NM Blog

The blog of Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, AZ.

Top 10 Ways We Have Learned to “See” Our Community


Our community is invisible to a lot of people.  One glaring example recently revealed this.  Our city is moving into the twenty-first century with public transportation, the light rail.  The next phase of railway, to be added in the coming decade, is planned to run through our neighborhood.  Engineers and planners mapped a route right through a part of our community that would have been disastrous and displace many families.  We realized immediately that this route needed to be changed and our leaders and community members rallied to effect a changed route that will not displace a single family!

The city planners did not see.   How do people learn to see things that are invisible to others?  There is a progression in seeing.

1) Practice seeing – We know our community is invisible to others; it is the way of poverty.  There are lots of reasons outsiders don’t want to see our community: it has been stereotyped to be dangerous; it has blight; the perceived pain is hard to face.  We argue that seeing is a spiritual discipline, it can be cultivated even though it doesn’t come naturally.  A friend of ours, Kris Rocke, in his book titled Geography of Grace, reflects on developing sight using Robert Barron’s And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation:

Christianity is, above all, a way of seeing.  Everything else in Christian life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision.  Christians see differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, their action, their whole way of being in the world, has a distinctive accent and flavor.[1]

2) Live here and have trusted relationships – Over the years, more and more of us have moved into the neighborhood, and, progressively, original residents are moving back in from the suburbs.  In doing life with our friends, the realities of our community struggles are exposed.  Love opens our eyes and, once our eyes are opened, it is impossible to close them again.

3) Come as a listener – Surprisingly, it is still necessary to help people enter a community with respect.  The community can and ought to be our educator about itself.  All desire to fix, all efforts to reform and all intention to bring something in that has previously been determined the community needs, before asking good questions, is called paternalism and should be discouraged.[2]

4) Prayer walk – God is in love with our community.  Imagine seeing through His eyes. The concept of prayer walking is actually very simple but can be life changing.  Walking around the community and praying for what you see and what the Lord brings to mind, alerts the heart and mind about the hidden oasis’ of beauty and situations that break the heart of God.

5) Asset map – Up until recently the favorite approach to evaluating problematic communities has been using a needs assessment model, where program development comes from the deficiencies and problems discovered.  For most of us, this needs approach reinforced the already entrenched mental images most have of so-called “needy” neighborhoods: crime, violence, joblessness, welfare dependency, gangs, drugs, homelessness, vacant and abandoned land, boarded-up buildings.  And though they tell some of the story, they are by no means the whole story.  As specialists in faraway think tanks and social laboratories study the problems and come up with solutions to the neighborhoods as outsiders, the community takes on the self-understandings of the service providers and begins to view themselves as clients.  As a rule, from universities to the media, the primary way in which poor communities are viewed is through the grid of the deficiency model.  In contrast, wherever effective community development efforts have been discovered, those efforts were based upon an understanding of the community’s assets, capacities and abilities. Come and see the assets.

6) Network and make alliances – Community developers and community organizers recognize that the work of rebuilding communities is relationship business.  Building and rebuilding relationships between local residents, associations and institutions is a good way to learn to see.

7) Evaluate, study and explore – Nothing is static; our community is always changing. We must be committed to relevant research and ongoing innovation to participate with the community around its concerns.  Often the local university or city has some level of research they are doing in our community in an effort to see themselves or to help someone else see.

8) Get involved in community affairs – Community organizing is about engaging disadvantaged communities in order to help them achieve power.  It begins with an anger that comes from seeing.

…an anger that seethes at the injustices of life and transforms itself into a compassion for those hurt by life.  It is an anger rooted in direct experience and held in collective memory.  It is the kind of anger that can energize a democracy – because it can lead to the first step in changing politics.[3]

9) Locate and learn from historic mentors – If we have eyes to see, and determination to seek them out, the educators of how our community was formed can be found.  We can ask them an infinite amount of questions: how our community has changed, what icons and symbols remain of a time gone by, residents who have made significant contributions, ethnic histories and even spiritual mapping.

10) Go door to door – There is nothing like knocking on someone’s door and beginning a relationship that opens the eyes to see who and what is all around us.  We go door to door for voter registration, community listening projects, asset mapping, program for church, surveys, census work, etc.  Every time the project is completed, we see our community better.

Seeing is a spiritual discipline, and as it is activated it opens up the heart and mind to stories that are hidden and hardly known.  It has been helpful to us as a ministry to learn the back story of what we are seeing.  Our community has a story, a long and magnificent story of pain and joy, loss and discovery, anger and love.  What is your community’s story?

 

Footnotes:

[1] Kris Rocke and Joel Van Dyke, Geography of Grace, (Tacoma: Street Psalms Community, 2012), 256.

[2] Listening to the Community – Often communities are developed by people outside of the community that bring in resources without taking into account the community itself. Christian Community Development is committed to listening to the community residents, and hearing their dreams, ideas and thoughts. This is often referred to as the “felt need” concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future. It is important not to focus on the weaknesses or needs of a community. Again, the felt need concept, as referred to earlier, helps us as community developers to focus on the desires of the community residents. The priority is the thoughts and dreams of the community itself. What the people themselves believe should be the focus. Asset-based community development focuses on the assets of a community and building upon them. When fused together through Christian Community Development, they can have extremely positive results. Every community has assets, but often these are neglected. When a ministry utilizes Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), it names all of the assets in the community that helps the community see its many positive characteristics. It is through these assets that people develop their community. Christian Community Development realistically points out, through community meetings and efforts, some of the areas that people in the community would like to see improved. The areas to be focused upon are not looked at from some outside group or some demographic study that is laid upon the community. Instead, it is the community members themselves that decide what area they would like to improve .After a community has decided where they want to focus some of their attention, it is then directed to the means with which they themselves can bring this about. What qualities, talents, and abilities does the community have that can help solve these problems? The focus is on the community members seeing themselves as the solution to the problem, not some government program or outside group that is going to be their salvation .It is essential for community leaders to help the community focus on maximizing their strengths and abilities to make a difference for their community. The philosophy of Christian Community Development believes that the people with the problem have the best solutions and opportunities to solve those problems. Christian Community Development affirms the dignity of individuals and encourages the engagement of the community to use their own resources and assets to bring about sustainable change.

[3] Mary Beth Rogers, Cold Anger, A Story of Faith and Power Politics, (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1990), 9.

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