Book Review – “Community” by Peter Block

This is more than just a book. It’s a model of how to be together.

“Whatever it is you care about, to make the difference that you see requires a group of people to learn to trust each other and choose to cooperate for a larger purpose.” (Pg. xii)

And that right there is as good a summary for this book as there is. It’s a book about building trust. It’s a book about being in community. It’s a book about how to communicate with one another. It’s a book about belonging.

I found Block’s book to be really important on two levels. First, he tackles the idea of community on an idea level – why it’s important and the challenges that we face in coming together as community. In our culture, we have this over emphasis on individualism. But in order to accomplish almost anything, you can’t do anything alone. You need others. And that takes change.

“…the transformation of large numbers of individuals does not result in the transformation of communities. If we continue to invest in individuals as the primary target of change, we will spend our primary energy on this and never fully invest in communities. In this way, individual transformation comes at the cost of transformation.” (pg. 6)

Ultimately, community is about interdependence. So much of what Block writes about relates to the concept of shalom – the Jewish idea of wholeness. He doesn’t use the term explicitly, but the concept is there throughout the book. Block contrast this with what we have been exposed to for so long – fear.

“Fear justifies the retributive agenda, fundamentalist in the extreme, that has been on the rise for some time. The retributive agenda believes that a just and civil society is one that gives priority to restraints, consequences, and control, and underlines the importance of rules. It gets packaged as spiritual values, family values, the American Way, love it or leave it, all under the umbrella of law and order.” (Pg. 38)

In response to this, Block focuses on restorative community and restorative justice – answering the question of what can we create together. “Restoration is about healing our roundedness – in community terms, healing our fragmentation and incivility. It is only out of this healing that something new can emerge.” (Pg. 54).

Which leads to the second level. This is a book that offers a model of how to do that work. Block calls it a series of conversations which include: Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, and Gifts. He goes into detail as to what each of these conversations sound like, what the purpose is, and what questions can guide the conversation.

From a personal perspective, I took what Block had an altered the conversations because I saw an opportunity. I saw that the conversations relate very nicely with the liturgy and the baptismal promises of the faith, and with the idea of the church community. The spaces in the church match well with these conversations as well. The beauty of Block’s model is that it is malleable enough to be altered and adjusted. It is a guide.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. I continue to use the ideas from it. I have shaped created my own model from Block’s ideas for the use in the church setting and it has been used to great effect.

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