When I was growing up in rural Indiana, a trip to the grocery store or to my grandparents house nearly always included a rehearsal of the history of our area. Heading from our house in any direction inevitably meant passing numerous friends’ homes, sites of teenage antics by one parent or the other, graves of long-gone relatives, or some landmark we all identified with. And this wasn’t just true for my family. Our community, as spread out and rural as it was, shared both a geography and a history. We belonged to the place as much as it belonged to us.
According to Al Hsu in chapter 6, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” of The Suburban Christian, this sense of historical anchoring is one reason why a sense of community often is lacking in the modern suburb.
“While we may have a facade of community and neighborhood, we actually have clusters of autonomous individuals and atomized family units with no historic or natural connections to their neighbors.”
The transient nature of 21st century living may be a hindrance to building a common history and sense of place with our actual geographic neighbors, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The chief antidote? According to Hsu, it starts with hospitality.
Hospitality can be as traditional as inviting neighbors over for a meal, or as radical as creating new neighbors by inviting missionaries or a struggling family to temporarily share your home. Hsu also suggests things like sharing lawn equipment or transforming personal space, like garages, into community space for neighborhood gatherings. Mostly, I’ve heard that hospitality is creating space in my life to share with other people. When my home, my hands, and my heart are available, I can help build community.
And in making myself available and sharing my life with those around me, we create a history together. It may not involve gravestones or landmarks, but it can be the starting point for making my neighborhood a community.
Links to this post:
LL’s “A Little Community”
Al’s book, The Suburban Christian