Neighborly approach getting rarer

It's not easy to get along with neighbors.

Sometimes living in a neighborhood can make one pine for the days when a Davy Crockett or a Daniel Boone set out for the wilderness to escape whatever passed for civilization back in those days.

Eric Felton has wrote earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal about neighbors in certain communities across the United States complaining about the ringing of church bells. Seems that these metal (and sometimes electronic) instruments sound anything but heavenly to certain nearby residents who are using zoning ordinances and legal action to silence the bells.

The churchman in me, reading such a report, can quickly rise to a self-righteous height, puffing myself up and asking who these pagans think they are. Isn't this what's wrong with our country, one might ask? Surely these sons and daughters of Madelyn Murray O'Hair and Christopher Hitchens recognize nothing sacred!

I can hear people crying that such a story epitomizes all that is wrong with our country.

And yet, I'm not sure this is the right approach to such cases around the country. Maybe this is more a story about getting along with our neighbors, working through compromise if at all possible.

Being a neighbor in the United States means bending over backward to live in harmony -- as much as possible -- with those who live nearby.

One does not have to be anti-church to complain about a congregation (or a Muslim temple) that has purchased an electronic bell system and blasts out tacky Christian music or five-fold calls to prayer. Some times religious leaders need to use better discretion.

Within the last couple of years a man in a neighborhood who lived on a major thoroughfare in that subdivision, being a patriot and perhaps a veteran, erected a flagpole in his front yard and flew the flag proudly.

The problem was that the pole was much higher than allowed by the covenants agreement in that neighborhood. When the subdivision demanded he remove the flagpole, he tried to transform it into a case about patriotism versus communism instead of acceding to the covenant agreement he signed when moving into the neighborhood.

I have learned, both from personal neighborhood experience and from pastoral experience in the local church, that sometimes neighbors have no interest in compromise. Some people are just itching for a fight and no amount of measured, principled conversation can help.

But I have also seen cases where agreement might have been achieved if the opposing parties hadn't elevated a matter of communal living into holy or patriotic principle where no holds are barred.

Often times a little sensitivity and patient forethought can go a long way toward crafting a solution, whether one is a homeowner or a renter, whether one operates a church, a bowling alley or a nightclub. Such an approach is getting rarer whether in our neighborhoods or our legislative assemblies.

Contact columnist minister Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.