Thursday, November 11, 2010

Changing the Conversation: Day 2 Reflections from Pastoral Leadership Gathering

"Wilderness is where we [the church] are, a community questing for an alternative future in the wake of a patriarchal empire." These were some of the opening remarks made by Peter Block in this innovative leadership gathering being held at my home-away-from-home, Broad Street Ministry. I was not prepared for such a prophetic statement loaded with religious and biblical overtones, as Block is not noted for his engagement with the church (in fact, it has been said that this is the first time he has implemented his ideas in an ecclesial setting). You could have heard a pin drop as Block was speaking a lot of what many of us in the room had been thinking for quite some time. Nonetheless, those of us who gathered in the sanctuary are interested in "changing the conversation" from sustaining institutions to incarnating kingdom ethics, from propping up absolute systems to imagining fresh embodiments of intentional communities, from feeding imperial truth-statements to asking prophetic and formative questions and concerns. As Block reminded us, as pastors we are more than holders of certainty and dispatchers of answers; instead, he challenged us to be initiators of conversations, conveners of dialogue, and architects of communities.

Here are a few notes from the "Day with Peter Block." These are not absolute statements, rather comments up for critique and debate as we explore together alternative methodology to community formation:

Morning Part 1:
  • Transformation is linguistic, i.e. conversations about creating alternative futures distinct from the past; this is not to say the past is to be completely forsaken, rather the past is neither absolute nor definitive…
  • Key to transformation is to invite people into a conversation they have not had before with people they are not used to talking to
  • Offering "help" is more often demonstrative of colonization than transformation
  • Communities are not built by deficiencies, systems are, and are propped up by attempts to "fill the gap" with consumer-driven, quick-fix solutions
  • Communities are gift-minded; key distinction between citizenship and consumerism
  • "Citizen Capacity": encourages people to create for themselves what they thought they could purchase
  • Six Key Conversations:
    • Possibility v. Problem; i.e. what can we create together v. what is wrong and how can we fix it…
    • Commitment; i.e. what role do I play and what can I contribute; what can I give v. what can I get…
    • Dissent; i.e. the right to say "no" and the embrace of doubt and disagreement
    • Invitation; extending hospitality and including even those on the margins into the conversation
    • Ownership and Accountability; i.e. turning complaints into requests
  • Small groups are the units of transformation
  • Systems extract humanity in order to create safety, security, and control; communities reclaim and restore our humanity in quest for alternative future distinct from patriarchal past
  • The future will not come from the front of the room

Afternoon Part 2:
  • My transformation will never come with those whom I know best; if you want a future distinct from the past you must extend the invitation to those who are different from you…
  • Questions are more significant than answers; answers lead to peddling and consumerism, implementing a system that sells
  • Art plays a key role in community formation, reminds us who we are and who we are striving to become
  • To be human is to "not know"; to claim certainty is to deny humanity
  • Most reform movements are about improving the system instead of reimagining an alternative future; we must begin with the surrender of our need to fix problems (deficiencies) and engage gifts to create new possibilities
  • What threatens communities is not difference of opinion, but absolute certainty
  • Dissent and doubt are the beginning of conversations of transformation; communities need to create adequate space for cynicism and doubt

It is difficult to grasp fully the implications of the day's events, reflections, conversations, and interactions with strangers from within the same denomination. However, when listening to Block, especially after reading his book (Community: The Structure of Belonging), one cannot help to notice the significant Christological and ecclesial overtones found within his proposed methodology. Block ended with a brief anecdote whereby someone approached him after reading his book and said, "It's so good for a book to be written by a Christian like you." Block responded, "Thanks, but I am a Jew." The man proceeded to respond, "No, you're not." Block laughed and acknowledged that he was grateful to explore his theories and paradigms among Christian leaders and pastors, with whom he felt very much at home. I would agree, and maybe that is because a large part of our narrative is shared- a quest out of imperial exile and towards an alternative future in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.