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The World Is A Neighborhood


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The following is copied and pasted from my blog:

 

First Gathering

I was going to title this post, "The Beginning", but then I remembered that the beginning began with an invitation.

 

Last night 12 of our neighbors (including two children) met with my wife and I in our family room. We had included with the invitation this Agenda:

 

• Introduction of Neighbors.

• Introduction of purpose: to create a neighborhood of neighbors, an intentional community.

○ Discuss importance of purpose.

• Introduction of primary intention: learn how to be a neighbor.

• Sharing of visions: What would a really good neighborhood be like?

○ Search for similarities in visions.

• Snacks & further discussion.

 

We followed this agenda fairly closely.

 

We gave a three-ring notebook to each family containing the original invitation,

A page containing the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10,

A page stating our purpose:

 

We want to learn how to be good neighbors, to develop closer and healthier relationships with our neighbors. We believe that by doing this it will change ourselves, our neighborhood, our city, our state, our nation, and the world. We believe this is not only valuable, but critically necessary. Our present way of living is simply not sustainable. Evidence from many sources point to the probable end of civilization unless a fundamental change occurs in the way we relate to other human beings and with our environment.

 

Ultimately (and this may sound a little crazy), we want to save the world.

 

A page containing our intention:

 

We intend to achieve our purpose of learning how to be better neighbors by creating intentional communities through small group gatherings of neighbors beginning in our home and then reproducing, spreading, and connecting these gatherings of neighbors throughout the world.

 

A page about the importance of these neighborhood gatherings:

 

Below is a partial list of possible values which may be realized as we become good neighbors. We need to make and keep a distinction between value and purpose. For instance, a possible and probable result of these gatherings may be the development of a safer neighborhood. However developing a safer neighborhood is not our purpose. If it becomes our purpose, most of the other values on this list will not be realized. We need gatherings such that every neighbor will find value in them and want to participate, but not everyone will share the same values.

 

 

And this article.

 

The response was excellent - far better than I was hoping for. Neighbors seemed to buy into our vision and caught some of our passion. Especially exciting was the participation of the children.

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I guess what I'm looking for, in this topic, is some constructive criticism, creative ideas, support, discussion on the nature of the church, and some clarification about whether or how these efforts might be connected to the Progressive Church movement - and whether these efforts can be considered as part of the Emerging Church.

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I guess what I'm looking for, in this topic, is some constructive criticism, creative ideas, support, discussion on the nature of the church, and some clarification about whether or how these efforts might be connected to the Progressive Church movement - and whether these efforts can be considered as part of the Emerging Church.

 

If you are looking for constructive criticism of what I just read, you will not find it in me. I believe what you are doing is wonderful and organized in a most logical and meaningful manner. It fits well in the 4th mission statement for TCPC. And the best part is it starts with the neighborhood and can be very very contagious. Whatever you call it, it is not against us but rather for us and may well be a part of any Emerging church you might envision or see.

 

Joseph

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Thanks Joseph.

I'm hoping that my "vision" is not simply a utopian dream. Let me fill out a little bit more of my vision:

 

My idea of organization at this time is basically taken from nature – the rhizome. Central to this kind of structure, as it relates to my ‘vision’, is the small group. So, I might say that I want to plant small neighborhood groups which will grow like weeds. :) Nature doesn’t necessarily have a central planning committee, nor do I believe that there is a designer. Nature organizes itself. In systems theory, I believe this is called ‘autopoiesis’. The early church (before it became institutionalized) was also an attempt to create a world community. In the first two centuries it grew exponentially. I think there are some lessons to be gained from the attempt and some mistakes to be avoided. The early church, contrary to what many believe, was very pluralistic. I think a world community can be formed that values diversity and creativity. That is not true of most “religious” organizations (which still make the claim that their purpose is to create community) today (with the possible exception of the Unitarian Universalists). Also, I think having a common ethic based on respect and trust is critical. The mistake of the Christian church, I believe, is that it began to adopt an ethic of obedience – especially after it became the state religion. An ethic of obedience required submission to dogma. The “prophets” and their prophetic fires were quenched under the control of the priests. Using “prophets and priests” metaphorically, the prophets were agents of transformation, creativity, flux, and were connected to the future. The priests were agents of stability, order, security, and were connected to the past. The domination of the priests over the prophets created the hierarchical structure that we see in almost all religious organizations today.

 

Problem: Because the symbols 'God' and 'church' carry so much baggage, I have no desire for, nor do I see a reason to use them. Nevertheless, I do want to be connected to other organizations that exist for the purpose of creating community. The small group gatherings in homes need to be connected to something larger. I'm not sure why this organic structure cannot be loosely connected with any and every organization which will be open to it. I think the connection would be symbiotic.

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Don,

 

I would think Fred Plumer, TCPC president, might be interested in what you are doing and have to say. Perhaps you might pass it by him. His experience is far greater than mine and I think he could provide you with some feed back that might be more helpful to you. You can find his email or phone under 'contact us' at www.TCPC.org

 

Joseph

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks, Joseph. I did correspond with Fred Plumer and his comments and advice were very useful. I'm still digesting some of it.

 

One of the books that influenced my early thinking was, The Secular City by Harvey Cox. One of the big political issues back then was ridding the public schools of an imperialistic Christianity - a secularization of public institutions. Many saw it then, as many see it today, as an attempt to separate "God" from our nation. It seems like such a silly thing, to think that in reaction to the process of secularization, some think that "God" needs to be defended. Anyway, Cox's contention was that those who were resisting secularization were actually trying to resist the movement of God's Spirit. In other words, they were not on God's side, but on the side of the devil.

 

I was thinking about Harvey's book this morning because it dawned on me, that what I was trying to do - that what I feel "led" to do, is to found a secular "church". Fred mentioned, in his message to me, that there is a "movement" of small groups that meet in homes with a common interest. I think, if I understood Fred's message correctly, he felt that my intentions are different than the intentions of groups which meet specifically for "spiritual development and practices". I'm not so sure though. What is the difference between "spiritual development and practices" and learning how to be a good neighbor, and to develop closer and healthier relationships?

 

I've been involved in "cell groups" which are programs within some churches. I've been involved in House Church. What I want to do doesn't seem to quite fit with either of those two efforts to form community.

 

As I was thinking about The Secular City, I did a Google search and found this article by Harvey Cox.

 

I am especially drawn to this idea I discovered in the article:

 

Perhaps the suggestion I made at the end of The Secular City, which sounded radical to some readers then, is still a good one: we should learn something from the ancient Jewish tradition of not pronouncing the name of the Holy One, live through a period of reverent reticence in religious language, and wait for the spirit to make known a new vocabulary that is not so tarnished by trivialization and misuse.

 

Any comments?

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Don,

 

I am also drawn to that quote. The ideas of love and peace, gratefulness and forgiveness and nonjudgementalism are ideas that need no religion. They are universal. Those ideas serve to unite rather than divide and indeed God needs no defence nor is praise required by God to work those things in us.

 

Joseph

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Pantarhea,

 

Everything you said made a lot of sense to me. Good point about the early church.

In some ways I miss living in a development where I was involved in a neighborhood committee & meetings. I love being in the rural countryside but I cannot imagine the neighbors getting together for any reason other than a dire emergency!

Also like that quote from Harvey Cox. Might have to re-read The Secular City.

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I was thinking about Harvey's book this morning because it dawned on me, that what I was trying to do - that what I feel "led" to do, is to found a secular "church". Fred mentioned, in his message to me, that there is a "movement" of small groups that meet in homes with a common interest. I think, if I understood Fred's message correctly, he felt that my intentions are different than the intentions of groups which meet specifically for "spiritual development and practices". I'm not so sure though. What is the difference between "spiritual development and practices" and learning how to be a good neighbor, and to develop closer and healthier relationships?

 

I've been involved in "cell groups" which are programs within some churches. I've been involved in House Church. What I want to do doesn't seem to quite fit with either of those two efforts to form community.

 

 

Hmmm --- it seems that we are moving in similar directions although you are probably a little more "formal" in your approach. Basically I live in an area with only one progressive spiritual resource - a UCC church which is open to progressive theology but has a very traditional style of worship and music and a small, mostly older congrehation. They do offer Sunday School for the children and offer 2 weeks of a "VBS" style program in the summer (August).

 

Let me quote from my other post on what I am trying to work on in my area.

 

I'm thinking of a lay-led family ministry midweek evening group maybe once per month starting in the fall. My preference would be for it to meet at a home. The purpose would not to be "overtly religious" or "churchy" or a "bible study" or "book discussion" group. Instead, it would uphold progressive Christian values through fun activities involving both parents and kids like family games, outings, barbeques, picnics, movie nights, service projects, arts and crafts, etc. maybe with some really informal sharing of values or stories to the kids. For the adults, I think that we get more of progressive Christian values through discussion, connecting with others, and living out those values rather than sermons or lectures anyways.

 

Dave

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Hmmm --- it seems that we are moving in similar directions although you are probably a little more "formal" in your approach. Basically I live in an area with only one progressive spiritual resource - a UCC church which is open to progressive theology but has a very traditional style of worship and music and a small, mostly older congrehation. They do offer Sunday School for the children and offer 2 weeks of a "VBS" style program in the summer (August).

 

Let me quote from my other post on what I am trying to work on in my area.

 

I'm thinking of a lay-led family ministry midweek evening group maybe once per month starting in the fall. My preference would be for it to meet at a home. The purpose would not to be "overtly religious" or "churchy" or a "bible study" or "book discussion" group. Instead, it would uphold progressive Christian values through fun activities involving both parents and kids like family games, outings, barbeques, picnics, movie nights, service projects, arts and crafts, etc. maybe with some really informal sharing of values or stories to the kids. For the adults, I think that we get more of progressive Christian values through discussion, connecting with others, and living out those values rather than sermons or lectures anyways.

 

Dave

 

Yes! I love it. I understand what the purpose wouldn't be - not to be "overtly religious", etc., but what would the purpose be? Upholding progressive Christian values? Is a sharing of values enough? Is our neighbor, whom we are supposed to love as we love ourselves, always a sharer of our values? If not, do we exclude him/her? Is it possible to learn how to love someone who doesn't share our values? What you've described is the simple sharing of life. Isn't that inclusive enough? To simply enjoy and love one another?

 

OK, suppose this lay-led family ministry becomes really popular. How many people can fit in a house? What's the next step if it becomes a large gathering? Buy or rent a building? Will there be a need eventually to be clergy-led rather than lay-led? After all, the clergy person can make sure those progressive values are taught to everyone and thereby insure a unity of purpose, right? Next thing you know, someone is breaking away from the gathering and starting a lay-led family ministry with others who share their values.

 

Seems to me that this is a pattern that gets repeated too often.

 

If your ministry begins to grow numerically and if the growth is handled by multiplying the gathering locations in homes, and if my ministry also grows and multiplies, perhaps the boundary between our neighborhoods would eventually disappear. Wouldn't that be great??

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is quite a coincidence, PantaRhea, because your notion of the “intentional community” is very similar to an idea I have been cooking up as of late, though I hadn’t quite formulated a name for it yet. In fact I wrote these in an informal essay about a week ago prior to even discovering this forum:

 

We don’t need utopian ideology or bureaucracy to serve our needs; we need to start living as communities, being part of one another and sharing the responsibility of living in our own idiosyncratic and localized ways.

 

I see that the fundamental problem with utopia is that it cannot survive the complexities that come from the totality of large populations. The "commune," even the idea of it, becomes stretched too thin...Ideals are just caricatures, incomplete pictures; they are polarizing forces that do not capture the total reality. The only ideology, then, for the ideal community is that it ought to be to be free from ideology and strive for what is authentic and truly nurturing to our humanity…this communal way will work only if carried out within the framework of truly authentic and intimate friendships, small, local, and individualized. The answer is not to idealize and try to impose the utopia on a scheme larger than the concept has room for, but to realize it where it can be realized, in the individual life and its network of relationships. When it comes to utopia, think quality, not quantity. Think utopias, rather than one utopia.

 

Forgive me if this writing is not altogether clear as I wrote it primarily for myself, but does this sound close to what you have in mind?

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