“I haven’t eaten in three days,” said the nine-year-old who sat opposite the table of me. He spoke in a nonchalant tone only infantile naïveté could dare attempt to explain.
“Is that so?” I melodramatically replied, unsure of what words would work to soothe such a sore stomach. “In that case, I hope you really enjoy your pizza,” was all I could manage to elaborate before he extended his hand across the table.
It was the last day of the semester. The kids made pizza and played football all day: the only proper manner in which to celebrate such a special day. I decided to take a break from graduate studies this summer and took a job in an ecumenical church setting in São Paulo, Brasil. Among other things, this entails working with a school that caters to children from the peripheries of Brazilian asphalt society, known as favelas.
“Teacher, would you like some of my pizza?” He asked as he extended his hand. A small, balled fist filled with homemade pizza reached out toward me.
“Well, now, I wouldn’t want to detract from your hard work. You made the pizza, I know you’ve got it in you to finish it,” I told him, hesitating to take what I knew could be his only meal for a day… or longer.
“What kind of person would I be if I didn’t share what I’ve made, teacher? You can’t just sit there and watch me eat… can you?” His question struck me in my heart of hearts.
I ended up taking the piece of pizza. “See, teacher, you didn’t have anything to eat, but I gave you some of my pizza. Isn’t it nice to have someone to share with?”
The mind of a child gave me a sense, for the first time in a very long time, of community. I had chosen to sit with him at the table, and he had chosen to share his pizza with me, knowing he would be hungry later. The expectation of intentional coexistence is not one that should be taken lightly, nor should it come as a surprise. This is, most unfortunately, often the case.
Despite being the teacher, I am still “The new guy.” I am the foreigner. I am estranged from a culture that has dared to embrace me for the sake of peaceful, affirming, and intentional coexistence.
It is, therefore, my responsibility to adapt and understand both my situation as an outsider and the socio-cultural situation of those around me. A mutual comprehension of these circumstances leads to what I have noted above concerning coexistence: it is peaceful, affirming, and intentional. This, however, is not merely restricted to those living abroad. To understand your neighbor is to understand the world around you: it is about adaptation and inclusion. That is to say, coexistence embraces and encompasses loving acceptance.
It is loving acceptance that brings us to the point of this post: intentional community. I define intentional community as human beings coming together to understand, love, and support one another with a common end goal of peaceful coexistence, mutual sustenance, and loving acceptance.
However, I find this definition lacking what the title of this post includes, “ecology.” To justify my title necessitates that I expound upon this definition of intentional community. Truly intentional community is not found in simple (or complex, for that matter) human-to-human interaction, though it may include mutual love, understanding, and support. Too long has humankind operated under the assumption that a grand competition exists between humanity and nature. Peaceful coexistence can occur when humankind decides that they, too, are a part of nature, not a thing apart from it.
Too often humanity finds itself on the wrong side of an invented struggle, made in the name of progress, between the natural world and a world manufactured. Understanding the irreparable damage done to a planet that is quickly deteriorating and the effects that will be felt in the daily lives of humans all over the globe has to it, I have found, some serious shock value. Humankind must accept itself as a part of nature, not something set against it, if we are to leave a planet behind for our children.
“Wouldn’t you like to have someone to share it with?”
To say that the fate of the human race and the survival of our planet depends on such a decision, I believe is not too brave a statement to make. So now I am left wondering: what would it look like if humankind offered to nature a piece of its pizza?
“What kind of people would we be?”
Article by: Nathaniel Sprouse, student of Divinity at Vanderbilt University.