I hadn’t really noticed it before, the house that sits diagonally across the street. Gazing from our front porch the other evening, Mitch wondered aloud about the place. I think he actually asked, “What is the story of that house?”
On our block the houses are fairly well established and well kept—at least on the outside, to those looking on. The house we were wondering about is almost invisible because the yard, bushes, and trees are so overgrown. Whoever lives there, if anyone, has been invisible to us too.
It just so happened that the next evening my next-door neighbor Dee sat on the porch with me and mentioned the same house—without my asking—and her version of the house’s story. Also new to our neighborhood, Dee told me about a lady walking by with her dog one recent evening who indicated Dee might join in getting rid of the “problem.” I guess the problem could be the overgrown yard or a house in disrepair or most likely, as Dee surmised, the neighbor whose story intertwined with the house’s story Dee decided to rescript.
Dee’s interpretation of the “problem” was that the man who lived in the house was seen as an outcast by the neighbor who walked by. Dee’s silent defense of the man, whom she called one of “those who look on,” incited her to action. She knew a man lived in the house alone but she had never seen him. So again, it just so happened that the next evening, she paid attention and noticed when he drove up and got out of his car. She yelled “hello” and the man continued to walk toward his door. Deciding that the man was fully aware of his outsider status and hoping to avoid her, Dee and her husband ventured across the street.
Dee noticed his workday clothes and deformed foot that limited his gait. Their hello noticeably unexpected, he slowed and turned when they greeted him as their neighbor. “If you ever need anything let us know, we are right across the street.”
Maybe this man was expecting to hear admonishment for his overgrown yard, for shutters that needed paint or bushes out of control, but instead he heard, “I’ll write our number down and bring it over so you’ll have it.” And it just so happened that the following day, as Dee was putting a card with their number in the man’s door, the lady, who had warned Dee about the “problem,” was walking by with her dog again.
The one’s who look on. How often we construct stories of people we don’t know and amazingly also about those we do know very well. The stories not only create my perception of part of our world but also shape my response or perhaps even more acutely limit how I live in community— or dare I suggest—the kingdom of God among us.
It’s easy to tell the story of my neighbor. It is much more challenging for me to recognize (and admit) the stories I hold of my children, my husband, my new colleagues; people who are closest to me. I tell myself the stories with trust and mistrust to make sense of the kingdoms I create.
The Kingdom of God is NOT a place of course, but a condition; Frederick Buechner says in Wishful Thinking. He tells this story in one of his sermons that maybe gives a glimpse of what we are trying to do with our stories—as flawed and counter productive as they may be for me.
In 1963 I went on that famous March on Washington, and the clearest memory that I have of it is standing near the Lincoln Memorial hearing the song “We Shall Overcome” sung by the quarter of a million or so people who were there. And while I listened, my eye fell on one man, with a face like shoe leather and a sleazy suit and an expression that was more befuddled than anything else; and I wondered to myself if, quite apart from the whole civil-rights question, that poor old bird could ever conceivably overcome anything. He was there to become a human being. Well, and so were the rest of us. And so are we all, no less befuddled than he when you come right down to it. Poor old birds, poor young birds, every one of us. And deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day, as he will, by God’s grace, by helping the seed of the kingdom grow in ourselves and in each other until finally in all of us it becomes a tree where the birds of the air can come and make their nests in our branches. That is all that matters really.
Seeds of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is a relational place—however it is more than a casual mixing of our faith, culture, and everyday experiences that is necessary for the kingdom.
…To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened. Luke 13:20-21
The kingdom is like the yeast the woman took and mixed in with the flour – until all of it was leavened. No longer do the yeast or the flour exist. Chemically and physically they become something new. How do I consider what it means to be the kingdom of God in the world? What it means to be transformed in Christ?
We are called to be in the world; to be immersed in the vastness of the world around us; to be attentive to the synergy of God at work within and among and in-between us. Be part of the story.