Category: Community

MLK saw community as essential

Love was critical in the thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it relates directly to the importance of community.

In King’s treatment of love in Stride Toward Freedom, he connects love to community. He repeats “community” 13 times in one paragraph, thus pointing to the importance of community in his thinking. To cite most of the uses of the word and reveal how King viewed community, here is a portion of the paragraph:

Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. . . .Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community. It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore, if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community.

King adds later, “Love, agape, is the only cement that can hold this broken community together.”

A key phrase surfaces often in King and writings about him—”beloved community.” He did not coin the phrase; it surfaced earlier in the 20th century through philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. King, a member of the fellowship, “popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning which has captured the imagination of people of goodwill all over the world,” according to The King Center.

In his book about the Montgomery bus boycott, King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” He contrasted beloved community with broken community. “But something must happen so to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.” In beloved community, there will be “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living.”

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)


Muehlhoff speaks on civil communication in CT

Tim Muehlhoff 39033Christian author Tim Muehlhoff says believers need to “yield to God’s power from outside” themselves in order to communicate in a civil, Christlike manner.

Christianity Today has published a Q&A with Muehlhoffregarding his book, I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love (InterVarsity Press, 2014).

Muehlhoff says that “in the heat of the moment” of a conversation a Christian should remember the advice of A.W. Tozer. ”You shall receive power, a potent force from another world invading your life by your consent, getting to the roots of your life and transforming you into someone like Christ.” Muehlhoff says the discipline to yield to God’s power from outside “needs to be in place before the conflict actually happens,” and that comes through practice.

In addition to seeking God’s help, Muehlhoff offered some pointers. For a conversation to “make progress, you need to acknowledge the other person’s emotions. It doesn’t mean you agree with what they’re saying, but you need to acknowledge that he or she is upset or passionate. If you don’t, there will be a roadblock in the conversation.”

Also, a good strategy is to ”emphasize points of agreement” or state a “willingness to consider a different point of view.” The result will be that the other person will “begin to mirror that attitude back.”

(This post originally appeared on the site.)

When safety and security meet real life

“Whether we are Safe and Secure in our neighborhood is largely within our domain.” (p.2, The Abundant Community, by John McKnight and Peter Block, authors’ italic)

That is the second of seven “Elements of Satisfaction” listed by John and Peter. So, is it true?

Someone dear to me has had an experience in the past few days that has struck fear in her heart. She lives in an urban setting and walks about four blocks to work. Recently, a man began to seek out encounters with her along the streets. He is possibly homeless and possibly mentally impaired.

Thursday, he followed her home and gained entrance to her “secure” apartment building when another resident let him in–a surveillance camera confirmed the means of entry. I will not give all of the details about what happened, but the man gained entrance the next day as well. This young lady has been unhurt to this point, but the intruder has engaged in some gross and threatening behavior.

The police have investigated, sort of, but said they can’t do anything unless the man touches the woman. She is frightened and angry, and all she can seemingly do is wait to be attacked physically. Her home is no longer safe and secure; it is, in some sense, no longer home.

So back to McKnight and Block. The authors say: “Many studies show that there are two major determinants of our local safety. One is how many neighbors we know by name. The other is how often we are present and associated in public–outside our houses. Police activity is a minor protection compared with these two community actions. This is why most informed police leaders advocate for block watch and community policing. They know their limits and call on citizens to become connected.”

Well, the police in the situation mentioned above have confirmed a portion of this quote. They offer “minor protection.”

Regarding connection with neighbors, this young woman does know a few people by name–she’s friendly and gregarious. But obviously there is a lot of disconnection among residents of the apartment complex because twice residents have allowed this stranger to gain entrance because he or she obviously thought the stranger was a resident, as well.

McKnight and Block’s call to connection takes on new urgency in this one particular situation. Lives and well-being are at stake. Community and neighborliness can seem rather quaint when talked about in a book. It becomes very real, alive, uplifting and dangerous in the real world.

While our safety and security are “largely within our domain,” they are not completely. I think the authors understand this, and thus the “largely” becomes a very important word.

The power of what we have

“People are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace.”

That’s how John McKnight and Peter Block start their book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. I wanted to know more after hearing John, Peter and Walter Brueggemann speak at the Abundant Communities conference in San Antonio, so I’ve just started the book and will share some highlights here. (All of the quotes on this post are from pages 1-2.)

In many nations, local people are having the “courage to discover their own way–to create a culture made by their own vision. … [I]t is a culture that starts the same way, with an awakening:

“First, we see the abundance that we have–individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours.

“Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have.

“Third, we know that these connections are no accident. They happen when we individually and collectively act to make the connections–they don’t just happen by themselves.”

Two words jumped out at me as I read this–“we have.” This book is not about something we do not have but need to acquire; it’s about what we have. That may not seem like a biggie, but so much of what we encounter today through advertising, self-help advice, and even church is about what we need but do not have. The simplicity of the notion that we have what we need seems powerfully freeing.

And while we may have what we need, I like the notion that this is something we’re going to have to work for. That squares with our experience of life.

The three steps mentioned above “awaken us to our abundance, not our scarcities. … [And they] can often be undermined by great corporate, governmental, professional, and academic institutions.”

For those of us who attended the San Antonio conference, these words sound so familiar. Walter Brueggemann made a superb biblical connection between the ideas of abundance and scarcity. (I blogged my notes from Walter’s remarks.)

And then John and Peter pick up the notion of citizenship about which I didn’t get good notes during the conference.

“It is our calling as citizens to ignore the voices that create dependency, for we are called to find our own way. …”

In a democracy, “we strive to be citizens–people with the vision and the power to create our own way, a culture of community capacity, connection, and care.”

I look forward to hearing more about these notions of citizenship.

“… [S]trong communities are vital, productive, and important. And above all they are necessary because of the inherent limits of all institutions.

“No matter how hard they try, our very best institutions cannot do many things that only we can do. And the things that only we can do as a family and a neighborhood are vital to a decent, good, satisfied life.”

I want to be part of something that is vital, productive, and important. I want to have a decent, good, satisfied life. I do experience all of this in many ways now but look forward to seeing how John and Peter open new possibilities for us.

Entering the community of coffee

I definitely have entered a new world — the coffee culture. I feel it most in a Starbucks. I’ve been twice since taking up coffee. It’s like entering a foreign culture where the people speak a different language and know how to navigate the crazy traffic.

There are cappuccinos, Frappuccinos, lattes, espressos, regular coffee, Guatemalan coffee, and Lord knows what else. And that’s just the drinks. It’s mind-numbing.

When I enter a store I don’t know where to go or what to order. Yesterday, I picked the first thing on the menu.

“A tall Pike Place Roast,” I say, like I know what I’m doing.

“Room for cream?”

My mind reels. I wasn’t expecting a question, but I navigate it quickly. “Yes.”

Then I look around for the cream. I don’t see any of those little cups of cream that seem to be with every pot of coffee. No Coffee Mate non-dairy creamer either. So I forget the pretense. “I’m new at this. Where’s the cream.”

The guy is nice, doesn’t condescend to my obvious coffee illiteracy. He points to a nearby counter with two pots–one a non-fat and one a half-and-half. I don’t know what the latter is so, I choose non-fat. But nothing will pour out. A young lady is waiting. I loosen the lid; still nothing. I take it off and solve my problem.

I explain to the guy behind the counter that I just started drinking last year on a trip to Guatemala.

“Have you tried our Guatemalan coffee?”


“Would you like a sample.”


But he doesn’t give me one, so I figure he forgot. I take a seat, and in a few minutes he brings me half a cup of Guatemalan coffee. It’s good, but I’m not discerning enough yet to tell much difference.

Everyone else who comes into the place seems to be known by the workers. I started talking to a guy sitting nearby who is studying for his GRE test. Turns out he actually works there and has hung around to study. He wants to do graduate study in Hebrew–impressive.

The Starbucks culture reminds me of the old “Cheers” TV show where “everyone knows your name.” I don’t go to bars, so I could really like this coffee hangout thing.

It fits with the stuff I’m reading about community. John McKnight and Peter Block use “community” as a “general term to describe what occurs outside systems and institutions. It also refers to an aggregation of people or neighborhoods that have something in common. It is both a place and an experience of connectedness.” (The Abundant Community, p.5)

(Now, I will hasten to add that McKnight and Block, in their book, are talking about community in a different sense, one that is much richer, I think, than the Starbucks-type community. I will write some on that soon after I’ve read some more of the book.)

The coffee culture is a form of community that transcends systems and institutions. It can be found in virtually every business, in many churches and just about anyplace where you can find people. The Starbucks culture seems to be a community that has arisen within an institution. The business made it possible, but the culture is more than the commodity-for-money transaction.

And, of course, my Louisiana friends have already made it clear to me that the best brew is Community Coffee–possibly aptly named.

I don’t begin to understand much about this coffee culture yet, but I find it immensely interesting and inviting.

What kind of neighbor am I?

From "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals"

My house sits on top of a hill, in the middle of a meadow, with plenty of sky above. When we moved into it 10 years ago, we could not see another single house when the trees had their leaves and only parts of one or two when the leaves fell to the ground. Now, we can see two houses well and parts of others, but they are all at least a half-mile away.

Cottonwood community is not your typical American neighborhood. It’s obviously rural, and everyone has a good bit of space–measured in acres, not square feet.

This community was, however, once quite typical for a small rural one. There was a school and a church, lots of houses scattered here and there, and plenty of kids to help with the work and to grab some time for play on occasion.

World War II and its aftermath pretty much emptied the place. First the boys went off to war. Then the girls went to Dallas to work. Then boys came home, married the girls and mostly stayed in the city to work while the girls raised the next generation.

My mom and dad fit that pattern, but they were surely not alone. The school had disappeared before the war because  the nearby Eustace schools could do the job more efficiently. Then, sometime in the 1960s, the church ceased to meet and the man who owned the adjacent land sort of gobbled up the vacant structure and returned it to a pastoral scene.

Now, people are slowly moving back in. Some of us are the offspring of the earlier residents, and some are new. We make a pretty nice community, but I suspect it’s rather different from the one before World War II. I don’t think there are as many kids, and those around spend most of there days miles away at school.

As for we adults, I’m not the only one who drives more than 60 miles one way to work. The money is still in Dallas. But we do like it in the country.

While we’re still called Cottonwood, I’m not sure how much of a community we are, at least at this point. One couple gathered us all together one evening a while back, and that was really nice. But the reason for the gathering was for us to keep a better watch over each other because some thievery had come to the area. It was, however, a start, a good start. But then the good man who pulled us together up and died an untimely death.

I just started reading The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, by John McKnight and Peter Block. One thing I’ve picked up already is that if the community I live in is really going to be a community, I have to help make it happen. I have to become a neighbor. We will see.

Wrap-up on Abundant Communities conference

My thanks go out to all who organized this gathering at Trinity University. The content was superb, but it was successful for more than just the content. It really served to create a community of sorts through the structure of the event and through the creation of some of that structure on the fly.

I do not like small groups at conferences because the introvert in me doesn’t want it. But I also find all small groups to be such a blessing. Mary, Sandra, Anna, Michael, Charlie, Gerald, Eliud and others made this more than a conference; they made it an experience.

Also, Jill Janov did a great job of facilitating everything. I especially loved the poetry. I would love to have a copy of the one she wrote about the first day.

I want to close this with the blessing that Tom Heger led us through Wednesday night. Here it is:

Go out into the world in peace

Have courage

Hold on to what is good

Return no one evil for evil

Strengthen the fainthearted

Support the weak

Help the suffering

Honor all men and women,

Little boys and little girls

Love and serve each other

Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Push back from the community

The final morning of the Abundant Community conference was like none other that I have attended. They gave participants a chance to push back on the things they had heard the day before. This showed great courage on behalf of the speakers, and it modeled true community. A speech, in essence, is an “empire” expression. A discussion is by its nature communitarian.

I did not take notes of the various comments, but they were excellent. I did write down the essence of one person’s comments: “Community also creates rigid lines that separate.” And, “there was little mention yesterday of justice.”

Peter Block then responded. As with my previous posts, these are basic paraphrases, not quotes. Here are my notes from Peter:

Patriarchy is held together by force. Structure is not bad. We’re trying to create structures that affirm community, invite widespread participation, that challenges certainty. … Part of your congregational role is to create structures that promote community.

I am broken, but I resist being fixed. All efforts of self-improvement have an element of contempt in them.

Doubts and reservations create a need for me to customize what I hear.

How do you help people become committed and not compliant (in an organization you lead).

“Take it to scale” is an effort of empire.

“Speed” is an effort of empire.

They are obstacles to transformation.

Dissent is important. It’s the beginning of the conversation that may lead to commitment.

When you allow people to have their doubts and reservations and you don’t have an answer for them is the beginning of community. The leadership function is to be a catalyst and then to organize the structure.

What commitments do you have that you no longer mean?

Create space for people to change their minds.

What are you mad about that nobody knows?

You want to help people express their doubts. When released, they no longer control me.

The Walter Brueggemann added this important note:

In our world we have to accommodate empire. The important thing is that we be aware of it.

Walter Brueggemann: The food fight

Ferrell Foster and Walter Brueggemann

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

Here are my notes from Walter Brueggemann’s session titled “The Food Fight: Accumulation and Abundance.” (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.)

Food draws together all the important themes of biblical faith.

Production — Distribution — Consumption — Environment

Hunger for food overlaps our spiritual hunger.

We are in a food fight — a fight between two narratives about food. Who gets it and how much and who decides?

1) Aggressive Accumulation

The metaphor is Pharoah

Genesis 12: Abraham went to Egypt because Pharoah had food.

Genesis 41: Pharoah has acute anxiety; he has a nightmare. He dreams of cows and wheat. Joseph told him it was a dream about scarcity.

With a scarcity mindset, the more you have the more you worry about running out. Pharoah dreamed scarcity out of his anxiety. Therefore, Pharoah had the need to accumulate food.

Anxiety = Scarcity = Accumulation = Monopoly (Pharoah controlling all of the food)

People get into slavery because of market manipulation of the economy.

Exodus 1 says Pharoah treated slaves ruthlessly. Monopoly = Violence

Later, Solomon becomes the Pharoah of ancient Israel. (1 Kings 4:22) Solomon was an accumulator of food, weapons, wives, wisdom sayings, etc. … Solomon had productive peasants so the transfer of wealth was to urban elites.

Luke 12: A dispute over family resources.

Brueggemann broke us into small groups to deal with these questions: 1) Where do you see this narrative being found in our world? 2) Are there any ways in which you are prone to collude with or participate in this narrative? 3) What steps are necessary for you to depart from this narrative?

The scarcity narrative dominates our culture. The scarcity narrative will never permit healthy, safe community because it’s designed to keep us insecure.

Biblical faith imagines an alternative narrative.

2) Shared, Grateful Abundance

There are three preconditions for abundance:

i) a firm grounding in a conviction about the reliableness of God’s generous creation. … The earth is blessed. … God intended the world to produce abundance. … Psalm 104. … The opposite of creation faith is to imagine that you can be self-sufficient. Creation faith points beyond oneself.

ii) doxology: the total sense of self-abandonment — back to the goodness of God… Praise. … The more we accumulate, the less we have freedom to abandon it to God. … Our desire to accumulate evaporates in wander and awe. … Psalm 11:48. … You can’t let go in a scarcity system.

iii) Sabbath: Exodus 31. … God tells Moses to keep the Sabbath. … v.17 … keep the Sabbath as God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed. … God was “re-souled.” … Sabbath is a cessation from production and consumption in order to get your depleted life back. … Doing productive work 24/7 is a requirement of the scarcity system. … The scarcity system wants exhausted people. Exhausted people do not change systems.

These three are profound acts of resistance against the scarcity narrative.

The exodus from Egypt was a departure from Pharoah’s system. … In Exodus 16, the Israelites said, “Let’s go back.” … It takes enormous intentionality to step outside that narrative. … The wilderness equals no viable life-support system. The coming of manna in the wilderness is the narrative of abundance. In the deepest wilderness, the creative God provides sustenance for the day.

Elishah is a performer of abundance.

In Mark 6, there is a hungry crowd in the wilderness. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. Jesus fed 5,000 people and there were leftovers. in Mark 8, he does it again. Jesus took, thanked, broke and gave. He fed 4,000 with leftovers.

In Mark 8:14, Jesus says, do you not yet understand that the scarcity system has been defeated.

Jesus is saying, “Do not be anxious.”

Mark 6:52 — The disciples did not understand about the bread because their hearts were hard. It reminds you of Pharoah. This is not an accident. They couldn’t get abundance because they were situated in Pharoah’s narrative of scarcity.

As you think about these two narratives they do not break down along Catholic-Protestant lines or conservative-liberal lines. They are at war in our own persons. In our own lives, how do we sort out these two narratives?