Waco may be pursuing greatness in just the right way
By Ferrell Foster
Waco may be on the verge of greatness. This thought came to me this morning as I reflected on two true things — our town seems to be facing the reality of its high poverty rate, and we also seem to be taking the arts seriously.
It may seem odd to tie these two things together, so let me try.
No city can be great when such a high percentage of its population lives in poverty. There is all kinds of data to prove this point, but you can also drive into certain parts of town and convince the other side of your brain of this truth.
The poor will always be with us, as someone famous once said, but that did not prevent him from caring deeply and working on behalf of the poor. That guy’s name was Jesus, and people are still talking about him, even worshipping him, 2,000 years later.
So, yes, there will always be people who live in poverty, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t work our tails off helping as many as we can. We help them in the short term by dealing with basic needs (food and shelter), but the most important help comes in the form of education and job training — things related to earning a liveable wage. A minimum wage job cannot support anyone adequately unless they are living with someone else.
And, by the way, our very best schools should be in our very poorest neighborhoods. That’s where it is most needed. But, in Texas, we have the opposite. The best schools are usually in wealthier neighborhoods. Education takes money, even though some don’t like to admit it. Those same people often pay more for housing or private schools for that very reason — it takes money to educate children while parents are working elsewhere.
The other side of this coin is promotion of the arts. This is not often understood as intuitively as the other. We are so enmeshed in a capitalist society that we can easily think business and money-making are the most important parts of building a community. Business and money-making are essential, but addressing poverty and promoting the arts is equally important.
Why the arts? This sector is much like the spiritual sector (of which we already have great strength). Both promote a connection to truth and concerns beyond oneself, and when we connect to deeper Realities we generally become more attuned to the people around us, or we should. Sometimes American religion can be very self-centered (as in “my” salvation) and undermine broader concern, but Christianity and other religions lift love of neighbor to equal footing with love of self. Self-esteem is good (you are created in the image of God), but neighbor-esteem is just as important (they are created in that same image).
More than 100 years ago, Evelyn Underhill understood the connection between spirituality and art. Artists, she said, are “aware of a more vivid and more beautiful world” than other people. They are “always driven by their love and enthusiasm” to express before others “those deeper significances of form, sound, rhythm, which they have been able to apprehend.”
Artists can do this because “they taste deeper and deeper truths, make ever closer unions with the Real. For them, the duty of creation is tightly bound up with the gift of love,” Underhill wrote.
This is why we need artists, just as surely as we need preachers. They help us to connect with the broader realities that many of us identify as God, while others identify it in other ways. This makes, or should make us, better neighbors. And better neighbors make better towns.
And, by the way, the creativity of the artistic mindset can be financially profitable, as well. For proof of this look no further than our very own Joanna Gaines. Joanna’s creativity with Chip’s business sense as built something important that is benefiting many.
Almost 30 years ago, the band Jars of Clay recorded a song titled “The Art in Me,” which included these lyrics:
“Sculpting every move
You compose a symphony
And you plead to everyone
See the art in me
See the art in me
See the art in me.”
May we see the art in each other and work to help each other, both in our struggles and in our art.
Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care & communication with Prosper Waco. He is also on the Board of Directors of Act Locally Waco and a regular contributor to the blog.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email the ALW team — [email protected].