Saturday, July 30, 2005


I’ve witnessed the inner workings of a principle, a truth now for over a decade.

Neighborhoods get better, not when the individuals who live there get better personally, but when these individuals get together.

Interestingly, once folks get connected, individual progress breaks out all around.

We’ve been so brainwashed by marketing and an out-of-control consumer culture that we have lost our appreciation for the power and the importance of the group and its collective action.

Mark it down: change happens, reform sets in, progress ramps up when people meet up.

Frankly, this is why so many faith-based initiatives don’t really produce neighborhood change in a sustainable, measurable manner. If our only or even primary focus is on the individual in isolation from others, then predictably community lift will remain minimal. And, progress with individuals will be half-baked and short-lived.

Inner city change will not occur without collective, organized action. It’s just a fact.

The fact that a city’s police department short changes crime-infested, poorer central city areas when it comes to patrols, community policing and focused attention, as compared to the attention more affluent areas receive, comes as no surprise to the people who live there. Improvement in community policing will come only as the citizens of such communities come together to call for, to demand and in some cases to force change in police policy and priorities. This is just how things work.

In the process individuals get stronger. Leaders emerge and things change.

The same could be said for code enforcement, public education, health care, parks and recreation, transportation and environmental concerns.

Change comes as people unite. Poverty need not be a barrier to the renewal of sidewalk, front yard fellowship!

In many cases religion doesn’t really help. Systems of faith and practice focused solely on individual renewal and defined exclusively by individualistic piety may keep people’s noses pressed into the Bible, but will have negligible affect in impoverished and troubled neighborhoods.

Indeed, change may be informed by spiritual teachings and values and it may be sustained by prayer and devotion, but it will come only as community coalesces around issues.

Urban change calls me to be committed to you, your interests and our connection, no matter what our individual differences.

Community development translates into community power and genuine community transformation.

Until people get together nothing much will come together in broken neighborhoods.


Jeremy Alder said...

This is so true. The question is, in urban neighborhoods infected with fear and despair, how do you go about combating the tendency to isolationism, i.e. how do you go about getting people together?

In the neighborhood my wife and I minister in in East Austin, most neighborhood association and community project meetings are poorly attended, despite being well advertised. We tried a neighborhood bible club in our front yard and got many who said they would come but few who actually did. Block parties are one idea that have been pretty succesful at getting people together, but a party atmosphere is not really conducive to organizing serious planning and action.

Any ideas?

krister said...

Your post reminds me of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We are a chain. We are linked together, and I cannot be what I ought to be unless you are what you ought to be."

There is both an individual and communal aspect that we seem to have missed out on. We no longer see ourselves as a chain but more as individual links trying to connect to other individual links. I think you've hit the nail on the head in talking about the effects individualism and capitalism have on community. It seems that our society has pawned off the idea that even if you're poor, perhaps something great will happen and you may "make it" someday. So we've set up a spirit of competition to attain more which keeps individuals from getting together. So much more could be had together than by trying to look out for number one. As my professor said the other day, "If some of us aren't free, none of us are free."

I wish we could find a way to empathize with our brothers and sisters living in the midst of broken communities and broken neighborhoods. It seems unlikely unless people start recognizing the Christ in others by spending time with them. Most are too busy, in their gated communities thinking about how they need something else, to take the time to truly evaluate the system by which they find themselves as members of the "have lots" as opposed to the "have nots."

Kyle said...

I just finished reading the New Harry Potter book, so this may seem silly, but:

There is a part in the book when it seems that despair and hopelessness reign and dark days seem emminant. There was at this time a gathering where I thought someone would get up and say, "Look at how many we have on our side. They have so few. Why are we afraid when it is them who should be afraid?" To my disappointment no one made this speech but I had to admit that it rang truer this way as we often don't see the world as full of good people who can take on the fewer bad. Instead we see the evil in the world and we try to stay out of the way as much as possible as to not be in the way. But the bad guys have learned how to band together because they know they are in the minority. A call for togetherness in all of our communities is needed. Thank you.

Paul said...

Really like the clarity of your thought. Matthew at Liberal Jesus provided the link, and has impressed me as a similar clear-thinker on issues relating to social justice.

I'd add that prejudice is overcome in a similar manner: when people of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions have face to face contact.

VirusHead said...

I've been reading your blog and been very impressed. There is a little bit of cognitive dissonance for me, though, in the contrast between your content and being "CEO"? Not sure I understand the nature of the organization nor why it would take on the corporate model. Really a question, not a criticism- from the current puppet-CEO of Benevolent Deities Inc.