“And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29b
We had not lived in Japan very long before we discovered that community is an important value and good communication within the local neighborhood is considered a critical element for a healthy community. To facilitate this worthwhile objective, we paid a “voluntary” monthly fee to the local neighborhood association for the privilege of membership. This membership kept us in the information loop through a periodic circular notice folder, called a kairanban (回覧板), that is dutifully passed on from neighbor to neighbor. The contents of this folder varied each time, touching on a number of different topics. Some examples of this are local road construction news, dates for public health screenings, information on the neighborhood cleanup day, safety precaution advisories, any changes in garbage collection procedures, notification of local festivals, appeals for charities, local school news, reports of unusual criminal activity, scheduled senior events, and advertisements for local businesses. Most important of all was the routine announcement of the next neighborhood association meeting and the not-so-subtle reminder to attend.
We normally skimmed through the enclosed sheaves of papers, making sure we weren’t missing anything critical in nature, and then stamped our personal seal on it along with the date. This verified that we received the neighborhood news before passing it on to the next person on the list. Although it could be bothersome at times, the kairanban did serve as an additional reminder that we were not just a collection of individuals, but were part of a community.
Since we frequently moved, we were members of many communities in Japan over the years. The strength of our bonds within these communities varied, depending on how long we lived in a particular place, the age of our children and our time availability. In time, we increasingly came to appreciate this structured sense of belonging where neighbors were encouraged to look out for each other and personally invest in the community. We also realized that as foreigners, we were probably under the neighborhood microscope more than the typical Japanese resident. This reality was brought to our attention when a neighbor expressed her sadness at our impending departure, noting that we always put our trash out on the correct days, were diligent in our snow removal, kept our garden up and spoke politely to everyone! This interaction confirmed what we had long suspected, that as foreigners in the neighborhood, we lived in a goldfish bowl with many people observing us. While this was somewhat intimidating, it was also reassuring that members of the community genuinely cared about us.
In hosting his long running children’s TV show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Fred Rogers always opened the show with a corny song titled “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” Through this simple ditty and for the duration of the show, Mr. Rogers emphasized the importance of being a good neighbor. But when another man, from a different era, asked Jesus a similar question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b) we are told that his real intent wasn’t to promote neighborly behavior, but rather, to justify himself. (v.29a) In response to the man’s question, Jesus proceeded to tell the famous parable of “The Good Samaritan.” (vv. 30-37) This seemingly simple story took the concept of being a neighbor to a much deeper level, revealing the compassionate heart of God and the natural inclination towards self-centeredness in man. Now that we live in the States, a kairanban is no longer delivered to our door but we still have abundant opportunities to practice community on a daily basis. The good Samaritan and Mr. Rogers serve to remind us that our love for God should be reflected in our love for others. This truth is not just a lesson for children. Won’t you be my neighbor?