To do good in the world

Final post in four part series.

It's been a real adjustment of my time to be involved in our homeschool co-op drama production. And it's been an adjustment of my heart.

While the kids are learning how to sing, act, and dance; how to overcome insecurities and work as a team; how to sew costumes, do theatre make-up, operate a slideshow and lights; I've been learning, year by year, how to serve the collective interest over my own agenda. This can be a difficult thing for an independent-minded homeschooler.

I've realized, of course, that if my agenda is to raise my kids in a thriving and healthy community then the collective interest of the group - to build and maintain that community - becomes my own agenda.

This is a difficult tension in my life. Where do I draw the boundaries? How do I give and not completely lose my sanity? What is my role and obligation to this community?

There aren't many writerly types in our co-op. (I only know one personally.) I sometimes think about my homeschooling compatriots daily schedules and wonder where is the space? Where is the time for reading, writing, and thinking? I have to do these things. These are the activities that get scrunched during the intense spring drama season and feel threatened during the rest of the year (by all the other responsibilities of life) if I don't live according to my own priorities.

I trust that each of my homeschool mom-friends is on the same journey of figuring out what she needs in her own life and is learning to give from a deep well of spiritual and healthy living practices. Either that, or running on fumes. For me personally, it's a bit of both, depending on the season.

"The Greatest Showman" by Laurent

Most of the mothers of this group are do-ers of the highest magnitude. I suppose I could include myself in the do-er category, but not of the "highest magnitude". I have my limits and I will protect them in order to attend to those things I feel called to do at this stage: be a child of God and cultivate a contemplative spiritual practice, raise my kids (contribute to the community that helps us do this), support Damien and our family's well-being (this now includes working part-time), make a home, explore and travel, write and pursue intellectual and personal growth.

Each year's drama production pushes me to new limits of myself, into new areas of growth. Last year almost knocked me out, but like they say, "what doesn't kill you makes your stronger". And it did make me stronger in my resolve to not do that again!

This year was intense but I recognized and honored my personal limits, which included working part-time all through the production, while giving to the very edge of those limits.

I don't know how other moms do it. It's hard to compare because we all have such unique circumstances and different gifts.

Here's what I do know.

When we're in the midst of a production it's the love and appreciation I feel for the other families of this co-op, the love for God in our midst, the love for what we are creating together, that fills my well and motivates me for another day, another commute, another rehearsal, another show.

Coming together as a group to create something larger than ourselves requires us to depend on each other, trust each other, challenge each other, and love each other. And being part of a group of people that is committed to doing that and is willing to grow in the process is humanity at its best.

The intensity of the experience means you can't live in that space forever, and we don't. But for the last three years, spring has become a season in our lives that we commit ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.

My backstage view of Brienne on stage

These productions don't just create good art and opportunity to teach our kids great skills and experiences, they actually build the community. The communal effort and sacrifice makes us a cohesive group. It builds relationship and meaning that extend way beyond the drama production itself.

I think this is the vision for being a good human.

What is the thing, bigger than me, that I can work towards to improve the lives of others? How do I restore, heal, repair, or reconcile; how do I add beauty, joy, and creativity to the fabric of society?

I don't like Christianese - religious terminology, "coded" language that creates barriers to understanding that only the "in" crowd understands. Ministry can be a word like this. Christians will talk about their "ministry" and where they feel called to "minister" (as an action, not a vocation).

For me, ministry and where I'm called to minister simply means where do I "do good" in the world? Where do I go above and beyond myself, joining others to create something larger than the sum of our parts, to make something good happen in the world? Something beautiful, something healing, something restorative.

I think that when we come together as humans, the Spirit of God assists and enables us (whether we're aware of it or not). I guess what I appreciate about being with Christians, in this context, is the awareness of the Spirit in our midst, which helps our hearts and ideally guides our actions, in times of strife and difficulty with each other. Because it's hard work!

Celine's ad in the playbill
Yes, YOU can hire her!

At the start of my adult life, marriage and motherhood, homeschooling and family life was my ministry. And then I added writing. Community has always been an important part of my life, but in recent years my ministry to family and homeschooling has required more community involvement.

All the areas in which I minister, where I work to "do good" in the world, are bigger than me. I go beyond myself, joining others - Damien, the kids, my parents, extended family, homeschool and church community members - to make something good happen in the world. To make a marriage, a family, a household, a homeschool co-op, a drama production, a church community.

We all have this opportunity in our life.

Wherever groups of people exist (which is everywhere) it's not just possible, but also imperative, to join together and do good work in the world. It doesn't have to be a homeschool drama production and it doesn't need to be a religious or church community. These just happen to be my contexts.

performance view from the tech booth
digital painting by Laurent

An aside about religious community and my belonging in one.

As humans grew in numbers and communities beyond kith and kin, beyond the ties of immediate blood relations in our groupings, we bound ourselves together around ideas. A uniquely human ability. Religious rituals and institutions were one of these ideas and help us define who we are and what we do as a group, and this gives us security and meaning.

Coming together is the real strength of a religious practice. It's not so much an abstract idea of truth that binds people together as it is feeling a kinship with one another around those ideas. Our kinship in the religious context (and in all ideological contexts actually) is based on shared believe (vs. shared blood/tribal relation), but the strength of the religion, or ideology, is found in the coming together around those ideas, in the community, not in the ideas themselves.

Ideas have potential energy but it's the collective belief and practice of an idea that gives it power. Religion is powerful because of how it creates groups and affiliations that provide people a sense of identity and belonging - the thing we're ultimately seeking.

What's so compelling to me about the Jesus story is how the community, the kinship, the narrative of who belongs, was extended to enemies and outsiders - the gentiles and the sinners. The idea of belonging moved beyond "us" to "all". A huge leap in human consciousness. Everyone is welcome at the table. We all belong, we're all loved, let's figure out how to be good humans together.

This is not how Christians have universally always lived, or practiced faith. We haven't, which is part of the reason there's been such a rejection of Christianity, at least in western culture, in the modern age. And for good reason.

But with the rejection of religion comes the loss of religious community and places and contexts in which to gather to support each other and affect positive change in our world. (Keeping in mind of course, some of the worst damage inflicted upon ourselves, others, and the earth was, and is, being done under the banner of religious belief. So much for "affecting positive change in our world.")

New community contexts are emerging within and without religious contexts but it's a transition period for humanity and transitions are bumpy and uncomfortable. A lot of people still feel community-less in this post-modern age without a default religious community to call "home".

I am a member of a religious community because my family needs a community, I need community, and as a Christian, religious community has been the "easiest" to plug into. (In truth, I became a Christian in the context of the community and it's the community affiliation that still defines me as "Christian".)

The core of my belief: we all belong, we're all loved, let's figure out how to be good humans together, can be practiced without any religious affiliation. Maybe that's actually "pure" religion" - loving and working together without religion. But I'm a Jesus-follower, a believer in the Divine, and a participant in the Spirit of God working in the world so Christian community still feels the most comfortable fit even though I experience plenty of personal tension between my own practice and belief of Christian faith and that of the group.

No community is perfect and humans are such a mess, and the fact that we keep showing up to be a community for each other is a testament to the very nature of what it means to belong.

I don't know what life will look like as my kids grow out of homeschooling, out of homeschool co-op. As they grow out of this community. The end is in sight but it's too early to have a sense of what my community ministry will be. Damien and I plan to travel more and spend more time again in nature. Sometimes these desires seem difficult to reconcile with community building. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

In the midst of drama season I sometimes fantasize about those future days of "freedom". On those nights when I go to bed weary and wake-up too early the next morning to do it all again. When I feel the stress of group dynamics under pressure. When I feel inadequate to the task at hand and burdened by the responsibility. I wouldn't mind being free from that, but we are never free from the tug in our hearts to do good in the world.

It's what we're made for. And we're made to do it together.

« Committing to the group ~ Our homeschool co-op drama production
High Summer ~ Memories & Kids »
  • Severine

    Severine on July 13, 2018, 1:56 p.m.

    Wow Renee...I have found this 4 part series to be really powerful, touching, enlightening... I love the way you use words and word pictures to crystallize what are sometimes just vague and foggy ideas or a ‘sense’. You have such a gift and you ARE such a gift to the communities you have chosen to invest in. Thank you for sharing of yourself to ‘do good’ in the world.


    • Renee

      Renee on July 30, 2018, 4:09 p.m.

      Severine, thank you. I always feel a little sensitive and exposed knowing that local friends are reading, mostly because I want to live and write with integrity. That how I live and how I write about my life are in alignment. (and of course my local friends have the best sense for that of all my readers).

      I feel like I can be myself in writing in ways not always possible in person. (It is possible if I have the time and safety in a relationship.)

      So I deeply appreciate you saying hi here and getting something from this series. Because a) you know my lived life, as you experience it in our shared contexts and b) you know more of me now, through my words, and I am grateful for how that can help build our friendship :) (because like everyone, I want to be known and loved by the people in my life.)

      It's also a privilege and joy to me that you are a part of my kids' and my own community.



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