Tag: Peter Block

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.

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.

John McKnight: The gift of fallibility

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

Here are my notes from John McKnight’s session titled “The Gift of Fallibility.” (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.)

The institutional world seems to be in constant struggle with infallibility. It views fallibility as something to get rid of, … to get rid of our uniqueness.

An institution has a way of doing things by taking the person out of it. … Uniqueness includes fallibility.

Institutions represent the pursuit of perfection — to do away with our humanity.

Community is a place where fallible people can reside.

Fallibility is also related to friend. … You care even though you know your friend’s shortcomings.

People who call us servants are always fixing us, but friends don’t always try to fix us.

In communities, people know things by stories.

In community, we ignore people’s deficits and honor their capacities.

What makes community is its power to live with our infallibilities.

What label do you have? A powerful person is labeled by the full half of their half full glass.

Labeling hurts us the most in community. To have the most powerful community we must see the gift in every person.

Community is a group of people who by their very act of coming together create outsiders. The more people in a community are not contributing their gifts, the weaker the community. And labels cause this.

Make a list of outsiders you know.

How do communities grow by widening the circle? Two methods are pursued.

1) Compassionate people — their compassion leads them to see the hurt in outsiders, but compassion doesn’t enlarge the boundary of the community.

2) A more effective way: Communities that intentionally go about identifying the gifts of those at the edge. Gift-centeredness is the building block of a strong community.

Special skill: To see the abilities behind the label. … These people are “gift discerners.” Gift finders use the following categories to explore: gifts (natural), skills (learned), passion and teachables (things the person can teach).

We talk a lot about the importance of diversity. The greatest diversity can be found in giftedness.

Making visible our gifts, skills, passions and teachables is the baseline of community development.

To make all of these gifts visible requires hospitality. You can’t offer hospitality to a friend; you can only offer it to a stranger. “We need you here.” Because that stranger knows songs and stories that no one else knows and from which others can benefit.

We all have a window into the world. People who are different help us see a different world.

Song by Larry Cohen: “There is a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.”

Every outsider is saying “invite me.”

“A gret neighborhood creates places where we can fall in love, … and say, ‘how did I ever do without you.'”

Peter Block responded to McKnight’s remarks: The community has a job to do. Regarding schools, the children need to know what they can do.

Walter Brueggemann responded: Ultimate neighborly truth comes in small narrative vignettes. Empire exists by large narratives. … The testimonial mode of truth in the Bible corresponds with John McKnight’s mode (of small vignettes), and small narrative vignettes may be fallible.

My reaction: So much to think about. Such a different way of seeing the world.

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.