Friday, October 9, 2009

Organic Community - Arts

I had a discussion last week with a friend about community. I live in a planned community (Daybreak) where many of our early experiences, when the community was in its infancy' were socially engineered to bring people together. We all had one thing in common: we chose to buy homes in a neighborhood that was designed from the sidewalks up to create a tight nit community. When we first moved here there were activities and they were well attended by the community members. Over the last five years something has happened to change the community. The community has grown to over 2000 individual family homes and the quaint community that we enjoyed in the beginning has been eroded.

I see the cause of this threefold. The first is the size. When you have two thousand homes and three villages you are going to see a regionalization of community. Folks will opt to know, do service with, and recreate with their neighbors. Second, the community management has failed support organic community in such a large neighborhood and also has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the local culture. The third reason was partially discussed in the last sentence. As our community started to grow the neighborhood started to develop the majority of its community inside of local LDS ward houses.

I guess that the community management recognized on one level that the community was fragmented and there was a need for a change. They fired Lifestyle Director and started a search for a replacement. However, that replacement must also come with a plan to stimulate organic community. It is fair to recognize that people with huddle in their neighborhoods and there is nothing wrong with celebrating a block, region, or village. There is also much to be said about formation of groups that serve niches inside the community as a whole.

The new community manager also has to figure out how to open the relationships between the local LDS community and those who are not members. The LDS community has a self contained social structure that dominates daily life and there is limited opportunities for cross over. Children and adults have a regimented schedule that does not leave much time for activities outside. Many families find that between church, school, and maybe some sports activities there is little time or energy left. As my friend and I discussed, they do not need community outside as much as those of us outside need community.

I have been involved in a form of organic community that seems, for some, to have bridged the gap. It has not been perfect and it is certainly not been a panacea but, it has worked very well and filled a void in our community. That specifically is our local community theatre group, South Jordan Community Theatre. This group formed as a local group of friends got together and produced a show in the neighborhood. The obvious need for this type of outlet was immediately apparent. Our neighborhood management declined to be involved in this project long term and so four of us formed a board a directors and have produced 5 shows in 12 months with great success. Our organization serves our local area and has expanded into other counties and cities. It has brought together people of all walks of life including religious and non religious folks. We have an advisory board of 19 members who are teachers, lawyers, carpenters, authors, and politicians who all have a common goal of providing quality performance arts opportunities to children and families of our local community.

I believe we have been successful because it has addressed a need, taken into account the three things listed above, and has a very targeted focus. Additionally, it has a board of directors that has made it about the product and not the individuals who serve on the board.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Children are the Challenge-Kiera

Kiera is my youngest child. She is spunky, spirited, manipulative, smart, and cute. Of my five children she has the strongest need to fit in and to be liked. This makes her very susceptible to peer pressure. I have seen this child make decisions that are contrary to her own personal welfare or interests to keep friends and she is only 10. Unfortunately she believes what her friends tell her and does not frequently challenge them. I personally think that Kiera’s has more of a fear of rejection than a need for acceptance.

Kiera has lived in three different homes two in the same neighborhood. It was our last move that has proved to be the most difficult. Kiera has found herself on the outside looking in. In our other neighborhoods we had plenty of non-religious families in the neighborhood and Kiera had a choice of peers. The one we are in now she has been excluded from Sunday play while the religious families and their kids associate and play together.

Recently, Kiera has been invited to attend “Activity Days” with the girls who attend the local LDS Ward. I have, until this last week, approached this cautiously. Wanting to provide her with the opportunity for association but wanted to limit opportunities for indoctrination. This unfortunately proved disastrous this week. Two weeks ago they all went up to the Temple to have their picture taken. This week they made frames for those photos. Now on its face it seems okay. I don’t have an issue with the Temple. It is a local landmark and my daughter is cute!

The one thing that rocked me back on my heels was a booklet that I found on the end table: “Faith in God for Girls.” The booklet was distributed at the activity last week. The booklet outlines what the child must do to achieve their potential as a child of god. It assumes that first the child had been baptized and second the parents are on board. In my neighborhood it is not secret that I am not on board. I explained to Kiera that I do not agree with the contents of the booklet. She became very upset with me and demanded I give her the booklet back. She went on to tell me that she wanted to go to the activities because she had fun. She also stated they had started a binder for her to track her “personal progress”.
The content in the booklet may be fine for the parents of her friends but it is not acceptable in our home. There is little probability that she would be able to meet the achievement or the award at the end of the program because she is not a baptized member and her dad does not see it as harmless.

I do not spend anytime indoctrinating my children to be atheists. We just do not give them a religious identity. One of my favorite quotes from Richard Dawkins is
“There is no such thing as a catholic child…Only a child with catholic parents.”
In his example he applies this concept to other religions and political philosophies. Religion has to be taught and as a result, for most of us, the religion we end up with is the religion of our parents. It is that phenomenon that allows religions to regionalize. There is a certain smugness that results from believing we have the answer and as a result we do not have to stop and consider the other person or family that may be affected. In Kiera’s case the activity days are agenda driven and she will not be attending in the future. This will be viewed as a harsh decision but they would feel the same way if I invited their children in and told them why I don’t believe there is a god.

This video illustrates the above paragraph. The discussion starts at about 5 minutes in.