Peter Lovenheim was stunned when a husband killed his wife and then himself in his Lovenheim's neighborhood. Their neighborhood is a very upscale neighborhood with large homes and manicured lawns. How could this happen?
Investigating, he realized that virtually no one in the neighborhood knew this couple and their children, though they had lived there for some time. Further, no one knew any of their neighbors, Lovenheim himself included.
Deeply concerned about the almost-total absence of neighbor-neighbor relationships, Peter decided to take a creepy approach (at least I think it's creepy, though fascinating). He decided to get to know his neighbors by spending the night at each of their homes. Such was the genesis of his book, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.
When I first saw the book at Barnes & Noble, I was fascinated by the premise. I personally find the stories of "ordinary" people fascinating and intriguing.
Chapter by chapter, Lovenheim relates what he learns about each of his neighbors. In truth, he did not spend the night at every neighbor's house. Some had reservations. (Imagine that!?)
Part of Lovenheim's motivation was guilt. The neighborhood failed this tragic couple, particularly the wife. In fostering community, he was trying to "redeem in a small way our neighborhood's failure" (232). Part of his motivation was a felt emptiness, a sense that he was missing something in living in a community-less neighborhood.
His efforts were moderately successful. He and another neighbor, Lou, started helping a third neighbor, Patti, who was struggling with cancer (and eventually succumbed to it). Lou, widowed and retired, said that Patti was helping him, too, by allowing him to drive her around and help her. Further, when Lovenheim's own relationship with a girlfriend fell apart, breakfasting with Lou for several days helped him through that grief.
Community is important. Lovenheim is not a Christian, but the importance of community that he senses is biblical. Is the neighborhood the prime place for community? There's something to that: "when disaster strikes you--better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away" (Prov 27:10 NIV). For me, the church is my primary community.
And yet ... God has put me in my neighborhood. That is my immediate geographical community. What joys ... and help ... and opportunities to minister (and be ministered to) am I missing by not knowing my neighbors better than I do?