“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” –Luke 6:27-31
Last week, I read The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker (and loved it, by the way). I immediately recognized it as dystopian fiction but realized that I didn’t know, precisely, what that word means. What exactly makes dystopian dystopian? I looked it up. It was a well, of course, moment for me.
Dystopian is the opposite of utopian. A utopian society, if it existed, would be perfect. A dystopian society, on the other hand, is one where nobody wants to live. Well, nobody except for a select few power-hungry bullies who force everyone else to follow all their arbitrary rules – such as: every district will send two children a year to fight the other districts’ chosen children to the death because doing so will maintain harmony in our world. Or you will spend your childhood preparing for marriage, but if you aren’t chosen for marriage on a specified day, you will have to be society’s invisible slave for the rest of your life. Or you can only have one virtue. If you have more than one virtue, you are a danger to society and must be destroyed.
Somebody really needs to stand up to bullies who make ridiculous rules like that.
My husband and I recently moved into a dystopian community. We didn’t do this on purpose. But, in spite of this, we do love our new home! We chose it from a distance through pictures. We even “drove” down the street via Google to see what the neighborhood looked like. We knew there was an element of risk, but we’ve lived in the general area before and are only renting this time, so we felt confident. And we were thrilled when we walked into the house for the first time. The reality is even better than the pictures were. And as a bonus: if I walk out my back gate, I walk into my very own wildflower field! Have I mentioned we love our new home?!
We’d only been here a few days, though, when we got an e-mail message from our property manager. Seems the trailer we were using to move some of our stuff into our home was perceived as a violation of Home Owners’ Association (HOA), or should I say, “Home Owners’ Dysociation” (HOD) rules. We were told to move it off the property immediately or face the HOD tribunal for disciplinary action. Thoughts of Jace from Duck Dynasty fighting for the right to keep chickens on his property came to mind. That and knowledge of forms of disciplinary action taken in fictional dystopian societies was enough to make us comply. We finished unloading the trailer and moved it that afternoon. Now we can’t walk through our garage, but since the HOD can’t see it, they don’t care.
If you don’t already know this, my husband and I move every few years (You can read some of the lessons we’ve learned from this here.) It’s not unusual for neighbors to come to the door to introduce themselves and welcome us to the area. Some offer to help if we need anything. Others bring flowers or fruit baskets or casseroles. We never expect this from our new neighbors, but it’s always nice to receive a friendly greeting. It helps us feel like we belong.
The e-mail from the HOD had the opposite effect. It made us wonder if we may be unwanted here.
Instead of coming to our door to talk with us politely, an anonymous stranger with a camera took a picture of our trailer and sent it to our property manager along with a complaint. That’s just offensive.
And, as it turns out, the rule about trailers only applies to trailers that aren’t in use. Ours was in use, helping us move into our home. That stranger with a camera was overzealous—and just plain wrong. (Not to mention, a tattletale.) We almost wish we could have faced that tribunal to defend ourselves, but our property manager refused to tell us how to contact the HOD. She also refused to give them any defense on our behalf. Just thanked us for complying to get the HOD off her back.
As I said, we love our new home. But had we seen the rules before we signed the lease, we wouldn’t have chosen to live here.
Ironically, the letter that came with the list of rules said “These obligations [notice: not rules, obligations] are not intended as an inconvenience or an invasion of your freedom, but rather as a means of maintaining harmony in your community.” Ironically is a difficult word to use correctly, but I did use it correctly here. The truth is the exact opposite of what is stated in that letter. We were inconvenienced. Our freedom was taken away. We don’t feel any harmony. And we don’t yet feel that it’s our community.
So what are we going to do?
- We are going to enjoy this new place for as long as we are living here.
- We are going to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—even if we learn they go around taking pictures of perceived HOD violations and tattling on us.
- We will avoid further confrontations with the HOD by following their rules—unless they tell us to fight each other to the death. (In that case, we’re breaking our lease.)
- We’re going to thank God for our home, for our neighbors, for this new community, and for any opportunities to serve in His name.
- And the next time we see someone moving in, we’ll visit, introduce ourselves, and take a welcome gift.
The problem with dystopian societies is their leaders care more about outward appearances than they care about the individuals who live within. It hurts to be one of those individuals. But there’s an object lesson here. Whenever I notice the specified exactly one tree and seven bushes in each yard of my neighborhood, I’ll remember that people are more important than buildings or yards. It’s people who give value to a community. It’s people loving people in Jesus’ name who make that value soar.
Father, please teach us to care about the people who inhabit the homes in our neighborhoods. Help us to reach out with love and acceptance and hospitality. Thank You for the perfect example we see in Your Son. Help us to clothe ourselves in Him as we love others in Your name each day. Amen.