Community is a word often used to describe camaraderie and togetherness, kinship that isn’t limited to blood relations. Community is the places we live, the people we see at high school ballgames and Fourth of July picnics, the schools where our children learn. We are connected and identify with each other. It gives us a sense of home and belonging.
Across the country, our community is in trouble.
Many young people today have no sense of boundaries or consequence. They are not being taught to be responsible citizens. They quit when things get tough. The media reinforces an apathetic approach to living. If we tire of something, we move on. Be it school, job, family, or even life itself. The problem is deep seated and widespread. In fact, it is all consuming and it impacts everyone, regardless of social, economic, religious, or racial background.
How Did This Happen
As adults, we have to recognize that youth did not create this culture. We did. Government, schools, churches, families, and individuals have all contributed to this problem, often by simply remaining silent and doing nothing. In many ways, we’ve been a silent generation while the generation coming behind us runs headlong toward a cliff.
It is a common problem to overlook issues that do not show up on your door step and assume they have no bearing on you. The drug problem isn’t my drug problem so long as my son or daughter doesn’t abuse them. The crisis involving youth committing suicide, though devastating to the families affected, has no relevance to me unless it is a young person I know. The epidemic of juvenile arrests and incarceration is simply bad news on TV.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that, as a community, what happens to one of us affects all of us. Youth issues invade every school system, public and private. The issues of sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol experimentation, teen depression and suicide are not limited to those suffering from physical abuse, poverty or other social, economic, or racial stigmas. These issues are not just affecting a fringe group of youth today: its impacting all of our children.
We have become a culture of individuals that hide behind closed doors and pretend to not know about the horrors happening just outside. We cringe when we hear about a school shooting, all the while completely underestimating the exact same kind of damage that is being done slowly, over time, in every school in our country simply because we as parents and leaders are failing to engage our young people in meaningful, transparent relationships. This is not an overstatement. It is actually that bad.
How Do We Correct The Problem?
It is time we recognize that this is going to take an across the board community approach. The education system alone cannot fix this problem. Government agencies cannot resolve the challenges by themselves. Businesses are not designed to handle the issues but they cannot survive without a workforce. We, as a community of individuals and families are creating the issues that are thrown at all sectors of society, and then expecting them to fix it. Governments, schools, businesses, churches, are simply ill-equipped to handle the enormity of the problems that have come due to decades of neglect. The issues are destroying all of us, individuals, families, and communities alike, from the inside out.
Ironically, we often think that by making more noise we can make change happen, so we rail against the problems we see, acting as trumpets of judgment. We call out the wrongdoers and condemn them to suffer the consequences of their reprehensible behavior. And that, somehow, is what we believe it will take to change the state of things. The truth is love changes things: not hate. By being the voice that shouts against a youth culture that threatens us with their insensible clothing and deplorable music, we have further alienated the very ones we believe need help. We have driven them away, deeper into their despondency and lack of respect. Then we wonder why they do not listen to what we say or take our morals seriously. Perhaps it is because we have failed to do the same for them.
So since we have created this mud puddle, it means, we have to be the ones to take action. This starts as individuals, families, and then ultimately, as a community. Mother Teresa said; “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
John Donne in his poem, No Man Is An Island, made this point when he wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls’ it tolls for thee.”
His words, like that of Mother Teresa are a call to action. No man is an island, and alone, we cannot change the world, but we can make a change in the life of one. It is not always someone else who is going to take action in the neighborhood, at some point, that someone has to be me.
This is our community. These are our children. This is our problem.
The good news is, as a community we can make a difference. The problem’s aren’t simply going to go away, but we have what we need to make change happen. We have each other. We have a cultural history of coming together to overcome the odds, to embrace justice, to proclaim liberty. And there’s never been a more promising or worthwhile cause to fight for than our youth.
Where Do I Start?
Change starts with one. That means change starts with you. It starts with me. Change starts when we choose to not be blind but instead to look at the truth, no matter how ugly or hateful, so that we understand exactly what it is we are up against. It starts when one person takes the hand of another person, and one becomes two, two becomes a few, a few become many, and many become a force that cannot be denied. Change starts as we act together, putting aside differences, and joining together in unity to make change happen.
Unless we are willing to invest the time and energy needed to build a relationship with a family, a child – even our own – we will not see long term success.
If everyone of us found one life to invest in, one family or child in which to truly commit to being a present source of encouragement and strength to, imagine the difference that would make. You cannot save the world. You cannot even save your own local community, but you can help one other person. That’s how change happens. That’s how it has always happened. It starts with one. The question is who is your one?
Transformation is Kingdom work. For the Glory of God, we are seeking to minister hope and life so to have influenced the world when we leave. Let the legacy of this generation be that we were a group of individuals, families, and communities that made a lasting change.