At the invitation of an ad hoc group I'm part of, the Friends of Father Norman Rotert, she was in Kansas City this past Thursday and Friday to help community development people and related organizations think through what it takes to build healthy communities.
She spoke a lot about the need to keep the whole city in mind as people work to improve individual neighborhoods. And she encouraged people to work closely and inclusively together so that everyone feels part of the process.
Lots of good ideas about what works and what doesn't.
But in a question-answer periods after her Thursday evening talk at UMKC (thanks Center for Neighborhoods and other sponsors), someone described the countless problems various Kansas City neighborhoods face and expressed some angst about how those problems ever would get solved, given their complexity and their scope.
I was a little surprised by her answer, which I'll get to in a moment.
The next day, after her comments at a workshop at the Kauffman Foundation, I asked her about that this way: "Last night in response to a question about 'This is so hard. How do we do it?' you said 'When there is no way God will show you a way and you've got to have faith.' And today you said that because you don't know Kansas City in detail you don't know what great things the people here will do. So I'm wondering how we know when we simply have faith and optimism versus when we're delusional."
(Yes, people laughed at the question.)
"Check with somebody else," she answered, "when you think you have this great idea."
It's exactly the answer that people of faith always need to remember. Religion is, in the end, a team sport. Which is to say that if we have precious little training in it and sit quietly in a room dreaming up religious ideas, the chances are quite high that we'll come up with something bizarre, at minimum, and dangerous, at worst.
We need to be part of a community in which we can check our ideas with someone else. Otherwise, as I noted in my last book, The Value of Doubt, we can go running off into theologically anarchistic streets where anything goes.
So if we're trying to repair a neighborhood, a city or the world, we must do so in community, checking our allegedly brilliant ideas against the thinking of others. And if we're seeking to grasp the divine, the eternal, the infinite, our obligation to check in with others -- both living and dead, via the records left behind -- is perhaps even greater.
So today when you think you're right about something, take Mindy Fullilove's advice and "check with somebody else." The world may well thank you.
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TO CHANGE OR TO KEEP WHAT'S HERE?
Recently here on the blog I wrote about a new book on Pope Francis by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a harsh critic of the pope. I return briefly to that subject today to share with you this Atlantic piece in which Emma Green maintains that in his new book, "Douthat is digging at a question present in every aspect of contemporary culture and politics: How can those who primarily wish to preserve their culture live in community with those who cheer for inexorable change?" It is, indeed, a prominent question being raised in many venues. But in my experience it's often the case that those wishing to preserve their culture can't see clearly what in that culture is diseased and needs to be reformed. Similarly, those cheering for change often haven't thought through the implications of the change they seek and, thus, they rush into change that simply does a different kind of damage than the old way. Where are the leaders who can help us avoid both of those problems?