Last Spring my daughter and I were out at the park down the street from our house flying a kite. As the wind exhausted herself, we also took a rest on the grass. To pass the time, I told her about the game about where you look up into the sky and see what kinds of shapes you can make out of the clouds. Genius parenting move in order to keep a four year-old preoccupied right? Only thing about it was, it was the exact wrong day to play this game as the clouds were almost non-existent!
I'm sure the meteorologists among us can get more precise here but, the clouds were those ones that we see so often around Sacramento- it looks like God has spread icing across the sky, with divine moderation of course. After my daughter said, "Daddy, it looks like there's blankets in the sky," I realized something lying there, our heads touching each other on the grass. Allow me to explain...
My family and I had the privilege of living in the beautiful state of Kentucky for four years. There was this amazing and foreign feature about the state- they had weather patterns. At least 2-3 times a week it would rain, heavily. I think the southerners call that "thunderstorms". In any event, I fell in love with those (another meteorological term coming up here) cotton candy pillow looking clouds. And often, I would see them racing across the sky, off to find another neighborhood to dump water. Those clouds could really move! And until that day on my back last Spring, I never knew that those icing clouds moved, though not as quickly, just like the billowy cotton balls native to the Bluegrass. I've looked at clouds so many times before, how did I not ever notice? What was the difference between then and looking that Spring day?
I learned this, and this will be the foundation for Practice #2 of How to Be the Neighbor Everyone Always Wanted- The difference between looking and noticing is our intentions. The key dynamic at play is our posture when we come to the table. (Symbolic posture, not literal. Please don't start lying down all the time now.)
How many times have we seen something over and over, yet never noticed?
In Mark 10, Jesus has an encounter with a very wealthy man seeking eternal life. Pretty big quest, right? When it becomes clear that the man is really looking for loopholes and shortcuts, Mark tells us, "Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him..." KJV
The first thing Jesus does, His posture towards the rich young man, His intentions standing face to face with someone looking to game the system is to "Behold him."
Behold- to look at in order to learn something, as an astronomer looks at the stars
The way that Jesus was looking at the man that day is the way I was looking at those oh-slow-moving clouds. I wanted to notice them, learn more about them, look into them, rather than look past them. Notice how before Jesus asks the man to give away all his valuables, He sees the man's value. Before a high bar of discipleship is presented by Jesus, a high level of love is dispensed.
Who are the people in your day to day life that you look right past, right through, and see them just as an "extra" in the scenery of your life? Baristas, cashiers, janitors, postal service workers, the lady in the cubicle next to us who still wears Elizabeth Taylor's "Passion" perfume, etc. These are the people that don't have center stage and starring roles to us. They don't have "speaking parts" in our movie, they are just "the extras". But the thing is, every single one of "those extras" have something that we have- a name. Our name is the most comforting thing to hear in our spoken language. Wrapped up in a name is a person's story, hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, worries, doubts, questions, gifts, a desire to be known by others, and so much more.
So the call for Practice #2 of How to Be the Neighbor Everyone Always Wanted is: Notice the Extras.
Behold others before passing right by them, onto your next task. Pray and ask God to see them as Jesus does- as someone created in the Imago Dei. So here goes, your experiments for this practice of noticing and beholding "the extras" in your life:
1) Ask the restaurant server their name and use it
They are more than just vehicles that keep your coffee topped off!
2) Become the waver in your neighborhood
Wave at people that walk and drive by your home. Bring some of the South into your community!
3) No more ATMs!
There are actual people inside those buildings! Get to know them. Trust me, it will prove beneficial if you have an "overdraft error"...or so I've heard.
4) No more self-checkout stands at the grocery store!
Behold that real live person across the conveyer belt today and let them know you're thankful for them being at work so you can get food to your home.
5) Learn your postal worker's name
Our's is Anthony and he's great. A bit shy, but that may be due to us being a tad bit overbearing.
Therefore, as you are going through the everyday rhytmhs of life, Notice the Extras. Behold them as the beloved creation of God, the Imago Dei. And the One that Beholds us all will be with you, even to the very end of the age.
Notes: For a FANTASTIC resource on this, and the inspiration for this practice, you MUST check out Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch's fine book- Right Here, RIght Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People. Also, if you have a story to share about how the experiments went for you, we'd love for you to share with us in the comments!