What kind of world?

As a 20-something and a brand new parent, I sat with the pastor of my church and explained to him that I had always wanted to be a part of a church that had a global vision. I wanted to be involved in a group that could offer service to the world, whether it be a health clinic, micro-finance, education or a building program.

My pastor listened carefully and then replied, “John, I think that’s a great idea.”

I was excited, but then he went on.

He added, “Why don’t you go ahead and do that and I’ll support you any way that I can.”

It wasn’t the answer I expected. But it was definitely an ah-ha moment. It was the first time I realized that the church was nothing more than a bunch of people getting together and if I wanted something to happen, I didn’t have to wait for someone else to do it. I could lead the effort.

A school is just a collection of people. A community is just a collection of people. The world is just a collection of people. And if we want something to happen, we should get to work and make sure that it does.

Last week I was at Cornell University as the Irik Sevin Fellow in Residence at the Alice Cook House. It was a dream engagement, described in the invitation letter like this: “Irik Sevin, a Cornell alumnus, has endowed a visiting fellowship that annually brings a distinguished individual in American public life to live in the house guest suite and mix with students for the better part of a week, sharing ideas and insights with the House residents.”

Not too sure about the “distinguished” part, but I was delighted with the invitation. It was a chance to get to know some of the students in an extended engagement and as part of the week, we set up a studio and asked the entire West Campus community, “What kind of world do you want to live in?” We did a quick turnaround on some big prints and installed the local stories in the residence hall just a few days after we gathered them.

If we are going to achieve a goal, we need to first articulate it. If we are going to accomplish great things, we need to set our sights high and work tirelessly to attain them.

Sometimes I worry that we have given up on finding ways to live better together and that we have accepted a dysfunctional polarization as the new inevitable norm. These stories (and these people) convince me otherwise.

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