My faith teaches me that everyone is created with value and certain talents. This major principle guides our community work as we help neighbors who are often marginalized or devalued identify their assets and inherent power.
In general, as a culture, we love stories of people who overcome trials and difficulties to be successful in determining their own future. We lift up those stories. We retell them over and over.
Over the last several years a group of neighbors on the Westside have been developing projects to positively impact the city. These projects reflect their shared vision and values. Neighborhood leaders are coming to believe that their vision matters, that their goals are possible, that their voice is important in our city. They have a vision and are working toward it. I celebrate that.
So it was an interesting dynamic when a member from a local church came to the neighborhood insisting that our neighbors change their plans to accommodate his agenda.
This brother assumed that because we were Christians, we would strong arm our neighbors to do what he wanted. But we didn't. That's not how it works in our community.
He kept asking, "Who's in charge?" We would reply that our Neighborhood Action Committee comes to consensus on new ideas.
When the neighbors voted down his idea, he assumed the staff would override them. But we didn't. He became increasingly frustrated and visibly angry which left our neighbors seriously doubting his stated objectives of love and care. I empathized with the man. I know what it's like to be shot down. And yet, I rejoiced in my neighbors' ability to evaluate critically how his idea lined up with their vision, which in this case it did not.
This whole situation got me thinking about love and the way we mask power and manipulation with a feeble care.
Jesus said that the greatest love is when we lay our lives down for the other. What does that look like in the day to day, over and over? How much of my love is really my own will, dressed up to look like care and concern? Am I willing to be in relationships with people who do not want to do things my way? Can I really hear the imagination and creativity of another's dreams and let those dreams lead ahead of my own?
These are the questions that I'm left with as I reflect on this exchange between my neighbors and church representative. I love the church and the ideals of Christ it stands for: love of God, love of neighbor, freedom, peace, joy. But what happens when the people you share with embrace and internalize those ideals to such an extent that it gets thrown back at you?
Can we celebrate the growth and wholeness of others or are we uncomfortable and even angered by their empowerment? Do we only celebrate empowerment that doesn't threaten our own power or will we lay down ourselves in love so others can lead?
I do not have the answers but I am working to muster enough courage to ask these questions of my own leadership. And I am praying that others in the church will celebrate my neighbors' resurrection affirming act of leading even when that means calling us out.
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.