These are the People in My Neighborhood

Our street is a short, one-way street, four blocks from the Charles River. It’s lined with three-family homes, built at the turn of the century as industrial housing for people who worked at factories and needed places to live. The street gets mostly local traffic and even long-time residents of Cambridge don’t always know where it is.

I love this street. There are families and single people, older couples and students. There are Greeks and Chinese and white Americans and more Greeks and more Chinese and then there are even more Greeks. There are those we’ve secretly adopted as grand children, and there’s an Ethiopian family around the corner with the cutest twins I’ve ever seen. We keep on trying to meet them but always end up too far away when they walk by. But one day….one day, we will accost them and find out their story. There is Maria, Carla, Peter, little Peter, Christopher, So, and the uppity couple on the corner.

My Chinese neighbor across the street will wander over to make sure I’ve picked mint in her postage stamp garden; my Greek neighbor will shout out “hello’s” and make sure that I pull close enough to other cars when I parallel park, admonishing me: “We all have to leave space for each other in the city!”

If you head down the street and make a left turn, then a right turn, you may run across Billy Davis. Billy Davis was born on that street and he’s now retired, in his late seventies or early eighties we think. He’ll tell you all about Cambridge in the old days. He’ll talk about how everyone got along: the Irish, the Italians, the Portuguese, all the immigrant families. He’ll tell you how he couldn’t misbehave because there were so many watching mamas on his street and they all had eyes on the kids in the neighborhood. He may do something wrong, but the minute he walked in his own house, his mom would say “Hey, what were you doing down at the park?” and it was all over. His stories need telling and we are eager listeners.

Walk over a block and you reach our neighborhood mechanic, Phil. He’s the best mechanic in all Cambridge and will give you fair prices and honest assessments of what’s wrong with your car. He’ll even make a house call if you really need it.

Walk the other way to Central Square and you’ll come across the Village Grill, run by Theo and Helen. It’s a small, local neighborhood restaurant with an extensive menu. Biting into a piping hot gyros or Greek Salad with grilled chicken, you will find it is worth every penny. You don’t just pay for food, you pay for conversation and it is always interesting. Theo and Helen are Greek as well, so the conversation occasionally turns theological, which means it turns Greek.

I walk out of the house on this Monday morning, and smile at my neighborhood. It’s going to be a hot humid day, and tonight will see many of us on porches, observing each other through porch railings and potted plants.

Because these are the people in our neighborhood. 

Who are the people in your neighborhood? I would love to hear!

Prayers for Refugees and Loving my Neighbor

All the world stopped for twenty four hours as Boston and the surrounding area went through what is now the famous “Blizzard of 2015.”

Yesterday, as I sat in complete comfort with sun pouring through my windows, able to work from home, I began to pray for refugees. These are prayers I pray all the time; prayers where my heart aches and my soul begs.

Some of the things I think about as I pray for refugees is sanitation and disease. Any time you have a huge number of people in a small space, with limited water, housing, and food, then you have potential for disease break outs. From dysentery to malaria, the setting is perfect for epidemics. And while I’m not a clean freak, I love clean. I love the smell of clean.

A few hours later, when I had turned my short attention span to other things, I heard water running. I thought nothing of it initially. I had just started the dishwasher. But the sound grew louder and I knew this was not normal. Realizing the sound was coming from a bathroom, I ran to it and there it was — water pouring from the light fixture on the ceiling. Literally pouring.

Knowing it was coming from our upstairs neighbors I ran upstairs and knocked ferociously on their door. No answer. I ran downstairs as the water continued to pour onto my floor. I emptied a two-gallon pan. It continued to pour. I wrote an email to the owner who lives in San Francisco. The water continued to pour. I ran upstairs again. The water continued to fill a second pan.

I will spare the details but the people living upstairs had a clogged toilet that they thought would magically disappear. Funny thing – it did magically disappear! Through their floor and into our ceiling and down to my bucket.

And I was really mad. But I kept on saying “No worries. No big deal. I can clean it up. No worries. No big deal. It will get fixed. No worries. No big deal.”

What I wanted to say was “It’s a big ‘fill in the blank’ deal. And I’m tired of neighbors like you. And I’m tired of you not taking out the garbage. And I’m sick of your pacing back and forth with heavy boots.” All this stuff came up in me like vomit.

But I just kept on saying “No big deal.” Because I had prayed for refugees that morning and compared to what’s going on in Iraq and Syria those words are true.

So there are two things going on here – One is that neighbors can be hard to love. Really hard. I would far rather go across the ocean to work in a refugee camp near the Syrian and Iraqi borders and show love there than show love to my neighbors. My neighbors are white. My neighbors are middle-class. My neighbors are spoiled. My neighbors are irresponsible. My neighbors are frankly, not very loveable. And actually they would probably say the same of me.

As I think back on neighbors, I realize that no matter where we have lived in the world, we have had times where we struggled with neighbors. At one point in Cairo our neighbors used to listen to our phone calls. In Islamabad they would order us around. In Phoenix we had a neighbor that yelled at us and threatened to call the Home Owner’s Association when our lemon tree grew into their yard. And in Cambridge they let the toilets overflow through our ceiling.

GK Chesterton says this “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” and these wise words hit me hard yesterday.

The second thing is this: As much as I wanted to whine, and curse, and proclaim that this was “a big deal and why don’t you unclog your toilet?” in the big scheme of things it really is so small. So.Small. Yukky? Yes. Annoying? Undoubtedly? But life-changing, soul-damaging, despair-filling? Never.

Clogged toilets and ‘hard to love’ neighbors and refugees — all reminders that I don’t have what it takes to deal with any of these. Reminders of how much I need Jesus. Reminders that no matter where I am in the world, these Biblical truths stand. 

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6: 26-31

Guest Posting at Djibouti Jones – Red Hot Rage

I’m honored today to be guest posting over at Djibouti Jones. You know Rachel from the many references I’ve made to her as well as the numerous articles that I pass on from her. Rachel is the most talented writers I know and writes from a place of knowledge and compassion about parts of the world that are significantly misunderstood in the West. So to be featured again on her site is an honor. And I’m writing about something that I am passionate about – connecting with Muslim friends and neighbors.

I’ve included the first bit here and hope you will head over to Djibouti Jones to read the rest of Red Hot Rage.


no trespassing

Many of our close friends are Muslims. Several have been dear friends since college years. These friendships have continued through marriage, children, international and cross-country moves, and now middle age. One couple are especially dear to us. We have stayed in each others homes, had deep, late night talks, and discussed everything from raising children to faith. We are honored to be their friends, to share conversation and meals with them.

They are faithful Muslims, taking their faith seriously in a multicultural, pluralistic country. We are Christians also taking our faith seriously in the same setting. Though the faith differs, the struggles are similar allowing us to relate on many levels .

At one point while visiting we began talking  about their neighbors. Did they know them? Were there neighborhood children that their kids could play with?

They paused and then relayed to us that they had attempted to befriend the family next door. The family had four children and were often seen playing outside. They said that there had been little progress in connecting their kids. Every time their little boy went outside to play with them, he ended up being excluded from play. His mom continued to encourage him, telling him to keep on trying, but this without success.

A few months later our friend ended up seeing the neighbor in the community. He mentioned the desire to have their son play with his children. At this the neighbor stopped him and said. “We are born again Christians – we don’t socialize or let our kids socialize with people who don’t have the same beliefs.” Read the rest here.