Monday, July 23, 2012

Living in Community

Seven years ago, while I was pregnant with Mr J, we read a book that would change our lives.  

Mustard Seed vs McWorld, by Tom Sine, is an honest and in-depth account of the economic changes coming to the West in the next fifty years, changes that our generation particularly will find themselves thrown into without a choice in the matter.  He talks about globalisation, the growth of corporations, and the economic difficulties many of us are finding ourselves in. Though he wrote this book in 1999, Sine correctly and accurately predicts many of the challenges of our current global economy, including significant recession and increasing economic struggles for the lower-middle and working classes, and the X and Y generations.  He provides very specific solutions for meeting these needs, one of which is communal housing.

Dan and I were inspired.  What did we need to change about our way of life to generate a 21st century, Jesus-centred community that would go against the flow and challenge the 20th-century family ideal: own home, two cars, career-focused lifestyle? We were already functioning with an open home mentality, something we'd felt strongly about since our marriage.

Our "what's mine is yours" philosophy began to be stretched and go further.  We'd already had many guests [both friends and family] visit our home and stay for a few days or several weeks.  My sister Emily lived with us for six months.  Dan's cousin Steve stayed with us one summer when he was in between homes. Our house is tiny by most Western standards: just over 1,000 square feet. However, one Christmas we managed to fit eleven people, including ourselves, into our home for the holiday celebrations! An American friend lived with us for eighteen months, until we set her up with a nice English guy. [Just kidding! Sort of...]

These times of living in community taught us many things.  One important factor that stood out to me was that living in community meant chores were out of the way faster! Sounds simple, but when you're dependent on keeping a house tidy because it's so small that any untidiness eats up precious space, help in keeping it in order is greatly noticed and appreciated. The speed at which chores were accomplished freed up precious time to spend with people. Also, discipleship and support was much easier and more real when those we were mentoring were living with us.

We experienced a rocky time of stress and life changes two years ago, after Dan's father and a close friend passed away within less than a week of each other.  Both were untimely deaths and traumatic in their own ways.  For over a year, Dan and I found ourselves just trying to survive the day-to-day challenges of life with our kids, never mind trying to mindfully include others in this.  We found that apart from a handful of long-time friends and a few new ones, it was very difficult to maintain the level of friendship we had previously had with people.  In crisis, most people aren't quite sure what to do, and in the absence of knowing what to do unknowingly back off. Trying to give people space can sometimes look like abandonment.  I myself have done the same thing in the past, so I'm not passing judgment here! We also realised that the majority of our relationships centred around us supporting them; rather than a friendship of mutual support and encouragement.  When were going through this time of being unable to provide such support, people dropped away.

However, as we've emerged in the last six months from this two-year period of trying to find our footing, we've discovered that our shape has changed.  Existing relationships that include mutual support have deepened and increased in value.  We are being more intentional about our long-distance relationships, drawing strength and wisdom from them. Blogging and social networking have opened up a huge community of similarly-minded people.

And we've begun talking about a communal house again.  Instead of trying to fit our community ideals into our little home, as we've done to the best of our ability for so long, we've accepted that the dreams and ideas that God began to unfold in our hearts seven years ago are big, and we are ready to move into the next phase of our journey.  For us, this phase has a new shape.  An expensive big house shape.

Is this how Jonah felt when he was on the road to Ninevah, after trying to evade his calling for so long?

I don't know that we've consciously chosen to evade ours.  I think it's just that now, the time is right.  The people who are walking closely with us are right.

It's time. And the location doesn't matter at this moment in time.  It will happen somewhere for us, in just the right place.

"Live in such a way that unless God shows up, what you're attempting to do is bound to fail.  This type of abandonment is the nature of the Gospel [of Jesus]." --Bill Johnson

Think we're crazy?  Well then; it's a good thing we're living our life and not yours!

This has been another "open book" post. Next week: what really happens in homeschooling at our house!


  1. Erin, i love this for you. wow. if i didn't have so many sensory issues with noise and smells and space etc..this would be the type of life i would have picked too. my first husband and i discussed this quite a few times. it does take a village to raise not only children but each other. i'm looking forward to living vicariously through you! xo

  2. I'm not sure yet what will happen, but will be sharing our journey on here, so I'm happy to hear you're excited too! :)

  3. I really admire you, Erin. I know that for me, it would be incredibly difficult to live in such a way. God didn't build me like that, just as He didn't build me to be a doctor or a nurse. That is the beauty of His world, though, that He gives each of us special gifts. I can't wait to see this all unfold for you!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! Community living is something we feel we are able to do, but I totally agree that it's not for everyone! :)

  4. I really admire community living and one day I want to do that, too.

    1. I think that for many of us, it's the future. :)


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