This weekend I went to Harrisburg.
It's become a City of Hope for me, really. A picture of how things could be if more people actually cared about things and tried to make a difference.
My friend, Hanni, took me around the city to help me out and hook me up with interviews for ArtsVine's spring 'zine. I've blogged about her here before.
Traveling around Harrisburg/being with Hanni always leaves me with a new perspective on life, the world, relationships, God, justice, the environment - yeah, all that. I got to talk to a lot of people who are truly invested in something worthy - I'm not sure that exists in a ton of places around the U.S. anymore. All these people - artists, small business owners, parents, teachers, film-makers, dancers, random people walking down the street - see the potential in their city and they want to make it better.
It's interesting, because according to Hanni's husband, Mike, most of this stems from the lack of involvement from the city government. There are areas in the city where the police literally refuse to answer calls for help. There are buildings that no one is allowed to live in, but the city can't afford to tear down. There are vacant lots where technically people aren't allowed to grow things... but... when the government isn't involved, they well...aren't involved, and this allows people to do things on their own. Big things.
The people of Harrisburg are empowered in a way I haven't seen in any other place before. The government won't help them, so they have taken matters into their own hands - they are resurrecting Harrisburg from the ground up. Planting public gardens, opening co-operative businesses, supporting one another's talents, and planting all kinds of literal and metaphorical seeds where before there was simply nothing.
The beauty in this leaves me in tears.
The morning I was back home and in my typical suburban corporate church setting. I felt a little out of place in my old ratty Chuck Taylor's and long sweater. I was self-conscious about my kids' noise and the fact that we came in late so we were forced to sit in the very front without the "pew backs" to protect us.
Coming back from a place where community is everything to people to a place where community is deemed ultimately unnecessary is strange.
We do a lot of talking about community in our church. I believe the people wish there were more community in our church - but... and maybe I'm just missing out because I'm not as involved as I ought to be - I don't see a whole lot of it happening.
It's tough in the Suburban Wasteland. You can't easily walk to someone's house or to the local coffee shop to chat with the barista about your day and cross paths with the owner while he roasts the beans along with most of your friends and possibly your boss. If someone sees you walking in The Wasteland, they think something is wrong with you. Creating community in a place like this is...well... tough. How do you do it?
Shane Claiborne talks about moving into the "forgotten places of The Empire" in order to create authentic community, serve the pour, create Jubilee through justice, etc. But what about the people in The Wasteland? Are they really less valuable? Is it truly impossible to create authentic community under the thumb of "The Empire", complete with frequent and distracting jet noise? How can we in The Wasteland lose our fear of one another and meet one another where we are?
I've experienced some of this. There are shining moments of heavenly connection. There are times when someone can lend a room or a truck or when a bag of groceries is given freely to or from someone you know personally. But do we care about our neighborhoods, or just our personal property? Do we care about the small business owner because we know his name and a little of his story, or do we just want a cool place to shop?
Sitting in church this morning I couldn't help questioning a little bit of everything. I don't think this is a bad thing - in fact, my brain was in need of some stimulation - I just wonder what I can do. I'm just one person.
I've heard all of those quotes about how one person can change the world - and I believe that's true to some extent and at some level - but the things I'm thinking about take A Body. Not just an individual.
What does a community garden look like in The Suburban Wasteland? Certainly not the gate they're installing at the local theatre to keep the homeless from camping out from the rain and snow in their outdoor alcove. What does support vs. competition look like from this vantage point? How can we look past our fear into something new? How do we get over the hurts caused from those who wish us harm and back to a place of trust? Is it possible? How?
|Street art, Harrisburg - by SR81|