Monday, June 11, 2007


NO MORE LABELING. One of the most formative books I’ve read regarding community recovery is The Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits by John McKnight. McKnight believes it is critical for our society to recover--and celebrate--the capacities and gifts of people who are so easily labeled, reduced, and excluded from community life.

BE A COMMUNITY GUIDE. McKnight challenges us to be “community guides,” who see capacities and assets, not merely deficits, in labeled neighbors. Community guides “believe strongly that the community is a reservoir of hospitality that is waiting to be offered.” They use whatever resources and influence they have to introduce and guide disenfranchised neighbors into vital community life.

EVERY LIFE IS INTERDEPENDENT. “It is critical,” says McKnight, “that we emphasize the word interdependence. The goal is not to create independence—except from social service systems. Rather, we are recognizing that every life in community is, by definition, interdependent—filled with trusting relationships and empowered by the collective wisdom of citizens in discourse. Community is about the common life that is lived in such a way that the unique creativity of each person is a contribution to the other.”

COUNTERING A CRISIS. “The crisis we have created in the lives of excluded people,” McKnight concludes, “is that they are disassociated from their fellow citizens. We cannot undo that terrible exclusion by a thoughtless attempt to create illusory independence. We are seeking nothing less than a life surrounded by the richness and diversity of community. A collective life. An everyday life. A powerful life that gains its joy from the creativity and connectedness that come when we join in association to create an inclusive world.”

REWEAVING THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY. Reading McKnight resonates with my heart-felt sense that so-called “homeless people” are first and foremost “neighbors” who have been separated from community. Underlying my work to reboot and reshape Horizon House as a life-changing homeless day center beginning in 1999 was this conviction. Instead of being mere service providers for homeless "clients," we were striving to grasp and embody what it means to offer hospitality to homeless neighbors. In doing so, we aim at nothing short of community interdependence--removing labels and reweaving these gifted neighbors into the fabric of community life.


  1. Dear John,

    Your comment: "Instead of being mere service providers for homeless "clients," we were striving to grasp and embody what it means to offer hospitality to homeless neighbors..."
    makes me wonder where is the commitment to RECEIVE the hospitality of homeless neighbors? To me this is the core of the problem. My friend, Damon Lynch, a Missionary Baptist pastor over in Cincinnati says "why don't we invite people to the blessing side fo the table -- the giving side." Instead -- we are always ready to offer "them" hospitality -- but where are we receiving.

    mike mather
    from south africa

  2. Good point, Mike. Indeed, if it is only on the giving side, hospitality is only slightly better than typical rescue and service-provider approaches in addressing people in distressing situations.

    But my sense of hospitality, described so eloquently by Henri Nouwen, necessarily includes giving and receiving. I tried to place staff and volunteers at Horizon House in a situation and relationship that made giving and receiving with homeless neighbors more likely than not.

    I will be the first to say that social service organizations should not be a primary place where hospitality is recovered, explored, learned, and taught. But in the absence of hospitality being expressed in more likely places, including many communities of faith, I did--and will do--my best try to embody an expression of this aspect of the beloved community even in a social service organization.

    My personal experience at Horizon House was that I received from neighbors who happened to be homeless infinitely more than I gave. The wonder of hospitality is this dynamic, I think.


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