Aside

I just re-found this piece of unfinished writing from a couple of years ago. I thought it was worth sharing…

In the past, the model for life has been simple. Obvious. Find a career. Move up the ladder. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Move to a bigger house. Sell up and move to country. Retire. Play golf. Leave the house in the country to the kids.

This old model has served our parents well, but it isn’t open to me. The expectation of ever-increasing house prices – of housing as investment – has lifted the value of property beyond what is achievable to low-middle income earners such as myself. The average house price is now too many times the average income, and the era of cheap credit is over. It just isn’t conceivable that I, as a single person with my historic income could buy a house let alone one big enough to raise a family in.

Demographic changes mean that the pension/retirement model is broken beyond repair. There are not enough workers to support the number of retirees, and it is getting worse. The average pensioner is living longer, and couples are having less children. For my generation, a comfortable retirement is only really conceivable for the highest earners. Private pensions funds are becoming bankrupt and the state will increasingly struggle to support the growing number of pensioners, many of them on dangerously low incomes.

The comfortable, financially secure future – the middle class dream – is fast becoming fantasy. It is unlikely that I will earn enough to achieve it. I have neither the capital, nor the job security, to build that type of security.

I have no desire to abandon myself to a life of insecurity, a permanent now of short-medium term jobs, rented apartments, living in the transient ‘communities’ of the bigger cities. I have the same desire for place, for family, for security and stability that our parents and grandparents did.

I don’t see why we should abandon our desires for family life because the models of previous generations have been broken. Instead of tearing our clothes in despair, or resigning ourselves to a life of transience and impermanence we need another model, another possibility of achieving the same aims.

It is easy to decry societal change, financial hardship and the death of the family. It is far harder to come up with a solution. There are some things that are dying that I have no desire to resurrect. I don’t want to spend the last 30 years of my life playing golf and going to the theatre. I don’t particularly feel that society ‘owes’ me anything, or have an expectation that they should provide for me – either now or later. But there will come a time when I can’t work, either for health reasons or old age, and I would hope for some structure to support me.

I don’t know now if marriage and children are possible for me. I have to be realistic. It is not impossible, and it is desired, but such things are out of my control. But I have no desire for an isolated, lonely future. I don’t want to live a life without children in it, whether or not I have my own. I have a desperate longing for family. But family can take many forms.

My hope is that intentional community and collective ownership can be an alternative, an antidote, to the decayed and broken current model. That it is possible to gather together with like-minded individuals and create a space, a home, a sense of family that can be self-supporting and enduring. That a group of people can together own property, create a home, develop a collective financial security, raise children, care for one another in sickness and old age and endure beyond the death of the original members into perpetuity.

I also hope that, beyond this, it would be possible to create something that can have a positive impact on the wider community in a geographic area and even, to an extent, society as a whole. That a community might be able to collectively demonstrate alternatives to the usual patterns of life.

The question, of course, is how you do that. How do you build community over the long term? How do you overcome the barriers of finance and property, especially when money is so easily a source of conflict?

Suggestions on a postcard (or debate in the comments) gratefully received.

On food, veganism and joy

A conversation between myself and a friend on Facebook (beginning with a picture of cakes)…

Me: nice cakes! Do they taste as good as they look?

Friend: not nearly as nice, i’m afraid..the vegetarian in me still cannot grasp the concept of baking with vegan products – they are well beyond me even now. the cupcakes were dry & tasted a little too much like soy..with icing, they were revived a bit, but even so..i think they were just decorative.

Me: shame. I’ve never understood veganism – you’ve got to have some pretty high principles to hate food that much. where do they get the joy in their life?
Well, fantastic decorating job, anyway…

Friend: haha the least i can say is that thank goodness our joy in life does not revolve around food! &… they were joyful over the icing!

***

I personally think that you can get an awful lot of joy from food. Think of your happiest memories… how many of them involve sitting around a meal table with close friends and/or family? How many of them involved a special meal of some sort?

A good steak, just the right side of medium-rare. Proper Pommes Frites (french fries), not the paler American immitation. Green beans. A good sauce (your choice)…

Real, fresh, Japanese Sushimi…

A glass of rich, smokey red wine and some Green & Blacks dark chocolate…

I’d go on, but I’ll make you all hungry. 😉

Aren’t these things that give you joy? Don’t they make you smile? I was thinking last night, as I drifted off to Bedfordshire, about the meals at l’Abri. There were so many good gatherings with friends around a table, so many joyous momoents. But many of them were made more so by the quality of the food: The first time Anna made Mexican Casserole. The Sunday Breakfasts where Phil made muffins. The time I made soup, and managed to persuade Marta that the salad demanded real olive oil…

In these moments, and in so many of your own significant memories, the people you are with are the most important thing. It is the shared fellowship that we treasure. But I really do believe that the food we eat plays a significant part in our enjoyment of the moment and in what/whether we remember. There really is a lot of joy in food.

I was mainly joking with my comment on veganism. But I do have a problem with it, because it does feel so much like a philosophy that steals the joy from food. It reduces food to something to morally anguish about, rather than celebrate. It becomes a measure of your superiority and a basic form of sustenance, and nothing more.

So, make beautiful cup-cakes. Gather friends around you to enjoy them with you. But make sure they taste nice…

😉

The Dream

I’ve been thinking about what I want for my life, spurred on by the encouragement of various friends and commenters. It’s never been an easy one for me, as I tend to be interested and inspired by many things; distracted by the next dream or possibility… I’m going to think seriously about what I want my life to look like in 5 years time, and I may or may not post on that in time, but for now I want to try and bash out a recurring dream…

My two terms at l’Abri have had a profound affect on me, as I know they have on many others. But the following idea, while added to and flourishing in that environment, has been germinating in me for years. Each new encounter is a new form of inspiration, an new bit of clarity; developing a sense of “like this, but not like that…

So what’s the dream? Well, I am still trying to pull the hazy distant imaginings into a describable reality, but as far as I can sketch at the moment…

The dream is a farm, run by a community of like-minded individuals, living a shared life together. It aspires to self-sufficiency, and even an abundance, so that the product of the land can be crafted, shared, even sold. It grows organically, perhaps using permaculture principles, but certainly trying to steward the land in as efficient, diverse and environmentally sustainable manor as possible. It aims to have the minimum possible carbon footprint; hopefully even managing to be a negative generator of CO2.

The community is centred on the shared belief of the fundamental creative nature of all of us, and seeks to express that in everything it does. In terms of food production, it aims to take control of as much of the food cycle as possible, and produce in-house food of the best quality, from seed to table. It would seek excellence in all areas, and aspire to creative, wholesome, nutritious and desirable production, for the enjoyment of the farm, the local community, and beyond.

The farm would be an artistic fellowship, seeking to be a place of communal artistic expression, a cradle and crucible of talent. Residents and guests would work part of their time on the land or the products of the land, and part of their time in the pursuit of creative expression. It would be a place of music, of sculpture and painting, of photography and film; a melting-pot of ideas, inspirations and the result of shared artistic endeavour.

The community would aspire to follow the inspiration of the Arts and Crafts Movement; not necessarily in terms of style, but in terms of seeking to produce quality, hand-crafted works, and the high value to aesthetics and the goodness of beauty. Like “Morris & Co.” it would seek to develop craft-based production of beautiful things: hand made furniture, book binding and printing, clothing etc. Perhaps in time it could be a place of fostering new ideas and principles in art, architecture, education etc.

The community would be based around a shared life, in the belief that we are more human when we are not isolated and live in fellowship with other human beings. Or, to quote Christopher McCandless: “Happiness is nothing if it is not shared.” It would seek to work together, eat together, play together and laugh together. There would be a common commitment to a ‘slow life’, to a reducing of the intense, depersonalising, technology-driven nature of our western life. It would, especially, seek to be an alternative to consumerist materialism.

Last, for now, and by no means least, the community would seek to be a place of shelter. The phrase that comes to mind is “freely you have received, now freely give”. It would seek to welcome strangers into its midst, and to be a place of refuge for those that need it, for as long as they need. The community would aspire to growing, not as a hand-picked collection of friends, but as any and all who need to be there, and can commit to the shared values and vision. Inspired by the monastic orders of old, the community would practice salvation through work; that labouring with and for the community can in and of itself be a healing thing.

There is probably much more to write, but that is enough from me for now. This is a rough outline of a steadily growing dream, and it is by no means my exclusive proviso. If this is ever to develop out of the hazy imaginings of my own mind and into an achievable, concrete reality, then it will do so with others, and the perspectives of others will be as valid as mine. So, what do you think? Are there others there for whom this is a shared dream? Does this picture, or parts of it , resonate with you? What would you add, what would you take away?

And, just as importantly, how do we get there?

Decisions, Decisions…

How do you make the big decisions in your life? When you are trying to decide where to live, what job to do, which relationships to pursue, what basis do you use for making those decisions?

If I’m honest, I have never found decision making easy. I have an ability to see all the possibilities and consequences of a course of action, which often leaves me somewhat paralysed, not easily able to weigh the different options. But in times past I would have tried to base all my decisions on what seems ‘right’, on what ‘God’ wanted/was saying/was not saying, and on what I believed to be important from previous decisions.

Being in London, being involved with my church there and among the community of friends I had around me, was one of the important markers. I made a lot of decisions, about jobs, about where to live, based on that. I also made a lot of decisions based on my ‘theology’ (for want of a better word), my ideas of what Christian life was meant to look like. All of my career choices since graduating have been about enabling me to continue to live in London, to be involved with my church community there, and work in a ‘Christian’ context, for organisations that I felt were doing important work.

So what’s changed? Well, a lot, honestly. The chaos of the last couple of years of my life has left me questioning pretty much everything, including all the signposts by which I used to make decisions. I am tired of London, frustrated by and somewhat alienated from most of my church, and unsure what, if anything I believe about ‘God’. I am in the process of trying to start afresh; am currently looking for both work and a place to live, and could go and be anywhere… but there are an awful lot of where’s and even more what’s.

I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the possibilities. I don’t know what basis I have for making decisions other than what I want, and I’ve never been that great at working that out. What do I want? I want to live I the country. I want to have space for myself but be involved in community. I want to be near, and involved in the lives of, friends. I want a job where I actually want to go into work in the morning. I want space to see if this writing thing can actually go somewhere. I’d really like a dog…

So that’s something, right? Except, to my structured brain a lot of those things seem almost contradictory. Most of my good friends are in London. In reality, most work probably is too. My experiences of community thus far have been with churches, or with folks from l’Abri, most of whom are now scattered across the globe. If I managed to find a job in a more rural location, I’d most likely be trying to set myself up somewhere where I knew no one, which is not exactly helping with either the friends thing or the community one…

So, what do you do? At the moment, hampered by a lack of cash, crashing with my parents, in all likelihood it will be a matter of the utmost practicality, going for whatever compromise ticks the most boxes. Maybe getting another London job and trying to live near current friends. But that doesn’t satisfy; none of the options I can see in front of me at the moment satisfies. So there is always the possibility that I do something all the more unconventional…

Or just sit here in indecision a while longer…

Pop!

the bubble has burst

and we are cast asunder

to the wind

to the four corners

of this fragile earth

and broken and bruised

we begin again

to reaccumulate

to reforge

to rebuild

to try to be what we believe that we may be

in time

(for Julia)

 

What do you do when the bubble bursts?

Forest Bubble by ecstaticistI have many questions running through my head right now, lots of unresolved issues, and precious little mental and emotional energy to engage with them all. But there is one pressing question that I know I share with all of my fellow post-l’Abri-ers: “What do we do now!?!

We have lived intense, close, communal lives in a little bubble in Hampshire, and our lives have changed as a result. We bear the marks of community life, we’ve tasted of forbidden fruit, and we know that our lives just can’t be the same afterwards. We have lived a life that is at once harder and more beautiful, more fully human, than we thought possible, but have been thrown out again, into the petty, busy, messy, lonely materialistic-individualistic society of our birth. But we don’t fit here any more.

None of us are the same as we were. None of us feel at home in our old houses, with our old friends and families, workplaces and churches. We are feeling homesick for a place that no longer exists, yearning for friendships that have been shattered by the UK immigration department and scattered across the globe, never to be reformed (at least, not all together, not in the same way).

A weeks holiday in Dorset, with beautiful, beloved l’Abri friends was spent trying desperately to forget the impending separation, and seeking any possible fantasy to reforge our community life. We sought any possible farm or cottage that could play the part of a community ‘home’ for us, as we knew we had just been made homeless. It was not to be, because our dreams need time to coalesce out of fantasy and into a more possible substance. By the time that they do, and the dreamed-of farms and community houses begin to take shape, we will be long parted, and unable to draw back together.

Perhaps it is ever thus. Friendships form out of shared experience, and after that experience is ended, there is less and less that we have in common, less and less for us to gather round. The friendships need new experiences to share, or else slowly succumb to reminiscence and gradual drifting apart.

But even if we discount the tearing apart of friendships, there is more here. For we have tasted real community, the brutal reality of shared life, and we know we will never be the same. Talking to one good friend last night, who is 4 months ahead of me on this post-l’Abri journey, we discussed the reality of mourning the death of community. We experienced something powerful, that is now lost to us, and every alternative seems shallow and worthless. We are left grieving for an unrepeatable moment, looking at every gathering and shared life thinking ‘why are you not more like…?

I want to believe that it is possible to find a form of community that isn’t so cyclical and temporary, that doesn’t suck you in and then spit you out. But life as a student at l’Abri would not be sustainable in the long term: it is too tiring, too intense, too insular. But does that mean that there aren’t other possibilities? Other ways together and genuinely share life?

I hope so. For now I just know that the bubble has bust, and it has thrown me out with my ears ringing. I am in a profound state of shock. We can only see what there will be when the ringing dies down…

Beginning Here

My lesson is that I shouldn’t want to go “there” to find my spirituality, but if I can’t find it “here” (with my local community) then I’m looking for some inspiration other than the Spirit who should, I would think, be working in everyone around me.”

The quote is by Paddy O, on a post by Emerging Grace. I wanted to draw it out because it is pointing to something that has been niggling at me for a while now.

Andrea and I do a lot of talking, thinking and reading about active faith, about ‘missional’ lifestyles. We discuss community living over, and over, and over again. These are subjects that we are constantly turning over in our own minds, and regularly talking about together and with friends. It is very easy for us, for me, to think that we should in some way leave our current church and friendships in order to seek the kind of lifestyle and praxis of faith that we’ve been talking about.

But then there is that niggling thought, that challenge that Paddy sums up so well. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It is so easy for us to look at someone else’s situation and think “it was easier for them”. That if we only get in the right place, with the right people, that somehow things will run smoother, we’d find it easier to step out and do the things we’ve been dreaming of…

Paddy’s comment was on a post about conferences. I have been to a lot of Christian conferences. I have travelled to a lot of events seeking the ‘hit’ that will change me, that will catapult me into the life I want to be living (rather than the one I am). Surely, if I get that person to pray for me, or take on board this persons message, then I’d ‘get’ it, I’d be able to take the steps I’ve been incapable of so far…?

Yeah, right! Isn’t the limiting factor there… me?

The buzz phrase at the moment, in all the circles, seems to be ‘community’. Andrea and I want to be part of genuine intentional community. People who share faith; bear each others burdens; spur one another on to love and good works; care for the poor (the list goes on)… Yet as we look for that, long for that, it is so easy for our eyes to be looking a long way further than the people that surround us.

I shouldn’t be looking there for something I can’t find here.

I have some great friends around me. Our little gathering in the East End of London are an imperfect, broken bunch, but they are real friends who have come alongside Andrea and myself at a genuinely difficult time, and have stood along side us, been community to us. And many of them also want to see a more ‘intentional’ form of community develop, a more ‘missional’ lifestyle to grow… But that hasn’t stopped us looking over the fence, wondering about greener grass elsewhere…

Dave, Jacky, Fiona, Dan, Joanne, Aidan, Alison (and there are more). I love you guys loads, and I’ve been really blessed by knowing you and journeying with you. I pray that together we can slowly, imperfectly, limp towards the dreams God is beginning to place in our hearts…

Lord, help me to find here,
What I’ve been looking for there
Amen.