“What is your reaction to Pope Francis?”
“When did you first become aware of politics and what was the situation?”
The group gathered Wednesday night at the Vanderbilt Divinity School eagerly engaged in these buzz questions as we began our Nashville town hall meeting.
We Nuns on the Bus are on the road to hear the stories of people we meet and take them with us to Washington. These encounters are opening us to new realities, new understandings and new possibilities.
At each town hall meeting Sister Simone asks, “What are the divides and challenges here in your area?”
While sharing the fruit of their small group conversations with the whole gathering, mention of Nashville being the “It City” kept arising. We wondered what was happening; what they were talking about. “It City” was interspersed with their concerns about lack of public transportation, the collapse of public education, the dearth of mental health services, gentrification with the loss of housing and racism. A lot is being done to attract tourists and young people to the city, they explained. So that it becomes “the place to be.” It’s where it’s happening.
“Is it more about being seen than being?” they asked.
Clearly those present are about being: well-being and whole being. They have deep desires and wider visions for their city and all its residents: quality education opportunities for all, affordable housing, adequate and accessible mental health care, provision of health care through Medicaid expansion, recognition of the contributions of immigrants, having an adequate tax base. More soul than glitz.
When asked about how they can address these challenges, they spoke of the need to stop “otherizing” people. Of moving out of their “silos” and having conversations in parts of the city where they usually don’t go. Of bridging the divides by forming partnerships across existing ethnic, geographical and generational boundaries.
We all have a tendency to want to be “it” and a desire to be “where it’s at.” I wonder what that means for me and for us. What would “it” look like?
Yes, the encounter with the folks in Nashville has opened me to a new understanding of what “it” is: working to form a community where all are cared for and cared about, where all belong. Wouldn’t you want to live there? Wouldn’t that be “where it’s at”?
[Jan Cebula, OSF, is liaison to women religious in the United States for Global Sisters Report. She joined the Nuns on the Bus Sept. 16 and will be riding with them all the way to Washington, D.C. Sept. 22.]