“We aren’t those who step into beauty,” she said. “We leave beauty in our wake.”
These are words spoken by Preston Pouteaux’s wife Kelly as they both looked out over a barren neighbourhood after recently moving in, wondering what they had done.
It is so true that we often cannot imagine the potential beauty that lies before us. However, if we have eyes to see, we can find goodness in the very “real” things right in front of our eyes in the localities where we live.
I loved reading Pouteaux’s new book The Neighbours are Real and Other Beautiful Things. It’s a book that is part mission, part spiritual formation and part resource for weary pastors. Pouteaux’s conviction that led him to write this book is compelling:
This journey, this experiment, of loving neighbours, growing things, and leaving beauty in our wake has made me double down on my core conviction that loving our neighbours, our real, actual neighbours, is the heartbeat of the human experience. It is in proximity to neighbours, in that place of nearness, that we experience beauty, goodness, joy, and peace. It is where Jesus locates our faith, even saying that the act of loving our neighbours is on par with loving God.
That’s not something we hear very often, that the two great commandments are not in fact separate but are deeply intertwined. Pouteaux does not idealise the neighbourhood or the act of neighbouring, but rather gives a realistic yet hopeful look at the wonder that it is to live alongside our neighbours.
In a world where we interact with others mostly online and we can marginalise the importance of embodied interaction, Pouteaux says that neighbours are “real” and they become more “real” as we get to know their names and interact in local spaces together. This kind of posture is seriously needed in a world full of loneliness, pandemic and fragmentation. This book is a healing balm for those who are longing to connect in a broken world.
Again, this is not a romantic view that dreams that it is always easy to connect with those we live close to. After all, you can even avoid your family if you wish, but you cannot avoid those you live next door to! This practise of stability, however, can be a kind of spiritual discipline that shapes and forms us into a better community where we are interdependent with each other. Pouteaux writes:
Neighbourism does not ask you to turn to your neighbours as a source of ease. Neighbourism finds something more valuable between you and them When we choose to love our neighbours, including the oddballs, big-talkers, and whoever else makes us slightly uncomfortable, we’re setting ourselves up for a new way to live and be present in our community.
This kind of community building and beautifying of a place is a slow, gentle process that requires a lot of patience and kindness. This is what Pouteaux believes will change us. He quotes John Stackhouse who says:
We cannot escape each other. We are in the same ecosystem. Everyone is, in fact, our neighbour. So treat everyone well. “Love your enemies” isn’t sentimental: It’s good politics.
This book encourages us that, instead of engaging in a wanderlust that causes us to dream of escape to an imaginary world, we need to stay local, dig our roots deeper, discern the potential right before us and leave beauty in our wake. The neighbourhood and neighbours are real, and that is a beautiful thing.
You can buy Preston Pouteaux’s new book here