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Good-natured efforts come in threes

An observation. Gratitude. A possible metaphor.

I regularly walk the uphill roads that take me to the Warren Area High School. It’s a lovely, challenging climb that I’m grateful to be able to do. I share the air and earth up there with birds, bunnies, chipmunks, a singular cat, and numerous deer. Often other walkers, some with dogs. Even a few cyclists. Over the past several months when rounding the curve just beyond the buildings heading toward the path of descent, I lamented the growth of weeds and vines covering the shrubs cleverly cut to form the letters WAHS. They were barely discernable. Until …

And that leads me to gratitude. Thank you to whomever labored to clear away the weeds and vines in, around, and all over the shrubbery-formed letters! It is uplifting now as I pass by to clearly see WAHS planted on the steep hill. As something of a gardener myself, I can only imagine what effort it took to restore that patch of living identification! It’s not perfect, of course. There are gaps, breaks, scars. It’s living after all. But it resembles itself once again.

Which brings me to the possible metaphor. We humans are living beings collected into community. We are scattered on hillsides and clumped together on streets where houses were planted decades ago. We humans have individual identities which are anything but perfect, pristine, pure. We’re living beings after all. We all bear brokenness and scars. But the community we form amassed together also has something of an identity. We might wonder these days what is visible, evident, knowable to those who are not residents. And is that identity obscured by the human version of weeds and vines?

For the past number of months the county has been counted as an area where the cases of COVID have not been rampant. For that we may be grateful. And ongoingly careful. Soon our area of the state will be identified with a color, either red or blue. Four flags stand majestically on the banks of the Allegheny River because history testifies to the presence and influence of Seneca Nation, French, English, and American settlers. We are perhaps noticeably known for the refinery sprawling along the river and offering its artificial stars in the night. And streams of customers over the years have mailed their catalog purchase orders to a postal address identified as Warren, PA where employees of Blair waited to fulfill them.

Yet intertwined with all of these visible markers of our community are the human beings who populate, propel, and perpetuate it. Are we a tolerant, welcoming bunch? Would nonresidents feel safe and comfortable here? Is it evident that we care about children, seek to safeguard natural resources, lean into laboring for justice? Or is there some version of an invasive apathy or a variation of pervasive prejudice distorting our identity in this little patch of God’s good earth?

In the Welcome to his book titled “Community; The Structure of Belonging,” Peter Block writes, “If it is true that we are creating this world, then each of us has the power to heal its woundedness. This is not about guilt, it is about accountability.” Are there gaps to mend? Breaks to bridge? Scars to prevent? If so, we’ve got work to do. It’ll be like pulling the weeds and vines that choke the life out of a beautifully formed identity. If there’s any validity to this possible metaphor, I’m in for rolling up my shirtsleeves! You?

The Rev. Rebecca Taylor is pastor at First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at rebecca@presbyterianwarren.com

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