You Can’t Only Clean Your Part of the Pool

by Rev. Dr. Andy Kort, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Bloomington, Indiana

In our recent time together, David Brooks shared a quote that has stayed with me when thinking about community well-being. He said, “You can’t only clean the part of the pool you are swimming in, you have to clean the whole pool.” The point being that we cannot only be concerned with our own little corner of the community, we should be concerned about the whole community. In that same spirit, the Rev. Michael Mather of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, notes in his amazing new book, Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, that he seeks to “change the odds for everyone.” Not just those like him, not just those he knows, not just those swimming in his corner of the pool; he wants to change the odds for everyone. How beautiful.

Of course, that is a big job. It will no doubt take more than one person, one group, one institution to level the playing field, or as Rev. Mather says, change the odds for everyone. Speaking from experience, I know it can be overwhelming to look out my office window or walk down the street and see so much need. The weight of the need is almost enough to crush my spirits or on some days drive me to give up, which is why I am tremendously grateful to recall that we are not in this work alone. While there may indeed be much need, I believe that there is also an abundance of resources that can be woven together into something that can help change the odds for everyone. The challenge for many churches is that we are going to have to get over ourselves, look beyond our institutional messiah complexes, and realize that there are many individuals and many institutions also, and already, doing God’s good work. So how can we join them?

One of the powers and roles of clergy is our ability to convene conversations within our broader community. So, reminiscent of Jesus and his generous inclusive invitations, it is our job to call more and more people to the table. And not just people who look like us, or who we know, or those swimming in our part of the pool. Certainly we should not be inviting only the same old same old. New voices, new people must be included and invited to sit at the table. One of the gifts of community is the abundance of voices, experiences, fresh ideas, skills, talents, and creative imagination. Gathered together we can look and listen to what others are already doing, what gifts are already abounding.

For instance, it was heartening to hear at our recent gathering from Mr. Brad Beaubien, in Indianapolis’ City Planning Department, talk about his work and how people and place are connected. I used to think of planning departments as a bureaucratic machine. Now, thanks to Mr. Beaubien I see how they too play a vital role in shaping community well-being. In his book, Rev. Mather describes a woman named Mya who tutors students in her neighborhood. Because of her gifts, along with the encouragement of the church, she is changing the odds in her community. Clearly, many people are doing good work. By being inter-connected and working in partnerships, the odds for everyone might just change. The whole pool might get cleaned.

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