Learning to love one’s neighbor requires a willingness to live as part of the community. If you read part one of this Halloween post, then you know this was never easy for me when it came to Halloween.
For me to embrace the idea of celebrating Halloween with my neighborhood meant that there would have to be an act of love involved. The typical family Halloween celebration entails nothing more than an open front door and a bowl of candy. We would all call this a tradition, but I’m not sure it qualifies as an act of love.
The root word of community is commune. It means “an intimate act of communication.” Now we’re getting somewhere. This is what I want with my neighbors. I don’t just want to give out candy. I want to know my neighbors. I want to know what their lives are like. I want to know what brings them joy, and as the Lord allows, be apart of their struggles.
The problem with getting to know my neighbors is the pace of life we all live. We’re all busy shuffling our kids from one event to the next, working long hours, at time barely able to scarf down dinner before it’s time to rush out the door to get to the next big thing. When I see my neighbor Marlon getting out of his car, I make an effort to cross the street to catch up, but with bags of groceries in his hand the conversation doesn’t go very far. My other neighbor Jennifer can always be seen with a baby in her arms and a toddler around her leg. We rarely see Erica anymore because she works late at a research hospital. Then there’s our newest neighbor Tom. He’s a single dad working crazy to keep his landscaping business afloat. You get the picture. I’m sure it’s a lot like life in your neighborhood. Everyone is busy and the intersecting of lives is difficult.
Halloween night is different. And not just because it’s a holiday. On every holiday people slow down a little and relax. But on Halloween my neighbors don’t just stop working, they get out of their homes and gingerly walk from house to house. In about ninety minutes I’ll meet most of the people in my neighborhood. And their children. And everyone is having a good time.
I decided that if this is the one day out of the year that my neighbors will all stop by then this is my opportunity to get to know them. We’ve been doing the same thing at our house for several years now. Because of the way we celebrate Halloween we have parents tell us that their kids specifically ask it they can come by our house. I think it’s because our house has become a place where a kid doesn’t just walk up to with an open bag, but rather it’s a place to enjoy for a few minutes.
We set up our portable fire pit in the driveway, get a big fire going, and let kid’s make s’mores. It’s amazingly simple, but the relational benefits are huge. We live in a very multi-cultural neighborhood where most of the kids have never been camping which means they’ve never made s’mores. My kids help show the little ones how to roast a marshmallow and put it all together. We also set up all our camping chairs and brew some coffee and hot chocolate. So while the kids are making S’mores, I get to talk with the parents. No one is in a hurry or every thinking about the next house to get to.
One year I put together a petition to ask our city to get new playground equipment for our neighborhood park. Every parent that walked up signed the petition. Last year we handed out notecards to every teenager that came by and asked them to write down one way they could change the world this year. Then we took all of the cards and put them up as a collage on our garage door. It was so fun watching all the neighborhood kids read each others cards.
In just a few hours I’ll be bringing the fire pit out from the backyard, my kids will put the marshmallows in those giant bowls we bought, and we’ll celebrate Halloween with our neighbors one more time. I’m already praying for the new people we’ll meet and the conversations that will occur as community happens in our front yard.