Book Excerpt

I am a neighborhood

I am a neighborhood. You might know me as a place, which I am, but I am so much more. I am community. I am beautiful. I am made up of children, seniors, families, and singles. I welcome anyone, and I desire God’s peace and wholeness for everyone to enjoy.

I am urban and rural, suburban and sub-urban, and at the heart of life everywhere. You can call me a village or refer to me as in town or across town or uptown. Whatever you call me and wherever you find me, you will notice that many of my characteristics are consistent and true.

I am local. I thrive on smallness, like a radius of four blocks, a one- mile stretch, or five hundred homes. I usually have a name and sometimes I need a name because names are significant, lending to the identity and dignity of a people. Since economics drive much of what I can offer, I need healthy entrepreneurship, multi-use spaces, local retail, and sustainable business to recycle the dollar in ways that benefit me and you and the city of which we’re a part.

I have a story to tell. My history, whether rich or recent, informs my development, my tension, and my order. I know that my memory and culture tell my as yet unfinished story, inviting my neighbors to live and forgive as God intends. My healthy homes and buildings seek to conserve energy, water and other natural resources. And my architecture, old and new, reveals my creativity and commitment, my honor, and my forward thinking.

I am led by neighbors. My leadership is shared and diverse among civic and law, teacher and librarian, parent and neighbor, student and partner. My leaders live here with me, generating action from the ground up. My energy is as vibrant as my attitude, understanding that the psychology of my collective self-talk can either perpetuate my challenges or overcome long-term hurdles.

I am connected. My decisions and choices impact other neighborhoods, too. Actually, in the midst of my own brokenness, I realize how inter-connected I am to the story, history, and empowerment of neighborhoods unlike me. Sometimes I appear to be self-sufficient, glittering on the outside, even boastful and proud, while deep down I know real loneliness, pain and empty achievement. Only in humility do I realize my need to learn from other neighborhoods. Only in relationship do I let go of my fear and pride, realizing that the least of other neighborhoods is my greatest teacher.

I am dynamic. Wherever you find me, I am changing. In the city, I can be found in small pockets where life can be wonderful and hard for many. I am discovered in vocational neighborhoods, such as high-rise office communities, and in other worlds, too, such as midtown condos and urban coffee shops. And in the suburbs, I am found among the poor and wealthy, in small corners and within overwhelming sprawl.

I often seek ways to re-engage my age-old principles through years of hard work, waiting, anticipating, and always learning from generations before me. The rhythms of my streets sway and move to the beat of life, laughter and selflessness.

When I am healthy, I thrive on listening, love and intentionality— people are attracted to my walk-ability, my wide sidewalks, beautiful parks and playgrounds, well-lit streets, strong schools, mix of homes, creative business and welcoming style. When I am strong, I am never seen as a place to merely drive into and out of, but as a community to join and contribute to. A community of neighbors is my greatest asset.

And whether rural or city, diversity is my future.

When I am vulnerable, other neighborhoods treat me as such. Churches show up with quick solutions and drive-by service when long-term partnership is needed most, dealers run underground economies that put children at risk, and absentee landlords purchase land and houses as “investments” while local neighbors carry the brunt of the vacant houses, overgrown grass and crime. Sometimes I need neighbors to push through my thick barriers, starting a new conversation to fight for my wholeness. And yet I am empowered most when they take time to imagine new possibilities with and beside me, not for me.

When I am persevering, I invite neighbors to open the shades and step outside with hope over fear, life over death, and humility over cynicism. I look out for those around me, and I will oust the cancerous activity of an individual for the sake of my community. I am a choice of the heart, and I am restored and transformed as people are reconciled to God, others and creation.

As a neighborhood, I am meant to hold people close from all walks of life who are raising children together—Jew and Gentile, Asian and African, poor and privileged, Spanish speaking, and well-speaking of others—inviting words and perspectives that build up rather than tear down. At the heart of community, God’s design for relationships, I hold close these words from Ephesians chapter four, “Speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Ultimately, I am a parish. Everything about me is meant to reflect God’s glory—each blade of grass, each person, each home, and business. I love to play outside, host BBQ’s, and celebrate life around the table. I am the host of churches and mosques, hills and trees, concrete and sirens.

I insist that pastors, teachers and policemen envision me as their focus. I need my leaders to live near my children because proximity speaks louder than distance. I demand that churches view neighborhood life as community life and neighborhood planting as church planting, connecting neighbors from street to street, breaking bread and sharing resources, while encouraging people to explore old ways of being church through entrepreneurship, shared leadership, and creative action. And I invite business professionals to view themselves as neighbors through their vocation, finding ways to leverage their skills and resources for the good of the community. I invest into others as people co-invest with me.

I hold community in place. I am Place, and now I wait—for neighbors to reach in, move in, and live up to the greatest biblical command of loving God and neighbor. God is here and moving among families who have been here for decades, compelling neighbors and partners to develop me with hope and healing and long-term commitment.

I am alive. I am breathing. I need you and you need me. I am a neighborhood.

Author: Nate Ledbetter

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