I only see my neighbors in passing. Some of us don’t even do that. Garages are great. Come home from work and close the door behind you before you even step out of the car. But we live in an apartment. So we see our neighbors in passing. Sometimes we chat about noise or about how the naval base below us has added a bugle-played Star Spangled Banner to their normal wake up call...that we didn’t necessarily sign up for. Sometimes we get each other’s mail or a toy from upstairs drops onto my patio and I return it. But each and every one of these interactions is one we could do just fine without. So, when we hurt each other in whatever way, we can say it’s okay and mean nothing of the sort.
Yesterday, April 7th, was the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Those were a very dark 100 days. The pain is still felt. The absence of men, women, and children who would be adults now - and of the children they would now be bringing into the community - is still felt. Women intentionally infected with HIV to “die another day” are still suffering at the hands of genocide perpetrators. The prisons are not yet empty.
And, the 21 years since those dark 100 days have been filled with beauty unlike any I am accustomed to. I was blessed to journey with Rwandese brothers and sisters for a couple of months. They welcomed me into homes, churches, museums and especially into their stories. They told me stories about reconciliation. They told me stories about perpetrators repenting and learning to dance with joy for their restoration. They told me stories of women wounded who banned together to make life work in a restorative and tenacious manner. Most palpably, they told me the stories of neighbors who once killed neighbors but were genuinely reconciled. They didn’t say it’s okay. They said strongly “IT. IS. NOT. OKAY. not okay. But lets find a way forward to light through the dark.” And sort of the connecting fiber I saw in all of these stories was this: they needed each other.
In Rwanda, a neighbor is not someone you see in passing. A neighbor is not the person who returns your Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer when it goes to the wrong address. A neighbor is someone who has the flour you cannot make bread without borrowing. A story that has forever marked my life and changed what and how I believe in God was the story of a man who found reconciliation in the borrowing of a cup of flour. To make bread. Because he couldn’t without it. And the only person he could ask was a neighbor who killed his family. So his wife told him: “You must do this.” And when he stood at his neighbor/perpetrator’s door, looked into his face, and asked for something so mundane: something broke free in him and a story of impossible reconciliation - and even close friendship - began. Years later, he was the best man at the wedding of the perpetrator turned flour lender.
My brothers and sisters in Rwanda are far and away the most amazing people I have ever known. From the men who danced with me in prison to the women who wept with me in hospitals. And then there are the neighbors who, little by little, need by need, inter-dependence by inter-dependence found their way back to each other across the most impassible cavernous ravine of murder between neighbors.
And I don’t need my neighbors. I can do without my TJ’s flyer or a conversation about how as a quasi radical reformationist I don’t like waking up to the Star Spangled Banner. So if my neighbor hurts me in even the slightest way, I say it’s okay meaning I don’t need you so I don’t need reconciliation. And in not needing reconciliation I decide I do not need any more Gospel stories. And in that, over the last 21 years, as the Gospel of a reconciling God spreads like leaven throughout Rwanda and mixes with flour to make the nourishing bread of friendship, it’s been lacking in my life. Because I have flour for my bread. Or I can get it at the store. On my own. I don’t need my neighbor and so I am impoverished.
But I want this to stop. I want to learn from my breath-taking brothers and sisters in Rwanda. I want more reconciliation than self-sufficiency. So, as we work toward church in Everett, we will be asking each other: What is our reconciliatory flour? How do we cultivate a needliness for our neighbors so that we are not free to say it’s okay and so that it may be better than okay - it may be Gospel in our neighborhood. How do we banish the phrase “Since we only see each other in passing...” so that we might not pass on stories of God’s improbable reconciliation amongst us?