When I started this blog over six years ago I did so as a spiritual discipline during Lent. It was a time when I could sort through some thoughts, have some fun, and practicing writing. I had promised that I would be honest and open. Confession is said to be good for the soul and so let me confess. The silence on this blog for a while is because I have not been honest and open with what has been happening in my life. Today I feel like I need to cleanse the soul.
I know to some, as you read this, you will see this as petty. Some may see it as moronic or may come away reading, “welcome to the real world.” But, if I am to be open and honest I have to say that hate has gripped my heart for a while. It has seemed to pass now. The weight of this realization has help remove this ugly tumor from my heart. The writing of this post, this confession, this ugly truth, I hope will scrape off any remnant in order for me to move forward.
We have just moved into a new, beautiful parsonage and we are VERY happy. The happiness is just starting to sink in as my wife and I give ourselves permission to finally breathe. Our previous place of residence was the result of this darkness.
I understand the strength hate has as a word but I recognize now that it is exactly what I was dealing with. I hated my neighbors. There is a part of me that still does although we have moved 5 miles away from them. I still have to pass their house as I drop and pick up my son for school over these next 6 weeks. As I do, I can still feel that bile start to climb my throat. But I have learned to swallow hard and let it pass.
There were many factors that lead me to this hatred over the last 9 months. Day 1 of moving into the new parsonage our neighbor took my wife on a guided tour of the property lines. During this tour flash photography was not allowed but what she learned was a third of what seemed to the casual observer to be our backyard was actually not. Our neighbor owned it (see picture above) and she made it vitally clear this patch of grass was hers. It connected her house to her mother’s house (our neighbor on the other side of us). The parsonage, as I would come to learn, was simply a lawn ornament on THEIR block.
Every day there were part of the family, sisters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, would walk from their above ground pool to their mother/grandmother’s house. What looked like our backyard was simply an access road for the four wheelers, trucks, dirt bikes and golf carts to utilize. This road was less than 30 feet from our back door. Within a week or two of living there it became clear that we were welcome to use our patch of grass called our back yard but we will be watched and whispered about the whole time. Never really welcomed, merely put up with, tolerated because someone had to live in that lawn ornament.
The son is what really drove this nuisance to the point of hatred. On a nice winter afternoon our neighbor’s son decided to ride his dirt bike around the block. He would start in his grandmother’s yard, ride through our back/their side yard, through his backyard and then on the road around the rest of the block. Each lap got faster and faster. I am pretty sure dirt bikes are not made with mufflers, at least whatever model he was driving wasn’t. My three year old daughter had just lain down to take her afternoon nap, which she desperately needs or else she makes Regan MacNeil look calm. The loud noise of every rev of the motorcycle was keeping her up. My wife went outside and very nicely asked the son if he could do that somewhere else because our daughter is sleeping. He ignored her. She walked the 30 feet out to him and attempted to catch him on his lap by. He eventually acknowledged her but then told her off and informed her it was his property and he could do what he damn well pleased on it. My wife then walked to a building on the grandmother’s property that her daughter (the son’s mother) used as a place of business. She asked her if she could get her son to stop. She very reluctantly, and with all the attitude she could muster against my wife, she did.
This incident somehow gave permission for the son to start to do this on a regular basis. The dirt pile that was located right on our property lines was soon used by him and his buddies as a place to practice with their four wheelers and dirt bikes. When we would ask if they could take it somewhere else, we were put in our place quickly that we don’t own this piece of property and they can do what they like.
We had planned on selling the parsonage due to many factors, the major one being that it was sucking a ton of money out of the church. But on the afternoon in which we would make the decision to officially put it on the market or not I had it out with our neighbors. The bike riding was getting too much. I had asked them to take it somewhere else. They went away for a minute and then came right by. In a fit of a rage I screamed, “Why are you being such an asshole!” I regretted my verbal diarrhea but it got his attention. I walked over and showed him our property lines and informed him that to access this dirt pile, he and his friends insist on playing on, mean they have to drive over our property (about 7 feet) to get to their ‘access road’. I didn’t care that they walked back and forth. But this was too much and he needed to stop, if not I was going to call the sheriff. A deputy came out promptly and walked to the backyard with me. She informed our neighbor’s son that he needs to stop because if he would wreck on the church’s property our insurance would be liable. When our neighbor came over yelling and screaming about why the cops were called, the whole time echoing her son’s thoughts. “WE OWN THIS LAND and we can do whatever we damn well please. I can rev or make as much noise as I want as long as I am on my property.” The deputy informed her of the 24 hour noise ordinance in our town, which the son insisted only started at 11pm.
The next day there was a for sale sign in the front yard of the parsonage, 6 days later it sold for the full asking price.
In the process of moving out though, things didn’t settle down with the neighbors. They still did not respect us, or even acknowledge we lived there. One day, after another altercation over the four wheelers, our neighbor commanded that my wife, “Get the fuck back in your house!” I would catch the son talking on his cell phone on our driveway or I would find tire treads in the grass, only 10 feet from the house. Every time I heard him rev that stupid machine I would have thoughts of him getting hit by a car or hitting tree. He would ride it without a helmet and there was always a lot of cars, it could easily happen. These were comforting thoughts. They warmed my insides and gave me a sense of peace as my blood began to boil. These were the moments when I realized how hard my heart was getting.
When I stormed back into the house to call the sheriff that afternoon, I could hear God’s nagging voice, calming reminding me to ‘love you neighbor as yourself.’ As I paced late one evening listening to anger in my wife’s voice wondering what to do about a teenage bonfire party, I felt God’s nudge, “love your neighbor.” I joked with her later as we confessed these feelings of hate to each other, that I understood what Jesus was talking about but I wondered if Jesus really knew who our neighbors were! This, I confessed, is too hard. It is too much. Love your neighbor, love THESE neighbors.
As the weeks progressed and the meetings happened to sell our parsonage and then to actually move out, my temper got worse and my attitude towards people became hardened. My humor became dark, like The Cable Guy dark. Then in a moment of peace over dinner my wife looked at me and she said, “I cannot believe how hateful we have become.” She was dead on. Hate had entered my heart and was darkening and hardening it. This wasn’t me. People who know me know that I am not one who hates and works hard to love like Jesus commands, but this was too much.
Living surrounded by these people, my neighbors, these children of God, was like a noose being tightened around my neck. One of our friends said it would be cathartic to toss a paper bag of poop into their pool as we left. We didn’t but it was tempting. Yet, as we pulled away and left that lawn ornament behind relief started to fill my heart. Stress has melted away. Although the bile still creeps up my throat when I pass by, it is easier to swallow back down. But I still don’t quite know how to love them. If they were in need, I would help. I would use all my influence at church and in the city to help.
I have asked God to forgive my thoughts, those dark dreams and the moments when I stepped outside my normal self and possibly was an asshole myself. It has been two weeks since we moved and hate doesn’t have a tight grip around my heart as much. I can see it peek out here and there which tells me this may have lingering effects. I cannot simply blame ‘those people’ for causing this. Time, prayer, patience, and discipline will be the keys to getting my heart back.
I confess it was scary. I felt dirty and above all sinful. I pray that did not seep into my ministry and that I was able to compartmentalize that section of my life. However, I know I am forgiven and I will have to find a time to forgive myself as well.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I understand that now and a burden it is, a heavy, smelly, dark burden. I’m sticking with love. Somehow, someway I’m sticking with love. As Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hate stirs up conflict, but love covers all offenses.” May it be so.