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Last week I was able to spend several days with over 140 of my peers who also run NeighborWorks America network organizations all across the country. This annual gathering is one of my favorite events I attend each year. I get to hear all the great work that is occurring in all four corners of the country and see the humble excellence exhibited by so many of my fellow leaders. This great two and half days reminded me about the Jewish teaching of “repairing the world” as told by writer and physician Rachel Naomi Remen. She said,
“In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you”
As I chatted with my peers in sessions, hallways, over coffee, over cocktails I was simply amazed by the great work their organizations were doing. They were each undaunted by the scope and scale of the challenges in front of them. The work of community development is repairing the world that touches you. The needs expressed by the thousands of families that reach out to all of us any given year can’t ever be met with the limited resources at our disposal. Yet, we continue. We try to heal those that struggle to find a place to call home, that want to live in a better neighborhood, that want a better life for their children and that want their piece of the American Dream.
At times this task can be daunting but those of us in this work, it seems, were born with the capacity to find our little piece of light to repair the world that we touch. Being with friends that are in a common battle to improve the lives of others is always rewarding. My time with my peers is always about more listening than talking and always walking away humbled by what others are accomplishing. It also re-energizes me to fine the strength to keep fighting, to keep seeking out the light in others, the light that will make the people we serve whole. Lastly, it reminds me that I don’t have to save the world but just try to heal the world that touches me and maybe do it just a little different since my peers have given me more tools with which to work.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.