Peter Block: Art calling out empire

I’m attending an amazing conference in San Antonio titled “Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness.”

Here are my notes from Peter Block’s session titled “Art Calling Out Empire.” (The following notes are close to being quotes but there is no guaranteed precision so I will not use quote marks. It would be best to see them as paraphrases.)

“Empire” (a patriarchal, top-down system) stands for control and predictability. … A triangle is the symbol of empire.

Most systems have organized effort in a certain predictable way.

Community or neighborliness is able to imagine another world, a different world from empire.

How do you create a future distinct from the past?

Help people create an alternative future.

What is the methodology of transformation?

The patriarchal methodology is to create a blueprint of the future you want. You then determine how to measure it. You train people for that future. Then you appraise performance. These are the tools of patriarchy. It’s not destructive, it just makes things a little better.

Community thinks bigger. It organizes certain core beliefs.

If I believe I can help you (as the patriarchal culture asserts), I’ve established superiority over you. … You are, in essence, deficient.

Sports is the dominant metaphor for this patriarchal culture — competition. … In this culture we think poor people are at fault.

With communal transformation you can’t explain everything by personal history.

We can reconstruct our way into an alternate future.

What do we do when we come together?

A room without windows makes nature obsolete.

The circle is the symbol of community.

Focusing on deficiences doesn’t make them better. Focus on gifts.

Community is built on relatedness, not planning. … It’s a shift in narrative. Transformation is a shift in narrative. … I can’t be explained by my history. Narrative is just a constructed history.

Poverty is the absence of possibility. … The work is to shift the narrative. … Small groups shift the narrative.

(As a participant in community, you are a citizen. I didn’t get this point well in my notes.)

“Citizens” in small groups engaged in conversation change the world.

Art brings us together. … We tend to treat it as peripheral.

Talk about possibilities, not problems. Talking about problems becomes a barrier to transformation. … You have to show up as a change agent.

I am my commitments.

(Block then divided us into groups of three. He told us not to offer help to one another because “help is a colonizing form of existence.” He told us to substitute curiosity for providing help. We were to see with our needs less than nine inches apart. In preparation for our dialogue he also said, “Research is not very compelling. … Connectedness is what changes people.” Each person in the group then answer these two questions: Why is it important for you to be here today? What’s the crossroads you are at?)

In response to Block’s presentation, Walter Brueggemann offered the following comments:

Exodus 15, which deals with the period after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, says the “first act of their citizenship was to dance.”

Also in response, John McKnight offered the following:

The world of empire is a world of pretense. Empire controls people in order to produce a lot of the same thing. This creates the need for a consumer of these many things.

The triangle symbolizing empire stands for control, production and consumption.

There is a whole other world outside the market (that empire doesn’t see). What is the life outside of market about? It is about consent, care (service) and citizenship (everyone equals power).

My reaction to Block’s presentation: This is so different from how organizations normally function, but it’s so compelling. I wonder, how does it fit with a Jesus-centric culture.

Block made some final comments: Art doesn’t need a facilitator. … Art invites performance. … The audience makes the art.

3 thoughts on “Peter Block: Art calling out empire

  1. Thanks so much for posting these notes – I wondered what Peter would have to say about the topic AND how much fun he and John and Walter must have playing with words together.

    If you want to learn more about the small group process Peter uses – there is a booklet online at our A Small Group community – – Peter offers it for free as a gift. (yes, I live in Cincinnati and am part of ASG community for 7+ yrs.)

    Re: how does this fit in a “Jesus-centric culture” – I think it fits perfectly. I carry it with me where ever I show up. Church is famous for small groups, but my experience of over 40 years is we do them badly. We still follow a hierarchic model. When I can, I approach it with curiosity and ask if we could take a minute to each share “why is it important for you to be here today?” – that one question can begin the shift. The response to the question has the power to reveal everyone’s intentions or expectations for showing up and helps them to become fully present to the gathering.

    And when possible, I have convened my church small groups using the whole process and people are surprised by how much they are willing to risk being vulnerable. (Brene’ Brown’s work on vulnerability identifies why this is so powerful)

    I am currently a church refugee because it became too difficult for me to continue living in the hierarchical system.

    And I’m rambling. I could go on and on about the church and the small group.

    thanks so much for the notes. I’ve passed them on.

    btw: one correction to your notes on “We were to see with our needs less than nine inches apart.” – typically, Peter says, “sit within 9 inches of each others knees”

    This is all about the “social architecture”

  2. Thanks for your great words, Elaine. If that was rambling, I enjoyed it. Thanks for your correction of error; in my haste my thoughts don’t always make it correctly to my fingers. Now that I see it, though, I think my mistake was kind of interesting — as we sit within 9 inches of each others knees maybe it will be within 9 inches of our needs, as well. Again, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s