What is something you do well enough that you could teach it to someone else? This is a question I posed to my class this semester in the community course I teach at Oxford College. The question is the subject of a 12-15 minute “gift presentation” they will offer at the end of the semester.
We are learning about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), an approach that some people use in community organizing and development work. Cofounders John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann proposed that in this work we ought to begin by focusing on the gifts of the community rather than starting with what the community lacks. They had low-income residents in mind as they thought about their approach, but we focus on how this might work in any of our communities in our class.
In class we talk about noticing the gifts of individuals, associations, and institutions. All the people and places that make up our communities. Our guest speakers have been prompted to talk about their gifts, especially as they think about how they use them in their work or vocation. Students participated in a storytelling exercise where they shared a time when someone took them and their gifts seriously. All of this is meant to help them prepare for the gift presentation, of course, but more than that to awaken in them their own awareness of what they have to offer to their community.
The “gift presentation” assignment is one I use each time I teach this course. One student had been a drum major and taught us how to conduct after he told us what his gift meant to him throughout his time in high school. Another student shared an array of her photographs taken throughout her middle and high school years, helping us see the progression of her gifts as a photographer.
Another student brought in her cello and after sharing the story about how she came to love this instrument, she played for us. It was beautiful. She told us about how when she was in middle school and learning to play, she developed headaches. The headaches seemed to be associated with playing the cello, but she could not understand why. One day she finally complained to her teacher who then asked her to play again while she watched her carefully. After playing a short piece, the teacher quickly recognized what was happening. “You are forgetting to breathe.” She was focusing so on getting the piece right that she did not remember to breathe as she played. It was causing the headaches. That afternoon our class not only heard beautiful music, but we learned a valuable life lesson too.
These gift presentations end up being the highlight of the semester for me. The students too. A few years ago, at our closing lunch, where some of the community members students had interviewed were present too, the students noticed that there was a display of large beautifully wrapped presents in the room. Christmas was just a couple of weeks away. At the end of the lunch three students grabbed the gifts and all at the same time asked everyone to grab one so we could take a class picture of our “gifts.” It was a fun picture, especially for social media, but it taught me about their excitement around the concept of gifts. The excitement found in identifying gifts and how we might best share them in and with our communities.
In the storytelling exercise we do in class, each person in the pair gets a chance to answer the question. The only job of the listener is to listen. To learn that person’s story and the gift they identify in it. It is not often that we get the chance to tell our story, especially one that reveals something about our giftedness. That kind of exchange is what our communities need if we are going to be able to work together.
What is something you do well enough that you could teach it to someone else?
Better yet, what is something you do well enough that you could share it with your community?
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford, Georgia with his spouse and nine-year-old.