Hypermobility. Transience. Individualism. Consumerism. Nationalism.
Add to those descriptors the second half of the great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
And what do you get? Helicopter love.
A helicopter love, or lifestyle, is one in which a person has a place to live (a safe haven), but they hop into a virtual helicopter to fly to the various places they frequent. This lifestyle is characterized by multiple disconnected relationships, multiple personalities (for each individual), rootlessness, and restlessness.
This is living above place. It is a fragmented lifestyle. It is disembodied living. We can be everywhere all the time. We have the power to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.**
How has this helicopter lifestyle impacted the call to love our neighbor as ourselves?
Who is My Neighbor?**
“But wishing to justify himself, he [the lawyer] said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’?”
If we pause for a moment, we realize that we, too, are asking the same question (or maybe we aren’t) to justify our existing neighboring. Who are our helicopter neighbors that we love?
Family, friends, co-workers…everyone, right?
When you live above place, in a fragmented, disembodied world, you do your best to love everyone, everywhere, all the time, and in many ways that is commendable; however, the folks who generally get left out are, wait for it, our actual neighbors: the people who literally live in the houses, apartment complexes, and duplexes around us. In our quest to aim our love at everyone, we often hit nothing.
The reason this happens is because they (those neighbors) also live helicopter lives (or for some, hermit lives), and therefore are strangers. We’ve been habitualized by the helicopter liturgy of our society: exit safe-haven, get into car, lock doors, open garage, reverse, shut garage, drive to destination (work) without interaction with others (except on the cell-phone), perform duties (work, shopping, eating), re-enter car, drive back to safe-haven, pull into garage, shut garage, enter safe-haven, repeat.
We’ve been conditioned to ignore those who live around us, because we’ve given into the rhythms and habits of our day.
Rooted in the Neighborhood: Neighboring 101 ***
Jesus’ response in Luke 10 is, of course, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which he challenges the lawyer with a PhD level kind of love—enemy love. That’s a high and lofty goal, but what is often neglected (and was already assumed) is that Samaritans and Jews were actual neighbors. Maybe before launching ourselves into loving our enemies, we should head back to the Kindergarten love beginning with loving our actual, literal neighbors.
This requires a radical reorientation of heart, mind, soul, and strength. A helpful starting place is to recover the idea of parish, in which Christians take stock (responsibility) in the spiritual vitality of the geographical area that they inhabit. Believe it or not, that’s how most churches were erected. They began in a geographical area where people could get there by foot.
Be royal priests in your hood.
So what are some practical steps?
Take a walk around your neighborhood. Pray for your neighborhood while you’re at it (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in ______ street as in heaven”). Be visible so that you can meet people. Be available at times when neighbors are most present (e.g., between 5-6 on weekdays; Saturday is a usual yard work day for folks).
Go to Neighborhood Association meetings. Get involved.
More could be said, but one of the best launching pads is to fill out a Block Map. The Block Map (aka the Map of Shame) was developed by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon to give Christians tangible ways to love their literal neighbors. At the center of the map is your house, apartment, duplex, whatever you dwell. Surrounding your house are your eight closest neighbors. Now here’s the challenge: fill out the chart by getting to know your neighbors names (it’s hard to love someone if you don’t know their name), hopes, and hurts. This can create some awkwardness because most of us don’t know our neighbors, but we also need to extend ourselves some grace and remember that this is a process and a lifestyle, not a project, program or evangelism strategy. Of course, our highest hope is that our neighbors would dedicate their lives to Jesus, but we’re commanded to love them no matter how they respond to the gospel.
In It for the Long Haul
Neighboring isn’t a science but an art, and like many musicians it takes time, patience, and repetitious practice to become fluent and skilled in one’s craft. Much of this can’t be forced, and has to occur organically, but even organic fruit and veggies require laborious work from the farmer. If we are always on the go, never at home, what sort of fruit can we expect? The food we’ll partake of is fast-food, which reinforces the individualistic, consumeristic helicopter life.
I don’t think God is calling us to be helicopter pilots but rather farmers of his new creation. In order to help cultivate new life, we must learn to slow down and observe the rhythms and patterns of the land (neighborhood), tending and tilling the soil, and willing to stay put. One of the most subversive, counter-cultural things Christians can do in these times is to stay put in one place for 30-40 years (which happens to coincide nicely with a mortgage). In doing so, we may begin to minister and regain trust that has been lost. We will be able to actually show people the way of Christ (instead of just talking about it). Maybe we, ourselves, will actually take root and flourish? If we are in it for the long haul like farmers, one sister may plant, another brother may water, but in the end we’ll be reminded that only God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 2).
* I adopted this idea from Tony Kruz at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cm7c2ytB-o
** See Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen’s The New Parish
*** Read Pathak and Runyon’s The Art of Neighboring