I am so thankful that John McKnight and Peter Block teamed up with Walter Brueggemann to write An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture. If you appreciated Block and McKnight’s book The Abundant Community, with its thorough assessment of what makes communities work or Brueggemann’s book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, you will love this book for its clear theological grounding and call to the church to reclaim the ancient spiritual practice of neighboring. (You can read insights from The Abundant Community here and Sabbath as Resistance here.) Below are some of my favorite excerpts:
A reminder of how we got where we are:
“Large worldwide migration to the city, while driven by a desire for a better life, has the side-effect of separating people from their own culture, habits, memories, and ritual ways of living a life. The free market consumer ideology has produced a social disorder; people are no longer embedded in a culture that serves the common wealth, the common good. What was produced was a culture that abandoned subsistence living and the values of local economy; it became a market devoted to scale, speed, and cost. A culture where place, history, and tradition became irrelevant.”
The myth of individualism that keeps us stuck where we are:
“What sustains the class system, the empire, and the free market narrative is the myth of individual development. We cling to the hope that it serves the common good. It doesn’t. It does serve the individual. Beautifully. Community is the reconstruction of individual well-being through the well-being of the whole. This is very different from beginning with individual self-interest and believing that the invisible hand of the market will create communal well-being.”
How we are indoctrinating our children into the consumer culture:
“In a consumer market system, the young are socialized into performance, entertainment, and acquisition. Not local place, local story, and communal memory.”
“We don’t have a school problem today; we have a village problem.”
If we depart the consumer culture, “Our children won’t be as wealthy as we are. That’s just fine. They will be healthier.”
Finding our way back:
“Part of the promise of restoring neighborhoods is to create local culture, with memory and affection, to replace what was left behind. A culture is language, food, faith, art, all intertwined.”
“We are accustomed to the disciplines that belong to faith; there also are disciplines that belong to community. They are built by covenantal language held together by vow rather than barter and honor the fact that community has a job to do and needs to be productive.”
“The neighborly Covenant rests on beliefs in Abundance, Mystery, Fallibility, and the Common Good.”
“Community is people wrapped in a mystery. Community understands through their story, which gives shape and meaning to the mystery. Story honors our common experience”
The role of the church:
“The church became an instrument of certainty and control rather than mystery and freedom.”
“The church has to have a conversation about what the communal disciplines that affirm faith are.”
“The church must examine the resistances to covenant. “You do not have enough, therefore you are not enough” is a powerful belief sustaining the market. The faith communities must believe “You are enough, and therefore you have enough.””
The art of community building:
“Culture can be the atmosphere in a room and with certain high-engagement practices, you can see and feel a shift. If you want to know how to create an atmosphere that supports kindness, it’s simple: Put people in real contact with each other. In a two-hour period people connect in small groups. You see their faces change. You see their bodies relax. You see the smiles in their eyes. In a short time they are treating each other with a kindness and warmth that didn’t exist when you began. It is quick, low cost, and—pardon the term—scalable.”
“Some signposts of an alternative social order of a society organized around covenantal promises sustaining the common good are:
Time. Space for relatedness and hospitality to be chosen as alternatives to speed, individualism, and like-mindedness.
Food. Choosing to grow food locally, urban farms, food without chemical intervention, food as the sacred table around which culture and community are sustained and created.
Silence. Quieting the noise of the automated, electronic, consumption-as-entertainment culture. Silence as a means of honoring mystery. Listening as an action step. An opening for the voice of nature and neighbor. Creating a place for thought and depth. A quality of Sabbath and reflection as an answer to restless productivity and advertising.
“Silence is a companion of mystery, and listening is its fellow traveler. Listening puts you in a receptive mode. Being receptive requires you to celebrate Sabbath. The practice of listening brings people together. It reminds us that we are not alone.”
“When people gather, the right questions bring the sacred into the room—questions of connections, not opinions. If you bring questions of depth, questions that are personal, the experience of being together shifts. Such as, “What’s the crossroad you are at in this stage of your life?” Good questions can be considered as sacraments of silence.”
As I teach Christian leaders about community building, the number one question I get is, “What does it look like on the ground, in a neighborhood?” This year, I will be revisiting familiar practices and exploring new ones that lead to thriving communal life. I will give you examples of how these practices are shaping communities in my back yard and across the globe along with practical tools to help you develop your own communal practices.