The famous apologist and social critic G.K. Chesterton wrote that original sin is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proven. He argued that there are lots of abstract philosophical concepts we can debate but this quality of basic human sinfulness is observable; we see it all around us and all the time. If I’m ever tempted to disagree with Gilbert about this point, I change my mind as soon as I read the comment sections online…pretty much any comment section anywhere online.
To be honest, I have felt a bit discouraged about the state of our world of late. Of course, social media is not reality but it is a type of reflection of reality. When I look at this reflection I see people whining relentlessly about wearing masks and people demanding that we jerk our communities and congregations back to “normal.” I see my fellow citizens breathing on and screaming at police and elected officials, as they carry semi-automatic weapons in front of the statehouse. I see police brutality and people of color begging to breathe. I see false witness and junk science. I see small businesses struggling to survive and meet regulations that feel like moving targets. All of this feels heavy. And it looks like the brokenness and sinfulness that Chesterton talked about.
Gratefully, these are not the only stories that pop up on my newsfeed, whether on social media or in real life. Sometimes I see something that surprises and inspires me. It’s observable evidence of a different spiritual reality, not of human sinfulness but of human goodness, community resilience, and divine activity. And the encouraging part is that I get to observe these stories in my local community.
Here are five local actions that give me hope:
- Graduation Parade. Yesterday, while working at the library, I heard a bunch of sirens and honking so I went to the front door to see what was going on out on main street. What I witnessed was a street lined with honking cars and cheering community members as a parade passed by with police cars, fire trucks, and decorated cars carrying proud 2020 high school graduates. You’ve probably seen videos of similar parades.
Ashlyn and I also joined our church as we drove as a parade by each of the graduate’s homes, passing by slowly as we honked, cheered, shot from a bubble gun, and waved joyfully. It was special to participate in and I think it was special for the graduates. It’s inspiring to see congregations and communities finding creative ways to celebrate, support, and mark special milestones.
2. Planting Gardens. Gardening is a hopeful act. It is an investment that requires faith in the future and a commitment to cultivate that future. It’s inspiring to see pictures of people picking out their seeds and starters and planting their garden. In the spirit of the Victory Garden, record numbers of people are carving out a backyard garden for the first time. This is good news for expanding local food systems, practicing mutual aid, building climate resilience, relating rightly with the Earth, and exercising self-sufficiency.
If we want to learn and recover a spirit of abundance, few things beat being flooded with an overflowing harvest of zucchini that could feed a small army. It’s easy to see why Jesus used the strenuous but wondrous processes of agriculture and gardening to illustrate the kingdom of God.
3. Summer Reading. Like most “nonessential” places, the library where I work was closed for almost two months. We are currently in the midst of a phased reopening. One of the biggest questions we’ve wrestled with is whether we should still do our summer reading program. And if we should, how do we do it?
Summer reading is basically the climax of the library calendar. We spend a lot of time booking entertainers and educators, designing themes, marketing, and planning. It’s a chaotic time but it’s a blast and it really demonstrates the value libraries provide to their communities, particularly the kids in our village. This year we had to change some of our plans. For example, I was promised the opportunity to touch a real live sloth but that promise will be broken. But we are still having our summer reading program!
I’m inspired by my coworkers who have exercised amazing creativity as they adapted and innovated for our community’s kids and families. We will mix Zoom shows with safely distanced live events as well as fairy tale craft kits and sweet prizes. I’m looking forward to learning how to “imagine my story” here in just a couple of weeks. This creative work is such a labor of love.
4. Checks in the Mail. This pandemic has been hard on us financially, as it has been for many. We are grateful that we kept our jobs and I had paid time off but we still lost a good chunk of income from jobs we weren’t able to fulfill. The deacons at our church, Old Stone Presbyterian, heard that we might have a need so they sent us a check. No pay stubs required. No application necessary. Just a check for folks who could use a little help. We were so grateful. Then, a retired couple from the church sent us a larger check! We were moved to tears. And we needed every penny.
In a time like this, it’s easy to adopt a scarcity mentality, to hoard and protect our money out of fear. But there were people of faith in my local congregation who were able to practice the abundance of Jesus’ commonwealth by being generous with their kindness and resources.
5. Food Pantry. We are typically working during the pantry hours so we rarely make it unless someone picks it up for us but we decided to make the extra effort this time due to our need. They have adapted to a drive through system and when it was my turn they piled up my back seat with multiple boxes of canned goods, veggies, fruit, potatoes, cheese, meat, and all kinds of stuff. I was blown away!
It was another reminder that abundance is available. My most used Recovering Abundance axioms like “what we need is here” and “there is more than enough when we are free to release and receive” were displayed on my overflowing table. So grateful for this community service and for all the volunteers who make it happen.
What about you? What do actions and activities do you see happening in your local community that gives you hope?