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It takes community to flourish

It takes community to flourish

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A few thoughts on community:

We only learn what we already know

A Sufi story I once heard was about community leaders of a small village inviting a renowned public speaker to speak to their people. He came and stood in the town square and said to those assembled, “You only learn what you already know.” Then he asked, “How many of you know what I am to talk about?” No one raised a hand. “Well, if you don’t know, you won’t learn,” he said as he left.

He was asked to return and again made the same statement, and for the second time asked the same question: “How many of you know what I am to talk about?” This time, they all raised their hands. “Well,” he said, “if you all know, there is no need for me to tell you” and again left.

On his last and final visit, he made his statement and asked the same question for the third time, “How many of you know what I am to talk about?” The response was different this time. Some raised their hands, indicating they knew. Others raised their hand, indicating they didn’t know. “Ah,” says the visitor, “then those that know what I was about to say please tell those who don’t know.”

His mission was accomplished: to teach the village people to talk to each other and get to know each other to create community.

A life of “both/and”

Why a story? Stories are powerful lenses for examining the human experience, a means by which to learn together. Jesus said he came to give life and make life more abundant. He told stories in the form of parables as an initial step for engaging crucial conversations — conversations that we may shy away from because they may cause some discomfort or a little cognitive dissonance.

The issue of diversity and inclusion is one such conversation because it asks us to temporarily suspend certain beliefs and worldviews to nonjudgmentally entertain the beliefs and the worldviews of others who are different.

America is changing, and cultural competency with regard to diversity has become paramount. The fact is that racial and ethnic Americans live in between two worlds. By living in “the hyphen,” the “in-between,” one can connect to or separate from the dominant culture, to have the best of both worlds or live in a divided world. It is a “both/and” or an “either/or” proposition. This fact may go unnoticed to the general population, but it resonates deeply with Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups that cultural understanding leads us to create community and flourish for the common good.

Cesar Chavez, in leading the civil rights of farmworkers while marching under a banner of religion, told them not to seek achievement for themselves while forgetting about progress and prosperity for the community at large: “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” Hence, the Christian faith must be a prophetic religion, an instrument of God for the sake of human flourishing and the common good.

Imagining a deeper unity

This fact raises the question: Have we yet not learned about racial and cultural diversity to create community? Remember, we only learn what we already know. The Civil Rights Act changed laws and changed external behaviors toward African-Americans and Mexican farm workers. But it is obvious today that it failed to go deep enough to create a much-needed model of national unity and economic prosperity. This takes imagination to go higher and deeper in life. To climb to the “mountaintop,” like a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. To bring solidarity and community under a religious conviction, as did a Cesar Chavez. They left us a story to be repeated.

Stories ask us to imagine a slightly different world by posing the question, “What if?” What if we are true believers, and together “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? What if we create a nice, caring, compassionate and happy community? What if the Hispanics and the more recent immigrants are not looked upon as a problem to be solved, but rather as potential human, social, economic and spiritual capital that needs to be developed?

With over 50 million consumers, the U.S. Hispanic population already represents 16 percent of the entire population with an estimated annual purchasing power of $1.3 trillion. It is The Jesse Miranda Center’s aim to reach into the growing Latino community, making it flourish by converting spiritual, cultural and service through faith, work and economics into creative action. What if, among this rich community, we identify and empower trailblazers and innovators toward the common good and a common faith? What if these visionaries develop a love and inclination to increase human well-being and promote human welfare? Can you imagine the beginning of a new Hispanic legacy?

The descendants of Don Quixote are by nature dreamers and believe it is possible. May we build community, and may God bless America!

• Jesse Miranda, D.Min., is president of The Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, CEO emeritus of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and executive presbyter for the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

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