The award-winning televsion show, Desperate Housewives, originally aired in 2004, and ran for eight consecutive seasons. Set on “Wisteria Lane” in the fictional town of Fairview, which actually was part of the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles, the show follows the lives of four women as seen through the perspective of a deceased neighbor who now narrates the storyline.
Behind the deceiving façade of a picture-perfect, affluent suburban neighborhood is the portrait of four neighbors who struggle with divorce, infidelity, demanding families and rambunctious children, paralyzing perfectionism and other dysfunctional behavior. With each new season comes a new mystery, usually with the arrival of an enigmatic new neighbor. The television series highlights the truth behind families and neighbors, which is that there is no perfect neighborhood. Despite external indications to the contrary, all people struggle with failure, imperfection, betrayal, disappointment, conflict, and loss.
As the holiday season draws near and Advent approaches, the readings we hear in church become increasingly ominous. In this weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus describes cosmic upheavals of epic proportions. The light from the sun and the moon will die out, stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly powers will be shaken. It is a prediction of the end of the world as we know it. But at the end of days, Jesus promises, God will gather his faithful people from the “four winds,” and from the “ends of the earth” (Mark 13:27).
The prophet Isaiah offers a vision of this new reality. In those days, he says:
[T]he wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair (Isaiah 11:6-8).
Isaiah refers to it as God’s “holy mountain,” upon which there shall be no “harm or ruin” (Isaiah 11:9). In other words, it will actually be the perfect neighborhood.
Working towards a perfect neighborhood in our world today does not require Stepford wives, children, and families. It does not entail perfect veneers or forced expressions of happiness. Rather, it demands a willingness to be gathered, to step out of the isolation of the inner sanctums we have made for ourselves, and to build community instead.
Because neighbors often disappoint each other, building the perfect neighborhood often requires tolerance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Conflict with neighbors is often painful and can inflict lasting wounds. Read our companion piece this week to discover how one parishioner put her neighborhood conflict behind her. If you want to live in a healthy neighborhood, forgive and connect.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson