I live in the quintessential suburban town. Located just north of Indianapolis, Fishers is the definition of bedroom community. It ballooned from a meager 2,000 residents in 1980 to the sizeable 84,000 people who call it home now. Fields that used to be designated for corn and soy beans have been replaced by subdivisions and city parks creating a sprawling maze of streets lined with Bradford Pear trees. We have every retail box store known to man, probably because suburbanites like comfort and predictability and those stores provide just that. Every Lowes is laid out the same, every Applebees has the same menu. It just makes us feel safe.
Our city has long been a safe place. In fact, in one study we were named the safest city in the country in 2011. This is why Fishers has been consistently recognized as a great place to raise a family. Money Magazine, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and The Learning Channel have all recognized Fishers as a community that families can flourish in. It has everything a suburb is supposed to have: affordable housing, good schools, lots of amenities, educational opportunities outside of school, and of course, safe neighborhoods.
A safe suburban bubble.
The summer the bubble popped. For the first time in 20 years there was a murder when an 18-year-old stabbed another 18 year old during a fight. Five months later, just five days ago, a 17-year-old student killed a 73-year-old man who was out walking his dog. While the crime rate is still considerably low for a city our size and much lower than Indianapolis, the town of Fishers is in shock.
“This doesn’t happen in our community.”
“We are supposed to have everything our kids need to help them grow into responsible citizens, equipped to flourish in the world.”
“How can two young adults do something like this?”
The myth of suburbia is that it glitters. But all that glitters is not gold, and we are too often lulled by its sheen into believing that all is well. Our manicured lawns, decked out school facilities, and state of the art municipalities fool us into believe that hurt and loneliness and anger and injustice as been eradicated.
That’s why we are shocked when a 17-year-old shoots an old man three times and cuts his throat. We believed it was all gold.
People will be quick to blame parents, mental or emotional illness, police, or even schools. We will always look for a scapegoat to help us make sense of tragedy and evil. To name the ‘problem’ and locate it helps us feel more secure. However, our tendency is always to locate the problem “out there.” It’s the police. It’s the parents. It’s some illness. It’s a lack of discipline. It’s video games. What rarely ever happens is looking at ourselves at asking the question, “What is my role in this?” That’s the last thing we want. We don’t want to see that we have a role to play in the condition, especially if things aren’t the way they are supposed to be, of our communities.
But it is undeniable that every one of us contributes to the functioning of our communities. Whether it’s a contribution of our time, energy, and service or it’s a lack of a contribution accompanied by an underlying expectation that it’s the job of others to fix what’s wrong, we all contribute something to the functioning of our community. The choice before all of us is whether our contribution will be active involvement or apathetic blaming.
Our communities – whether they be urban, suburban, or rural – need us to recover a communal understanding of being a good citizen. For many of us, our definition of being a good citizen is voting, obeying the laws (unless your are only going 5 mph over. That doesn’t count), not mooching off the system, being moral, and keeping our lawns mowed. With this definition one can be a good citizen without actually being involved in their community.
But our communities deserve more than that. They need more than that.
They need you.
From a Christian perspective, we believe we were created to be stewards. God made the man and the woman, placed them in the garden, and told them to steward the creation. In other words, we have a responsibility to the world around us. I have a responsibility to my community and to the people who live in my community to help our community function in such a way that all people can flourish. While I can’t stop every kid from making a horrible decision, or fix every problem in the city, I can do something. So I am becoming a mentor through a local organization called Youth Mentoring Initiative. If you live in the Fishers area I highly recommend you check them out.
I don’t know what your community needs. Maybe you don’t either. But find out. Have conversations. Ask around. Begin to look to see where your community isn’t functioning in such a way that all people can flourish and then get involved. Maybe that means mentoring a kid. Maybe that means getting involved in the schools in another manner. Maybe it means working a non-profit in town. Maybe it means forming deeper relationships with your neighbors. Whatever it is, get involved. Don’t point the fingers down the road to someone else, blaming others for the state of our communities. Realize you have the ability, even the responsibility and calling, to be an active agent of reconciliation, change, and peace in your community.
You have something to offer.
You have stories to share.
You have wisdom learned.
Your presence can comfort and heal.
Don’t keep it from us.
photo credit: r. nial bradshaw