Reason 4: The lifelong skills learned through New City Neighbors teach the students involved to love well.
In both the Breaktime Bakery and the Urban Farm, 6th-12th grade students are taught practical skills by New City Neighbors staff. Our culture tends to think of skills purely in terms of employment--I learn something so that I can get a job. But Christians should think bigger than this. Any job that is morally legitimate contributes a good or service to the broader society. This means that good work is not just about getting a paycheck. In fact, if we understand it properly, good work means loving our neighbor well. To love, however, requires work to learn practical skills. Allow me to quote from Wendell Berry at length:
"Charity [or love] is a theological virtue and is prompted, no doubt, by a theological emotion, but it is also a practical virtue because it must be practiced. The requirements of this complex charity cannot be fulfilled by smiling in abstract beneficence on our neighbors and on the scenery. It must come to acts, which must come from skills. Real charity calls for the study of agriculture, soil husbandry, engineering, architecture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, the making of monuments and pictures, songs and stories. It calls not just for skills but for the study and criticism of skills, because in all of them a choice must be made: they can be used either charitably or uncharitably.
How can you love your neighbor if you don't know how to build or mend a fence, how to keep your filth out of his water supply and your poison out of his air; or if you do not produce anything and so have nothing to offer, or do not take care of yourself and so become a burden? How can you be a neighbor without applying principle--without bringing virtue to a practical issue? How will you practical virtue without skill?
The ability to be good is not the ability to do nothing. It is not negative or passive. It is the ability to do something well--to do good work for good reasons. In order to be good you have to know how --and this knowing is vast, complex, humble, and humbling; it is of the mind and of the hands, and of neither alone.
The divine mandate to use the world justly and charitably, then, defines every person's moral predicament as that of a steward. But this predicament is hopeless and meaningless unless it produces an appropriate discipline: stewardship. And stewardship is hopeless and meaningless unless it involves long-term courage, perseverance, devotion, and skill. This skill is not to be confused with any accomplishment or grace of spirit or of intellect. It has to do with everyday proprieties in the practical use and care of created things--with 'right livelihood.'" (Berry goes on as well to quote Ps. 24:1, "The earth is the Lord's.") - from "The Gift of Good Land," in The Art of the Commonplace, p. 298-299
What's the point? It's not just that the New City Neighbors staff and volunteers show love to the students to whom they minister by teaching skills in the farm and bakery. It goes beyond that. When the folks at New City Neighbors train the students in skill and responsibility, they are training the students to love others well. To love others takes concrete knowledge and practical skills. So when you buy a dozen cookies from the Bakery or get your produce from the farm, recognize that these things come from love--both the love of the Creator in providing for all creation and the love of other humans, who have put in a labor of love so that we might taste and see that the Lord is good.
To support NCN in their mission of teaching kids to love well, simply go to newcityneighbors.com and click on the "donate now" box. If you'd like to send a support check, send it to:
New City Neighbors
1226 Union Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Or if you'd like to pledge now and pay later, simply send me an email at email@example.com with the amount you'd like to pledge.
Thanks for your support!