Meeting the Happy Neighbors
This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers in upstate New York.
Part of the reason that I enjoy World Changers so much is because they get it when it comes to evangelism. They go into a neighborhood with willing hands to help those who have a need. Because they do this, the kids and adults at the job sites have the ability to show their faith in action which translates to open conversations with the home owners and neighbors.
Following our Sunday service and meal, we drove over to the house that we would be working on starting that Monday. Our house was a large, two-story with a wrap around front porch. Our job for the week was to install insulation board and siding over the existing, delipitated, asbestos siding. We also needed to scrape and paint the front porch and any trim that would not have siding installed as well as tear out and replace some steps that were attached to the back of the house that were in a bad shape. Our home owner was not there that day so we didn’t get to meet him before we met his neighbors.
After looking over the house, we broke into several groups and made our way up and down the streets that surrounded our work site. Our job for that afternoon was to go door-to-door in order to let people know we were in the neighborhood and why we were there. Ultimately, our hopes were that some of them would give us the opportunity to have more than a cursory conversation.
One meeting that day still sticks out more than the others for me.
In front of a rundown duplex, a young lady was sitting on one of the steps that lead to her apartment. She was taking advantage of some sun while doing something on her Apple laptop. She had purple hair and many piercings about her face. Next to her was standing a lean man, short of stature, sporting a few less piercings than the young lady. As we walked up, I noticed that the front door was standing open behind them and in the shadows sat another young man with pale skin and long, dark hair. I would eventually learn there names as Darla (the girl with the purple hair), Lee (the lean man standing next to Darla), and Preston (the ghostly image in the background).
We gave them our usual opening spiel about being down the road working on a neighbor’s house and that we wanted the neighbors to know why we were there. Darla was pretty busy working on her laptop so she was never quite into the conversation except to throw out some expletives from time-to-time about whatever it was that was happening on her personal view to the internet. Lee was more into the conversation and at some point, Preston decided that he wanted to be more part of the goings-on. So he left his shadows and stepped into the sunlight with the rest of us on the stoop and in the front yard of their apartment.
Preston wore saint pendant around his neck which I asked him about. He explained that he had come across it in a shop and it just gave off a good vibe so he just had to purchase it. He excitedly told us about the research he had done about his particular saint (whom I can’t remember), and how his saint wasn’t very well known. That added to the attraction of the pendant for him.
Since we were on the subject of necklaces, I noticed that Lee wore a rather large, antique key on a chain around his neck and decided to ask him about its significance. His joking reply that it was the key to Preston’s chastity belt only confirmed what we had already suspected – these were Happy neighbors. I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner so let me explain.
The word gay has been reduced to a label of one’s sexual proclivity instead of its original meaning of describing someone or something as being happy or merry.
As I stood there on the trash littered lawn in front of the rundown apartment, I couldn’t help but connect some thoughts about happiness. These young people who we were conversing with had the same issues as the straight family next door – they were seeking happiness instead of joy. Their piercings, electronics, trinkets, and even their relationships, attested to that. I was also reminded that the people who profess Christianity are not immune to that circumstance either.
All of us, if we could see our state for what it really is, are mucking around in our pig sty lives trying to convince ourselves that the next trinket, job promotion, or relationship is what we need to have a happy life. Then when we get that thing that we thought was the answer we find that our circumstances haven’t changed…we have just brought that next trinket, job promotion, or relationship into the pig sty with us. Happiness is a temporary state connected to a singular event or situation.
To find true joy is to find that eternal hope that goes beyond circumstance or situation. We visited those Happy neighbors because we had a message of eternal hope. It wasn’t something that we could give them because it’s not something we took hold of ourselves. It was a gift freely given and we were there to point people to the Giver.
I prayed for those neighbors throughout the week and on the last day of our job I had an opportunity to take some of the kids back to visit with the Happy neighbors again. No one responded when we knocked on the door.
On our previous visit we had left them with a door hanger that explained why we were in their neighborhood and as we turned to leave, we noticed that it had been torn up and added to the litter on the front lawn.
How often are each of us guilty of just that – throwing away the Good Report in our search for happiness?