Engaging in Your City

Living an intentional life goes beyond your own household. It means living intentionally in community, in the neighborhood and city that you live in. Living a life of purpose that is far more than what most people realize minimalism is. It is, at its core, being engaged in what’s going on around you in the communities you call home and recognizing needs in those areas to fill. It’s helping your friends find fulfillment outside of material possessions, giving to those who don’t have any basic worldly possessions, and choosing to live with a local mindset.

I believe in this idea so much. It requires more effort, eyes to see what is around you, and a loving heart to put others above yourself, but it is the most rewarding way to live. Basically, you won’t be able to just jump in your car, drive to the store, use the self checkout machine, and come back home without having made contact with one person. Over time, you will be so engaged with your community and the people around you that you will know the clerks at the store and their stories, you will notice the handicapped couple that ride their electric wheelchairs to the store in any weather and stop to talk to them, and you will notice where sidewalks need new pavement and appreciate when they get it. Here are some ideas about how to take the first steps to get there:

-Walk, Ride a Bike, or Take the Bus: You won’t see your city intentionally from the seat in your car. You will, however, know all of the songs on the radio and how to cultivate anger over construction sites and that doesn’t do anyone good. For this step, I’m not even asking you to stop taking your car to work. Even if you just try this to the coffee shop or a friends house, try it and recognize all of the new things you’ve never noticed. What I notice on my bike/bus commute in the morning is how much trash is always surrounding my bus stop, how there are about 7 gas stations on my 4 mile bike commute, and how the 76 bus is so busy now that they took out the 15 minute stops that there are always people standing in the bus. This step is all about being aware. We will talk about what to do with that awareness later, but for now, open your eyes to the things around you that you’ve never noticed behind your windshield.

-Invest in the Local Economy: Here in Colorado, supporting local business is huge. You will hear people talk about it all the time. And I know here in Denver, we’ve been hit by the bad economy, but I truly believe we are not feeling it as much as other cities because we all rally together to support local businesses and they are thriving. Three years ago, a time when it was pretty dumb to start a business, my salon popped up and the four of us that work together are doing really well because of our client’s commitments to supporting a locally owned salon. But not only does it keep the city going when things hit, it allows you to see your city in a different way. You get to know the owner of your coffee shop and hear about how he started it twenty years ago. You get to buy your vegetables from Al’s Garden next door to my salon and support someone who’s lived in the area for generations. You get to start a business doing what you’ve always wanted to do because you know people will be there. And you get to put real faces with every business you support, shedding a whole new light on the city you live in.

-Talk to People: Ask your barista/bus driver/waiter/store clerk their name, and if you have more than a couple seconds, ask about their story. Get to know the people that you see day in and day out, but never find the time to get to know. These are the people that you do community with whether you realize it or not and they are the ones that contribute to making your life what it is with their service. Thank them for what they do and try to spend time around them. If you are going to work on a project, do it at the coffee shop and spend a few minutes talking to your barista. If you have a few minutes, go talk to your neighbor that you always see smoking outside alone and hear their story.

I once heard an amazing story about a young man who was learning how to “evangelize”. He was very eager and excited to the get the message of Jesus out to those in the inner-city he was working in. He knocked on a woman’s door with a Bible in hand and asked her if she knew Jesus Christ. She became upset because she had other things to do and slammed the door. The young man felt discouraged and wasn’t sure how to proceed. He remembered that the woman had been smoking cigarettes and the baby she was holding wasn’t wearing a diaper, so he headed to the nearest store and bought cigarettes and diapers. When he went back to the woman’s house, she let him in and they sat together smoking cigarettes, playing with her baby, and talking. That young man learned a valuable lesson about people that day. All of us just want someone who genuinely cares and wants to know us. Whether you are a missionary like that young man or a hairstylist like me, make sure people know you hear them. Once you start doing this, your involvement in the city comes from such a heart of love for the city because you actually know the people that make it up.

-Live in Community: If you are single, this means living with roommates. If you are married or have children, this can mean living with roommates. If you can’t do either of these things, living in community means having best friends that challenge, strengthen, and confide in you daily. It means learning how to love and forgive, learning to continue on when you can’t seem to get through. It means doing life with others of all ages, demographics and backgrounds. This is a central concept to engaging in your city. The people around you make up the city you live in, and by living in community with them, you are learning the key principles of living intentionally, for yourself and others.

-Notice the Practical Things Around You: This is kind of the next BIG step. You can learn to do all of the things above, but if you don’t actively notice what’s going on in your city, you will never reach this intentionality. As you start to form relationships, take notice of what’s going on. In the last week of challenging myself to do this, I’ve noticed I have a neighbor who wears the same cut-off shorts all the time, sometimes even when it’s freezing outside. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people on the bus don’t realize the fare recently went up and don’t have the extra 25 cents to ride. On a larger scale, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of talk about being pro-life or pro-choice and that we have plenty of protesters at abortion clinics. And something I realized yesterday, there is a high school close to my salon that is mostly low-income and has a 46% graduation rate. It is impossible to ignore these things if you are out walking to your store, talking to the people you meet, and getting to know your city. I emphasize the seriousness of this because you will probably not see these things if you choose to stay closed off in the same bubble of friends you grew up with, in the suburbs, always in your car.

-Do Something About What you See: This is the buildup, the seemingly last step. Once you’ve gone through all of the things above and have become an integral part of the lifeblood of your city, you have to do something. And guess what? It never ends. You will always be working on this step. Remember my neighbor that wears the same shorts? I’ve committed to getting him a gift card to a clothing store nearby. And the people I notice who can’t pay bus fare? I’ve started carrying extra change in my wallet to pay their extra fare. The abortion protesters? A friend made me aware of this situation, and I’ve decided that in the near future I’m volunteering to work with a pregnancy center to counsel women, because nothing speaks louder than our love. I’ve also committed to starting a group for people to go to the abortion clinics that people protest at and staying after the protesters go home to pray with and talk to the girls coming out afterwards, because that seems to be when they need someone to listen to them the most. And the high school with the 46% graduation rate? I spoke with someone about volunteering my services to help do hair for girls heading to prom and helping out with their after-prom dance. I’ve been made aware that the same high school also has a high amount of teen pregnancy and I’d love to help reduce that by giving them a safe place to go after prom.

I say these things not to toot my own horn, but to show you my heart. I wanted to be invisible in this city for the last three years and turn a blind eye to the things I saw. I’ve spent too much time saying someone else would step up and take care of it. But after living intentionally on a small scale, these are the things I’m noticing on a larger, city-wide scale and my heart is breaking for the city I’ve come to love. As my heart breaks, however, I’m coming up with ways that I can help. And that’s what this way of life is about. Living small so not only can you find life away from material possessions and fleeting desires, but also so you can spend that extra time investing in your community. Making the place you love that much better. And that is what it looks like to engage in your city.

**Thanks for reading my thoughts! If you’d like to get an e-mail when I post new material, subscribe to the right. And if not, then please tell a friend about what inspired you and spread the word, or comment below to let me know what you loved! Thanks!

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