Eugene Cho

a good neighbor?

Couple months ago, a visitor to the blog posted this comment:

I too attended the Mission Learning Day and appreciated your comments. I’ve been meditating this week on our culture’s self-imposed isolationism, and I recall your story about going out of your way to meet new neighbors, yet never having had that hospitality reciprocated when you’re moved into a new neighborhood. I think that thought is right on point, and this “disconnect” between neighbors is a symptom, if not the root, of a lack of social responsibility. I’m curious whether you plan to visit this idea in future blog posts and/or sermons?

I’ve been meaning to respond to this because I’ve been thinking about it alot.  Why?  Because it’s an issue. 

Why are we more lonely than ever? Are we?

Is it “self-imposed” isolationism? 

Why is it so tough to be a good neighbor?

In a technological world that aims to get all of us more connected, does this aid or detract from connectedness?

In short, what do you think?

Filed under: church, culture, emerging church, seattle

19 Responses

  1. Dennis says:

    Some of my thoughts: Our obsession with individual rights and individuality in our worldview is the downfall for community. How about our self-narcissim?

  2. Jennifer says:

    The neighbor question is very interesting.

    I don’t know my neighbors, and I don’t feel guilty about it.

    We live in a building with 30 other rental units, the population turns over all the time. For me, friendships of any value take time to develop, and if the neighbors are moving all the time, its just not a realistic expectation that I am going to develop friendships with them. I could try to get to know them by turning them into “projects”, but that doesn’t feel very authentically Christian. That feels like the cheesy evangelism methods from the 80’s.

    I think it is a little different when you own a home – at least you are more likely to have years of being next to the same people, and a greater chance of building on one interaction to the next.

    I do enjoy living in the city, and seeing people I know everywhere I go. I cant go to the grocery store or the library without seeing someone I recognize from church or school. So, while they are not my literal neighbors, living in the city does allow for much more interaction with people I know than living out in the suburbs and having to drive 30 min to get to everything.

    As far as technology goes, my #1 use for it is to stay connected with people. My relationships are much better because of multiple ways of being connected. It is something that helps lower my lonliness.

  3. Dennis says:

    Jennifer: I agree with your take on tech but know there can be a fine line between connecting and addiction. Companies are building a generation of addicted wired people and that concerns me.

  4. I don’t want to write a ton here but i do think it is partially if not mostly “self-imposed”. I was part of a discussion on another site about “pastoral visits to people who visit a congregation for the first time” Several people responded “DON’T COME TO MY HOUSE” It started out as they didn’t want to get the “high pressure sales pitch” but when the conversation turned to community, and I mentioned what if someone just wanted to stop by and say hi. The answer was the same “DON’T COME TO MY HOUSE” by the VAST majority. I thought it was sad that the days of going to the neighbors just to say hi are gone. I know the neighbors next door and across the street from my home and they all have mentioned that I was the first person who lived in my house they have actually met.

    Its so hard to build a genuine faith community when our doors and homes are so shut to each other. Maybe neighbors meet at different places now? the park, the pub, the high school football game… i don’t know. I have a ton of thoughts on this topic but don’t want to fill up your comment page 🙂

    I’m interested to hear others thoughts!

  5. Shaula says:

    I was brand new in our neighborhood when a hurricane hit our city. I got to know my neighbors as a result. We helped each other by sharing food, tracking down ice, even sharing a generator. Unbeknownst to us, an elderly couple had just moved in across the street and was desperate for help. They had no emergency supplies and were afraid to ask anyone for help. When one of the neighbors discovered their plight, several families pitched in to help. The story ended up in the paper. The sad part to me is that it shouldn’t be newsworthy. People should just be reaching out to their neighbors on a regular basis but especially in a crisis situation. The silver lining in the whole story is that the elderly couple found neighbors willing to help them with daily living. Sometimes it was just a simple request like lifting the husband into bed.

  6. Jennifer says:


    I know there is a lot of press around that issue, but honestly, I don’t see it.

    I spend my days with college students – and they are as connected as any group around – and it’s just part of how their lives work. For the most part, I don’t see them being into technology for the sake of technology – but for the sake of relationship and getting things done. When one of them checks Facebook 20 times a day (or text messages, or whatever), she’s probably not sucked in by the technology of it, but sucked in by the ability to have connection where it would not have been otherwise. It’s hard for me to see too much danger lurking there. Am I missing something?

  7. Blake says:

    As one of those 20 somethings hooked on Facebook (SO much better than MySpace 😉 ) I agree with you Jennifer. It isn’t the technology, although the tech does have some appeal to me as a software engineer, its about the people and keeping tabs on friends I haven’t seen in ages.

    I’m also one of the most “connected” people I know because I own and actively use my Treo 750 to it’s maximum potential: answering email, checking my calendar, keeping my life straight, texting… it’s all there. Sure, at times I feel like I’m slightly addicted to the internet, but I know that if I didn’t have my phone that I’d be okay. It isn’t like I’d go through withdrawal or anything.

    Some people I know see it as kind of crazy, but it’s just the way I live. I’ve gotten used to it and now I really enjoy it. If anything I see it as a means to mitigate if not reverse our cultural self-isolationism by enabling me to stay in touch with the people I care about more easily and readily.

  8. david says:

    i’ve “neighbored” in a few different seattle neighborhoods over the past decade, and there’s definitely a difference from one community to the next. major factors in your neighboring experience are usually connected to:

    1. immediate neighborhood zoning: mixed-use, multi-family, apt complex, suburban residential, etc- each attracts a certain demographic and culture.
    2. broader area/region of the city: inner city, hill/valley, proximity to downtown, industrial, etc.
    3. class issues: hate to generalize, but in my experience, the more upwardly mobile you are, the less likely you know (or care to know) your neighbors. of course there are exceptions. but it’s no secret that community in the ghetto is tight-knit. walk down the street in certain neighborhoods in south seattle and everyone knows everyone.

    middle class+ churches complain about being disconnected from each other, but it’s a choice. we live all over the place, commute all over the place, and have no rootedness beyond institutional (church, work, etc) connections. if people want to experience community in their neighborhoods, they have to intentionally choose to root there, and honestly, very few people want to do that.

  9. e cho says:

    jennifer: i don’t think we should seek to build relationships with neighbors in order to bait them to church. inviting them to church may happen but should not be the target.

    mark: maybe you’re right. people need platforms and venues to meet. i just think it’s sad that neighborhoods, front yards, back yards, houses, are no longer regular venues.

    shaula: maybe we’re just simply too self-sufficient. i think there’s definitely something there.

    david: i agree but wonder if we’re making it too simplistic. so, if don’t live and work and shop and worship in the exact same neighborhood, there’s still hope, no?

  10. e cho says:

    blake: and yeah, i joined facebook last saturday i think. it’s pretty crazy and i’m debating whether i’ll just cancel my account. now, i know why it’s a co valued at over $2billion dollars. still think that’s crazy though.

  11. kc says:

    As a disabled single person in a low-income downtown building, I have to say that community is not an optional theoretical idea for me and my neighbors. We don’t necessarily consider each other bestest friends, but after two of our neighbors died and weren’t discovered for days, we have started keeping track of each other, in low-key but friendly ways. If the fire alarms go off and the elevators aren’t in use, there are able-bodied tenants who check on the wheelchair bound and alert emergency personel if necessary. Someday, if you’re fortunate enough to live long enough, everyone is likely to be in a position where you or someone you love will need to rely on the people around you. If you aren’t in the habit of being open to community wherever you are, you may not have that help when you need it… and I promise there are people around you right now who are in need of community – resources, relationship, connection, and don’t have the luxury of debating its necessity or benefit.

  12. Blake says:

    Good word, KC. Thanks for sharing. I’m feeling kind of convicted right now… *looks sheepish and rubs toe in circles on the floor*

  13. Kay says:

    i’m a big believer in neighboring, and have been fortunate to become tightly connected with several people in my downtown condo building. it’s also a setting where there’s a lot of people moving in, out and away, but somehow it’s all worked out. even in a pretty well-to-do area (belltown condos aren’t so cheap these days), i have neighbors in my building who help me take down my recycling, hold the door open, or are friendly about chatting about the weather or whatever might be the topic du jour. so that’s been my really positive experience in my building and i’ve had other good experiences in downtown apartment buildings too.

    i definitely use technology to connect positively with old friends, to read great content that is only accesible via the web, etc…. but i think it’s important to recognize the dark side of how people are supposedly connecting on-line:

    hope everyone has a great weekend….

  14. kc says:

    On the subject of technology, I know that often for myself and moreso for other more disabled people, being able to connect this way is often the *only* access we have to the world outside our homes… I have frequently been fervently grateful for the freedom the internet allows when my body will not.

    Thanks for listening, Blake – didn’t mean to “preach”, but I’m glad you heard!

  15. e cho says:

    i don’t even think about what it means to be a good Christian to my neighbors. i wrestle with what it means to be HUMAN.

  16. RVeerman says:

    With community comes greater conflict and responsibility. Connecting with neighbors in an intimate, personal way requires a greater commitment then connecting via internet or other group specific ways. Neighbors have ready access to you in an immediate, anytime way. It’s like expanding your immediate family, where you will inevitably get on one another’s nerves at some point. I’m not sure many people want this. If they do, the neighbors need to, in the least, speak the same cultural language to respect certain boundaries.

    For example, I married someone of mixed European race, while I am Korean-American. As American as I am, I am still Korean. I’ve been taught that I shouldn’t ask for things to inconvenience someone else or to ever over-stay my welcome, to be cautious about reading subtle signs of unwelcome and leave at appropriate times. My mother-in-law definitely is not subtle, and will sometimes not leave even when she knows you want her to. Or will come over after being asked not to. With her you have to be very blunt and matter-of-fact. When two cultures like this clash, I think people become more cautious about opening themselves up to neighbors who are so physically close.

    Also, as the U.S. becomes more culturally diverse, I think that forming tight-knit neighborhood communities will become more of a challenge. In our old neighborhood, we had very good relationships with our neighbors, dog-sitting for them, crossing the street to chat, and generally looking out for one another. While we were Asian-American and they were African-American, Caucasian, Jewish-American, etc., the commonality we shared was that in essence we each saw one another as Americans first.

    In our new neighborhood, most of our neighbors are first generation Chinese who moved here because of the good school district. Now we have a language and cultural barrier. My daughter’s friend and classmate across the street has turned down coming over on every occasion, even for her birthday party because the friend attends Chinese school after school and on Saturdays. In fact, we felt very isolated while the kids attended the local public school. My kids couldn’t have playdates because all of their friends either went to after school care, after school academic programs, or were picked up by non-English speaking care-takers.

    Just some random thoughts…hope its helpful.

  17. Rex Hamilton says:

    I can’t help but think that fear is a small part of our isolation problem. The media does a great job these days of informing us of violent people, pedifiles, and others who are around our neighborhoods but sometimes it seems that’s all I see and hear about in the news and this has to cause many to become fearful of people in general. We’re such a mis-trusting society, failing to believe that people are good or honest until we actually see for ourselves their good nature.

  18. Lon says:

    great questions Eugene, I love technology… it helps connect and stay in touch with more people than ever. However, I think it creates a buffer from real human interaction (at least so far) and keeps people at a distance. maybe it’s become a quantity over quality issue.

    technology just reveals our longing to be connected, but we seem to still be coming up short.

    technology also makes things a bit wierd, i talk to some friends in person, and then say things like, “didn’t you read that on my blog?” haha.

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You can do it, sun. Break through the clouds. I love her. Saturday morning date at Pike Market with @minheejcho. Enjoying the final day of sun before 6 months of rain and gray. Not lol'ing. Some of my moat memorable travels have been to Myanmar (otherwise known as Burma). In fact, the vision of @onedayswages began on my first visit to this country in 2006. On a recent visit, I began learning about the Rohingya people. Sadly, it has escalated to horrendous, genocidal proportions.

Thus far, about 500,000 people have been driven out from Myanmar through violence...with most going to Bangledesh...regulated to a massive refugee camp. Stateless. Undocumented. Minority groups. Dehumanized. Homes and villages destroyed. And so much more unspeakable atrocities.

Yes, it's complex and messy. It always is. But the root of this injustice as the case for so much brokeness in the world is the sin of dehumanizing one anotber as..."the other." May we see each person, including the Rohingya people, as one who is created in the image of God. It's the truth and the remedy to the incessant dehumanization that goes on in our world.

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