2006-03-12

"Los Ingleses": Some Ruminations on Neighborhood

Today in our core building time we were taking about the incarnation of Christ. We talked about how The Message describes it in John 1:14:

"The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish."

To be honest, when I think about our impending move into a new neighborhood, I get a little bit stressed. There are many tensions of living in community. I know these tensions exist in any neighborhood in any city in the world, yet I still struggle with the tensions we have to face as internationals living in Madrid.

Today when I returned from dropping someone at the train, I passed my neighbor, who was walking with her parents and her oldest daughter. As I drove slowly by, I heard the little girl remark "Los ingleses." That literally means "The English". I was reminded that we will always be labeled as different from our neighbors, wherever we may live in Madrid. Granted, we have not had a pleasant relationship with these particular neighbors, and I am sure their little girl has picked up their unpleasant attitudes.

For many reasons, I am ready to move back into an apartment after enjoying our townhouse for the past 4 years. I am ready to have less space to clean. But one of the things I dread is that we will end up with crabby neighbors either below, beside or above us.

I don't want to be controlled by this dread though, or begin life in a new place colored with fear of offending people. I want our family to be the presence of Jesus in our new building, our new neighborhood. This is a tension that tightens my stomach into an unpleasant knot. Realistically speaking, from experience we know that you can end up with unpleasant neighbors. It happens everywhere. But it seems more acute in a country where we already stand out because we don't look Spanish, we speak English in our home, we don't live on a Spanish schedule. It seems like we begin with strikes against us already because any perceived problems with having us as neighbors may be immediately chalked up to the fact that we are foreigners.

I know that I need to be praying about this a lot in the next weeks as we begin seriously looking for our new home. I need to be(and have been) asking God for good neighbors. But I also need to be willing to be stretched and grown. What am I going to do if God gives me a neighbor that is not pleasant, that gripes about all kinds of things? How do I find the balance of feeling comfortable in our home and being the presence of Jesus in my building, being respectful of others and going beyond just living in close proximity and really building community around us.