September 17 – Making Peace by Slowing Down
Lois Joy Smidt
For 13 years I have worked with Beyond Welfare (BW), a community building organization that seeks to facilitate change through building community across our differences. We started with the intent of addressing poverty. We believed when people make friends across class and race lines, the lives of those in poverty and others are enriched. And those with sufficient resources come to see the systemic conditions that hold poverty in place and will want to do something to create a more just and equal community.
Indeed over the years, we have made a difference. BW has facilitated significant change in the lives of individuals, in systems, and in the community.
We have come to define poverty as a lack of “Money, Friends, and Meaning.” We have come to understand that all of us need all of these to be ok. We have figured out that everyone—no matter how “poor” in money or resources—has great gifts. That all of us—no matter how “rich”—have needs.
Our focus on poverty and welfare reform has grown to a commitment to inclusion—an open door of community for everyone regardless of race, class, age, ability, orientation, and the other interesting differences among us as people. We gather for food and friendship. People exchange “wants, needs and offers,” developing an economy of caring reciprocity that meets tangible and intangible needs for all involved.
Many people I know who care a lot about justice and peace tell me they only wish they had time to be involved in the community building work of BW. It has me thinking about how our busy-ness keeps us separated from people who are different from us—holding isolation, difference, divisiveness, and injustice in place. We work so hard and move so fast.
I was blessed to connect with the Inclusion movement around folks with disabilities in the UK. Here I met an amazing young woman named Marissa who lives with cerebral palsy. Her communication style is different from mine. She communicates with an alphabet board. An assistant helps her point to letters, spelling what she has to say. While getting to know Marissa, I was being my busy self. She wheeled herself over and got my attention. She spelled, “Lois! You are going to have to slow down if you want to be my friend!”
I count this admonition as one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I, like most, was raised with a model of charity that would place me as a generous helpful person in relationship to Marissa. In reality, I needed her. For years I had been looking for a good enough reason to slow down. In one simple moment, she gave it to me—“Be my friend.”
So—slow down. Give yourself a gift. Smile. Say hello to a person who is different from you. Attend a BW community dinner any Thursday, 5:30pm, Collegiate Presbyterian Church. Make peace and justice by slowing down and making friends.
Lois Joy Smidt is past Director of Beyond Welfare where she is now a volunteer member. She teaches and consults in inclusive community building around the world. She invites you to dinner at BW, Thursdays 5:30 p.m. at Collegiate Presbyterian Church, 159 N. Sheldon Ave., Ames. BW thanks the people of CPC for generously sharing their space.