The light of a New Day in a little country way

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It is a place of stark contrasts, awesome opportunities and some mysteriousness. A tiny speck in the midst of 1.7 million acres of natural, protected beauty, the little community is surrounded by mountains and blanketed by a one-of-a-kind National Radio Quiet Zone in which cell phones fall silent. It is a place of rich history; located in a county named after a Native American chief’s daughter: Pocahontas.

Green Bank Radiotelescope

Green Bank Radiotelescope

If this isn’t enough to add to the mystique of the place, consider a few more facts. A few miles away, the largest Radio Telescope in the world – yes the world – is ever-listening.

A scenic mountain railroad system with a station in the community carries the trademark from a popular family movie – The Polar Express. Tourists from as far away as Australia and Japan ride these rails.

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

There’s more…

The tiny mountain community, in the early 20th century, was at the center of the largest shoe leather tannery company in the world. Clearly, this place lives at the crossroads of an aged past and a birthing future.

From the shadow of its robust past, Durbin, West Virginia, with its 124 households, a hearty group of dedicated townspeople, a handful of entrepreneurs, congregational leaders and one affordable housing developer, neighborhood revitalization is emerging from the collective vision and shared assets of residents and their connector leaders.

Durbin, West Virginia is participating in the Habitat for Humanity International Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Asset Based Community Development consultant/coach, Dave Cooper of Communities First Association, worked with the Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate and over 60 Durbin townspeople for three days in a process of discovery, formation and visioning. For the first

Gifts of Hands (doing)

Gifts of Hands (doing)

two days, Cooper facilitated neighborhood walking and listening sessions with diverse arrays of residents, business owners, church leaders, and local and county government representatives to identify community connector leaders, to listen for community dreams, and discover assets of head, heart, hands, associations and place.

Next, Cooper facilitated a large gathering of Durbin townspeople in a creative, relationship-building process of developing community dreams into vision statements, discovering additional assets, and coaching local leaders in participatory planning processes.

Vision for Library

Vision for Library

 

At the conclusion of the three days, the community had narrowed their vision and organized some assets to focus on a new public library (already in progress), to create park space that could be safely accessed by children, and to revitalize downtown Durbin through economic development. The Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate committed staff to coach the formation of a resident-led economic development team and to coordinate affordable housing resources. A local entrepreneur committed to work with the economic development team. A pastor committed land on which to develop a children’s park. Others dedicated various gifts of head, heart, hands, place and associations to improve the quality of life – to raise Durbin from the ashes of its past; to achieve common good in the neighborhood.

The three day engagement facilitated by Cooper in this little mountain community of Durbin, West Virginia is one way to catalyze and commence Asset Based Community Development for Neighborhood Revitalization. However, the processes of building relationships, listening for and discovering assets, participatory planning, and working to achieve results from the plan require substantially more time and patience.

Durbin, West Virginia is a tiny speck of a community that, upon close inspection, yields a vast array of contrasts and awesome assets. Its residents are ruggedly committed to an improved quality of life in a revitalized community and they hold steadfastly to hope in a bright future.

The light of a New Day in a little country way

The light of a New Day in a little country way

 

Neighborhood Revitalization: Hope (Esperanza) Rising

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Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

I recently worked in three neighborhoods that are striving to recover from decades of neglect and decay. These neighborhoods are very different geographically; yet, they have striking similarities. In Newburgh, New York, LaGrange, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia numerous agencies are taking a variety of approaches; directing their limited resources “at” solving the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, blight, homelessness, hunger and hopelessness. For many – perhaps most – agencies, the overarching theory of transforming (fixing) problems is rooted in programs. Programs are mostly externally resourced by foundations, charity-focused, and limited in scope. Programs follow traditional, linear management models of inputs, throughputs, outputs and outcomes and provide comfort, control and accountability for external investors and volunteers in the programs. Programs are typically sustained only as long as charitable funding is available: a challenge in our austerity-focused economy.

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

Importantly, “some” programs provide emergency food distribution, shelter from winter weather, health care, and more; all essential for relieving human suffering. Unfortunately, most programs overlook the capacity, vision, ingenuity, networks, trust and trustworthiness – the treasure trove of gifts and assets – that reside within and among those who live, work, learn, play, and worship in a community.

In the three communities mentioned above there are, respectively, three agencies that are continuing to do what they do best – developing, restoring, and sustaining affordable housing – while simultaneously discovering, encouraging, and supporting the “gifts of head, heart and hands” among resident community leaders. These agencies are boldly blending externally-developed, results-based programs with relationship-focused, resident-driven Asset Based Community Development, and community organizing. They are collaborating for the “whole” wellbeing (shalom) of the community.

In Newburgh, Habitat for Humanity is working with community leaders to build homes and neighborhoods. Through its Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, staff is devoted to working “with” visionary resident leaders and through its relationship hub, ReStore, it is collaboratively applying Asset Based Community Development. It is a bold move with neighbors and in neighborhoods: hope rising.

Similarly, in the Hillside Neighborhood, DASH for LaGrange is investing staff and resources into listening for resident leadership and supporting those leaders in fulfilling their vision of healthy and whole neighborhoods: hope rising. Like Habitat for Humanity Newburgh, DASH for LaGrange has situated its office facilities and staff in a neighborhood where transformation is taking place.

In a Richmond neighborhood, Oxford House works “with” formerly incarcerated persons to develop self-run, self-supported, substance abuse recovery housing. Residents function democratically and work with neighbors to co-create and sustain affordable housing: hope rising.

DASH LaGrange -Blog2

Photo by Dave Cooper

Within every community (neighborhood) there exists an abundance of often unrecognized and underutilized gifts and talents (assets) of “head, hearts and hands”. Every place, person, family, association, organization, and institution is the possessor and purveyor of its gifts. These assets (gifts) are the buildings, gathering places, schools, libraries, vacant lots, community gardens, tenant and landlord groups, agency programs, political representatives, corner businesses, congregations, school districts and – importantly – the capacity, vision, ingenuity, networks, trust and trustworthiness of residents who live, work, learn, play and worship in the neighborhood.

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We members of Communities First Association (CFA) are practitioners, coaches and advocates for Asset Based Community Development and community organizing. We envision that community is in the process of transformation (revitalization) when:

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

  • There are signs of increasing local ownership in and by the community
  • There is evidence of a growing sense of community (social cohesion – bonding)
  • Seen and heard is a shared vision among residents in the community
  • There is evidence of increased knowledge, skills, and resources working for shared benefit
  • Leadership is emerging in the community from the community
  • Evidenced are an appreciation for evaluation, reflection and ongoing learning
  • Residents develop and implement their own results based plans for sustainable transformation
  • People of all faith perspectives are collaborating and contributing to community wellbeing
  • Neighbors develop and participate in the community economy
  • Competition yields to collaboration

Connecting Community, Building Hope in LaGrange

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Asset Based Community Developer Ben Wheeler works through affordable housing developer DASH LaGrange and with the coaching support of Communities First Association to connect community and harvest hope in the Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia.

 
DASH has a long track record of partnering in the development and operation of affordable housing in LaGrange. However, facing ongoing financial challenges posed by the Great Recession and seeking a sustainable model of development, DASH is taking a new approach. It invests not just in what it has done so well for so long: successfully developing housing. It is now focusing on the development of neighborhoods in which housing is an essential component. Through place-based, asset-focused, relationship-building, community-led, and collaborative investments among a broadening base of community partners, DASH is uncovering previously unrecognized networks of capacity and hope, and together weaving a strong and enduring fabric.

 

Ben Wheeler and his family live, shop, dine, earn, learn and recreate in the Hillside Neighborhood (Hillside Revitalization Area) and describe it as “four neighborhoods in one”. In this space that holds three hundred fifty families reside affluence and poverty; small business and industry; faith communities and civic associations; single family and multi-family housing. Ben and his family know well the assets and challenges that reside in the community.

 
A walking tour of the neighborhood reveals much. The quietness of the neighborhood is interrupted only by the occasional train horn as freight moves steadily through the community. A smiling old man sits in his front yard holding his puppy. A group of children play basketball in the roadway using a single net. A public school teacher speaks of an at-risk youth that he has taken under his wing. A community garden waits for the coming spring. And, a couple moved by the challenges faced by low-income immigrants are co-creating affordable housing. Here are a long-closed Laundromat, a thriving Big Sams Barbeque, housing, the Troup County Health Department and several churches.

 

On a beautiful fall afternoon, a community pot-luck is held in a space owned by DASH. Here among the people of the community, new resources emerge as people gather and share their gifts. Dean the photographer and small engine mechanic delivers up home-made bread and vegan soup. Deborah shares her love of reading to children and helping to build their self-esteem. Mike is organizing resources to build a neighborhood Montessori school. Jane discovers that she is not the only one in the neighborhood with a Coyfish pond. A youth shares her drawings and her passionate love thereof. Ben Wheeler shares his love of connecting people for the common good.

 
There is much to learn from and grow among the delightful people and the gifts that reside in Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia. Thanks to DASH LaGrange, Ben Wheeler, and Communities First Association for applying Asset Based Community Development practices to connect community and harvest hope.

 

David (Dave) Cooper is an Asset Based Community Development practitioner, entrepreneur, catalyst, connector, coach, educator, advocate, consultant and planner. He works nationally and internationally through Shalom Makers to advance and support equitable, sustainable and collaborative community development. Dave may be reached at: dave.cooper@shalommakers.com or my phone: 804.614.6254

Living Economies: Place, People and Power Matter

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I recently attended the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) conference where I met some amazing entrepreneurs, including friend and colleague Adrian Pyle of the Uniting Church in Australia; all passionately engaged with building and rebuilding sustainable local communities through place-based economic and social development. The passion, commitment and local successes among these amazing people are contagious. Hope abounds along with a sense of urgency: a tipping point is at hand.

 
A presenter at the BALLE Conference, Marjorie Kelly, states in her new book, Owning Our Future: the Emerging Ownership Revolution, the time has come to shift away from dominate, corporate-led, top-down-controlled economy that “extracts” from communities and toward locally led, shared ownership, small business enterprise, generative economies that are restorative and sustainable. Quoting Margaret (Meg) Wheatley, Kelly re-tells a story all-too-common in nearly every corner of extractive capitalism:

“…she’d noticed increasing levels of anxiety in formerly progressive workplaces, with everyone working harder yet seeing years of good efforts swept away. People are required to produce more with fewer resources…and new leadership is highly restrictive and controlling, using fear as a primary motivator”

Kelly goes on to state that “the reason is the forces in control are outside the life of the firm, in capital markets, which are already swollen with excess yet demand still more, every quarter”. Where is the voice of the local community in the extractive, power-over economy? Mostly missing!

 
David Korten writes on similar concepts and approaches in his book, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (neighborhoods).

 

So do theologian Walter Brueggemann and Asset Based Community Development catalysts and practitioners Peter Block and John McKnight.

 
So, what are communities to do? What are some starting points toward building a new, generative economy? Different names are used by various practitioners and authors to describe it, but they essentially point to local, Asset Based Community Development practices by which locals take the lead to recognize their community assets, organize them into sustainable community-enhancing plans, projects and businesses and retain local control of the economic and social outcomes. Finally, Yes Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder suggests there are at least thirty one ways to re-build local economies.

 
When it comes to local living economies; place, its people, its resources, and its power matter.

Occupier and Ostracized: exclusion and embrace

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Recently, condemnatory remarks about Occupy Wall Street were made by Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) including “I am increasingly concerned by the growing mob occupying Wall Street and other cities across the country”, and by Rush Limbaugh who asserts that Occupy Wall Street people are “stupid”, and by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who said “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself”. These contemptuous and callous statements demonstrate an utter disregard of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the sufferings of common people who by their very presence are resisting systems of powerful corporate and political domination and exclusion. Rather than be present to the people of Occupy Wall Street, to empathize with, to embrace them, and commit to standing and working with them, these three men have distanced themselves by dismissing and asserting exclusion of the suffering masses. 

The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf states in his book by the same title, that Exclusion & Embrace are intentions and acts that all of humanity – including Mr. Cantor, Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Cain – may choose to take toward one’s fellow human beings. To embrace, Volf asserts, we “must cross a social boundary and move into the world of the other, to inhabit it temporarily” so that truth and trust – that is relationships – may exist between and among people and communities. Without embrace rooted in trust, there can be no community. Conversely, exclusion is both will and act that destroy community, build enmity, create an imbalance of power and can lead to abusive, unilateral domination. Grave societal and economic degradation follows the denigration and exclusion of suffering people; casting them as a mob, stupid and asserting that their poverty is their own fault. Is empathy no longer a quality of leaders? Importantly, there is a distinction to be drawn between the powers of exclusion and embrace.  

In ancient Palestine, Jesus (and vicariously his followers) was on trial in which neither his accusers nor judge cared for the truth. In the judge’s question, “what is truth”, it becomes clear that, as Volf states, the Empire and its powerful elite were interested only in the “truth of power” (power over another). Reciprocally, Jesus peacefully argues for the “power of truth” (relational power among) that transcends and universally trumps the powers of Empire. Over two thousand years later, the story continues. Jesus offers embrace; however, his accusers prefer to ostracize and unsuccessfully exclude the power of his truth.

 

The communities of commoners (the 99%) represented by Occupy Wall Street and related gatherings, those who are being factored out of austerity budgets and impoverished by the insatiable affluence of a controlling moneyed elite (and their well-lobbied politicians and public policies), are expressing their pain and peacefully resisting further exclusion.

Interestingly, the Occupy groups resemble those of civil rights activists of the 1960’s who were also maligned as a mob, stupid, incapable and unworthy. Much like the activists of the past, Occupy Wall Street and Rebuild the American Dream stand with and for the common good of all Americans: speaking the power of truth in search of equity and embrace.

Fare well, Communities

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A CCDA Café (Christian Community Development Association meeting) took place on June 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. I participated in this wonderfully diverse group of people that came together from around the city for one purpose: to work collaboratively for the well-being (shalom) of Metro Richmond. From across our variations in faith perspectives, congregations, neighborhoods, political points of view, gender, employment, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together in unity for the common good of our communities.

 I was in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2011 with a group of interfaith clergy leaders that gathered from across the United States to advocate in the U.S. Congress and the White House for something that has not been done in 46 years: a complete evaluation of the entire U.S. criminal justice system that will include recommendations for improvement of this costly, vastly complex, and extensively broken system. We were and are advocating for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 (S.306) – NCJCA. From across our differences in geographies, faith traditions, gender, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together for a unified moral purpose: to voice our support and advocacy for justice and mercy via the National Criminal Justice Reform Commission Act.  

We all have some stories to share about our various communities working and advocating for the co-creation of common good; however, especially in America today, the win-lose battles being fought in the states and at the federal level threaten to severely cripple and perhaps to destroy the common good and the good will extended to America. The congressional volleys appear more like bullying tactics than civil discourse and mutual agreement for the good of “all”. Clearly, the legion gridlocked battles are primarily the result of unilateral “power-over” politics rather than attempts to achieve policies roted in “shared power”. I believe that our nation’s Founders would be outraged at the current state of bickering, divisiveness, and power-wielding bullying that result in disunity, inequity, anger, fear and ever-deepening isolationism and classism. It is not the kind of community – not the kind of “United States” – that I believe the Founders had in mind.

 In the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution appear these words:

 We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The word “Welfare” conveys the cognitive assent and practical actions necessary to “fare well” or to live in a state of well-being. Welfare is not a pejorative term even though it has been used to stereotype the poverty-stricken. Rather, welfare may be translated “well-being”. Furthermore, well being is a semantically accurate though incomplete translation of the community, individual and societal assent and acts of wholeness conveyed by the Hebrew word “shalom” (see Robert C. Linthicum on shalom). As evidenced in Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, mutual provision for the well being (shalom) of all – with special emphasis upon the poor – is essential to the life and sustained success of the entire society (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Jeremiah 29:7, Proverbs 28:27, Acts 20:35, Matthew 5:7).  Why are we not endeavoring to achieve well-being for all?

 Why in the name of Economics are powerful policy-makers, organizations and institutions failing to see, hear and respond to the agonizing cries of the suffering masses who are jobless and underemployed; who are physically and spiritually hungry; who live in the woods because their homes have been foreclosed; who are imprisoned by a grossly engorged criminal justice system; who have lost faith, trust, and their investments in equity-producing systems and programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) that were established by a past generation for future well-being?

Why in the name of Human Life are the factorings of federal and state budgets producing bottom lines that afford abundant benefits to the powerful, the wealthy, the influential, the elite, well-fed, well-housed, and the well-insulated; while unilaterally consigning the vulnerable masses to struggle and suffer in a sea of scarcity?

Why in the name of Politics are we so complacent, so accepting of inequity, so comfortable, so isolationist, so quick to judge, so cocksure, and so angrily limited in mercy?

 Why in the name of God are we not unifying with mutual empathy across our many differences to form interdependent communities of well-being (shalom) that collectively build, rebuild and sustain the common good?

In recovering from the Civil War, to restore after the Great Depression, for rebuilding after World War II, to liberate incarcerated minds, hearts, bodies, economies and relationships in every community, America has been successful because of its unity, empathy and shared power (resources). Now, in the wake of the Great Recession, at a time when hope, empathy, unity, and mutual power are necessary for achieving the common good, America has again arrived at a time for recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation: a tipping point!

Will cocksure political and economic power result in a distant, passing wave of farewell to the struggling masses in our communities? Or will Americans unify in our collective recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation?

Finding Firm Ground in Times of Upheaval

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Silence is the space and place that I have recently sought as humankind journeys through the cataclysmic events that now swirl across our trembling lands. Floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, bitter economic, political and ideological divisiveness in the United States, peaceful transformation in Egypt, and killing air strikes in Libya; these events and many more remind me of the finitude of life and of our earth, the vital importance of relationship-centric interdependence, that our quest for unilateral power is unsustainable, and that the human will to survive and our endeavors to thrive are unquenchable.

While silencing of the multiplicity of chaos is my desire, I know that it will come only as humankind co-creates communities (small and large, near and far) in which common good (shalom-making) is achieved through unified relational power and mutually shared resources (Asset Based Community Development). Whether we accept it or not, whether we thrive or die, all humankind journeys together on this increasingly small planet earth that we call our home.

Swirling Spiral Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was silence that I perceived through the lens of my childhood telescope on crisp Florida nights when the stars shone brightly and the silvery crescent of earth’s moon yielded exquisite views of the heavens. Out in the distant swirling abyss, my mind’s eye wandered and wondered amidst the quiet beauty, form, and power present in places I would never set foot. Across the great space between my eye and the distant horizon was a hope-filled presence, the tug of adventure-filled and yet difficult journeys yet to be traveled, and a sense of purpose. Perhaps it was the images from my telescope; perhaps it was my supportive family; it may have been science taught by my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lee; or, maybe it was the steady venturing into space from nearby Cape Canaveral that motivated my childhood desire to become an astronaut and journey beyond the confines of terra firma.

Mission control celebrates. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The space race of the late 1960’s, landing a person on the moon, rallied massive national interest, support and provision, and focused some of the best resources and people on the planet to achieve this goal. The dangerous outward journey from home earth required wise, cohesive, sustained, collaborative investments. It was not an individualistic endeavor that yielded rewards for the few. Unity was a necessity and poignantly manifested during the Apollo 13 disaster when teams of colleagues tirelessly worked with the crew in order to survive an aborted lunar mission. The nation was fixated upon and unified in grave concern and steadfast hope for the crew of Apollo 13. The final destination for Apollo 13, or for that matter the entire space race, was not what anyone planned or expected; however, the journey yielded much more than the astronauts, mission control, and the nation could have asked for or imagined.

In my quest to become an astronaut, I learned early that there were constraints, namely my height, that redirected my aspirations. Although my destination would not to be achieved as I had hoped and dreamed, and I was disappointed, my eye and heart for adventuresome journeys and my delight in the night skies have not dimmed. Neither has my belief in the human capacity and will to survive and to thrive amidst unknown challenges that sometimes shake us to our core and redirect our journeys. Yielding my lofty goals for more earthly endeavors, my feet are firmly on the ground enlarging the circle of community.

Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA.

On our journeys through swirling chaos in which we seek shalom (silence, peace, unity, stability, love, compassion); what are ‘we’ to do? Will we unify and support one another on our collective journey, or will we take an exclusionary approach, attempting to ‘go it alone’? With the space race no longer a motivating force to propel our imagination and resources away from the earth, with our inward centripetal foci, with governments embroiled in divisive battles, with an overabundance of unilateral power being exerted upon the invulnerable and vulnerable, and with some transformative glimmers of hope, I believe humankind stands at a very unique and challenging time of opportunity. How will we — how will you and I — respond? I see signs in my community development work in the U.S. and abroad.

In this particular moment of silence, with an occasional glance out at the starry sky, my mind’s eye wanders and wonders amidst the beauty, form, and relational power that were present in my childhood that continues to emerge across the people, places, and communities of this earth that we call home. And, I remain grateful for the presence of hope and a tug of adventure to follow redirected paths through life on terra firma.

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From the Communities of Shalom Archives.

X3VHTSAC5YST

The U path: a spark ignited in Yarrambat.

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In a recent blog entry, “Where does the time go”, I mentioned my wonderful experiences with the slower pace of life in community at the edge of the “bush” in Yarrambat, Victoria, Australia. There is much more to the story.

It was mid November, 2010 when a group of people from diverse backgrounds and geographies gathered for two days in Yarrambat to, well, to be creative; to get to know one another; to enjoy some scones, jam and tea; to listen carefully; to be present to one another; to share our stories and our wisdom; to reflect upon why, how and where community forms and sustains itself. One of my roles in this gathering was to share my experiences in Asset Based Community Development as a shalom-maker (co-creator of community well-being).

Our gracious host for the gathering, Adrian Pyle, invested over a year in planning, inviting and bringing together this diverse group: no surprise since he has the very cool title and role of Director, Relationships Innovation with the Uniting Church in Australia. In planning the gathering, Adrian adapted a model known as Theory U, developed by MIT professor Otto Scharmer, and applied the path of the “U” to inform and shape our community time. As Adrian puts it:

The path of the “U” as I am using it can be seen as a general spiritual path, giving access to a life of “earth community” rather than empire. A range of spiritual traditions, philosophies and models can be seen to give access to the path… it [the U path] is like an inviting campfire, around which are drawn various parties interested in ideas of post-colonialism and non-violence and from backgrounds across, organizational development, community development, faith development and national and international development.

And, so it happened last November. We dipped into the “U” and emerged with fresh new connections and concepts that bridge across our various communities. Participants of various faith traditions and professional disciplines were profoundly moved and felt the synergy to continue conversations, connections, and plans; even across the planet.

From the spark ignited at Yarrambat, and continuing on the U path, community is both expanding and converging. As social entrepreneur, writer, teacher and developer Gail Plowman writes in “Dealing with social problems that get stuck” and “The Church – a ‘presencing’ body for advancing sustainability”, the transformational processes of community-building are taking place in ways and locations previously unimagined.

As sparks ignite in our communities, like Yarrambat, it is vitally important to our collective future to attend to and follow a U path for the common good of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and our planet. Adrian Pyle writes:

Creating conditions for more people to follow the “U” path therefore means creating the conditions where truly unique neighbourhoods can develop in every place and time. Nurturant, local neighbourhoods are the spaces which can be made safe enough for the true selfhood of the individual to emerge. This means that there must be heightened awareness of the educational, organisational, philosophical, spiritual and political conditions which create such neighbourhoods.

Where is your community on the U path?

N. David (Dave) Cooper, MDiv, MSW, CPM of Shalom-Makers: enlarging the circle of community.

Where does the time go?

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My grandmother, born in 1886 near Atlanta, Georgia, used to say to me, “the hurrier I go the behinder I get”. How true! As I have progressed through my formative years – graduate school and professional life, now a second career – I have come to appreciate, first hand, my grandmother’s statement. It now has a rich contextual meaning that it did not when I first heard it as a teenager.

A philosophy professor of mine once said, “Wisdom can never be taught. It must be lived”. There is some truth in his statement. However, I am still not so sure that we cannot learn practical wisdom across generations. I sure hope that we can and will. If we cannot, and will not, the costs to ourselves, our society, our planet will be immeasurable.

I recently read a reflection by a young woman, Brigitte, who quoted her nine year old son: “the key to speed is not to hurry”. Brigitte urges me (us) to be ‘mindful’ of societal ‘brainwashing’ that has the effect of compelling me, pushing us, to increase the speed of life at nearly any cost.

Where does the time go?
Koala Crossing sign on the road between Geelong and Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

Brigitte’s entry and my recent experiences with a very special presencing gathering in Yarrambat, Australia, have caused me to slow down, to pause, and to listen. Presencing, a blend of the words presence and sensing, refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one’s highest future potential — as an individual and as a group (from Presencing Institute).

Where does the time go?

Apollo 11 is the mission that first landed a person on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Times are changing. Our journeys through these times, and the ways we respond, individually and collectively, yield both good and the not so good. My grandmother lived through the times of horse and buggies, the advent of the automobile, heavier than air flight, and a person walking on the moon. From our home in Florida, we watched the Saturn Five, Apollo lunar missions that were initiated by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960’s. These late 19th and 20th century discoveries and the amazing changes they initiated have yielded much. Yet, I can’t begin to imagine what my grandmother must have experienced as the speed of life around her increased exponentially: what a blur. We are witnessing similar exponential change in the 21st century.

I remember a marketing phrase from the early 1970’s. I think it was IBM that coined it: The “new” computer will increase productivity so much that workers will have three day weekends. The reciprocal has proven to be true. In the U.S., we do much more work and have far less time in which to slow down, to pause: where is that three day weekend?

The goal of creating increased leisure time in order to spend some of it with family, friends, and in our communities is embedded in the computerization marketing message of the 1970’s. Of course, in America, increased leisure (quality) time has not been realized. Over the past thirty or so years, we have experienced the financial necessity of multiple wage earners in our families. We work longer hours so we can consume more stuff at a faster pace, then rush home to hurriedly finish our day so we can slow down.

Having returned from a wonderful time in Australia, and taking time to reflect upon the wisdom imparted to me by friends, former strangers (now friends), and family, I have slowed my pace. I pause. I listen attentively. I am present and sensing. Even with multiple competing demands, I make time for conversation. I enjoy a coffee or tea at a café. I give my family members an extra hug. I correspond with people in my communities, both near and far. I am actively and passively participating in presencing for the well-being (or shalom) of one another, our communities, and our planet.

Where does the time go?
Kafe Kaos in the seaside village of Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

The Hebrew word for whole-community well-being is shalom. While shalom encompasses much more than can be translated into English, shalom is manifested when there is shared power, equity and mutual beneficence among physical, social, economic, political and spiritual organizations, institutions, and systems. Shalom is not simply a transcendent hope; rather, it is a concrete, tangible, proactive, wise, investment of all resources (including time) to work in concert for the common good.

I am deeply engaged with shalom-making in communities across the United States and abroad. I facilitate, train, coach, support, and advocate for shalom-makers as an independent consultant and via the Drew University Shalom Initiative. I apply Asset Based Community Development and community organizing principles and techniques to help communities develop and achieve their own outcomes. Shalom-making is not easy and not for the timid. It is an emergent, locally-led, co-creating, bold, sustained, and collaborative endeavor for the healthy and whole transformation of the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play. I am a shalom-maker: enlarging the circle of community for the common good.

This post also appears on http://colabradio.mit.edu/.

In an upcoming entry, look for more on Australia and the wonderful people that I met and worked with there.

Have it your way!

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A popular fast food organization used a phrase in an advertising jingle “have it your way” to emphasize to its American customers that they could expect their individual tastes in food to be served up, just the way “you” like it. Another line in the jingle goes like this; “special orders don’t upset us”. The implication in the jingle is that if our individual expectations are not met by one producer, we could experience satisfaction elsewhere, ad infinitum.

We Americans have grown to expect to have it our way; whether it is hamburgers, religious affiliation, political party, or the neighborhood in which we live. However, when having it “my” way results in “you” not having it your way (a win-lose situation) there proceeds disunity, unsettledness; and often anger, incivility, a clamoring for unilateral power (dominance), and legal intervention. One need not look far to see the results of have-it-your-way.

Just this morning, I read a blog entry on the MIT Community Innovator’s Lab: “Melt your snow anger. Sit down with the enemy”. In her entry, Christina Ruhfel tells the story of her husband’s hard work to shovel snow off of their family car as well as that of a neighbor: a seemingly nice gesture of neighborliness. However, shortly thereafter, the Ruhfels were confronted by an angry, uncivil neighbor that, while banging on the Ruhfel’s front door, insisted the snow was not shoveled into the correct place. In other words, the noble and altruistic motivations of her husband, shoveling snow onto the street where a plow could take it away, did not meet the demanding “have it my way” perspective of their neighbor. The neighbor was upset and, probably without consideration for Mr. Ruhfel’s intentions and labor, a meltdown ensued.

Yet, justice was served. Christina Ruhfel makes a wonderful observation that she connects with President Obama’s recent State of the Union address: changing our culture of incivility and domination (unilateral power-over others), requires unity (relational power-with others) while thinking globally and acting locally. The real glimmer of hope in the Ruhfel’s situation is this: Christina and her husband proactively took matters into their own hands by seeking relationships and power “with” others to create Polite People for Peace.  Perhaps this is the best way to “have it our way”.

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