‘Tis the season…not quite for the holidays (although, don’t get me started on the radio station that played “Feliz Navidad” on October 1st). No, in Phoenix its the season when people can finally venture outside after months of hibernating in climate-controlled spaces. Parks are buzzing with activity, grills are smokin’, and all over the valley people are cleaning out closets and garages for that mainstay of community life: the yard sale.
On any given weekend, you can find one on every corner around here. As a pastor, I find this to be one of the best opportunities to get out and meet my neighbors, and I encourage my church folks to take the same approach. For a few weekends every year, you can cruise your block and actually engage your neighbors in–wait for it–conversation. No concrete walls to reach over, no pulling into the garage and putting the door down before you get out of the car. Folks are actually sitting out in front of their homes, ready to greet you and hock their wares.
Anyway, that’s how I think a yard sale should function. However, I have been sorely disappointed in the number of people who sit in their garage talking on a cell phone as you peruse their cast-off Christmas decorations. Or actually GO INSIDE and wait for a buyer to come to the door. Seriously.
People of faith, fight back. Engage your neighbors in conversation, whether they appear to want to speak with you or not. If your new neighbor avoids eye contact at all costs, using the garage door as a barrier to even passing conversation, go to the door. If everyone at the park is wearing headphones, speak to them anyway. My bet is they are only pretending to listen to the music to avoid being spoken to. When every other parent at school, ever person in line at the grocery, every fellow Starbucks junkie is plugged into a laptop, an i-Phone or a bluetooth, do not be ignored! Stop making it so easy for people to disconnect and isolate themselves. Stop enabling the fear of rejection that keeps us from reaching out to others–even when those others are in our driveway, going through our stuff.
Enough already. If you are a person of faith, you know that God values all people, and expects you to do the same. You know that God wants you to live in community, not just proximity. Really, your neighbors know that, too. There’s a too-great love of self, a fear of other, and and even deeper fear of rejection at work in our communities that makes people sink inward. But deep down, even the most inwardly-focused among us long for that great adventure of relationship, perhaps the greatest risk involved in the human experience. Its up to people of faith to make the first leap off the cliff of comfortable lonliness, and invite our neighbors to join us.
When we clean out those garages and closets, its usually an honest effort to pare down to basics, clear out the clutter, make some space for some newness of life that we all crave at the deepest core of our being. And yet, most of us find those spaces filled, all too soon, with more stuff. Nothing holy, just stuff. In my fall cleaning this year, I’m going to covenant with myself, and my small but lovely house, that the space I clear will be left empty. It will be left open and waiting, not for more stuff, but for new opportunities to connect and grow. Maybe even to meet those new neighbors, whether they like it or not.