Inspiring Places

It’s really difficult to listen to the news without concluding that humanity—or at least civilization—is doomed. From Afghanistan to healthcare, from global climate change to the global economy, the focus is on the massive problems we face and the gigantic barriers to solving them. For every thoughtful analysis of a situation by someone who actually knows something about it, there seem to be twenty bloviating know-nothings trying to compensate for cluelessness with volume.

It’s enough to make you climb into bed and pull the covers up over your head.

So it helps if, every once in a while, we remind ourselves that news is by definition that which is out of the ordinary. As the old saying goes, when a dog bites a man, that’s not news. When a man bites a dog, that is.

We hear about hatred and conflict: racial strife, homophobia, religious intolerance. We don’t hear about the innumerable people of good will whose daily activities include interfaith outreach, efforts on behalf of racial reconciliation, or protecting children from homophobia.

Which brings me to the Spirit and Place Festival, now in its 14th year. Between November 6th and 15th, there will be some 40 programs sponsored by over 100 collaborating organizations, all centered on this year’s theme, “Inspiring Places.”

Spirit & Place grew out of a Polis Center project in the 1990s that examined the relationship between religious practices and urban life. The idea was to explore how the places we live shape our identity. Spirit & Place programs are intended to be “public conversations” rather than lectures or speeches. As their website puts it, “Its mission is to promote civic engagement, respect for diversity, thoughtful reflection, public imagination, and enduring change through creative collaboration among arts, humanities, and religion.”

Inspiring places can be great works of architecture, or humble neighborhoods. Inspiring places can also be gatherings of supportive people focused on improving some aspect of our civic life, or providing a safe and nurturing place for people who need sanctuary and encouragement. Falling into that latter category is PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—which is once again hosting a Spirit and Place event.

On Sunday, November 8, the Indianapolis PFLAG chapter will team with the Indiana Youth Group and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church to sponsor a discussion about nontraditional families. Reverend Barbara Child of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis will help guide a discussion about how people make places inspiring. She will discuss the role of safety and security in a place of sanctuary, and how ordinary people with loving and generous hearts make places inspiring for others.  

PFLAG is one of literally hundreds of organizations and voluntary associations working to make our community better, safer and more nurturing for all of us.

We need to remind ourselves that, for every self-important pundit hurling invective, there are millions of  good people giving their time, effort and money to improve the human environment.

Those people create truly inspiring places.