a minor miracle.

Granted, there were no immense or complicated issues that we strangers faced that day, nothing exhaustively compelling or pressing we needed to work out among ourselves. Still, the model I saw emerge from a disparate group of hikers of varied ages, different languages, and, I assume diverse religious and philosophical traditions, gives me hope for our world. Spontaneous cooperation, we might call it. May it break out all over this planet! May we let it guide us, no matter where our paths go. May we give thanks for those in whom we encounter it along the way.   

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Neighborly Anxieties

by Tom Pappas

My heart is hurting and my stomach is in a knot.  Isn’t it times like this we’re to be in prayer and remember the perspective of our loving God, who came to bring abundant life.  I hope in the praying and the writing I will get a sense of peace.

There are two situations that have me on the ropes, and both involve neighbors.  One neighbor, mine, has bushes at the front of his property that encroach on ½ the sidewalk for at least 30 feet. Walkers and bikers must go single file next to the curb on a busy street.  Yesterday I screwed up my courage to go talk to them about trimming the bushes back; I missed them by seconds as they drove out of their driveway. We waved.

The other neighbors are complaining about the people that I approved for a property I am trying to manage for a dear friend. The neighbors resent the lifestyle of the renters and the owner is disappointed too. This is the harder of the two.

The angst I feel is in relation to how much I need people’s approval.  (Note to self, don’t ever do politics.) The cordiality meter in my mind drops with each step I take toward next door to invite the neighbors to trim their bushes. My anxiety is worse as I consider trying to smooth over conflict at the rental. As this is playing out I have many times reflected on people whose every day is loaded with stress and the opportunity to not be approved of.

Being faithful isn’t about being liked - but something about me is.  I’m thinking that God would like it if I could put that part of myself on hold and boldly approach these situations.

I think I will like that too.  Is it possible that sometimes Call is away from whom we are or think we are?

Note the fallen branch in the picture. My son and I removed it as it was face-high for a bicycle rider.