June 21, 2023
For the last several days, I have been studying the ancient Greek idea of citizenship. Like so many foundational ideas in our culture, the Greeks were the first to conjure up the idea of citizenship in our culture. It was a revolutionary idea and was worn as a badge of honor by everyone who achieved it. Citizens were willing to die to maintain that status and considered everything else slavery. The dynamic I was looking for in my study of the topic was elusive. I was hoping to find an ancient writer who explored the willing service aspect of the equation. You see, it was hinted at in ancient literature. Service of your city/nation was seen as a virtue or duty. However, I couldn’t figure out why the ancients thought it was the case. After several days of looking for a starting point to this line of study, I gave up. My sense of the matter is that citizens saw the position as a privilege and responded in gratitude.
Every week, I attend a Bible study with a group of men at my church. Monday morning, during Bible study, I found my answer. We were reading the account of James and John’s mother approaching Jesus to ask for a higher position in God’s Kingdom. Jesus replied that those who wished to be great in God’s kingdom must make themselves the least. We must serve to rise. Freedom comes with the responsibility to care for others, and the whole, in order to preserve it. Otherwise, we become enslaved to our own desires and selves. The idea here is powerful, not just for followers of Jesus, but for everyone. In order for our culture and community to work, we must serve each other. This runs contrary to the mindset of our culture. We are told that looking out for number one and living our own truth is the key to happiness. The problem is that a community composed of individuals who ignore the community will fragment.
I am sharing this because I am a citizen of Big Sandy. In fact, I love Big Sandy. I love the view of the Bear Paws I see on my walk to work every morning. I love seeing the grain elevators in the distance as I approach town on the highway. But, it’s not just those things that prompt me to love our town. I love the schools that have been a blessing to my kids. I love visiting the library and chatting with the neighbors I encounter there. I love visiting the bakery and talking with patrons I just run into there. I love the culture and the people. Strangers are made to feel welcome. Struggling neighbors are cared for by fellow citizens. The best things about our town and its culture are related to the people and how they care for each other. Whether folks mean to or not, we have taken into our culture an attitude of, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and serve others in order to be great. It is often an unspoken value, but it is in the air.
The challenge that arises with it being “in the culture” verses it being a spoken value, is that it can easily fall off when we don’t look at it and celebrate it. This is sitting in the forefront of my thinking today because it’s easy to see where our cultural value of “love and serve your neighbor” teeters, especially when the rest of the country is rumbling and shifting. Preserving our value system requires that we recognize our responsibility in living out that truth. Being citizens of Big Sandy needs to mean more than just owning property, paying taxes, and having the option to vote here. It means meeting a need when we see it. It’s often easy to see problems from others and say, “someone should do something about that.” Rather, we need to see those things and say, “God has revealed this to me because I need to do something about it.” When we see neighbors struggling to get by, we can gossip about them or we can offer a hand. We can complain when businesses struggle because they lack help, or we can ask how we can help. We can want the school to operate with excellence or provide bus service to the country, or we can step in and help make it happen.
The blessing of living in our community is a result of people who rise to the occasion. The more of us that recognize that the best parts of our town are a product of all of us carrying the load, and then use that as a prompt to pick up pieces and carry the load, the stronger our town will be. It starts with you and me realizing that to be great and to be fulfilled is to love and serve others as Jesus commanded. We must apply it in our families, on our streets, through our churches, in our school, throughout our town, and everywhere we go. We all bear responsibility for the culture of our town.