This is what the Kingdom looks like!
I haven’t been much for marching in the past, but if I take it up in the future, that might be my call and response. It’s not that we shouldn’t call on our governments to uphold justice and bring about peace, but I think we expect too much when we think governments will lead the transformation of our societies or be the sole agents of change. In fact, I think there are examples of communities that have started the process and perhaps led the government to make changes. Colon on the Atlantic coast of Panama is one of those places.
Christ Church in Colon has been around for a century and a half. That kind of time doesn’t come without some baggage, but it also creates some opportunity for action. In a city hard hit by unemployment and decades of governmental neglect, the church has not only endured, it has taken responsibility for helping to feed the community. That’s not a terribly novel action for a church, but the same folks who are putting together food supplies are visiting elderly friends and neighbors who can’t get out. They are involved in the lives of the children of Christ Episcopal School. In other words, they are vital parts of the civic life around them.
And in some ways, they are life. Their connections to each other and to their neighbors forms a network of giving and receiving in which people can take care of one another. Take, for instance, Connie, the woman who hosted us in her home for a week. Her apartment was much like one you might find in New York City: tiny kitchen, modest bedrooms, and space in which to eat and talk. Through those rooms moved people who might help Connie cook, clean, or run errands. In those rooms she hired people for small jobs, engaged children with simple games, and fed everyone constantly. (Seriously, go to Connie’s hungry.)
This sharing of gifts, whether they were skills, strengths, or resources, formed a little galaxy mutual support which, from where I observed it, had Connie at the center but which moved according to its own logic. It was not controlled by anyone. I felt like I was maybe seeing only one arm of this galaxy — maybe even only one solar system in one arm. This galaxy stretches out into Colon, across Panama, and further. You just, I think, have to know where to look.
You can see it in what we would call a formal system, like a school. Everybody knows that some schools are dead as a post while others are living, vibrant organizations. What’s the difference? I think part of it is folks in the system acknowledging and operating by the logic of this galaxy of mutuality instead of trying to drive it forward by their own power. You can see that happening, or trying to happen, at Christ Episcopal School in Colon. But it’s hard to let go of trying to operate things under our own power.
Yet when we do let go and get with a higher logic, people tend to notice. The streets in Colon are all torn up. All of them are torn up. The government is replacing the sewers, the water, the electrical service, everything. After decades and decades of neglect, the people have not done abandoned the city. They have knit themselves together and are now being supported by the government. Or at least the support seems to be starting. In any event, the future they hope for is being made real in the ways they have come to see how they depend on one another. The Kingdom made real, right before our eyes!