The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 1

From Matt...

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 Role of Faith in SoCe Life

From Matt...

As I’ve been writing these blogs and reflecting on our work in the neighborhood, I feel it is very important to clarify how our beliefs fit into our work and also how our faith impacts our friendships with others.

For me, my Christian spirituality is central to almost everything I do. Over the years it has helped me to forgive others and myself for mistakes, it has helped me accept myself with all my foibles, it has helped me grow in caring for others, and it has given me a sense of purpose. Most importantly, it has helped me to experience God’s love for me, and to realize that this gift of love is for everyone.

My Christian spirituality helps me see my neighbors and my neighborhood as beautiful and valuable people--even if the world sometimes tells us otherwise.

And here is the important catch. Our neighbors don’t have to have the same beliefs. My work with SoCe Life, and our process of doing interviews are not secretly aimed at tricking people into being Christians. Our work is not a decoy to draw people in. Because of this, we don’t have a hidden agenda of converting people to embrace our beliefs. Now, if our experiences and our beliefs are appealing and helpful to people that we get to know, we are definitely happy to talk about that, but if they aren’t interested, that is alright too. We’re just thankful to be their neighbors.