Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reweaving the Fabric of Community

"The community is a reservoir of hospitality that is waiting to be offered" - John McKnight

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. As such, 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 aimed at nothing short of community interdependence--removing labels and reweaving these gifted neighbors into the fabric of community life.

There is still much to be done--starting in our hearts and with our perceptions of one another, of labeled people and places, and of the very idea of how belong together in the world. Let's not dilly-dally. There's life, hope and grace to bear in our generation.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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