Have you ever thought about being part of a thriving community? What does that look like to you? Is this even possible?
One of the most significant problems with seeing a community thrive begins with its definition. Or more to the point, we probably all have our favorite description of an optimal community. For the sake of discussion, I’d like to offer a definition for you to consider.
A thriving community is one where healthy relationships among people grow naturally without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, or heritage.
My definition doesn’t talk about how nice the neighborhood looks, the average age of cars on the street, the number of food deserts, some percentage of people living below the poverty line, or any statistical basis whatsoever. That’s quite intentional. While the statistics help us to gain insight into the issues and give us metrics to demonstrate improvement, they are not the core element of a thriving community. You and I are. Things with which we surround ourselves do not define us or limit our ability to get along with one another.
C.S. Lewis offers a critical consideration in this regard:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.1
Have we learned to take each other seriously? Or have we learned to rise above our neighbors and hide behind our affluence and social status? Don’t get me wrong; this is not a call for socialism. The point I’m making is that we must step out from behind the facades we have built to create a community that thrives. The idea of communities that thrive is not new, but it must remain somewhere near the top of our priority stack if we ever hope to experience this reality.
The key to seeing anything thrive starts with healthy relationships among people without barriers. Getting rid of these artificial barriers does not mean that we all hold hands and sing songs, but I hope we learn to react with love for our neighbor when we first see someone in our community. It’s my dream that we stop judging people by appearances and look at each and every person as full of potential. Take a look at the C.S. Lewis quote again, “there are no ordinary people.” Every person we meet is unique.
Healthy relationships are those built on mutual trust and respect.
When we find others we respect, we are naturally transparent, and I suggest we would want to help each other when needed. If you are willing to go out on a limb with me, you might even agree that we would be willing to help one another in times of need.
Super-Power: just show up!
When we love God and love others, definitions get a whole lot simpler. This might seem like some perfect world, but I honestly believe we must move in this direction–it is the very thing Jesus told us to do. He didn’t tell us to go and build church buildings, but if this is how you hear His voice then go for it! Just don’t forget that relationships are more important than programs. I know you know, but my job is to remind you. You’re welcome.
Here’s some good news: there are all kinds of people in a variety of organizations who are doing their very best to build significant relationships. As we talk with people about the Community Resource Guide, we can’t help but emphasize that each of these organizations represent people who care about others. Every week I hear a presentation by someone in one of these agencies passionately express what they’re doing, their motivation, and how they are working to make our community better. Each time we hear stories about successes I’m drawn to the part that talks about the people who are positively affected.
- Dr. Bea Thompson at Westside Community Center talks about people learning job skills who are now employed.
- Cortney Burgess talks about fathers reunited with families.
- Kenny Gilliland has story after story about positive outcomes based on mentoring relationships.
- Cody Wright speaks about his friends at The LOT Project.
- Andy Gibson talks passionately about creating Anderson’s first Tiny Home.
- Steve Newton expresses his desire to provide more services to people in outlying areas.
The list goes on and on. I’m privileged to be in the company of so many people that are doing their part for our community — each one expressing some positive impact on people by people who care.
This is our community. And there are lots of stories to tell.
Don’t just look at the Community Resource Guide as a piece of paper that might help someone connect with a service provider. While we hope that we can facilitate that connection, the paper is a testimony to a lot of wonderful people doing their best to create a thriving community.
Get involved! Reach out to one of the agencies listed — just show up and ask them what you can do to help.
1Lewis, C.S., The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, p. 19, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1980.