I find that in neighborhood work it helps to not do it alone. We all have different tendencies and talents. We all have unique lenses and come from various contexts. These cause us to pick up on different aspects of the same scenes. For example, this morning I’m sitting in a new local caffeine establishment. I have a great window seat and every once in awhile I just sit and take in the activity. As cars go by, I pick up most readily on newer model Nissan Sentra’s … not because they are the greatest in motorized vehicles, but because we own one. The woman next to me, assuming that she doesn’t also own one, probably has not seen and of the 7 that have passed in the past 15 minutes. When my wife and I visit a bookstore, she gravitates to the cooking section and I gravitate practically everywhere else … unless I’m looking to buy her a gift.
When I’m talking with a church about neighborhood discovery, or consulting with a group about connecting to their neighborhood, I would be negligent not to ask them what they see … through their lenses … and them let them hear how each other see’s things through their own lenses. In a previous congregation we found ourselves needing to rediscover the neighborhood. It was fascinating to hear different groups describe their community as both devoid of young families and filled with them at the same time. It all depended on the specific street the observer lived on. Taken individually, these opinions would lead to very different conclusions and neighborhood engagement opportunities.
Yesterday, my wife and I walked to a neighborhood grocery stop and on the way home we decided to do what we love to do when we carve out the time … we wandered. Having moved here only two weeks ago we are quickly trying to educate ourselves about best neighboring practices for this new space. Anyone who knows us may have noticed that we frequently have two distinctly different ways of approaching things. When it comes to neighborhoods, my wife feels like I am another manifestation of Mrs Kravitz (for those of you too young for this reference … check here). She is constantly advising me not to keeping looking at everything. On the other hand, I often feel like she’s as inquisitive as the countless preschoolers that she has taught over the years. Put more simply, I “observe” (my words) and she “questions” (again my words). So … we are walking up a sidewalk taking in some new sights and we come upon a scene where our differing approaches kick in. A house on our street has some fruit trees both in their front yard as well as their parking strip. A few of the trees are covered entirely in netting. As we approach I see it and start taking mental notes and considering all of the scenarios that could possibly have led to this scene. Upon walking up we engage the neighbor who is inspecting pears on one of the trees. We both engage the neighbor for a moment to say hi … similar response for both of us. But then the similarities end. I am satisfied to continue on our way imagining my own reasons for the netting while my wife takes the more direct approach … she asks specifically what the netting is for. May not seem like a stretch for you to think someone would ask that, but here in the Pacific Northwest, live and let live, culture you’d be very surprised. In this culture there are a great many reason why one would not ask such a direct question … but my wife is still wired to get her East Coast on and ask anyway … and she always gets away with it. And as usual … she doesn’t merely get the answer to her question. From this one simple question we discover the name of the couple (even though the wife isn’t even there), we discover what they both do professionally, how long they’ve been there, that they have an airbnb on their property, and he discovers the building we live in even though its still blocks away. All of that and also a few pears he gifted us from his tree for our walk home.
And there you have it … I was once again reminded how rich your experience of the neighborhood can be if you don’t go it alone. Community builds as well as discovers community. I’m ok with the Mrs. Kravitz label … I see a good deal that others don’t see … but without my grand inquisitor I am often just a bunch of outside observations lacking inside information.