“The word commonly used to denote community is culture. It is the embedded way that a group of people have learned how to live in a place. A culture carries the messages and rules without having laws and media. Culture means that here in this place, we do things in a particular way.
Americans have a culture of consumerism. In the consumer society, we have homogenized and diluted our communal culture and replaced it with a market-defined culture. When you break a culture apart and say, “How can we sell kindness or care or cooperation? How can we sell it, train it, curricularize it?” you are dis-embedding from communities the properties that made them whole.” John McKnight and Peter Block The Abundant Community”
This post is a continuation of my series of posts inspired by John McKnight and Peter Block’s book The Abundant community. McKnight and Block, identify 3 traits found in the culture of abundant communities: the way it treats time, allows for silence, and values storytelling.
“A hallmark of modernism is that time is something we seem never to have enough of. Perhaps the most important marker of an abundant community is to treat time as if we have plenty.
In systems, we “spend” time as a scarce resource…speed is an inherent value. Consumers will pay a premium to not have to wait.
To be not in a hurry is a quality of community life. In community, if asked whether we are busy, the answer is, “Come on in.” Our being together is the priority. In systems, when we are interrupted, we say, “I’ll get back to you.”
The opposite of speed is slow, or a natural pace. It is intimately related to the idea of association and hospitality. In community, I am in control of time. I am biding my time. When I am in the institutional world, time controls me. I am on a schedule.
For the neighborhood to awaken its power, we need to shift our relationship to time. Time, then, is an instrument that allows communities to become competent. A willingness to take time. Time in systems is scarce; in community it is abundant.”
As I reflect on this particular trait and the culture that I have created through my community development efforts, this is the one that I struggle the most with.
This summer, we are engaged in community listening efforts in seven neighborhoods. In four of the neighborhoods, the listening efforts were led by volunteers and in three by paid staff.
People who are volunteering have the luxury of being on their own time. Those who are being paid by an institution, are using someone else’s time. Time is literally money. When time is being paid for, it is system generated and not a natural element of community life.
Guess which communities were most successful? The answer: Those with volunteers.
What I realized in reading McKnight’s insights is that you can’t pay people to be present. When time is money, there will always be a need for speed.
“As with time, the consumer culture thinks silence is a problem to be solved. Silence in the context of community takes on a spiritual dimension; it puts us in contact with the divine and our own growth. Silence is also a form of communion, and of intimacy. It is simply being with another, feeling the joy of our presence together.” McKnight and Block
While I was in seminary, the most impactful classes I took were spirituality courses taught by Dr. Steven Brachlow. Dr. Brachlow challenged us to discover the power of silence and the gift of meditation and contemplation. I learned that we tap into our own abundance and the abundance of our community by creating room for silence, reflection, and contemplation.
Ten years ago, as Embrace Richmond was getting off the ground, I was in seminary and starting a non-profit and recognized that the only way I was going to be an effective minister was if I created an intentional practice of spending time in silence. That year, my husband and I purchased property in the middle of nowhere. It is our own private wilderness. When I feel my schedule and my mind becoming cluttered with too many voices and too much activity, I pack up the car and I go to my cabin in the woods and I spend a few days in silence. Nothing restores my soul like stillness and silence.
While this has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me, I realized that I have not been intentional about creating times of silence in my community ministry.
So, how do we bring this gift into our communities? What does it look like to practice silence in a communal context? This was the question that my fellow ABCD practitioners were asking one another this morning and a question that I suspect many of you have asked in your own ministry.
“A culture is built through the stories we tell and what we choose to talk about—our narrative. The stories of a competent community are a narrative about our talents, properties, and gifts.
A primary function of a family, neighborhood, or community is to create its story. Telling the story gives body to the collective. Communities become competent when people tell stories that link to their gifts.
The stories about our gifts, about how our kindness, our generosity, our trust, our forgiveness define us and give our life meaning—this is where an authentic sense of identity comes from, not from what we buy. The community way occurs when we have a culture that makes naming what works well acceptable and easy.” Block and McKnight
I recently wrote a post titled, “What do we do with the darkness?” I shared how the stories from the youth in our summer listening project have made me incredibly aware of the darkness that they face in their communities as well as in their schools. I have felt overwhelmed by these stories and a bit paralyzed as to how to move forward.
In that post, I shared this verse from John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I realized after reading McKnight’s comments that I have focused on the darkness and what I need to focus on is how these young people are overcoming that darkness. The fact that they are still walking in the light and seeking to tell a different story.
One of the practices in the book is to name one thing you did each day that you are proud of. This practice is exactly what McKnight is talking about. It challenges us to focus on our gifts and our ability to overcome.
This section of the Abundant Community was a challenging one for me. I see how I am operating out of a systems mindset but it is also helpful for me to know that I can overcome the cultural conditioning of our consumer society and that by changing my relationship to time, increasing the level of silence and focusing on life-giving stories, I can foster a more abundant community.