Community Resilience

July 22, 2020

I think that each and every time I have ever written or spoken about the families in our program, I have spoken about resilience. This is because I want people to understand how strong and capable our families are. How resourceful they are already when they find their way to us. How invested in the hard work of changing a narrative they are. I want them to be seen in their wholeness and strength, not just in their poverty and need.

But recently I’ve been reflecting on the expectation that any one individual needs to be so resilient in the face of systemic injustices that have led to dispossession, and in the case of our families, homelessness.

I came across an article in Teen Vogue that I think can be helpful for shifting our vision around resiliency. Here’s a quote that gets at the heart of it:

“No one doubts that determination and toughness are worthwhile character traits, but a problem arises when we build our political system around the need to endure hardship. Resilience can be an idea well-suited to an era of budget cuts and inequality, according to sociologist William Davies, author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being. ‘It is founded on an ideology that the political and economic world is never going to change, so people have to change themselves so as to cope with it better. Therefore people need to have certain character traits, so as to be capable of living in a world that ultimately won’t look after them.’”

What this ultimately calls for is Community Resilience, or a community’s ability to adapt in the face of adversity. No doubt we are hearing about this a lot as the health pandemic and the call for deeper anti-racism work has shifted many communities into new ways of neighboring together. There is more recognition that things need to change on a systemic level, because it’s no longer possible to ignore that the systems aren’t working for the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities.

I think this is exactly why Jesus commanded us to Love our Neighbors as Ourselves. When we understand how interconnected we are, we understand that one person’s privilege is another person’s cost within unjust systems. When we work toward a reality where the least become great, where the herd of 99 hold vigil until the lost one is recovered, where we plant our actions like mustard seeds, we begin to understand what the Kingdom of God looks like. And it all begins within ourselves.

So I invite you to consider how you are investing in Community Resilience. Start with the communities you are part of – your family, your faith community, your social network, your neighborhood, your place of employment, your town, and other organizations in which you are a participant. How are you invested in shifting or even dismantling the systems that don’t work for everyone? How are you an active participant in building the Kingdom of God?

If this is what we have always expected from the families we serve, we must also be willing to expect it from ourselves.

It’s not easy, but the words of the now late Rep. John Lewis ring in my heart, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”*

The good news is that we are not acting alone. God’s Spirit meets us within and among us. May we lean upon that greater guidance.

*From his 2017 memoir, “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America”

Community Resilience