Updated: Apr 22, 2020
There is a paradigm shift going on in the realm of forestry. For years there had been a consensus among ecologists that trees were all independent operators, each tree an island unto itself, the forest a place of limited, scarce resources where trees were in competition with each other. Paradigmatic trees were “disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry.”
But that’s beginning to change. When Ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered an underground connectivity between trees in her field experiments, scientists began to see the forest through new eyes. Scientists like Simard and German Forester Peter Wohlleben began to study the many ways trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks and actually share resources with each other. If we could pull back the forest floor, we could actually see white and yellow threads crisscrossed and going off in multiple directions connecting each tree with an abundance of resources embedded
in its neighbor trees throughout the forest.
Given what we read in the Bible about God’s Economy of Gifts, perhaps it’s time for Christians to undergo a similar paradigm shift in how we see our local communities. For years there has been a tendency to view our communities (especially historically struggling places) through a skeptical lens: we notice problems first. And we assume there is a scarcity of resources in a community. Thus we’re tempted to ride in with truckloads of resources to save the struggling community. The paradigmatic service experience starts by looking for problems.
But what if that changed? What if we became (at least) as interested in the gifts God has already entrusted in the people and community as we were in the apparent problems of a community? What if we followed the confirmed insights of community development experts and paused to behold the gifts in us and around us, and took our cues for pursuing the common good from that abundance? What if we assumed God has already given us and our communities an abundance of gifts, rather than a scarcity of gifts?
From the forthcoming title The Hopeful Neighborhood, copyright 2020 LHM. This is not the final form, please do not distribute or quote.