My sister was sharing with me some of her experience during a recent trip to the Holy Lands. As her tour group was being taken around Jerusalem and its environs, her tour guide was explaining about some of the Arab housing. From the outside the housing areas look desolate and dirty. Unkempt. Uncared for. Yet, the inside of the homes are quite nice- clean, bright, organized. The difference between the inside and the outside is due to ownership: the Arabs “own” the inside of their homes so that they care for them, while the outside of their homes are “owned” by the Jewish state. They consider the outside of their homes, not theirs and therefore not worth organizing and keeping together.
I get it. I think it is a typical human reaction.
We see that thought process with the conditions of the “slums” and poverty stricken areas. I am convinced the dirtiness and chaos are partly due to the fact that people who live there do not feel any type of ownership to the place. Lack of ownership equates to lack of responsibility. Of course there are other reasons- when one has to choose between eating or health care- sometimes cleaning up the landscape around ones home is low on the priority list. But, as I frequently think about a comment heard by young boys witnessing the change in their “gentrifying” neighborhood, “See, I told you the new trees are not for us”, I am reminded that when people do not feel included, they can be apathetic at best and hostile at worst. Taking their frustration out on their surrounding environment.
The Public Parks Movement in the 19th Century was an attempt by progressive social thinkers to connect the urban public with the natural world. Many were concerned over the poor sanitation and overcrowding of the Industrial Revolution. Parks like Central Park in New York City were designed to improve health and contribute to the formation of a civil society. As they write on their Central Park Conservancy website, “Immediately, the success of Central Park fostered the urban park movement, one of the great hallmarks of democracy of nineteenth-century America.” Where else, but a public park, that a captain of industry could ambulate among the rolled shirt-sleeves of the stevedores: each enjoying the vistas and the fresh air. Each had a right to be at the park. Each had a responsibility to care for it.
Belonging. Ownership. Democracy.
Isn’t ownership/belonging (or lack there of) one of the main reasons for the latest polarization of our society? Some belong. Some do not. Whether that is due to gender, race, religion, creed, the fact that many in society feel marginalized and not part of it has caused upheaval, unrest, chaos: a social “dirtiness”. If I feel that I do not belong, I have no responsibility to care, preserve or engage with society. We have become a society taking its frustrations out on its surrounding environment which includes policy, people and even our physical space: shootings, social media rantings, and clashes with law enforcement.
Why can’t we get along?
What will it take for us to realize and remember that we are ALL created in God’s image and are precious to Him? To realize that we ALL belong to God and to each other. That ALL have rights and responsibilities.
I am reminded of my first night at college. Being the P.S. in my family, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child for my teenage years- my siblings were all married and out of the house. My parents treated me like an adult and so I wasn’t used to the typical teenage lifestyle. I was used to my own schedule, my own room, and was not used to the girly gatherings. I felt so out of it. Additionally, the college I choose to attend was a distance from my home and no one from my high school even knew about the college much less planned to go there. To make matters worse, my roommate was from the area and knew lots of other girls. She was kind to include me but I still felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t know the local fads, expressions or references. While I was always self-assured, my confidence and self-worth waned. I withdrew into myself.
About a week into the experience I was walking across campus when I ran into a friend from my high school. “What are you doing here?” I exclaimed. Turns out my friend applied late and was accepted right before school was to start. I had no idea.
Running into Frank changed my whole outlook, demeanor and trajectory. I knew someone. I felt more confident and comfortable in meeting others. I got my mojo back. I finally felt like I belonged. I could reach out to others. Just feeling connected to another person changed my attitude which in turn changed how well I assimilated into this new experience. I took more responsibility in engaging, growing and thriving in my new environment.
I felt that I belonged and that I had a sense of ownership that this was “my place, my peeps”. I was engaged. I felt more comfortable and confident that I was exactly where I needed to be.
The thing is, God has called each one of us to come back to Him, His family and to have a sense of belonging. If we are part of His place, His peeps, and His purpose then we are more likely to feel comfortable and confident, which in turn allows us to help another person feel comfortable and confident. No more fighting among ourselves or our environment. We realize that we all belong. We all have ownership in this journey of life: we are responsible for ourselves and for others.
What about you? Do you feel that you belong? Do you have a sense of ownership in your community? Your neighborhood? Who are your peeps? Do you feel responsible for them? For your actions in your environment?