Two weeks ago, I wrote about the meaning of community. In that post, I suggested that community is a choice. Today, I want to explore that choice a little bit further.
At FaithWorks, we help people explore options. Many people, especially those who come from generational poverty, often think they have no options.* They believe they must continue to live the way their families have lived for the past two or three generations.
In addition to that, many people come to us dealing with addiction, health, or legal issues. They believe they are severely limited in what they can do because of the consequences of their past actions.
One of the first things we do in class each semester is identify things we like to do and do well and explore how those interests and abilities can translate into jobs. While there are some realities we need to accept (certain felonies disqualify individuals from certain jobs; personally, my height and color-blindness disqualify me from being a pilot), it is amazing to realize how many jobs are available.
As students begin to learn there are a variety of options available, it is almost as if scales are falling off their eyes. They are beginning to see a world of opportunities they never knew existed.
They have learned they have choices.
We often think we have no options when it comes to who we spend time with. We live in neighborhoods. We go to school. We work. We attend church. We cannot help who else chooses to live, learn, work, and worship in the same places, can we?
What do you look for when you make those decisions?
Often, we take work wherever we can find it. Either we need to work so we put out a lot of applications or we invest years and money in an education that will lead to a job. We choose from the job offers that are made and try to find the place that will allow us to provide financially for our families while growing as an individual.
However, with the other categories, we have more choices than we sometimes realize, or than we wish to admit.
What are our criteria for making these decisions?
Do we choose houses based on square footage, potential resale value, condition of the house, etc.? Or do we choose our neighborhood based on how closely the neighbors resemble ourselves? What would be different if our criteria were based on finding a diverse racial or socio-economic makeup in the neighborhood?
Do we choose neighborhoods to live in based on the school district? Are we looking for districts that have high test scores and an impeccable reputation? Or are we more concerned about the average salary of the families whose children attend the school? What would be different in we decided to choose school districts where we would be in the minority?
When we decide where we will worship do we look first for the truth that is being taught and the opportunity to serve? Or is our first criterion the ethnic makeup? What would be different if we decided to worship at the church closest to where we lived?
I once struggled with how to encourage members of my congregation to become more involved with congregations that had a different ethnic makeup. This was a difficult endeavor. I was faced with many objections: their worship style is too different; it lasts too long; it is too far of a drive; I feel like they are yelling at me.
There were a number of objections. None of them had to do with the truth of what was preached or the opportunity to serve others. Although some people may have had serious reservations as to the theology at different places, they did not begin with those reservations. They began with the cultural differences.
But the important thing is: they made a choice.
We choose our communities. We choose who is in our lives and who is not. The only limits to who joins our community are the limits we have placed on ourselves. When we realize that and learn that we can choose to invite different people into our lives then the scales can fall from our eyes. We can start building communities of diversity.
*I cannot overstate the importance of reading books like Bridges Out of Poverty to learn more about the long-term effects of poverty and how difficult it can be for people to move out of it.