Community thinkers make world go round

By Clyde Davis: Columnist

Professor Castillo bore a resemblance, perhaps intentionally fostered, to those old pictures one sees of Pancho Villa. Since the complexities and nuances of the Pancho Villa story, and indeed the entire Mexican Revolution, are largely telescoped in western Pennsylvania to a few broad brushstrokes, this tended to put people in a mood to stereotype.

Before you pass judgment, ask yourself how much most New Mexico natives know about the French and Indian War?

Nonetheless, Professor Castillo was our church and society instructor at seminary, coming from a more colorful background than many of those who prepared us for ministry at the western Pennsylvania institution I was attending. During the 1960s and ’70s, while a local clergyman in Colombia, he had participated in armed struggles for human rights. On his office wall was a photo of a much younger Castillo, crouched with an M-16 in a jungle bivouac.

This milieu, perhaps also intentionally, had the effect of polarizing people who noticed such details. Equally polarizing were some of the reading materials he gave us in the three courses that comprised church and society.

One of these books, “Small is Beautiful,” addressed a key issue, from a perspective wider than just church: the issue of community vs. consumer.

Check yourself on this, then, whether as church member, employee, public citizen, in regard to your children’s activities, or in the context of any organization to which you belong. Obviously, our teacher’s point had to do with applications to the church.

A consumer basically waits to be served. He or she sees himself as the recipient of a product, be it religion, Scouting, education, a paycheck or citizenship.

For an employee, for example, this does not necessarily mean she is second rate; it has to do with her investment in work, not job performance.

You can see how this impacts the participation level. These are the people who speak of “them” rather than “us” in referring to local government. They see themselves as critiquing their kids’ coaches and Scoutmasters and teachers, rather than working as partners.

They view themselves as consumers at church, rather than decision makers, and then pass judgement on the decisions.

Okay. By now it’s clear on which side of the issue I stand. Community thinkers, on the other hand, tend to view the task of a group as something for which they have a share in responsibility. They know that education is a community event, that church is a group on a faith journey, not a place for entertainment, that a key to any level of government is doing one’s part.

In short, they accept and embrace the fact that this is the time and place in which they have been given to carry out their lives. There are no good old days, and no dreamed-of future. If they are unhappy where they are, they discern the reasons and move to correct them, instead of complaining.

You could say community thinkers are pretty much existentialists with a positive slant to the term. Which are you?