Local Boy Scouts making the choice to be good neighbors by helping to paint the CCW Lounge.

In the twenty years that I have lived in Chicago, I've had all kinds of neighbors.

In my first apartment, my neighbors became good friends. Like the TV show Friends, we had an open door policy--moving back and forth between each other's apartments throughout the day. Not only was I good friends with my neighbors across the hall, but the entire building was social and friendly. On Friday evenings in the summer, everyone would be on their back porches chatting with one another and sharing food off the small grills.

When I moved to a new apartment four years later, it took me a while to realize what a rare situation that was. In that new apartment, I barely knew anyone.

Over the years, I've also had some terrible neighbors, from loud music playing at 3:00 am to packages missing from the shared stairwell. With two dogs running around and sometimes barking, I am sure that there have been times also in which we've been the terrible neighbors.

We recently moved to a townhouse, which means that I don't have neighbors above or below me for the first time in twenty years. We are very lucky, though, to have great neighbors on either side of us and in the townhouse community. If we are out of town, our neighbors make sure that the flowers in our backyard get watered. People say hello as we are walking through the neighborhood, often remembering our dogs' names and saying hello to them as well. A few nights ago, one of our neighbors brought us freshly baked cinnamon rolls because she was in the mood for baking.

Living in this community, I am realizing that being a good neighbor doesn't just happen. Like all things worth doing, it takes discipline and commitment. Being a good neighbor is a daily choice. It is the choice to say hello and engage, even when you just want to get in your car and get to where ever you need to go. It is the choice to go out of your way even when it is inconvenient to help others, offering to water plants, to check mail, or to lend a hand with a project. It is the choice to share extravagantly because sometimes you feel like baking.

Every day, we are given the task of choosing the people that we want to be. Do we want to be stingy with our time and energy or do we want to open ourselves up to the joys and challenges of being of practicing generosity and hospitality? I am learning that to be a good neighbor, you have to make the choice each day. And on those days when life is hectic and hard and you make the wrong choice, take heart in knowing that the choice is waiting to be made again tomorrow.

Our congregation covenant found at the back of our CCW hymnals.

I have been rereading The Rule of Saint Benedict recently and reflecting on the importance of living within the boundaries of rules and disciplines. Written in the early part of the 6th Century by Benedict of Nursia, a monk who founded a number of communities throughout Italy, the Rule is a guide for both spiritual formation and for living together in community. One of my favorite translations of the Rule is a contemporary paraphrase created by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, a leader in the neo-monastic movement who lives in an intentional community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Wilson-Hartgrove writes in his introduction: "The Rule is more like a sermon than a self-help book...it outlines in very concrete terms what it looks like for a community of people to live their whole lives according to the truth of the Gospel."

As a part of the free church tradition, we are often hesitant about accepting top-down rules about how we supposed to order our spiritual and communal lives. Though we are affiliated with a larger denomination, no person or body within that denomination can step in and control the choices of our community. As a faith community, we are free to make our own choices about how to worship, how to use our resources, and how to serve in mission. This freedom is foundational to the Baptist tradition.

Each member of our community is invited and encouraged to make their own decisions about their faith, to develop their own daily habits and practices to nurture their spiritual lives, and to discern how they feel called to serve. As pastors, David and I are here to support you in this process, but the choices are yours.

This doesn't mean that we don't have rules, though. At CCW, we have a covenant in which we pledge to one another to try to live according to Christ's teachings and to support one another. We have bylaws that govern the way we make collective decisions, empowering teams of volunteers such as the Church Council, our Deacons, or the Trustees to act on behalf of the whole community. Like Benedict realized 1500 years ago, rules are necessary--even in Christian communities.

I also encourage you to think about the rules, even the unspoken ones, that you use to live out your daily life. What time do you get up each day? What kind of diet do you follow? What type of exercise routine do you try to maintain? These little rules inform the person that you are always in the process of becoming.

Do your rules strengthen and empower you live your whole life according to the inclusive and grace-filled truth of the Gospel? Do you have habits and practices in place that help you to be big-hearted, hospitable, generous, forgiving, empathetic, and grateful?

We are free to make up our own rules. We are free to decide which habits and practices nourish us the most. As a people seeking to follow Jesus, though, I believe that we have to create rules and disciplines that form and shape us more and more into the image of Christ.

Updated: Aug 8, 2018

The cell phone sleeping bag offered by Sabbath Manifesto.

I am a big fan of the Sabbath Manifesto, a project out of the progressive Jewish tradition that has drafted ten principles for creating sabbath. Their first principle is to avoid technology. For one day a week, the Sabbath Manifesto encourages us to turn off our computers, televisions, tablets, and phones and disconnect from the constant rush of information. They even offer an awesome sleeping bag for your phone--a cute reminder that you have set an intention for the day to be disconnected. 

For the past few weeks, I have been striving to live out a few of the Sabbath Manifest principles one day a week. I wish I could say that they have added joy to my life, that I have rested and been nourished during this time of being unplugged. The truth is that I have failed miserably.

Creating sabbath is hard, especially for those of us who live in communities and cultures that don't encourage, support, or even understand your desire to disconnect and unplug. I am sure that creating sabbath is a challenge and a discipline even for those immersed in traditions that honor sabbath with weekly cultural practices. I also know that practicing sabbath on your own is a unique and, perhaps, especially tricky challenge. 

When everyone in your house is busy watching their favorite shows on Netflix or commenting on their friends latest post on Instagram, it can quickly feel too legalistic or even too Luddite to keep yourself unplugged. After all, what's the real difference between scanning Pinterest and leisurely thumbing through a magazine? What's the real difference between binging on the latest episodes of Orange is the New Blackand reading a fun novel?

Over the past few weeks, I have given in pretty easily to these rationalizations.

The Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel famously wrote that practicing sabbath created a "cathedral in time." To create that cathedral, we need to build some walls and boundaries around our time and activities. The truth is, with my phone in my hand or sitting in front of my computer, the boundaries and walls around my time slip away. Without even thinking about it, I am responding to emails and texts from coworkers or adding items to my shopping list on Amazon. 

Creating sabbath isn't just about building walls and boundaries. It's also about enjoying the gifts of life that we are usually too busy and too distracted to notice. I love that the Sabbath Manifesto includes in their principles to go outside, to lights candles, to drink wine, and to eat bread. Creating sabbath in your life is about enjoying creation and sharing a meal with people that you love. 

For now, I will keep on striving to incorporate these principles into my life on a more regular basis, acknowledging the fact that I won't always succeed. Incorporating spiritual practices, such as sabbath, into your life requires that you also offer yourself grace. I will keep on trying to unplug and to let go off of my consumerist impulses one day a week.

I don't live in a culture or community that supports this practice but I am lucky that I have a faith community that gathers around the table twice a month to light candles, to drink wine, and to eat bread together. In these moments of conversation and nourishment, I do find rest and renewal.

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The Community Church of Wilmette, 1020 Forest Avenue, Wilmette, Illinois, 60091, 847-251-4370