Skill #5: Engage In Your Community

It was last Wednesday morning when Rhea and I met to choose and outline the skills we would blog about for the next couple of months. Because she is a camper and resorts to camping when her life is messy, we decided she would write about the importance of being connected to nature. (More on that next week.) My job for this week was to write about how important it is to be connected to creativity and the arts when life is messy.

That would have been an easy blog for me to write because I am a supporter of and participant in the arts. I love the arts for so many reasons. I know that engagement with the arts helps our messy, marvelous a multitude of ways, many of which are backed by years of research. But because of the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I am changing the topic slightly, but in some ways not really, because engaging in your community may be one of the most creative things you can do, not only when life is messy but because engaging in your community might be one of the most marvelous things you can do..

Along with most of you, I have been stirred up all week about the events in Charleston, SC. I have been stunned, paralyzed, and heart-broken. I have spent hours raging, crying, praying, blubbering, researching, writing, and worshiping. These are the words that have come to me this week as I have been working my way through my own emotions:

You can’t love what you don’t know

And you can’t know anything unless you are curious and engaged

And you won’t be curious if you don’t care,

Or if you think you already know everything.

We know now that Dylan Storm Roof was engaged with and curious about racism. He studied it, was fed a steady diet of it via the internet, and wrote about it. He was devoted to his racist beliefs and was involved in a “community”, at least a virtual one, which supported his racist beliefs. He was willing not only to kill others but to die for his own beliefs. The members of ISIS live the same way. They are devoted, study, and act.

Do you have the same devotion to your own community and beliefs? If you want to love the community you belong to, you have to get to know it and this means investing time in it. Some people belong to faith communities. That community not only helps them practice what they believe, gives them perspective on what they believe, but it also acts as a launching pad to be engaged in the wider community. A faith community may have an active outreach ministry, perhaps in an underserved school, a prison, or a food pantry. In this way, people get to know a small segment of their community, and they can feel connected to that. Because of that connection, they become engaged and learn more, and that may grow into a kind of love and devotion for that place and those people.

There are other ways to engage in your community. Charities, grass-roots movements, schools, hospitals, correction facilities, and non-profits, and the arts desperately need engaged people. Engaged people become curious. They learn and study about what engages them. Often that engagement grows to into a heart-felt connection, a kind of love with the place and people.

Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

“How could I use my own creativity to be more involved in my community? What do I want to learn more about and therefore learn to love more? To what do I want to be devoted? Where am I needed? What part do I play?”

Questions like these take us out of our apathy, out of our self-centered perspective into a sacrificial, engaged stance.

The motto of the AME church is God our Father. Christ our Redeemer. Man our Brother. The people engaged in Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME last Wednesday night had already answered these questions. They were engaged in their community and living by what they believe.

The only way to fight the kind of evil perpetrated at this church last Wednesday night is to be equally committed to what we know is right. It is right to name and fight racism. It is courageous to be involved in a community and to work creatively in every way you can to make it a better place to live. If we practice and stay engaged, our communities become a place we know and love, and where we are known and loved. If we practice and stay engaged, our communities give us perspective that we lean on when life gets very messy, which it did this week in Charleston, SC.

If we practice and stay engaged, our communities become a place we know and love, and where we are known and loved.

Engage in your community, because Life is Messy, and Life is Marvelous.

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