The New West

The New West August 11, 2009

You had a dream, didn’t you?

Blame it on Clint Eastwood, Zane Grey, or Miss Kitty.  You had a dream about the wild, wild, west. Now here you are, living in Phoenix, your shoes melting to the pavement as we speak, and no way to get the ice cream home before it melts.  Furthermore, you are surrounded on every side by Targets (and not the shooting kind), Starbucks and strip malls. Not cowboy in sight. Nor a cow, for that matter.

What was it all about, anyway, that westward moving dream you had? That we all have?  The frontier movement of the past drew people of faith–that is, faith in the unknown. Hope that something “out there” was better and more life-giving than the way they’d always done things. There was promise out here in fertile land, ample sunshine and unexplored territory. “Out West” became synonomous with adventure, freedom, the good life, and the thrill of wide, open spaces. (OK, so maybe for my generation, the Dixie Chicks fed the dream more than Miss Kitty.)

But at the heart of all wild west dreaming, something else started to breathe. Something else led pioneers and outlaws this far, and draws us still today. In a word, we’re after true community. Those who settled the western territories didn’t just want to surround themselves with stunning and unspoiled landscape. They weren’t just seeking emptiness in which to store all their stuff. At the core of all that freedom and adventure was, and is, a deeper desire to live among people of like mind. To surround onesself not only with the beauty of the natural world and the prospect of new life in it, but to live among people who share the dream, and can help realize it.

This may not be how the west was won, but its certainly how the west was popluated. And maybe you moved here for a job, or to be near family, or because you watched too much Gunsmoke as a child (if there’s any such-a thing as too much Gunsmoke).   Whatever your story though, the western dream is just not complete without neighbors. Unless the people around you are trying to ride the dream too, you’re just holding a saddle.

Now, I’m just guessing here, but I’ll bet your back yard is surrounded by four cinderblock walls.  We’ve taken the largest city at the heart of this west-reaching vision, and fenced it in on every side. Mr. Grey would not be pleased.  If you’ve never thought about what this configuration does to our sense of community and connectedness, take a moment to consider. Are you unable to name the occupants of houses you can see from your driveway? Do you spend more time online and on-phone than in real conversation? Do you complete transactions without making eye contact or speaking to the check-out person, or the people in line with you? 

Its not an accusation. Really, its a question. Is this the life for which you came west? Or, if you’ve been here forever, what is your westward dream? What’s calling you to live more purposefully and joyfully? What’s meeting your need for freedom, adventure, and human connection?

Follow this spot for the “Who Is Your Neighbor” project of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We live in this desert too, but we don’t believe it is wilderness. There is life, hope, and purpose to be found in our neighborhood, and in yours.  Say hello to that person across the fence. Keep the dream moving westward and wild.  We’re all fenced in here together.  And wherever you live, we want to know…who is your neighbor?

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  • Erin, Beautiful. You had me from Miss Kitty. 😀 Thank you for doing this. Blessings, Gay

  • Kara Kleinschmidt Fotter

    love it!!

  • Jan

    The three cider block walls in the backyard do hem us in,don’t they? It’s sad when we don’t know our neighbors except when we all roll the trash or recycle bins out early in the morning or ocassionally pull in or out of the driveway at the same time. I meet my neighbors at about 6 a.m. when we are watering our shrubs and trying to keep them alive. Community building is what we as Disciples want, desire, need. I liked the “for the Healing of the Nations” theme of G.A. That healing needs to start in our own backyards, over the block walls or chain link fences, even across barriers of language and culture. You go Erin! And, yes, Ms. Kitty was an awesome independent woman and the Dixie Chicks spoke their minds, right or wrong.

  • Linda Siegwald

    You are such a great writer! I don’t know how you find the time and energy! There is solid truth in your observations–I’ve always thought we have very unfriendly architecture. Where are the porches? The community vegetable gardens? I haven’t had many meaningful conversations with my neighbors since our kids stopped playing together in the street. I liked how you tied it all together and I look forward to learning how we will reach out and make our desert an oasis of community.

  • Jim Gawne

    “Give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”
    The Sons of the Pioneers sang those lyrics, as did so many others. These cowboys were talking about huge acreages of pasture land where their cattle could graze. In our “modern” west, many people actually want to be fenced in. Eight foot high block walls have replaced four foot high chain link fences. There was a time when our only barriers were oleanders and rose bushes. Crime may have caused us to build walls around our castles to keep the crime out, but very few people go over to the new neighbors to welcome them to the neighborhood. I am looking forward to your series.

  • Terry T.

    It is so great to see a young Iris blooming in such a big way! I Love the blog and can’t wait to see where it leads!

  • CK Greene

    I love it. A wonderful piece. Much better than my stuff.
    Want to write some stuff for me that I can put my byline on?
    See you later.