We recently announced that with funding from the Wichita District 3 Neighborhood Preservation Grant we have launched the Neighborhood Animator Project. Catherine is the director of this project, and this week she updated our website with information about the project and how people can apply to be a Neighborhood Animator. Click here to check it out!Read More
SoCe Life Blog
A journey to abundance, one day at a time.
On Monday evening, I made a brief presentation to our neighborhood association about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). In the coming weeks I will share in more depth the ideas involved in ABCD, but for today I want to explain that ABCD is about...Read More
One of the topics that really inspired me at the ABCD conference in Chicago this week was "Connectors." Like many of the key ideas of Asset Based Community Development, it is appealing because it is all about working with the gifts that are already in the neighborhood. When it comes to Connectors, that means finding those people who are well-connected in the neighborhood, who are able to see people as gifted, and who are trusted.Read More
Last weekend Matt and I traveled to Portland, OR to share what we have learned about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). We met with a Missional Wisdom Foundation Launch and Lead cohort at Camp Magruder on the Oregon "coast", not to be confused with "beach" (which is a warm sunny place), the locals informed us. It was a great group of people, all working on amazing projects in their community.Read More
Adam, Ashley, Matt and I have been reading Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Tippett includes part of an interview with the social venture entrepreneur, Jacqueline Novogratz, who works in some of the poorest places in the world. Wherever Novogratz goes, she asks this question...Read More
Last Friday, Mark and I were out knocking on SoCe doors interviewing neighbors. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, so many people were still at work. We covered a lot of ground, moving from one house to the next, hoping that a few people would be home. The first person we met said she did not want to participate. So, we continued down the street. A few houses later, we met a woman named Alice (not her real name). Alice was fun to interview because...Read More
As Catherine wrote, the cold gave us a bit of grief as we tried to do neighborhood interviews last week. The neighbors were friendly, to be sure, but were less apt to stand on their porch with us in the thirty degree weather (plus wind!). While this seemed unfortunate at the time, it set us up for...Read More
On Saturday night Catherine and I got home from visiting family in Colorado. Within the first 24 hours we got four phone calls from our neighbors. One neighbor called to tell us she had collected our mail for us while we were gone. Another neighbor called to welcome us home and let us know that he was the one who covered our vegetable garden with a tarp to protect it from frost. Adam, Ashley and Prescott called and invited us over for dinner since we had been driving all day and didn't want to cook. And finally, a forth neighbor called to let us know he was still visiting family out west and he would not be driving home with the roads as icy as they were.
Maybe other people have neighbors who are this kind and thoughtful, but for us, this is different than anyplace we've lived before, because our neighbors are so awesome!
Our work at SoCe Life can sound pretty exciting at times. When we start knocking on doors, there is no telling what might happen. However, we don’t think of ourselves as adventurers, and we don’t think what we are doing can only be done by us. In fact, we really believe the opposite: we believe anyone, anywhere can be doing the work that we are about.Read More
In SoCe, we have the good fortune of being able to partner with other organizations, such as the SCNA (South Central Neighborhood Association), the SCIA (South Central Improvement Alliance), and Legacy Ministries. Legacy has a branch called Garden Works. I have been working with Garden Works since January of this year to do food outreach in SoCe.
As I reflect on what food outreach has come to mean in SoCe, I am looking back on the goals that were on the food outreach job description: respond to the needs and desires of our neighbors and to implement programs for the ongoing food empowerment of SoCe. We perceived the food concerns in our neighborhood to be the food desert (since our neighborhood grocery store closed in the summer of 2014), financial constraints, lack of transportation, and lack of culinary knowledge or exposure. We went door-to-door and asked for input from neighbors. They were not too concerned about the food desert, but seemed interested in getting together for some cooking events. We decided to host gatherings such as potlucks, make & take cooking nights, and spice tasting opportunities. These evenings were fun and we met new people and learned of some amazing cooks in the neighborhood. However, there seemed to be some missing element, something else we should be pursuing.
In recent months, since blending Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) with food outreach, I have learned that the outreach I am being led to cultivate is actually to facilitate ways for neighbors to reach out with their amazing culinary skills! This means finding ways for one neighbor to utilize her wonderful cookie-baking skills, for a high school student to share her love of baking cupcakes, or for my new friend one street over to be able to cater some SoCe Life events to share and showcase her delicious Cuban cooking. It also means sharing with her that my dream for her is to host Cuban cooking lessons. She was so excited to make my dream come true – we have the first cooking lesson date and menu set! ABCD strikes again! Food outreach in SoCe is about uncovering the culinary passions that are already here among my neighbors and helping them to share those passions.
So, is this idea of welcoming and valuing the perspective and contributions of strangers (those who have been marginalized and labelled) a new radical concept? Not if you’ve grown up reading the Bible--ha! In the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah, we learn how Abraham welcomed unknown visitors and received an unexpected blessing. Here is the beginning of the story from Genesis 18:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as [Abraham] sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
At this point in the story, Abraham does not know who the three guests are, he is simply practicing ancient middle-Eastern hospitality. However, as the story unfolds, the three visitors turn out to be the Lord! And the Lord informs the elderly (and childless) Abraham and Sarah that in due season they will have a son. The news is so unbelievable that Sarah laughs! And of course, in due season, Abraham and Sarah do have a son, and they name him Isaac.
What does this have to do with SoCe Life and Asset-Based Community Development?
Let me answer that question with a few questions to ponder:
- Is it possible that God still speaks through strangers?
- Is it possible that the hope we need in our communities could be heard in the voices of the marginalized?
I believe the answer is yes!
Up next, one more illustration…
One of the first (if not THE first) books about Asset-Based Community Development was written by John McKnight and John Kretzmann and is called “Building Communities from the Inside Out.” It is an excellent textbook for exploring their ideas. It also reveals just how counter-intuitive, even subversive this approach to community development can be. One example of this comes from their attitude toward the “strangers” in the community. The “strangers” are people who may be marginalized because they are too young, too old, or they have been labelled in some way.
Unfortunately, the common cultural view of such people is that they are either 1) not able to contribute to the community/neighborhood (think of youth or the elderly) or even worse 2) they are a problem that needs to be fixed or removed (think of those with a criminal record). But ABCD turns that upside down because the belief of ABCD is that everyone, EVERYONE has something to contribute to the good of the community.
And so they write, “Who are the ‘strangers’ in this community? A community which pays particular attention to locating and mobilizing the gifts of the strangers in its midst is one which clearly welcomes the contributions of all its members to the community building process. ...the fact that they too are involved not as clients or recipients but as citizens and contributors can help to define this path as one which everyone can travel.” [p.347]
That is a major shift in thinking. I’ll stop there so you can think about the implications and challenges of their approach. Up next, I’ll draw in a few other sources to support this approach.
(The names in this blog have been changed to honor their privacy.)
During the immersion week one of our teams interviewed Sharon and learned that she recently had a pacemaker put in and is no longer able to mow her own lawn. She was very disappointed about this because she loves to be outdoors (and she has quite the green thumb). After the interview, our roving listeners brought back the info and we started to look for a connection. Right away we thought of Tom (my neighbor). He is currently looking for a job and enjoys helping out others. We asked him if he was interested and he said yes! We asked Sharon if she was okay with that and she said yes!
And so, this morning, I introduced Tom to Sharon and they made arrangements for mowing her lawn. The conversation was simple, kind and genuine. Sharon shared about her health limitations and disappointments, Tom shared about the struggle to find a job, and we talked about the lovely flowers in Sharon’s yard.
As we were getting ready to leave Sharon said, “I love to be active, and I’m sad that I can’t mow any more. If there is anything I can do for someone else, please let me know.” I promised her I would do that (and I will--I already have an idea!).
Through these interviews and conversations, I’m learning that Sharon is not unique. People genuinely want to be connected with the people around them and they want to contribute to the overall good of their community. In fact, I’m starting to believe that the American dream of ‘bigger, better, and more’ is not a path to happiness, but instead it leads to dissatisfaction. In contrast, what if happiness came, not so much from what we consumed, but instead from what we could give for the greater good? And if this is true, does the size, value, or impressiveness of the gift matter? I don’t think so; it is the giving--just like the Widow’s Offering from the gospel of Luke 21:1-4. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+21%3A1-4&version=NRSV
Day 3 of our immersion experience was so good in so many ways it is hard to put it into words, but I do want to at least tell you all about it.
We started the morning with prayer, communion and then breakfast. After breakfast we continued our brainstorming and connecting with ABCD which led to a series of action items for everyone to follow-up with. We made phone calls and walked to a few neighbors’ houses to see if they would be interested in assisting with various small jobs or connecting with different neighbors (to help with a project) or groups (like the nearby quilting club). It was exhilarating to take action and the response from our neighbors was all positive. (You can see a few pictures from Wed. on the previous blog.)
At 10:30 we met with Vicki Bond of the Raise My Head Foundation. Vicki is a long-time friend who has done an incredible job putting together this non-profit which plans to offer a two-year residential program for women who want to leave sex trafficking, homelessness, and/or drug addiction. Vicki is joyful and passionate about her work, which is contagious! We were able to tour the house they recently purchased and learn about their plans. Please take a moment to visit their site here: http://raisemyhead.org/
After being inspired by Vicki we returned to the house for lunch and naps or recreation. In the afternoon, we returned to Bethany UMC for another powerful time of teaching from Elaine Heath. This time was especially inspiring as Elaine shared with us various individuals and groups that she has connected with that are doing amazing, out-of-the-box ministry around the U.S. And yes, some of this type of ministry does not fit into the measuring metrics of those who want to keep the institutional church the way it has been for so long, but at the same time, these changes are anchored in the teachings and practices of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
By 5:30 we were all starting to get tired, but we couldn’t slow down because at 6:00 we were hosting a street party at the house. It was definitely stressful at moments, but between the focused energy of our immersion students and the conversation and laughter of arriving neighbors, the stress soon melted away. After eating lots of wonderful food, we sang a few folk songs, which eventually involved a few of the kids leading the singing and even dancing!
We ended the day by reflecting on the moments when we felt closest to and furthest away from God. I think it is safe to say the blessings of the day heavily outweighed the low points. Or as I like to say, the day was “OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!”
The Good and Beautiful World immersion is continuing with great success and joy. Here is the pictures to prove it.
On our first field trip we went to the Envision. Envision is an incredible organization that has created thriving businesses while improving the quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired. They are a major manufacturer of plastic bags and other products and many of their employees are blind or close to it. Inspiring place!
During Elaine's lessons we processed watching the movie The Mission with Robert De Niro. From the movie we explored the themes of colonialism and it's impact on our American experience of Church. Elaine helped us rediscover the co-equal, co-humble, co-communal nature of God. And of course to truly explore our triune God you must do a circle dance. The joy of dancing reminded us of the Holy Spirit's ability to fill us with Pentecost power. It also proved that Matt and Adam should not dance.
After making contact with neighbors earlier in the week we explored possible connection points and then made calls to help people find each other. From our calls we were able to stimulate small paying gigs for neighbors out of work, social connections for people who are isolated, and potential groupings that could give birth to new businesses, apprenticeships, or more.
We use a giant map and lots of post-it notes to catalog all the assets and interest we discover. Then we allow our imagination to run wild with the possibilities. Crucial to ABCD and non-colonial evangelism is that we do not impose our own agenda. Instead we make connections, experiment, fail, and allow people to choose for themselves what comes next.
Still to come....
visit to Raise My Head Foundation House.
more mind blowing Elaine Heath time.
Fork-n-Folk neighborhood potluck with music and dancing.
closing worship and anointing.
And our very first immersion promo video featuring our amazing first students.
I remember being a kid and selling candy bars as a fundraiser for my marching band...I hated it! Going to the neighbors’ doors and asking them to buy something was fraught with opportunities for rejection.
That feeling returns to me when I start walking through SoCe to interview people for SoCe Life. I have a little seed of dread that is planted in the back of my mind. But then it all changes!
I just came back from interviewing a neighbor and it was fantastic! Myrna was with me and we asked the neighbor for about five minutes of her time. Then we started asking her about her work experiences and what she likes to do. Soon we had gone past 5 minutes because we were laughing and sharing stories and hopes for the future.
SoCe Life isn’t like selling candy bars! In fact, it is the opposite. It is refreshing and energizing. And here is why: we aren’t taking from people, we’re just asking them to talk about themselves--and people don’t actually get to do that very often. When we interview people, we aren’t using people to build up ourselves, we’re connecting with people because we care about them and our neighborhood. For me, this type of caring and this type of connecting and this type of encouraging is what the kingdom of God is all about! (Maybe the church needs to spend less time taking from people and spending more time just listening to them.)
No, I'm not talking about the alphabet--ha! Asset Based Community Development is so simple it is easy to overlook its brilliance! Here is how it works:
People who are part of SoCe Life go door-to-door throughout the neighborhood and ask people if they will spend a few minutes answering some questions. If the person says yes, they are interviewed. During the interview they share their work experience, special skills, hobbies, interests and talents. If there is anything they do well enough they could teach others that is noted. They can also list anything they would like to learn.
This information is brought back to our office where we look for patterns of abilities, such as a group of people who have a similar hobby. We also look for correlations between skills and job opportunities (this can help strengthen the economy in the neighborhood).
We connect the dots by inviting people to connect based on what we’ve learned and what we’ve noticed. People can always decline the invitation. The belief is that a connection between just two neighbors is good for them and the neighborhood.
There are more steps beyond this, but those are harder to describe because it depends on what happens in the neighborhood. For now we are planting the seeds, and we’ll wait to see what starts to grow.
Have you ever had this experience: you know something is true, you even have experiences that affirm your knowledge, but you struggle to find the right words and then BAM you read a book/have a conversation/watch a video that gives you the words you have been searching for all along.
If you can relate to that description, then you can relate to the journey of the SoCe Neighborhood Action Foundation. SoCe NAF was borne from the experience of five individuals: Adam and Ashley Barlow-Thompson, Myrna Craig, Catherine Johnson and myself (Matt Johnson). We have been meeting on a weekly basis since March of 2014. During that time we have felt led by the Holy Spirit to work in the South Central Neighborhood (hence our name: SoCe...get it? South Central). We weren’t sure what work we needed to do, we just knew where we needed to be. We also knew that our way of looking at the neighborhood was odd, because while many people look at SoCe as a hotbed of drugs, crime, prostitution and homelessness; we saw our neighbors here as gifted and generous people who have a lot to teach the world. Hmm.
Also, since we’ve been meeting we have felt an uneasiness with how “church-as-usual” works. It isn’t that church is bad (Adam and Ashley both work in churches, and I did as well for 15 years). We just saw that as our society continues to change in dramatic ways, the old model of church is not going to be as effective. It is time to begin experimenting with how the church interacts with the community, and perhaps time to redefine the role of the church in the world. And we especially wanted to work on this with college students who are feeling called into ministry, because the church they are being trained to lead may not even exist by the time they are ordained or employed by the church!
So, we had all these thoughts and feelings and we struggled to express them...UNTIL...one day I stumbled across an article (or was I led to it?) that talked about Asset Based Community Development, or ABCD. It was that moment when we found words to describe what we had been feeling for so long. ABCD doesn’t start with a neighborhood’s brokenness, it starts with the assets (talents and skills) of the neighbors. And ABCD doesn’t start with massive institutions that are meant to fix everything, but instead it starts with relationships between the individuals and families that make up a neighborhood.
And what we immediately saw was a correlation between ABCD and the gospel message. For example, ABCD views every resident in the neighborhood as someone with gifts to share--regardless of their age or “label.” Doesn’t that sound like Jesus, blessing the fishes and loaves of a child to feed a multitude; or celebrating the generosity of the widow who gives a gift the world easily overlooks?
Another example is that ABCD does not restrict people to the label the world has placed on them: such as sex offender, drug addict, old, sinner, unemployable, etc. Instead, ABCD sees people as gifted and able to contribute to the good of the community. Doesn’t that sound like Jesus, hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, ignoring Peter’s plea to get away from him, or failing to throw stones at the woman caught in adultery? Jesus came to give us a new identity and then teach us to live from that new identity. We hope to help our friends and neighbors discover their deeper identity in God as a beloved and gifted child, and create space where they can live from that deeper (and unchanging) identity.
And what about the college students we want to encourage along their journey? Once we began to understand ABCD and how it is an expression of the gospel, then we realized we needed to start bringing students into our neighborhood to learn about ABCD and how it can be lived out in any context. We want to immerse them in this mind-set and view of the world, so Catherine and I have converted our house into a small dormitory where a handful of students can stay for a week at a time and learn what we are doing and help us with this work. We call this immersion “The Good and Beautiful World” because we believe God is calling the church to reach out to the world in this very way. We hope the students will take our ideas and run with them and build upon them, and begin transforming the relationship between the church and the world.