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Posts tagged community


When people sit down together in a public place — a place where none of them is sovereign but each of them at home — and when those people pass the evening together, sipping drinks in which the spirit of place is stored and amplified, maybe smoking or taking snuff and in any case willingly exchanging the dubious benefits of longevity for the certain joys of friendship, they rehearse in their souls the original act of settlement, the act that set our species on the path of civilisation, and which endowed us with the order of neighbourhood and the rule of law.

When, however, people swig drinks without interest in their neighbours, except as equal members of the wild host of hunter-gatherers, when their sole concern is the intoxicating effect and when the drink itself is neither savoured nor understood, then are they rehearsing that time before civilisation, in which life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Understandably, the first and natural effect of this way of drinking is an implacable belligerence towards the surrounding signs of settlement — an urge to smash and destroy, to replace the ordered world of house and street and public buildings, with a ruined wasteland where only the drunk is at home. Binge drinking may look like a communal act. In fact, it is an act of collective solitude, in which the god of modern puritans, the Self, reigns supreme.


D: So the problem isn’t small-town Kansas—it’s a toxic mixture of small-town Kansas plus adolescence?

R: I think so. I like the small-town Kansas where we are now but, believe it or not, small-town Kansas is very heterogeneous. The town where we live now and where I grew up have a lot of significant differences in culture.

D: Tell me more…

R: Mainly it has to do with how people treat each other and how people approach problems. Here, problems are meant to be solved and people have a lot of respect for one another. We have “community conversations” when there’s something that impacts the whole town, and everyone who wants to speak can have their say. Where I grew up, on the other hand, people say all manner of things about other people, and if there’s a problem that affects the town everyone just complains to everyone else. The population even since I left has declined really sharply and everyone just says, “Oh, poor us, look at our dying town, who will save it?” Whereas here they formed an economic development commission and went out looking for new businesses to bring to the community. Some problems are similar, but by and large I think this is a positive place to grow up, and the graduating seniors we know well have said so too.

The other great example of small-town heterogeneity is to look at the counties to the north and south of us. To the north we have County A, where people routinely farm well into their 80’s, have active sex lives into their 90’s, and there has not been a teen pregnancy in almost 10 years. These are the ruddy-cheeked insanely healthy country folk you may have read about. To the south, then, we have County B, where everyone over 40 has diabetes, the obesity rate seems like it’s about 90%, STI’s are rampant and there are currently 8 pregnant girls in the high school. What’s the difference? I have been trying to figure this out. The medical care is exactly the same (it’s our group). The physical infrastructure is not that different. But culturally, people in County B have this victimizing, back-biting mentality.

D: It’s that stark a difference, huh? That’s astonishing.

R: It really and truly is.

from "Primates on Facebook," The Economist, 26 February 2009

The Economist asked Cameron Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, to crunch some numbers. Dr Marlow found that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis [that individual human being’s social networks are limited to about 150], and that women tend to have somewhat more than men. . . .

What also struck Dr Marlow, however, was that the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable. The more “active” or intimate the interaction, the smaller and more stable the group.

Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

What mainly goes up, therefore, is not the core network but the number of casual contacts that people track more passively. This corroborates Dr Marsden’s ideas about core networks, since even those Facebook users with the most friends communicate only with a relatively small number of them.

"David Taylor - In His Own Words," by The Austin Stone, 6 March 2009

When I was in grade school, we watched a lot of films. Perhaps they were a relatively easy way to quiet the children down for a while. But remembering this period as an adult, I’m struck by the realization that those films all had one of two themes.

One was: Deep down, each of us is different, unique, and special.

The other was: Deep down, we are all just the same.

For years I shared this observation, for laughs, before it finally occurred to me that this was no joke. In fact, it articulated what is more or less the fundamental tension of modern life.

We all want to feel like individuals.

We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.

And resolving that tension is what the Desire Code is all about.

People talk about an Internet community, but that’s not a community to my mind. Community doesn’t happen until you smell people.

—Larry Harvey, co-founder of the Burning Man festival, 2000

from "Learning from slums," by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, The Boston Globe, 1 March 2009 :: thanks Koranteng

To be sure, there is something unseemly in privileged people rhapsodizing about such places. Prince Charles, for all his praise, does not appear poised to move to a shack in Dharavi. Identifying the positive aspects of poverty risks glorifying it or rationalizing it. Moreover, some of the qualities extolled by analysts are direct results of deprivation. Low resource consumption may be good for the earth, but it is not the residents’ choice. Most proponents of this thinking agree that it’s crucial to address the conflict between improving standards of living and preserving the benefits of shantytowns.

But given the reality that poverty exists and seems unlikely to disappear soon, squatter cities can also be seen as a remarkably successful response to adversity - more successful, in fact, than the alternatives governments have tried to devise over the years. They also represent the future. An estimated 1 billion people now live in them, a number that is projected to double by 2030. The global urban population recently exceeded the rural for the first time, and the majority of that growth has occurred in slums. According to Stewart Brand, founder of the Long Now Foundation and author of the forthcoming book “Whole Earth Discipline,” which covers these issues, “It’s a clear-eyed, direct view we’re calling for - neither romanticizing squatter cities or regarding them as a pestilence. These things are more solution than problem.”

via "Spain's barefoot nuns put faith in YouTube to find new convent recruits," by Giles Tremlett,, 16 January 2009
from "Text Patterns » snark," by Alan Jacobs, Culture11, 6 January 2009

But all that said, I want to go back to the point that this is a useless argument. Here’s my prediction: not one person in a thousand is going to be confronted with a statement whose core idea they agree with and say, Yep, that’s too snarky. They’ll either say along with Sternbergh that that’s good snark or (what amounts to the same thing) they’ll say it’s not snark at all but rather legitimate irony or sarcasm which the target of the criticism richly deserves. When faced with actual examples of critical language, almost everyone will approve of that critical languge if it’s directed against their (political, social, artistic, religious) enemies and disapprove of it if it’s directed against something or someone they approve of. Democrats will lament Republican snark, Republicans will lament Democratic snark, world without end. Why even bother having this conversation?

I’ll confine myself to this one statement: whether snark is ever a good thing or not depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to buld solidarity among people who already share a set of core convictions, or if you just want to blow off your own built-up steam, then snark might be a good thing. If you want to find ways to get people who disagree with each other to come to some mutual understanding, and perhaps even agreement . . . not so much.


He was describing the ballet of the train station. But his description could just as easily have applied to the Internet. Think about it: Serendipitous encounters between people who know each other well, sort of well, and not at all. People of every type, and with every type of agenda, trying to meet up with others who share that same agenda. An environment that’s alive at all hours, populated by all types, and is, most of the time, pretty safe. What he was saying, really, was that New York had become the Web. Or perhaps more, even: that New York was the Web before the Web was the Web, characterized by the same free-flowing interaction, 24/7 rhythms, subgroups, and demimondes.


In 1982, the neighborhood surrounding Harambee Center had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. The corner of Howard and Navarro, where we are located, was called “blood corner” because it was where the most drive-by shootings and failed drug deals occurred. Residents were held captive in their homes and there was little hope for change.

We believed the only legitimate way to become change-agents in this community was to become a part of it. Led by our founder, Dr. John Perkins, we moved into the community and became neighbors. For 20+ years we have served a 12-block target area, working with African American and Latino children and families.

“Harambee” means “Let’s get together and push” in Swahili. We seek to nurture and equip leadership that will wholistically minister to the community by sharing Biblical truths, in order to achieve the re-building of urban neighborhoods through relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.

Luke 1:46–56, LOLCat Bible Translation Project :: thanks Christine!

Mary sed “Ceiling Cat is laik a big deal, Mai I is happy about Ceiling Cat… bcz he kepted me in maind an now evribodi knowz i can haz cheezburgr. Thank u Ceiling Cat, u iz cool. U iz niec to evribodi. Xcept peeplz who doant dizrv it LOL. U haz pwned teh r00lrz whiel stil bein niec to teh n00bz. U givd cookies to teh hungri whiel u tolded teh rich “Niec trai.” U wuz niec to Israel an to all Abraham’s famili liek u promist.”

excerpt Wallpaper
from "The best use for butcher block paper ever," submitted by reader Margo Mueller, Nudges blog, 8 December 2008

During a long road trip between California and Missouri, I stumbled on a gas station on Interstate 40 in Adrian, Texas, that had come up with an ingenious way of protecting the walls of their restrooms. In an effort to reduce the number of times the restrooms needed to be painted, someone came up with the idea to tape sheets of butcher block paper to the walls. The sheets were inside every stall and on the walls in both the men and women’s restrooms. On the top of each piece of torn white paper was written “Please tell us about your trip”. What followed on every sheet were stories about why people were traveling across the country. Some stories were sad, some were happy, some were angry. The whole gamut of emotions was posted on these sheets. (I wish I had a picture.)

The amazing thing was that the real white walls of the restroom were not defaced in any manner, not one piece of graffiti.  After asking at the checkout who came up with the idea, the clerk told me that, to clean up graffiti, the owners had been stuck with a painting the walls of the restrooms twice a year. Since they had put the butcher block paper up five years ago, they had never painted the restrooms.Yet they remained clean and sparkling white. Obviously, the management nudged the public for everyone’s benefit.


The way we worship, the kinds of things we look at, the habits that are enforced, the way we sit, the structure of passivity, the anonymity, the filing in and out by the thousands at a specific time, the parking lot attendants rushing you out the maze: we see all of this as training the people into being in relation to God and each other in a certain way. Therefore, to attract large amounts of people into one room, and offer a directed performance of worship from the front, trains people to be passivized, observers and consumers of Christianity. And it counteracts everything of what it means to be the church for missional thinkers and practitioners.

Missional types see the very life lived between three or more people as that which reveals Christ’s forgiveness, reconciliation and the gospel looks like. It is the social-linguistic context that makes possible the communication of the gospel to post Christendom people who have no context to understand the gospel at all. Attractional mega churches attract, appeal to a need, provide an attractive package and by their sheer numbers work against this kind of community that makes possible this kind of encountering of the gospel. Sure it is still possible to split people into smaller groups, but the sheer formative power of the large attractional gathering trains the habits of every believer into self selecting a comfortable community for other purposes other than mission.

from "In Queens, the Chicken Crossroads of the World," article and photos by Greg Emerson Bocquet,, 28 November 2008 :: via Koranteng

“This is the same chicken we have on the island,” Ms. Pierre said. “When my mother would make the chicken for dinner, I was right there at her feet helping her. Everything I learned to cook, I learned from her in Haiti.” To her surprise, she has found a taste of home and the perfect chicken at the Halal Live Meat and Poultry Market, a short bus ride from her house.

Muhammad Ali, the 41-year-old Bangladeshi owner of the market, is happy that Ms. Pierre is happy, even if it was never his intention to provide the ingredients for a homey Haitian dish. When he opened Halal Live two years ago, after deciding to forgo a doctorate in international politics, his only goal was to provide the mainly Pakistani Muslim community in the area with meat slaughtered under the traditions set forth in the Koran. Drawn to this bustling corner of Archer Avenue and 168th Street because of the pedestrian traffic — three buses stop outside his door — he had no idea that he would end up with such a polyglot clientele.

“I would say 50 percent of our business comes from people I never expected to come here,” said Mr. Ali, a shy, small-framed man, talking over the squawks of poultry and the chatter of customers. Among those who are keeping business booming are a Nigerian exchange student heading home from biology class at York College, a Salvadoran mango vendor who stops there after working the sidewalks of Jamaica Avenue, and Orthodox Jews who come accompanied by a shochet, a person trained to slaughter animals according to kosher ritual.

excerpt Beauty aid

The police have tried doing outreach to victims by, among other things, setting up domestic violence education tables at community events, only to find that no one wants to be seen near them. But the atmosphere is different in the safety of a beauty salon.

“The salon may be one of the few places women might be without their abuser around,” said Laurie Magid, a former state prosecutor who is acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “This program really addresses a need. You don’t have a case unless you have a crime reported in the first place and that is the difficult area of domestic violence.”

While Cut it Out trains stylists offsite, the Washington Heights workshops, conducted in Spanish, take place inside beauty parlors during the hours that clients are served, which not only makes it easier for people to participate, but also enhances the comfort factor.

“The salon is a place where everyone already feels at home,” said Sharon Kagawa of the Administration for Children’s Services, the agency that recruits salons for the program. “So they can be more honest.”

from "On the Vital Role of Hermits," by Joel, Far Outliers, 15 November 2008

Buddhist-Christian dialogue seems awfully passé to me in an era when positive dialogue seems all too scarce among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, on the one hand, and between crusading atheists and theists of all stripes, on the other. But I do appreciate Thomas Merton’s appreciation of the hermit life—the need to get away from it all—even though he may have been one of the most outspoken Trappists who ever lived (as my father is one of the more talkative Quakers I’ve ever met). The editor of Buddhist-Christian Studies, however, thinks Merton ignored one vital class of hermits (p. viii, n. 5):

“Merton’s model of the hermit life does not exhaust the phenomenon within Western Christianity. Historically speaking, the hermit life was embraced by far more people than the limited number of professed monks whose spiritual growth had taken them beyond the life of the coenobium. For example, hermit shrine keepers were numerous throughout Christian cultures for centuries; most of these were simple laity without whom many pilgrimage sites would simply not have existed, and their identity has not yet found a modern voice. The massively popular pilgrimage churches of traditional Catholicism had at their heart the hermit-sacristan who tended the lamps and swept the floors. The professed hermit monk, the monastic hermit order, and the shrine hermit all found expression in the legal and the architectural boundaries of medieval and early modern societies.”

Perhaps lay bloggers, photographers, and Wikipedists can be considered the hermit-sacristans of this information age, quietly tending our quirky little shrines that attract pilgrims who seek to escape the self-referential obsessions of the cloistered academies and the hourly tolling of alarm bells from the cathedrals of the major media.

Call + Response, directed by Justin Dillon, in select theaters nationwide :: thanks Jake!
from Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium (Crown, 2008), by Dick Meyer :: via The Week, 31 October 2008, via Steve Froelich

Several years ago, I lost my patience with our alienated, unattached world at lunch one day. I was waiting to get a sandwich at a place called Au Bon Pain. It’s a chain, it’s cheap enough, it’s fine. I was in a bit of a hurry. I eat late and the place was empty. There was no one in line, but I obediently stood in the proper place between the stanchions and waited to be told to approach the counter. Two sandwich makers were talking to each other behind the counter. They looked up, and I stepped forward meekly, and they continued their conversation. Fine, I waited. And waited. They laughed, I presume at me. I gave the customary attention-seeking cough and laser stare. Eventually one of them asked what I wanted in a surly tone and with a put-out look. The other guy slowly made the sandwich. I went back to the office to eat. The sandwich had tomato on it. I asked for no tomato.

I vowed never, ever buy lunch on a workday from a stranger again. It was a solemn vow that I break only under drastic circumstances. So, now I get lunch from Frank, Art, or Tommy, guys I have come to be friends with who run three different places. I like them. I think all three are funny, and they usually laugh at my jokes, which is key. I don’t see them except for lunch, but that’s fine. I enjoy spending money where I know the people. Lunch is now a little social part of my day, and I feel like I work in a real neighborhood, which it really isn’t. I love being a regular. I love purposefully limiting my choices instead of expanding them. Most of all, I think that I enjoy being loyal just for the sake of being loyal.

I don’t ever hate lunch anymore. I consider lunch one of my greatest triumphs.

from "A Lot of Lattés," by Ron Sider, Books & Culture, November/December 2008

[According to the new book Passing the Plate,] twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little—the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.

A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.

In Chapter 3, the authors evaluate nine frequently offered hypotheses to explain this modest giving. They conclude that five have substantial validity: 1) many Christians have not seriously wrestled with their own tradition’s theological teaching on giving; 2) many churches simply accept low expectations for giving and therefore provide little communal support for generosity; 3) some Christians question the reliability of the churches and organizations requesting funds; 4) because of near total privatization and lack of accountability in the area of charitable giving, there are no real consequences for stinginess; 5) most Christians give on an occasional basis when they feel like it, rather than in a disciplined, planned, structured way.