Tuesday, 22 February 2011

‘To Live in Peace’ – part 3 – ‘Dynamics of Community Rebuilding’

OK, third instalment now, and possibly the last, summarising what Gornik outlines as “some basic dynamics that guide community development”…

One: Neighbourhoods Require Care and Stewardship

(Roberta Brandes Gratz) “Cities do not deteriorate overnight and, similarly, are not reborn overnight. Quick-fix responses at best camouflage problems and at worst exacerbate them. Cities respond most durably in the hands of many participants accomplishing gradually smaller bites, making small changes and big differences at the same time.” (149)

‘urban husbandry’… “Instead of replacing things… strengthening what is there, allowing an incremental pace and an organic process to emerge from the bottom up, not the top down… celebrat[ing] those efforts that are small and more community-grounded and honest.”

“A well-defined concrete geography or focus area… enables those involved to set measurable goals and objectives and establish a clear, holistic vision. Just as importantly, a focus area limits the options that can be attempted. It sets the agenda, which means that the unrealistic goal of trying to do ‘everything everywhere’ is eliminated.”

“the relationship of the church to the community is best described by the word covenant. A covenant is a free commitment that says, in effect, ‘Whatever happens, no matter what, we as the church will stay and deal with it.’ This means that the church takes a vow of stability, that it is committed to being a church of the community.”

“the importance of small-scale projects and micro-narrative approaches” (150)

Two: Rebuilding Moves Between Lament and Celebration

“Just as the urban cry of Lamentations precedes the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Nehemiah, so tears and shared pain must precede the joys of rebuilding in the inner city. … Just as reading the laments of Scripture can enable us to ‘read’ the laments of the inner city, so the laments of the inner city can inform our reading of Scripture… The urban laments of our day can be seen and heard everywhere…”

“rebuilding can be considered ‘embodied worship’… Celebration is crucial to fulfill the aims of community redevelopment, for it sustains and keeps in focus the end of community rebuilding, which is the glory of God.”(151)

Three: Change Percolates from the Bottom Up

“The community’s impetus for change, its interests, its language, and its sense of pace must lead. Drawing on a community’s journey of survival, courage, self-care, and even anger is a starting point… For the church, this means passionately loving the community in all its beauty and hurting with it in its brokenness, as well as trusting in the genius and ideas of the community and drawing on its spirituality and depth of commitment, recognizing the community as people created in God’s image. For the church, believing in the community also involves a Pentecostal belief in the gifts and capacities of the people of the community. All members of the community – not just a few ‘leaders’ – have an important contribution to make to the rebuilding effort. Every person has gifts, and every gift is a grace for the common good…” (151-2)

“as history shows, women’s experience and leadership are especially important… The Christian story also reminds us of the leadership role of children and young people… God’s chosen way of redeeming the world – working not from the top down but from the bottom up, through Christ – unleashes power from the ‘edges’ of society through women, children, and the poor. Here is where we must look for the lived stories and theologies for the urban future, giving testimony to the way of salvation…” (152)

(John P. Kretzmann & John McKnight) “four main assets can be identified in any neighborhood: (1) the capacities and gifts of local residents, (2) the power of local associations and organisations, (3) the potential of local public institutions, and (4) the diverse streams of local economic activity, including the neighborhood’s land and other physical assets. Community change, they argue, really can begin from the inside and move out… Moreover, focusing on what God is doing in the community rather than maintaining a consuming focus on ‘needs’ aids in the prevention of burnout, personal and communal.” (153)

“authentic community transformation will not only engage wider economic and political issues but will also provide opportunities for the rich and powerful to be involved and spiritually challenged” (153-4)

“the community must not be reduced to one ‘stakeholder’ among  many, but must instead be the subject of its future” (154)

Four: Community Organizing is the Basis of Empowerment

“By mobilizing people to unite around what they value and hold most important, community organizing creates the space for the people of the community to define their issues, address shared concerns, confront the principalities and powers, hold public institutions accountable, determine their own future, and create their own institutions.” (154)

“Community organizing is a discipline that is learned – it demands skills that include dialogue, listening, deliberation, and negotiation… Organizing is about learning and applying what is learned. And then its task is the celebration of success. Thus the continual dynamic is reflection – action – celebration.” (154-5)

(Robert Linthicum) “Empowerment… takes place when the people of a community name the hostile forces that are harming them, decide what strategy and steps to take to challenge them, and then organize action that brings about change. A process of continual reflection and action is essential, because it yields new ideas and insights… The analysis of harmful forces must include social, political, economic and religious realities. Such analysis… yields not only physical and material alterations abut also an affirmation of human dignity and the seeds of spiritual renewal in the community. Upon this basis, church and community are able to form the creative and critical partnerships necessary to attain a more just and whole neighborhood.” (155-6)

Five: Community Development is a Vision of Justice and Joy

“Driven by a vision of community rightly ordered, a vision rooted in the biblical concept of Jubilee, Christ-centered community development is particularly committed to the most vulnerable. With a Jubilee perspective, community development offers not charity, relief, or advocacy but the resources for people to achieve healthy families and sustainable community. This vision emphasizes responsibility, accents assents (economic, physical, social, and spiritual), precludes displacement, and does not measure results apart from people. The Jubilee is a vision of justice and joy unmatched in contemporary community development theory and practice.” (156-7)

The End Result: The Composition of a New Story

“Community development is a storied activity, and the best community developers are storytellers and narrative theologians. Thus it is crucial that the church begins with and holds in great respect a community’s stories, both individual and collective. Hearing these stories is a process of discovery that ultimately can lead to forming a new and shared story. One of the primary roles of the church is to draw attention to the larger story of God’s presence, salvation, and new creation. In this story, a community moves not just in a different direction but also towards God’s future of reconciliation, justice, and joy in the city. Because of grace, Christians know that the human story is always open to new endings. However, a new direction for a community does not result in the removal of the fetters that constrict the community. A new community story does not always erase the subjecting forces of oppression but finds a way through the maze of oppression to begin to establish a new vision and reality of what is possible. Most importantly, the story of the community belongs to the community and is not imposed from outside.”

“This story, which is about communal transformation, cannot be ‘written’ overnight. ‘When we talk about community transformation,’ Robert Linthicum observes, ‘we are talking about a conversion process in an entire community. It is most often not a sudden conversion. It is a slow, driving process causing an entire community to change their way of understanding themselves.” (158)

“To bear testimony in public settings – to vocalize in word and song how lives, families, and communities have been healed – and to interpret these testimonies as stories of divine power express the encounter with the Spirit. … It is when community members hear each other testify to the changes in community life that God’s work can be discerned.” (158-9)

Monday, 21 February 2011

‘To Live in Peace’ – continued…

Some more notes and quotes from my book of the moment (see post below)… This gets to the heart of it for me: Gornik argues that Jeremiah’s ‘proposal to the exiles’ in Jer.29:5-7 offers “an overarching wholistic vision for the city”, offering a basis on which to explore presence (“a theology of context”), prayer (“a theology of spirituality”) and public activity (“a theology of mission”)…

Presence: Dwelling as Neighbours and Friends

“To share as neighbors and friends in the everyday experiences of life, to invest as neighbors and friends in the development of others is both the extension and the foundation of shalom. It means to reject – as individuals, families, and churches – withdrawing into privileged social and economic enclaves inside and outside the city.” (115)

On social capital in inner-city neighbourhoods…

“the more people build and remain in relationships of reciprocity, particularly in local institutions and associations, the greater the increase in trust that builds among them”

“while there is no question that local institutions in the inner city have been harmed and that the social fabric has been torn, every neighborhood also has considerable strengths, capacities, and reserves of mutual responsibility and caring. Indeed, without strong relationships of caring, survival in the inner city would be impossible.” (116)

On ‘neighbouring’, ‘hesed (‘faithful commitment’) and friendship

“Neighboring [for the people of Israel, as in the book of Proverbs] entailed the daily work of building a just and supportive community characterized by trust. ‘Without such trust … a healthy social environment could not be established, and where there was no such feeling of interdependence and solidarity (hesed) the very foundations of morality would be undermined.’ In hesed, the mutual commitment to the flourishing of others, we find the glue of community.” (117)

(Walter Brueggemann) “The Deuteronomic tradition presents society as a neighborhood and enjoins attitudes and policies that enhance neighboliness. Deuteronomy insists that economic life must be organized to ensure the well being of widows, orphans and immigrants. This response to dislocation insists that maintaining a public economy of compassion and justice is a way to move beyond despair.”

“A relationship with Christ, as the parable of the Good Samaritan expresses, is defined not by being a neighbor in the passive sense but by finding ways to cross boundaries and to be a neighbor to the afflicted in ways that advance their flourishing.”

“a deeper goal of relationships is friendship… Friendship that is in imitation of Christ’s friendship with women and men is both something of the peace that God desires and the relational bridge to the peace of the city.” (118)

Prayer: the Urban Future Belongs to the Intercessors

(Walter Wink) “Even a small number of people, firmly committed to the new inevitability on which they have fixed their imaginations, can decisively affect the shape the future takes. These shapers of the future are the intercessors, who call out the future, the longed-for new present.” (118)

“For Wink, prayer constitutes resistance against the powers. When Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, which recognizes the authority of God over the powers of the age, the hope of the kingdom over the fallen world, they declare resistance and a counterview of the city.”

“Prayer is the cry from the depths to God, a plea that the world be different, that our children not die before their time, that our homes be decent, and that our hearts be made new.”

“When justice is required, when the daily struggle for life seems overwhelming, Jesus teaches us to pray and not give up in the face of oppression.” (119)

Public Activity: Putting Faith into Action

“To seek the peace of the city means that Christians are to be active participants – not spectators – working to bring alternative forms of urban life into being. Seeking the peace of the inner city therefore enjoins activity that enhances the social, physical, aesthetic, and economic world in which we dwell.” (120)

“In seeking the peace of the city, we do well to avoid beginning with complex plans and major proposals. Certainly community plans are important, but they should emerge out of genuine local ownership and responsibility. Responding to real needs, they will have an ad hoc, organic character. This means that what the church is called to do and how it should go about answering that call will not always be clear. The church is to bring its faith into the messy world of the city because it is called to ‘look… to the interests of others’ (Phil. 2:4).” (120-1)

The difference of peace-making

“The social and economic violence that created the inner city is not overcome with the simple announcement of a counter-narrative of peace, but rather requires the hard work of forging concrete new beginnings of shalom.” (121)

Peace-making without manipulation

“’serving’ others can get in the way of building community. All too often… human service ends up being about our own needs and desires, not the underlying human fabric of a neighborhood. … Whenever a church defines a community and its needs apart from the people of the community, a manipulative process is set in motion, one that often serves only the extension of the church’s own interests, goals, and power. Language, agenda-setting, and unconsciously held notions of superiority are common conductors of a manipulative process. … Inner-city neighborhoods are skilled in discerning between the well-intentioned and the self-serving. By necessity, they know and signal that they know the difference between sincere yet fumbling efforts (made by the church that is honestly attempting to be with the community) and insincere yet ‘professional’ attempts of ‘service’ (made by the church claiming to be ‘for’ the community). Inner-city residents are highly gifted in the art of discernment; they have often watched people trying to import their agendas. … My experience is that inner-city communities do not judge as harshly the stumbling yet humble. Indeed, they are quite likely to show an amazing grace in response. But to that which is self-serving and manipulative in the name of ‘service’, these communities react in ways that protect their own interests. At times it may seem like a community ‘buys in’ to a development plan or a religious project, but in subtle ways usually invisible to outsiders, resistance to such manipulation is constantly taking place.” (122-3)

“the church’s goal is to be God’s peace in the broken places and to bear witness to the kingdom of God. It sides not with the privileged and powerful but with those the world counts as nothing. This is the politics of Christ and the cross.”

“Miroslav Volf has called such an approach the ‘soft difference’. Developing this insight in an important reading of 1 Peter, he writes, ‘I do not mean a weak difference, for in 1 Peter the difference is anything but weak. It is strong, but it is not hard. Fear for oneself and one’s identity creates hardness. The difference that joins itself with hardness always presents the other with a choice: either submit or be rejected, either ‘become like me or get away from me’. In the mission to the world, hard difference operates with open or hidden pressures, manipulation, and threats. A decision for a soft difference, on the other hand, presupposes a fearlessness which 1 Peter repeatedly encourages his readers to assume (3:14; 3:6). People who are secure in themselves – more accurately, who are secure in their God – are able to live the soft difference without fear. They have no need either to subordinate or damn others, but can allow others space to be themselves. For people who live the soft difference, mission fundamentally takes the form of witness and invitation. They seek to win others without pressure or manipulation, sometimes even ‘without a word’ (3:1).”

“Not only should urban faith be soft, gentle, and humble in its witnessing and often non-conforming difference; it must be alive in practice. … Oriented to the plight of the non-persons in the urban world, Christianity is to offer living expressions of its hope founded and centred in Jesus Christ.” (124-5)

Making a difference

(Nicholas Wolterstorff, addressing children’s ministers) “It is your calling to struggle to make the world a place in which their innocent, vulnerable playfulness is appropriate… Be under no illusion that your efforts will bring about the holy city for children. But likewise, do not despair of making a difference. For it is God’s cause; and God will take both your fumbling and your skillful efforts and use them as building stones for God’s holy city.”

“Faithfulness toward the advance of more whole communities, not the development or promise of perfect ones, is the measure of peacemaking.” (125)

“Nourished by the guiding image of shalom, not the logic of the market, in a neighborhood where God’s peace runs like a deep current, weary families would find new strength and joy. Every gift would be appreciated and called into service. Those able to work would have employment that both served the common good and provided a living wage. Miserable housing would be a thing of the past, replaced by homes offering beauty and safety. Vacant land would be turned into gardens filled with flowers and vegetables, reclaimed for local economic development, or designated for affordable housing. Children would attend schools that nurtured the whole person, mind and spirit, enabling them to navigate the world successfully. Streets would be safe, and the innocent would not fear those who protect. No more would the emergency room be a doctor’s office, for quality health services would be personal and available when needed. An atmosphere of neighborly commitment would reinforce bonds of trust. And by virtue of all of these things being signs of shalom, at the center of this experience would be the acknowledgment of God as the giver of this gift, the One in whose service human beings are called to live responsibly. This is how the neighborhoods of the city should work.” (125-6)

“To be peacemakers in the … inner city is the opposite of giving in to apathy, of razing neighborhoods, of imploding buildings, of excluding the poor, of insulating oneself from risk. To seek the peace of the city is to have a vision of friendship and community and a commitment to justice, joy, forgiveness, and salvation. It is to engage in kingdom work in the city based on a distinctive understanding of what it means to be the people of God, an understanding that expresses itself in love and sacrifice in service to others, especially the most vulnerable. … As a model of God’s new urban social order, the church signals an alternative to all forms of exclusion.” (126)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

‘To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City’

(Mark R Gornik, Eerdmans, 2002)

This is a brilliant book. It unfolds a ‘shalom-focused’ theology through the very concrete practices of being church, building community, and rebuilding the streets of Sandtown, an inner-city neighbourhood in Baltimore. There’s some great and inspiring stories, some subtle and in-depth analysis of the issues social and political, some thorough theological reflection (it’s the most readable and comprehensive summary of the Biblical theme of ‘shalom’ I’ve come across, I think), and some helpful bits of ‘categorisation’ (I’m someone who does actually enjoy ‘3 words beginning with the same letter’ lists, if they’re backed up by real substance) as Gornik outlines the approach of his grassroots, activist, radical Christian community.

I think I might share some quotes here over the next little while, and see how far we get. My hope is that there’s some stuff in this book that might spark and/or feed a valuable conversation here in the UK, Birmingham and beyond, among those of us who live and work in inner-city and outer-estate areas…

On oppression and injustice…

(Quoting Iris Marion Young): “oppression reveals itself in five faces: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. … In Sandtown, and in the inner city generally, all five faces of oppression can be seen at work in the racial and economic construction of space and the burdens of existence.” (51)

(Quoting Nicholas Wolterstorff): “God’s love for justice is grounded in his love for the victims of injustice. And his love for the victims of injustice belongs to his love for the little ones of the world: for the weak defenceless ones, the ones at the bottom, the excluded ones, the miscasts, the outcasts, the outsiders… God’s love for justice, I suggest, is grounded in his special concern for the hundredth one.” (51)

“[D]oing justice in Scripture is not the abstract balancing of ‘rights’… but the ‘restoration of that community as originally established by the justice of God; it is a community of equality and freedom from oppression.’” (62)

“One of the marks of a Christian response to the inner city must therefore be its direct and meaningful response to the closure of everyday opportunities and the closure of future horizons.” (59)

On ‘shalom’ and peace-making…

(Nicholas Wolterstorff again) “Shalom in the first place incorporates right, harmonious relationships to God and delight in his service. When the prophets speak of shalom, they speak of a day when human beings will no longer flee God down the corridors of time… Secondly, shalom incorporates right harmonious relationships to other human beings and delight in human community. Shalom is absent when a society is a collection of individuals all out to make their own way in the world… Thirdly, shalom incorporates right, harmonious relationships to nature and delight in our physical surroundings. Shalom comes when we, bodily creatures and not disembodied souls, shape the world with our labour and find fulfillment in so doing and delight in its results.” (100-1)

“sin is the vandalism of shalom… [S]halom is God’s urban renovation project, the restoration of a defaced urban existence. It is the reversal of human alienation from God, from creation, and from one another. Because shalom is the end of poverty, injustice, and exclusion, to seek the shalom of the city is to work to reverse the effects of sin … on the city and to proclaim the news of One who comes in peace.” (103)

Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for if it has peace [shalom], you too will have peace [shalom].” … “There could be no separate peace for God’s people apart from the general condition of the city as a whole; the two were bound together. … Jeremiah is advocating a ‘nonviolent social resistance’ that emphasizes trust in God’s sovereignty, hope in God’s future, the practices of nonviolence, and the everyday acts of cultural production… this project of God’s is the renewal of community.” (103-4)

“Urban settings are full of different power interests, competing ideas, and conflicting demands. Peacemaking, and in particular loving one’s ‘enemies’, not only puts the church in a different light in relationship to its neighbours but is also a means of social change. … If Christ is the peace that forms the church and determines its identity, then the church as a peaceable community exists for the city. The church is a body renewed by Christ to represent hope for a broken world. Committed to reconciliation and the practices of repentance and forgiveness, it should not fail to recognize the possibility of peace for the inner city.” (109)

(Wolterstorff, again!) “Shalom is both God’s cause in the world and our human calling. Even though the full incursion of shalom into our history will be divine gift and not merely human achievement, even though its episodic incursion into our lives now also has a dimension of divine gift, nonetheless it is shalom that we are to work and struggle for. We are not to stand around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive. We are workers in God’s cause, his peace-workers. The missio Dei is our mission.” (110)

On the church…

The church “as a community of grace… welcome… reconciliation… and sharing…” (76ff.)

The church as “in the community” (but with no real attachment to its neighbourhood), “for the community” (but not grounded in the experience of the community, and treating the community “as the other and as helpless”), or “with … and of the community”, becoming “one with its neighbours in the struggle”… “Here the church and the community work in mutuality for reasons that grow out of their common history and their shared future. The church brings its faith commitments both to the questions that are asked and to the actions that are taken. It is involved in the mix, flow, and fray of community life, not isolated and removed. The church discerns its life in the life of the community. Such a church rejects a privileged moral, social, or even epistemological position… It does not see itself as a saviour, for it knows too well its own frailties and weaknesses. Rather, by way of the cross, by way of sharing suffering and hope, sorrows and joys, a church of the community pours itself out so that God’s shalom can be more deeply experienced.” (113-4)


More to follow soon! If this resonates for you, why not join in the conversation…?