John Andrist: Knowing Who Our Neighbors Are


“Who is my neighbor?”

Almost as long as man has existed that question has been one we have pondered.

In the tenth chapter of Luke it was asked of Jesus by a lawyer of that time.

Our culture suggests that a neighbor is somebody special. One who needs special treatment or extra consideration. But we have to decide, each of us, who is our neighbor?

Whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or agnostic, it is pretty certain that the word neighbor impugns a closeness that just doesn’t exist with total strangers.

Is it the guy next door or across the street? How about in the next block . . . or perhaps across town.

In Crosby, where I spent my life, everyone was a neighbor. We didn’t have a neighborhood McDonalds, but you would get a kitchen full of hot dishes if somebody in your house died.

We considered Montana and Saskatchewan to be neighbors. Fargo is much larger, but everyone here seems to regard Minnesota as a neighbor.

When our team is not winning we usually cheer for a neighboring team. We want our district champ to do well at state. Why else would we have so many Viking fans if neighbors weren’t special?

In a national audience they define Canada and Mexico as neighbors. Mr. Rogers taught generations of kids that everybody is a neighbor.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I don’t know about you, but I get a fuzzy feeling when I see someone or read about somebody who is a part of my neighborhood. So I like the idea of having a really big neighborhood.[/mks_pullquote]

How many times have we heard the lament, “I don’t even know my neighbor.” Usually it is in the context of an apology.

Perhaps neighbor simply means somebody we know. Because to some degree anybody we know is a neighbor.

“You say you live in Minneapolis? I have a daughter living there .  .  . or a cousin.” That’s the way we network in this life — connecting to neighbors.

I don’t know about you, but I get a fuzzy feeling when I see someone or read about somebody who is a part of my neighborhood. So I like the idea of having a really big neighborhood.

Even in Fargo I scan the news and read the obituaries every day, seeking news about neighbors. We grieve just a bit the tragedies and the illnesses and the accidents of neighbors.

When you need an organ donor you think first about a family member, but your best backup is probably a neighbor.

A somewhat more sinister motive is trying to keep up to a neighbor. Having a nicer car, or a better lawn, or something bigger and better.

In the city where I now reside my other Touchmark friends are my neighbors. So are the folks who go to my chosen church. And I also have blacks, Orientals, Latinos, and Muslims who I consider neighbors.

Making a loud noise or passing gas or cursing isn’t quite as bad in privacy, but we have to be careful when it goes beyond the confines of our own space. “What will the neighbors think?”

I suspect there would be a wide variation in our definition of who is our neighbor, but not nearly as large a variance in defining how we need to live or interact with one.

My town is gearing up for a big reunion this summer. Your town also periodically does it. We love to reconnect with old neighbors.

No doubt about it. Neighbors are special to almost everyone. We just aren’t sure how to get on each other’s list.

I hope you are on mine. I certainly want to be one of yours.

Our Minnesota neighbor

Minnesota adjourned its legislative session last week. Minnesota had a huge surplus, this year, things going very well.

Not so good in North Dakota. Revenue was sharply down, the result of low oil and farm commodity prices. Every department faced spending cuts.

Even so, Minnesota lawmakers approved selling about a billion dollars in bonding for infrastructure repair.

But North Dakota’s legislature apparently didn’t really talk about debt, and we are still debt free.

I never liked spending money we didn’t have. Different strokes, perhaps a different culture in the land of lakes. We quarreled and sued them (and won) a couple years ago.

But isn’t it nice. We can still be neighbors.