As children gear up for Halloween and families make arrangements for the cherished traditions of the winter months ahead, we begin this holiday season in mourning over another senseless act of violence. After spewing a tirade of anti-Semitic venom over internet websites, Robert Bowers burst into a Pittsburgh- area synagogue last Saturday and opened fire, killing eleven innocent people and injuring six others in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
Pundits speak of the death penalty and the need for gun control, but what is also painfully clear from these heartbreaking events is that we do not know our neighbor as we should. Although the gunman lived in an apartment complex in the local area, one of his neighbors said that she could not remember ever seeing him speak to anyone in the two years she had lived there.
Especially heartbreaking is the statement made by one local resident attending the interfaith service and candlelight vigil held for the victims, who said that the Squirrel Hill community where the massacre took place was the inspiration for the beloved children’s television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Fred Rogers . . . went to our church,” she said, “and to think that in a place where you would love your neighbor, this would happen is just . . . horrible.”
Today we begin a new message series that we’re calling, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring. In this timely and relevant four-week series, we’ll be looking at specific ways that we can bring God’s love into our own neighborhoods. The easiest way to start doing that is simply learning the names of some of your neighbors.
Indeed, a certain level of connection is established when we know someone’s name. It brings the relationship to a whole different place. Likewise, it’s hard to advance in a relationship or even have a conversation with someone, if we don’t know his or her name. Besides, we honor people and show them respect when we know their names. We are drawn to people who make the effort and care enough to know our names and use them.
Indeed, the first strategy of any hostage negotiator is to build rapport with a hostage taker by using his or her name. Although according to news reports Mr. Bowers found a community of like-minded extremists, white nationalists, and Nazi supporters on an alt-right social media website where he posted a stream of anti-Jewish slurs and hate speech, I can only wonder whether anyone in his real space neighborhood actually knew his name and used it to greet him.
Your assignment this week, therefore, is to get to know some of your neighbors’ names. We must learn from the sin of Cain in the Bible when, after killing his own brother Abel, he asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson