catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 15 :: 2011.09.02 — 2011.09.15


Something to give

This summer, I attended one of the most celebratory, memorable weddings I’ll probably ever participate in.  In overcoming stigma and navigating theological and relational obstacles, the couple had gathered an amazing community around them to witness their union and hold them in prayer as they head into a new phase of their life together.  One of the things that made the event so lovely was the fact that so many people, from parents to siblings to friends, had pitched in to help with invitations and decorations, gluing, cutting, stitching… 

The context of the wedding’s collaborative unity was an especially interesting setting for a conversation I had with a college professor.  Like a growing number in higher education, the professor expressed frustration that students are brought up in an ivory tower and often don’t learn how to love and respect people who are different from them — how to see them as equals and give credit to experiences that will never be recognized with a degree.  As college education becomes the new standard in much of the world, the gap between those lettered and not has deepened.  (If you haven’t already, watch the film Babies for a stark, wordless portrait.) From either side of the divide, the other appears as an indistinct cartoon of a character type.

How do we learn to appreciate each other, not just as characters from television or from a novel we read in World Lit, but as whole human beings in need and capable of love?  Living together is a start.  I’ve written before about the things I’ve been learning from marginalized people in our small town of Three Rivers, in particular, those who struggle with addiction, poverty and mental illness.  This environment is very different from the one where I thrived in college.  I admit that sometimes I wish I could be part of all of the cool things those friends are doing in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, New York and elsewhere, but Three Rivers is where I am and where I plan to be for a long time.  If I can’t see what the land and people here have to offer, chances are it’s more my problem than theirs.  More often than not, what seems to be lacking that can unlock creative vision and potential is a space designed for such a purpose.  In our town, that means the mentally ill wander the streets until curfew and teen-agers hang out at Meijer on Saturday nights.

As incurable optimists, my husband and I have launched a project a couple of years ago to turn a vacant, historic school in Three Rivers into a space for imagination — The Imagining Space project, as we’ve been calling it.  In what’s becoming an arts and agriculture-based community center, our best hope is that all who come to participate will learn something about their capacity for creativity and beauty by working with their hands.  We also hope — ridiculous, I know — that people will learn how to love each other better over shared interests, meals and play times, which brings me back to the conversation I had with that professor.  Part of the big picture is to attract college students and recent graduates to come participate in a community where they’re not the only ones with something to give.  “Service” is perhaps becoming a less relevant term as we go on, with collaboration and kinship rising to the top.

This journey has brought us to our most recent effort, which has a fundraising side to it for sure, but also serves as an expression of the collaborative spirit that we hope infuses everything we do.  The Culture Make Sale, an online sale of goods and services that directly supports The Imagining Space, has gathered contributions from all over the country in an expression of creative abundance. In Community and Growth, Jean Vanier writes, “Every human activity can be put at the service of the divine and of love. We should all exercise our gift to build community.”  From yard work to crocheting, cooking to writing, people have given whatever kind of culture they make in a collective effort to build community here in Three Rivers, with the potential for effects far beyond our rural borders.

One core value of the Imagining Space project has been, is and hopefully always will be that everyone has something to give, whether privileged or underprivileged, “officially” educated or not, urban or rural.  We pray that the community that grows around the Imagining Space will cultivate the imagination to respond to inequality with embrace, to cynicism with hope, to fear with radical love, so that everyday can be a little like a wedding day.

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