Spiritual Assets

In the last six posts I have drawn on my experience of community development to discuss the six kinds of asset identified by Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

Maybe they don’t mention spiritual assets because all assets are spiritual. However, spirituality is important to help us find assets in our communities.

One common mistake is to think of spirituality as something inchoate, out there. Spirit floats around, influencing us in certain difficult to define ways.

Paying Attention

This is fantasy, not spirituality. I’ve suggested in a previous post that spirituality is paying attention. Perhaps we could say spirituality draws our attention to things and embodies meaning in things. Science often gets the blame for disenchanting the world. Science works because scientists pay attention.

No, it is the false spirituality that opposes the spiritual and material that disenchants the world.

It is easy to plan bleak housing estates through utilitarian analysis, where everyone gets exactly what they need to be happy. It doesn’t work and never has.

So, what does work? People live meaningful lives in communities where people work together to contribute to their local economy. The neo-liberal mindset associates wealth with the corporations, who draw wealth out of our neighbourhoods. They don’t see the sustainable wealth rooted in every neighbourhood.

Unstructured Meeting Places

The first priority of every neighbourhood is to provide the spaces in which community takes place. Unstructured meeting places allow people to identify problems and new opportunities. It is where care for those who need it can be worked out.

This is not to say we must isolate every neighbourhood from the world. Each neighbourhood has its unique combination of assets and these form the offers it makes to other neighbourhoods. Residents work in other neighbourhoods and contribute to their local economies.

We must see the economy not as corporations and financial markets. An economy that supports everyone is fractal. Each small part has smaller parts that contribute to the whole. This way we have an economy able to withstand fluctuations; the failure of one business should have a limited impact.

Spirituality and Economics

It is interesting that as we understand spirituality as immaterial and somehow out there, we do the same to economics. These days we conceive it as something that happens between stock exchanges and mediated by machines. We see “boom and bust” market fluctuations and think they are a law of nature.  “Boom and bust” is inevitable if unaccountable people gamble on financial markets.

How can we help local economies resist the fluctuations generated by the formal economy? There are experiments with local currencies and other approaches to make an economic space in which local economies can grow.  These are the means to can capitalise on previously unrecognised local assets.

If they are going to work, it means we need to pay attention to the local assets that can build each neighbourhood into the new national localised economy.

If you know of any experiments designed to support local economies, why not share them here?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Gordon Ferguson - March 9, 2016 Reply

Spirituality is not just about ‘paying attention’ or awareness, but about the response to what the attention reveals – spirituality is relational. David Hay called spirituality ‘relational consciousness’ (e.g. http://sach.org.uk/journal/0501p04_hay.pdf) and contrasts it with individualism.
The individual stops with just the attention and then leaps straight to the political.
The response that spirituality brings is one of ‘care’. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_care. I think ‘care’ is better than ‘love’ since the word ‘love’ has been far to abused and misused. ‘Care’ is also the term used by feminists – it is men that leap straight to the political – women, routed in caring community, are more sensible.
Spiritual assets should be what underpins our activism – ‘Activism is for community and community is through activism’ (paraphrase from John Macmurray – http://johnmacmurray.org/quotes. We start with community and the need for care, not with political ideology.
Have a look at ‘Spiritual Activism’ by by Alastair McIntosh & Matt Carmichael: http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/spiritualactivism – sample chapter:
Haven’t read it yet, but Alastair McIntosh is always good, and not surprisingly, because he was brought up on a croft on the Isle of Lewis in the outer Hebrides, where they know what community is.

Chris - March 9, 2016 Reply

Thanks Gordon. Paying attention strongly implies empathy and care. Or to put it another way empathy and care are not possible without paying attention. Paying attention has to be relational; to acknowledge something as present is essentially to enter into a relationship with it. But you are right in making the point that it is the first step. How you respond when you observe something is important.

Spirituality roots us in community. It is not about a spiritual world but this one. Our fantasies take us out of our lives. Spirituality reconnects us with our lives. This is one reason the Internet presents an interesting spiritual challenge. To the extent it leads us into a fantasy world, it disengages us from the reality around us. Keep reading this sequence because I’m planning to meet this challenge head on over the next few weeks.

I shall follow and read your links and respond to them in the near future.

Spiritual Awareness - Community Web Consultancy - March 11, 2016 Reply

[…] Recent Research” , one of the references in Gordon Ferguson’s recent comment on my post Spiritual Assets.  Gordon […]

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