Notes on John McKnight and “The Gift of Fallibility”

From a conversation with John McKnight at Trinity University’s 2011 Willson Lecture "Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness"

I’m attending an amazing conference in San Antonio titled “Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness.” Here are my notes from John McKnight’s session titled “The Gift of Fallibility.” (The following notes are close to being quotes but there is no guaranteed precision so I will not use quote marks. It would be best to see them as paraphrases.)

The institutional world seems to be in constant struggle with infallibility. It views fallibility as something to get rid of, … to get rid of our uniqueness.

An institution has a way of doing things by taking the person out of it. … Uniqueness includes fallibility.

Institutions represent the pursuit of perfection — to do away with our humanity.

Community is a place where fallible people can reside.

Fallibility is also related to friend. … You care even though you know your friend’s shortcomings.

People who call us servants are always fixing us, but friends don’t always try to fix us.

In communities, people know things by stories.

In community, we ignore people’s deficits and honor their capacities.

What makes community is its power to live with our fallibilities.

What label do you have? A powerful person is labeled by the full half of their half full glass.

Labeling hurts us the most in community. To have the most powerful community we must see the gift in every person.

Community is a group of people who by their very act of coming together create outsiders. The more people in a community are not contributing their gifts, the weaker the community. And labels cause this.

Make a list of outsiders you know.

How do communities grow by widening the circle? Two methods are pursued.

1) Compassionate people — their compassion leads them to see the hurt in outsiders, but compassion doesn’t enlarge the boundary of the community.

2) A more effective way: Communities that intentionally go about identifying the gifts of those at the edge. Gift-centeredness is the building block of a strong community.

Special skill: To see the abilities behind the label. … These people are “gift discerners.” Gift finders use the following categories to explore: gifts (natural), skills (learned), passion and teachables (things the person can teach).

We talk a lot about the importance of diversity. The greatest diversity can be found in giftedness.

Making visible our gifts, skills, passions and teachables is the baseline of community development.

To make all of these gifts visible requires hospitality. You can’t offer hospitality to a friend; you can only offer it to a stranger. “We need you here.” Because that stranger knows songs and stories that no one else knows and from which others can benefit.

We all have a window into the world. People who are different help us see a different world.

“There is a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.”
Song by Leonard Cohen 

Every outsider is saying “invite me.”

“A great neighborhood creates places where we can fall in love, … and say, ‘how did I ever do without you.’”

Peter Block responded to McKnight’s remarks: The community has a job to do. Regarding schools, the children need to know what they can do.

Walter Brueggemann responded: Ultimate neighborly truth comes in small narrative vignettes. Empire exists by large narratives. … The testimonial mode of truth in the Bible corresponds with John McKnight’s mode (of small vignettes), and small narrative vignettes may be fallible.

My reaction: So much to think about. Such a different way of seeing the world.

Re-posted with permission from Ferrell’s Place

About the Lead Author

Ferrell Foster
Ferrell Foster
“It’s easy for some people to say what they do,” says Ferrell Foster, “but my place in this world is a bit more complicated.” "I’m sort of a minister, but not of a church; sort of a writer, but I haven't had anything published in a while; sort of a manager, but that sounds more boring than it is. So here’s the title: associate director of Texas Baptists’ Advocacy/Care Center. I get to work with the ethics, community development, restorative justice, chaplaincy and counseling ministries of the Baptist General Convention of Texas." Ferrell lives on a ranch in Texas that’s been in his family since 1904 and blogs at Ferrell’s Place: Looking at the World

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