Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Want to Save the World? Build inclusive communities where people matter

...or so says Frances Moore Lappé in a recent article, "Could Our Deepest Fears Hold the Key to Ending Violence?" The essay beautifully synthesizes a range of related insights that have impressed themselves on me through the years--insights which have been vividly driven home for me through my work with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), especially facilitating AVP workshops in prisons.

Everyone wants to matter. More importantly, we want to matter to a community. Pugnacious communities that encourage violence prey on those of us who feel marginalized, who for one reason or another feel as if we don't belong or as if our contributions go unnoticed. What these communities offer is seductive precisely because violence vividly affects the world. The impact of violence, though negative, is inescapable. A community built around the valorization of violence thus offers the promise of finding belonging through actions that undeniably matter.

Who can deny that the Boston bombers mattered, that their actions made a difference in human lives? The difference was an awful one, a shattering difference. But for those who hunger for relevance, those who doubt their own significance in the world, violence is an obvious answer. And when a shadow community frames such vivid destructive actions as heroic, and treats those who commit them as champions of the shadow community, the outcomes are as predictable as they are tragic.

If you are disaffected, afraid of irrelevance, alienated from those around you, it matters a whole lot who reaches out to you. If extremists defined by in-group/out-group ideologies reach out to you, you're likely to reach back if you're hungry enough. Much depends on where else you can go to get fed.

When Jesus said, "Feed my lambs," one can't deny that real food, the sort that fills actual human bellies, was intended. But maybe another kind of food was also on his mind--the kind of food that inclusive communities can provide, when they offer creative outlets for making a positive difference in the world and a sense of belonging built around such meaningful creativity. At its best, that is what the Church can be. At its worst, it becomes defined by in-group/out-group ideologies, marginalizing some members who become disaffected and angry, and feeding others the wrong kind of food.

So, what can we do, each of us, to help make our own communities places where the alienated can come to feel as if they've come home? Where can we help build communities of this sort? How can we make sure that our world is a banquet of opportunities for real inclusion and creative (rather than destructive) meaning, so that no one is tempted by the poisoned food?

1 comment:

  1. So true Eric, and as a Christian, I think this is what every church should aspire to be. And we have often failed to do this (that may be an understatement).

    We should worry less about passing more laws and worry more about passing the peace to the least of these.