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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird" (Amy Lively)

TITLE: How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird
AUTHOR: Amy Lively
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015, (224 pages).

How many of us actually know who our neighbors are? It is well known that Jesus commanded his disciples to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet, it remains one of the most challenging aspects of modern Christian living. Sometimes, we try to rationalize away that our neighbors are mainly in our workplaces or social areas, and minimize the literal physical neighborhoods. That was something dealt with by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon in their book, "The Art of Neighboring" which is about building genuine relationships with our physical neighbors. They identify fear as one of the key barriers to actually loving our neighbors. For how can anyone love their neighbor without first loving them? Some don't know how while others simply feel weird about it all. For these struggles, many people simply give other excuses for not even trying to know their neighbors. In the same vein, Amy Lively, a popular speaker and author based in Lancaster, Ohio, reinforces this need to reach out to our neighbors with a whole book dedicated to three key aspects, or should I say, gives me three compelling thoughts.

First, it is about overcoming one's fears of reaching our neighbors. Having personally experienced the weirdness of just trying to reach out, she shares about her earlier years learning from some Christian neighbors who were not intrusive but were still very influential in their welcome and care. Often we get trapped by fears of negative reactions by people who prefer us to mind our own business. Yet, what if our very neighbors are in some crisis or trouble that we will never know until we ask? What if under the external facade of wealth and well-being is a soul struggling with loneliness and discouragement? What if we have unconsciously judged our neighbors by their covers? One way to overcome fear is to let curiosity leads the way. Notice what they have been doing through the day. Smile at them. Pray for them. Be aware of their presence. They are social people, not some puzzle for us to solve. Lively also shows us that it is easier to invite our neighbors to our homes rather than our churches. Who knows. It could very well bring them a step closer to the faith. Another way to overcome fear is to recognize how diverse our communities are. Weirdness comes about often because we are different. Once we recognize that differences are common aspects of a diverse community, we can learn to live with differences and acceptance. More importantly, the battle is often within ourselves, not outside. For we can have our heads full of ideas, only to be stopped by a heart full of resistance.

Second, the focus is not conversion but conversational moments. It is about making friends. One reason why Christians fail to make good neighborly connections is their self-imposed pressure to convert people. That is not necessary for conversion is God's responsibility. Ours is conversational moments. We do the greeting. We make friends. We strike up ordinary conversations about life. We begin with natural relationships. Let God lead the rest. Do kind deeds and be a good neighbor. We may not be eloquent with words but we can certainly show kindness in ways we are able to. We can pray. Lively puts it bluntly:

"The two most important things you can do to make your neighborhood safer are to get to know your neighbors' name and to get out of your houses." (117)
Indeed, if we do not even get out of our own houses, how are we to even know our neighbors, and our neighbors to know us? In an increasingly online and virtual society, it is tempting to stay indoors so much that we forget about the outdoors. Even our most obnoxious neighbor, God still loves him or her. If those of us who spend countless of hours working or serving in Churches can broaden our perspectives to see the world as our parish, why not our neighborhoods? The spiritual gifts that we have, surely they are not limited only to church stuff? How people respond is not our responsibility. How we respond to God's calling for us to love our neighbors is ours.

Third, stepping out is a step of faith. For we speak and reach out not on our own strengths but God's. We can become like walking Marthas constantly busy with our own work that we forget that we are not living in the desert with nobody. We forget that we live in neighborhoods with people that Jesus loves. We forget that ours are not the only messy houses around. Many others have their own mess too. It is a risk that can be rewarding. Even though the results are often unpredictable, the risk is worth is simply because Jesus thinks it is worth it. After all, He died for us.

So What?
Amy Lively gives us a book of ideas and encouragement to overcome our fears and to step into our neighborhood with courage. There are many ideas but most of it all is a call for us to simply set down our fears, settle down our anxieties with prayer, step out in faith, and serve our neighbors in whatever appropriate manner. For all we know, a bit of kindness can unleash open hearts and minds not only to keep our neighborhoods safe but also fun to be in. "How to Love Your Neighbor" may not be a book written by a bestseller or poise to bring in millions of dollars in royalty payments. It is written with a desire for believers to make a difference in their neighborhoods by simply getting to know them, to recognize their presence, and to love them as best as possible.  Above all, it can put to rest those uneasy butterflies in our stomachs, those weird thoughts that are crippling our outreach, and those fears that often defeat us before we even open our house doors.

Frankly, overcoming our fears is already a major step forward in learning to love our neighbors. Many of us simply do not know our neighbors. Some may not even know their names even after so many years. That can change. Fears can provide us unlimited excuses, but only love can motivate us to open our doors of our timid minds, to step out in faith with a willing heart, and reach out in love to needy souls. If we can get to know one neighbor, just one, it would have been a soul that has been touched by God's love. Read this book and be encouraged to step forth in faith! Confucius once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step." I say, the journey of loving a thousand neighbors begins with a simple greeting of a neighbor we meet.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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