Jon and I pay way too much money for our beloved one-bedroom nest. We justify it for the perks such as in-unit laundry ( legit and unheard of in Santa Monica apartments) a dishwasher, a garage and a decent outdoor grilling space. However, both Jon and I know that a huge part of why we're there are Guido, Kathleen, Stella and Archer Faas. We have become family to this clan of Netherlandish gems that live downstairs from us. Jon is a tremendous neighbor and I'm so glad. If it were left up to me I still wouldn't know any of our neighbors to this day because I am too nervous to meet people and take the first step toward friendship. Jon has no problem with that and it has resulted in some really great relationships.
The Faas family lives downstairs from us and we have a sort of summer-camp style living situation with them. They need to borrow basil from our garden? They just walk right through our door to the back porch and grab some. Is it Saturday? That means that we have been woken up by their kids shouting our names and kicking down our front door to play. Did we just slave over a meal? That means we have to run a taste downstairs for them. Did Guido just buy a new whiskey? He's running up a snifter for us with the full expectation that we will return the glass full of our current libation.
In tender moments, they have confessed that they love us. That we are family. But there's one major difference between us- you guessed it- Jesus.
Guido is a brain researcher and professor at UCLA, Kathleen is an intelligent english teacher at the local high school. They are our favorite Atheists. Where you find Bibles and Timothy Keller books on our shelves, you find "The God Delusion", "God is not good" and all of Dawkins' books on theirs.
Our neighbors are staunch atheists. We are staunch Jesus-people. And yet, we're family.
We joke around about this and touch on it every now and then, but we mostly leave conversations about this difference to the moments where it naturally comes up. Sometimes theres a funny tension about it, like when Stella, the 7 year old asked us where we were headed last week. When we told her "Church", she responded with "Well, I don't believe in God", to which Jon replied "Well, we do". "You DO??", Stella asked. We are in a time and city where children are shocked to find believers in God right next door.
Then there are times like last night where, over a decent bourbon, Jon had a two hour conversation with Guido about the real Jesus, the one that he hadn't heard about in his European Catholic upbringing. They mostly end in an "agree to disagree" type place, and then go on loving each other like normal.
Until this point in my life, I think I would feel a sense of anxiety and fear surrounding this relationship.
Are we supposed to convert them? Should that be our goal? What does that goal look like?
I would constantly fear that we weren't trying hard enough. However, now, I'm seeing things differently.
Now, I think that same fear is what has caused this country to think Christians are jerk-faces. I think that fear is what drives people to be street shouters ( I would say preachers but, without love, they just sound like shouters). I think fear is what causes people to think they're supposed to hate. Fear is love's great opposer ( 1John).
The relationship we share with the Faas family is the kind of relationship that our current culture deems impossible. Its a relationship built on friendship and laughter, that shares all things despite our clear difference.
Its a relationship where the Christians aren't loving because of an agenda. We're loving because we've been given a heart for them and yes, we share our faith, but its because we know one another and when you know one another these things come out. When you're really engaging with people as your real selves, you can't hide it.
We can have real conversations, without those walls that get put up when people who don't really know or love one another try to talk religion.
Sometimes I wonder if one day we'll have it out and our difference will split us... but I know better.
Though its strange to know that they think that the thing Jon and I give all of our time, gifts, energy and finances to isn't even real, its a beautiful thing that they call us family.
Don't get me wrong, we aren't hiding our faith or the fact that we believe that everyone, including them, is created for relationship with God. We just see them as our friends and neighbor family, rather than the atheist project God put downstairs.
May we learn to see others as people, just like us. May we find more reasons to love one another than fight one another. May we find a way to share our faith at the same time as serving and blessing others rather than waiting until they agree with it to serve and bless. May we actually love our neighbors, just like Jesus wanted.
Carly Calmes the First