I grew up in New York City, in the borough of Manhattan. Manhattan is one of the five boroughs that comprise the city of New York. When most people hear the name “New York,” they actually envision the borough of Manhattan. However, each of the five boroughs has a distinctive character, ethos, physical appearance, and even accent.
In Manhattan, for instance, the numbered “streets” run east to west, while the numbered “avenues” run north to south. The area between two streets or avenues is considered a “block.” A block going east to west between two avenues is long; one going north to south between two streets is very short.
I lived on Seventh Avenue, between 131st and 132nd Streets, so the block where I lived was short. But despite it being a short block, it was home to several hundred people. On the other hand, on 131st going from Seventh Avenue to Eighth Avenue was quite long, and several thousand people lived on that block. The avenue running from north to south tended to be a mix of apartments and commercial establishments, while the block going east to west was largely residential.
Now my intent is not to give a geography lesson on the city structure of New York,but to say something about my early understanding of neighborhood. You see, one block was considered a neighborhood! So my earliest memory of neighborhood was a rather limited space, one short block, composed of the people living in and sharing that space.
As I grew older, so grew my understanding of neighborhood and neighbors. Increased mobility, inquisitiveness, and courage propelled me to venture beyond the avenue on which I lived, and simply by turning the corner north or south I found myself in a different neighborhood, with different neighbors. In time, my view and experience of both was enlarged.
You have read in this issue of Candler Connection about the meaning of neighborhood and neighbors. While one is about place, the other is about relationships. You have learned in a more profound way what I learned early as a youngster: Both neighborhoods and neighbors are capable of expansion and extension. Of course, as an adult, I would learn this even more dramatically. And of course, as a Christian, my understanding of neighbor and neighborhood was enlarged even further.
Indeed, advances in technology have expanded our understanding of neighborhood and neighbors beyond imagining. Now we have online communities, networks of cyber neighborhoods, and avatars representing neighbors we will most likely never meet. But our theology even surpasses our technology.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, looked upon all the world as his parish. Now we, his followers, look upon all the world as our neighborhood!
Today, we acknowledge that we live in a global village, thereby recognizing that our “neighborhood” is not just the small space we share in north or south Georgia, Alabama, Atlanta, or New York. The neighborhood has grown. And so have our neighbors. No longer are they limited to those who look like us, share a common culture, language, or nation. Our neighborhood and neighbors are changing. It means that our Church and we are changing and must continue to change as well.
It is still a relevant question to be asked and answered by every generation: “Who is my neighbor?”
Woodie White walked several blocks to his first job at a New York public library, where his love of books was forever sealed. His love of chocolate malts was sealed a little closer to home, at the malt shop just a few doors down from his family’s apartment.