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Category Archives: Intentional Communities

The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange – First Things

Posted: March 21, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Surely there has never been a richer and more deeply faithful model of Christian faith and practice than that offered by the leaders of the Church in Roman Cappadocia in the fourth and fifth centuries. Think of Basil the Great, exhorting the rich of Caesarea to empty their barns to feed the poor, building hospitals for the sick, upholding Trinitarian orthodoxy against the Arians, teaching young Christians the right uses of pagan literature. And Basil was only one among many great ones, even in his own neighborhood: His sister Macrina, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, were all titans of faith and charity, and built a thoroughgoing Christian culture the likes of which the Church has rarely if ever seen.

In 1974, when the great bishop-theologian Lesslie Newbigin retired from his decades of labor in the Church of South India, he and his wife decided to make their way back to their native England by whatever kind of transportation was locally available, taking their time, seeing parts of the world that most Europeans never think of: from Chennai to Birmingham by bus. Newbigin would later write in his autobiography, Unfinished Agenda, that everywhere they went, even in the most unlikely places, they found Christian communitieswith one exception. Cappadocia, once the nursery of Christian theology, was the only place in our whole trip where we had to have our Sunday worship by ourselves, for there was no other Christian to be found.

If the complete destruction of a powerful and beautiful Christian culture could happen in Cappadocia, it can happen anywhere, and to acknowledge that possibility is mere realism, not a refusal of Christian hope. One refuses Christian hope by denying that Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, not by saying that Christianity can disappear from a particular place at a particular time.

Therefore, to argue, as many have, that the argument Rod Dreher makes in The Benedict Option is despairing, and hopeless, and a failure to trust in the Lord Jesus, is a category error. It takes a set of sociological and historical judgments and treats them as though they were metaphysical assertions. Anyone in Roman Cappadocia who had said that the culture Basil and his colleagues had built was not bound to last until the Lord returns would not have been deficient in Christian hope. Rather, he or she would have been offering a useful reminder of the vagaries of history, to which even the most faithful Christians are subject. Drehers argument in The Benedict Option may be wrong, but if so, it is wrong historically and prudentially, not metaphysically.

So the whole debate over The Benedict Option needs to be brought down out of the absolutist clouds and grounded in more historical particularities. However, and alas, this is something that neither Dreher nor his opponents seem inclined to do. Almost every party to this dispute seems to be painting with the broadest brushes they can get their hands on. Thus Dreher: It is time for all Christians to pull their children out of the public school system. All of them? Without exception? No room for familial discernment and prudential judgment? And from the other side, heres the verdict of one of Drehers more thoughtful critics, Elizabeth Bruenig: Building communities of virtue is fine, but withdrawing from conventional politics is difficult to parse with Christs command that we love our neighbors. We cant love our neighbor without voting? The hospice-care worker who is too busy and tired to get to the polling place is deficient in charity? Such an argument would seem to delegitimate most monastic ways of life, which makes it an odd position for a Catholic of some traditionalist sympathies, like Bruenig, to make.

Bruenigs position flows from her deployment of one massive categorical assumption: that we (that is, all of us who participate in this debate) are liberal subjects in a democratic order. Drehers position flows from his deployment of an even larger categorical assumption: that we are all residents of the West during its final decline. Each of these governing categories is far, far too coarse to have either diagnostic or prescriptive value. I want to suggest a model for thinking about the matters raised by Drehers book that is less sweeping in its assumptions than the ones supporters and critics of the Benedict Option alike tend to employ.

I begin with St. Pauls long discourse in 1 Corinthians 12 about the many members of Body of Christ and their complex interrelationship. These members have widely varying functions, but every member should be treated by the others as having value and dignity. Indeed, the Apostle says, those members whom the world thinks of as having the least dignity should be considered by the rest of the body as having the greatest. And no member may under any circumstances say to any other, I have no need of you. St. Pauls argument here has long been foundational to the Churchs understanding of, for instance, the via activa and via contemplativa. By the standards of the world, contemplatives are useless, unproductive, and indifferent to real-life concerns, which is precisely why the Church, when it is healthy-minded, values them so highly. And the material resources generated by those who are active in the world make it possible for contemplatives to live as they do, a boon for which contemplatives at their best are always grateful. At the highest level of Christian devotion, these people who live radically different lives practice what Charles Williams called the Way of Exchange: dying each others life, living each others death.

I think this principle can and should be applied not just at the level of individual choice but in broader social and communal categories as well. Christian parents who teach their children at home should be grateful that other Christian parents are helping their children to bear witness in public schools. Indeed, these members of the Body should make a point of praying for and encouraging each other: The parents and children alike can learn from, and be enriched by, one anothers experiences. This can only happen if each sideif we must think in terms of sides; better perhaps to continue to speak of members, organsif each member assumes the integrity of the others. Those parents whose children attend public schools must resist the temptation to scorn homeschoolers as fearfully insular; homeschoolers must resist the temptation to belittle public-school parents as worldly and indifferent to their childrens spiritual welfare. Similarly, those who are engaged for distinctively Christian reasons in political activism should be grateful for those who may never have voted in their lives but who pray daily for the peace and flourishing of the city, and who should return the gratitude.

What I have just sketched is the mutual charitygrounded in the recognition that the Body of Christ is so complex that it will inevitably have many members pursuing many different primary goodswhich in turn provides the only proper foundation for addressing, as we must, the larger questions of balance in the life of the church. For it is certainly possible, indeed likely, that at any given moment, and in any given place, some of the bodys members will be hypertrophied as others suffer atrophy. These conditions are locally variable, and the accuracy with which sound judgments can be made will decrease dramatically with distancea vital fact rarely acknowledged by those who prescribe how others should raise their children, or how deeply those others should be involved in electoral politics. This local variability also makes it difficult to speak of the condition of the West in terms that will help any given Christian better understand the demands and decisions that he or she must face each waking day. Despite the best homogenizing efforts of technocratic modernity, the West is not the same in Paris, France and Paris, Texas, or in Athens, Greece and Athens, Georgia.

None of these observations should be construed as a counsel of relativism. Some Christians do behave unwisely, raise their children badly, fail to invest as fully as they should in their communities, and so on. But sound judgments are hard to make from a distance. When my son attended public school, some people told my wife and me that we were unwise to let this happen; when we started teaching him at home, other people shook their heads in disapproval at our change of course. Only those who knew us well understand our reasons for both decisions. We would all be wise to spend considerable time comparing notes with one another before we pronounce any confident verdicts.

The sociologist James Davison Hunter has rightly said that Christians in general should strive for faithful presence in the public world, and there are, sad to say, multiple ways to fail at this task. One can spend so much time focusing on ones faithfulness that one forgets to be present, or be sufficiently content with mere presence that one forgets the challenge of genuine faithfulness. It is also possible to conceive of presence too narrowly: again, I would contend that the hermit who prays ceaselessly for peace and justice is present in the world to an extent that few of the rest of us will ever achieve. But that said, and all my other caveats registered, I suspect that if American Christians have a general inclination, it is towards thinking that presence itself is sufficient, which causes us to neglect the difficult disciplines of genuine Christian faithfulness. This is certainly what the work of Christian Smith and his sociological colleagueson which Dreher relies heavilysuggests.

And that is reason enough to applaud Drehers presentation of the Benedict Option, because his portraits of intentional communities of disciplined Christian faith, thought, and practice provide a useful mirror in which the rest of us can better discern the lineaments of our own lives. A similar challenge comes to us through Charles Marshs 2005 book The Beloved Community, which presents equally intentional and equally Christian communities, though ones motivated largely by the desperate need in this country for racial reconciliation. To look at such bold endeavors in communal focus, purpose, and integrity is to risk being shamed by their witness.

If we are willing to take that risk, we might learn a few things, not all of them consoling, about ourselves and our practices of faith. And our own daily habits are where the rubber meets the road, not in abstractions about liberal subjects and the decline of the West. Reducing the scope of the questions Dreher raises to the ambit of the local and personal could have the additional positive effect of lowering the stakes of the debate, which, in part because it has been conducted at the level of competing world-historical metanarratives, has far too often been reduced to charges and counter-charges of bad faith and unworthy motivation. (Hannah Arendt commented in The Origins of Totalitarianism that the self-perceived superiority of the Communist revolutionary elite consists in their ability immediately to dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose. If you dont see the True Path of History, then the only question is what mental or moral deficiency blinds you to the obvious. Too many comments on The Benedict Option, pro and con, have consisted of similar declarations about other peoples purposes, leaving matters of fact by the wayside.)

So my chief counsel, when considering the proposals made in The Benedict Option, is to think locally and act locally, too, with the understanding that if other peoples motives may be impure, so too, surely, are your own. Even if you are properly and firmly confident that in the end all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well, you probably have certain temperamental inclinations that will make it difficult for you to assess your own condition accurately.

The theological virtue of hopesituated, as Thomas Aquinas taught, midway between the vices of despair and presumptionhas its everyday and practical counterpart, too, which should not be confused with it but which has a similar emotional tone. It is possible to despair unnecessarily over local conditions, to fail to discern possibilities that are actually there; and it is possible to be presumptuous about them as well, assuming that nothing really bad can happen. (Surely there were Cappadocian Christians who were guilty of that.) Which of those tendencies you are prone to is something you can know only through self-examination, but self-examination in the company of other Christians who are sufficiently different that they can see things about yourself that you cant. This mutual teaching and learning is part of the ongoing work of the Body of Christ, the body that is also an intricately interconnected ecosystem of communities and practices.

In the meantime, if you are a Christian who is called to life in the midst, in the world, you would do well to find ways to turn regularly inward, towards the traditional ways and means of the Christian faith by which you may regularly renew yourself, lest you end up being not just in the world but also of it. And if you are called to a community of virtue, you would do well to find ways to face outward, towards mission, towards the saeculum for the salvation of whose people Christ came. An intentional Christian community is not a sacrament, but is like the sacraments insofar as it hopes to be an outward and visible sign of an inner and invisible grace. To that degree that hope is realized such a community exists, or should exist, in the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, for the life of the world. And it can have that quasi-sacramental efficacy only if it knows itself to be related by Blood to those still fully in the world, who will, if they know what theyre about, reflect from time to time on those oddball groups of believers who just may be learning something of great value that is mostly hidden from the rest of us.

Alan Jacobs is distinguished professor of the humanities at Baylor University.

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Another Doubtless Very Different Book Launch | The American … – The American Conservative

Posted: March 19, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a panel discussion with our own Rod Dreher about his new book, The Benedict Option, hosted by Plough magazine, TAC and First Things.

It was a fascinating evening, and all four of Drehers co-panelistsmade cogent points in response to the central thesis of the book, to whit:

Im not a Christian, so I came at the debate from the perspective of an outsider. But nonetheless, the most interesting question to me remains what the Benedict Option would do to Christianity and I dont think so much in terms of walls as gates.

The thing about intentional communities is that you have to earn your way in, and you can also be driven out. To become a monk, you have to take vows;to stay a member of the monastic community, you have to keep them (or thats the way its supposed to work). The requirements for membership are much more stringent than they have usually beenfor membership in the Christian fellowship generally.

Which is entirely fine: every Christian community isnt supposed to be a monastery, nor is every Christian supposed to be a monk. And even if the Bruderhof, for example, do believe that every Christianought to follow their example, theyrecognize the Christians who are not doing so as fellow Christians just Christians who arent following Jesus as fully as they ought.

But Im curious about how this works within Drehers framework. Specifically, Im curious, if mainstream Christian denominations put more emphasis on building and supporting intentional communities of various kinds (and if Dreher isnt calling for that then I really dont know what hes calling for), how does that change the nature of the larger communion?

Dreher has frequentlyand sometimes testily responded to critics by saying hes not calling for anybody to head for the hills. But thats not what Im asking about. The Lubavitch hasidim are as in the world as any strictly observant Jewish group I can think of. They sendshlichim to the four corners of the earth to minister to Jews wherever they may be. They are all about outreach, and they try in a host of ways to meet the people they are reaching out to where they are. And they arecertainly making sure that theyhave something to give the world before they give it they are ferocious about deeply educating their kids, and traditional Judaism is all about imbuing every single action of every day with the sacred. If you wanted to point to a Benedict Option-like group that had unquestionably not withdrawn into itself and fled for the hills, theyd be a perfect candidate.

But they are also a group apart within a people apart, and they believe themselves to be precisely that. And I can assure you, that has a real impact on how other Jews perceive them and relate to them. Im curious to know whether that is a dynamic the Benedict Option would inculcatewithin Christianity, and whether Dreher thinks that would be a problem if it did.

If you want tohear the panel discussion, you can do so here.

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Detachment Plan | Commonweal Magazine – Commonweal

Posted: at 4:45 pm

Rod Dreher is convinced that America, indeed the whole project of modernity, is doomed, and he thought this long before Donald Trump took up tweeting or occasional residence in the White House. Trump is the least of our problems, he assures us.

In The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Dreher insists that a flood of secularism, bringing with it a tsunami of sexual libertinism, is destroying the family and ushering in the new Dark Ages. In response to the collapse of Roman civilization in the sixth century, St. Benedict established monasticism, preserving the faith from the barbarian hordes. Dreher thinks proponents of liberalism, moral relativism, heedless consumerism, and of course political correctness are the new Visigoths, and pose a similar threat to the faith today. He goes further. It is time for orthodox lay Christiansand he wont tolerate much shilly-shallying about what orthodox meansto form intentional communities that are separated in significant ways from the moral contagion of the larger culture. These communities will be family-centered (naturally) and presumably in some cases economically self-sustaining (good luck with that). They will most likely be anchored to a church or perhaps gathered around a monastery. (Dreher is smitten by monks, whose sage prophecies of doom he seems to take at face value.) Traditional Christian practices of worship and communal cooperation, based on St. Benedicts Rule, will structure everyday life. Children will be homeschooled or sent to Christian academies, and thus protected from our toxic popular culture and the states malign meddling regarding sexual morality. This is necessary, Dreher writes, because American society has abandoned, and the federal government is now openly hostile to, biblical Christianity and especially traditional sexual morality. Drastic action is required.

Dreher has worked as an editorial writer and columnist for the Dallas Morning News, been exposed to the flesh pots of the Big Apple while writing for the New York Post and National Review, and made a brief stop at the Templeton Foundation. He is now an editor and remarkably prolific blogger at the paleoconservative The American Conservative. He writes faster than most people (or at least I) can read. His odyssey has also included a conversion from Methodism to Catholicism, and thenafter the sex-abuse scandal, which, understandably, he found appallinga switch from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy. Eventually he settled his family in Louisiana, where he grew up.

As his rsum suggests, Dreher has been a fervent political conservative most of his life, but not a predictable one. He appears to prefer work boots and flannel shirts to bow ties, brandy snifters, and cigars. One of his earlier books, Crunchy Cons, was a kind of manifesto for back-to-the-earth types who championed organic food, environmentalism, and old-fashioned craftsmanship, while eschewing liberal mores. Dreher also expressed skepticism about the materialism and technological utopianism of free-market absolutists. A certain romanticism comes naturally to traditionalists. What Wilfrid Sheed said about the novelist Walker Percy might also be said about Dreher. As a Southerner, he seems half in love with defeat. (Not surprisingly, Dreher is a big Percy fan.)

In The Benedict Option, Dreher declares that he has seen the error of his ways. For too long conservative Christians have identified their creed with the nations, neglecting the fact that Christians have no abiding place in this world. It was a mistake to look to the Republican Party to stem the tide of secularism, abortion, and the assault on the family. With the capitulation of corporate America to the liberal social and sexual agenda, that hope has been revealed as hollow, if not a con. It is time to accept the fact that politics will not save us. The hour is late, and the open persecution of Christians not far off. Dreher looks to the hands-on localism pioneered by Eastern bloc dissidents who defied Communism as a model for todays Christian resistance. Most important, now is the time for Christians to put their own house in order and in so doing become a moral witness for others. Just as God used chastisement in the Old Testament to call his people back to himself, so he may be delivering a like judgment onto a church and a people grown cold from selfishness, hedonism, and materialism. The coming storm may be the means through which God delivers us, Dreher writes.

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When Building Sustainable Societies, There’s No Better Guide than … – Earth Island Journal

Posted: at 4:45 pm

by Kirkpatrick Sale March 17, 2017

Adapted from Human Scale Revisited: The Antidote to the Modern Age of Big Everything; Chelsea Green, April 2017

It can be fairly objected that every age has its crises and so far the ingenuity of the human brain or the capacity of human society has been able to solve, or appear to solve, most of them. No matter how problems have grown in the past they have not interfered with the sort of growth that has characterized Western civilization in the modern period. But that lesson from the past disguises one important fact of the present: our crises now proceed, like the very growth of our systems, exponentially.

Photo Wikimedia CommonsLeonardo da Vinci's The Vitruvian Man sketch was his exploration of the theories about human proportions set forth by ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. Human scale was originally an architectural term, used to describe the components of a building in relation to the people who use it.

During the past two centuries, in the words of M. King Hubbert, the prescient geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey, we have known nothing but exponential growth, and we have evolved what amounts to an exponential growth culture, a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth.

Obviously the solutions to these crises, even when they are identified and tried, have done nothing to diminish the impact of exponential growth, and indeed the solutions turn out to be problems, or generate unforeseen problems, as often as not. That is why it is necessary to turn in a totally different direction with a totally different mindset and expectationa way, as I will show you, to the human scale.

It is now obvious that the way we have been going, particularly for the last 25 years, has plunged us into multiple environmental and social crises, and going on in that direction invites, if it does not guarantee, civilizations collapse within the next 25. That is no exaggeration: as Pope Francis said in his June 2015 encyclical, Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.

So to save our planet and its civilizations we must move in an opposite direction, we must work toward the decentralization of institutions, the devolution of power, and the dismantling of all large-scale systems that have created or perpetuated the current crises. In their place, smaller, more controllable, more efficient, more sensitive, people-sized units, rooted in local environments and guided by local citizens. That is the human-scale alternative.

In the search for the proper order of things and societies, a search that has inspired humankind since its earliest sentient days, no better guide has been found than the human form, no better measure than the human scale. Man the measure has that not been the standard, or at least the goal, for the greatest number of human societies for the last 5,000 years, though lost from ours for more than a century? And still today, though many are deluded into a gigantism dependent on technology, the guide to any desirable future, for the ways in which tools, building, communities, cities, homes, shops, offices, factories, forums, and legislatures should be constructed; I see no reason to go beyond the simple rule: they should be built to human scale.

Human scale was originally an architectural term, used to describe the components of a building in relation to the people who use it. A cottage door, for example, is necessarily built to human scale, high enough and wide enough so that a body can move through it comfortably, located at a place convenient for the body to use it, in some harmonious relation with the other elements of the building. A hangar door, by contrast, is not, for it has nothing to do with the human form, and is outsized and disproportionate to the human body.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green

From earliest times until quite recent eras, most conscious building has been a reflection of human scale, for in every society the measurements most convenient and most constant were those of the finger, the hand, the arm, the stride, and the height of the builder a tradition we honor today in the English system in which an inch is based on the length of the first joint of the thumb, the foot on the length of the forearm, and the yard on the length of a normal pace or an extended arm from fingers to nose. (It is vastly preferable to the metric system, based not on anything human at all but on a meter that the French Convention in 1799, in its zeal to do away with all tradition and rely on what it regarded as rational thinking, chose quite arbitrarily by taking one ten-millionth of the meridian of the earth from the North Pole to the Equator.) Even buildings intended to evoke awe and inspiration, such as the Parthenon and Pekings Temple of Heaven, were, when successful, built on these human measures.

But the idea of human scale can also be used to govern the design of communities and towns, indeed of whole cities. It means buildings that can be easily taken in by the human eye, in harmonious relations that do not engulf or dwarf the individual; streets that can be comfortably walked, parks and arenas for habitual human contact, places for work and play and sleep within easy distance of each other; the natural world brought into daily life, with grass and trees and flowers in every part, open spaces to experience scenery by day and the starts by night, woods and farms and grazing ground somewhere within walking distance.

And all of this of such a size as can be comprehended by a single individual, known at least by acquaintance to all others, where the problems of life are thus kept to manageable proportions, and where security is the natural outcome of association. Cities, too, with their overlays of urbanity, can arise from an amalgam of such communities, with interlocking networks and cross-neighborhood relationships of all kinds, providing only that the cities themselves do not lose the human scale, either in their buildings or their total size, and do not smother their separate parts.

And if buildings and communities can be built to the human scale, then it is not so difficult to imagine all the other aspects of human life, by extension, governed by the same principle.

I mean social arrangements, economic conditions, and political structures could all be designed so that individuals can take in their experience whole and coherently, relate with other people freely and honestly, comprehend all that goes on in their working and civic lives, share in the decisions that make it all function, and not feel intimidated or impotent because there are any large hidden forces beyond their control or reckoning.

What it takes is a scale at which individuals become neighbors and lovers instead of just acquaintances and ciphers, makers and creators instead of just users and consumers, participants and protagonists instead of just observers and taxpayers.

This alternative future would certainly not be without its problems, some considerable perhaps, and would likely face crises of its own in the course of its enactment, which in any case might take several decades, unless the will to escape the impending doom serves to vivify populations worldwide. But it would, at a minimum, provide relief from the imperilment brought on by the large-scale institutions of the present.

Such an age would not be congenial to centralized bureaucracies or high-tech conglomerates, would not permit multi-billion-dollar investments in nuclear plants or military adventures or useless space stations. It would not allow the production of 89 million polluting motor vehicles (2014) every year, or countrywide fracking that fouls drinking water and creates earthquakes, or metropolitan areas of 24 million people, or a cabinet department (Homeland Security) formed out of 22 agencies with 216,000 bureaucrats, or the manufacture of 387 cereal brands in America, or a Code of Federal Regulations that at 175,496 pages in 2014 was 117 times as big as the Bible, or a single World Trade Organization, governed by a secret court, regulating 90 percent of international trading.

At the moment such a world might seem a utopian dream, and it will not come easily, but there are several reasons to imagine it possible.

Photo by achresis khora/FlickrModels for almost every part of a future built to the human scale already exist now, and include independent city-states like Singapore (pictured above), Monaco, and Vatican City.

For one, it accords with some of the deepest instincts of the human animal, possibly encoded in our DNA, such as the need for tribal and community sustenance, for harmony with the natural world, for companionship and cooperation. It accords with the experience of by far the greatest part of human history, from the earliest settlements to most of the world today, in which people lived in compact villages and self-contained towns, crafting and hunting (and later farming and herding) for themselves, before some of them evolved into cities and empires. And it accords with much that is rooted in the American experience, such as the traditions of cooperation and self-sufficiency that grew up in the early settlements, the town-meeting democracies that extended at one time from New England to Virginia, the agrarian and anti-authoritarian values of the Founding Fathers, the Jeffersonian understanding of scale and distrust of centralism, the drive for self-sufficiency and independence that for generations led people from the cities to the frontier.

For another, we have had the advantage of knowing the ills and errors of high technology in these past decades, the one ironic benefit of its super-rapid exponential growth. I say we though it might better be said a few, and those of the quasi-Luddistic bent who realize that machines must be differentiated so that those that are of human scale small, safe, simple, manageable by a single individual, along the lines suggested by E. F. Schumachers alternative technology are not confused with all those that tie people into large, dangerous, complex, and uncontrollable systems and webs.

The Luddites, as a matter of fact, made those distinctions, for they were very comfortable with certain small-scale looms and stocking machines they used every day, only opposed to the belching factories that replaced them, machinery hurtful to the commonality as they said in one threatening letter. Thus a human-scale world would have the advantage of knowing not to depend on technology that involved expensive and manipulable machines within large, widespread, even global complexes that would have no regard for the individual village, the community, the family.

And finally, the evidence continues to mount, despite certain trends to the contrary, that such a human-scale future is, at least in many tenets, doable.

Models for almost every part of such a future already exist now, or have existed in the knowable past, in many parts of the world, including our own: worker-owned businesses, intentional communities, cooperative movements and banks; generations-old independent communes like the twenty-three Bruderhof communities around the world and the seven Amana villages in Iowa Quaker meetings governed by consensual democracy, coast to coast; independent city-states, basic to life in ancient Greece, common in medieval Italy, recurrent in modern times and extant today in many places, including Singapore, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican; societies without a state, from the million years of tribes in Africa, Indian tribes in both North and South America, settlements in Polynesia and other South Pacific islands, New England villages in the US colonial period, and countless others.

Most of these entities have lived within the shadows of larger institutions and states, it is true, but that is only a testament to the fundamental, and apparently eternal, tenacity of the idea of the empowered community. And if it has been done, it can be done.

Inuit children are given a puzzle at a fairly early age that asks them if, given a square of nine dots, how can you connect all the dots with only four straight lines, never taking your pencil off the paper?

Most Inuit have no difficulty in solving this after a few minutes, but even sophisticated children in other parts of the world have failed to solve it, and it stumps most adults as well. Those who fail are accustomed by their culture to certain quite unconscious ways of thinking that are difficult to break out of, but Inuit children, living as they do in wide open arctic spaces, naturally have a different sense of space. With that sense they find nothing difficult in the idea of extending the straight lines beyond the nine-dot square, thus:

In the same way, there is much about the human-scale alternative that at first seems impossible, undoable. But that is largely because our culture has conditioned us in myriad ways over the last several centuries to thinking of certain kinds of solutions and disregarding in fact not being aware of others.

But they are there.

Kirkpatrick Sale Kirkpatrick Sale is a prolific scholar and author of more than a dozen books including Human Scale, Rebels Against the Future, and After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination. He has been described as the leader of the Neo-Luddites, is one of the pioneers of the bioregional movement, and throughout his career has been a regular contributor to The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, CounterPunch, Lew Rockwell, The New York Review of Books, and The Utne Reader, which named him one of 100 living visionaries. Sale is currently the director of the political think tank the Middlebury Institute for the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination.

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A Huntington Couple Plan to Turn Their Land into a Cohousing Community – Seven Days

Posted: March 17, 2017 at 7:37 am

Marijke and Mark Smith first met in the Peace Corps a half century ago, each trying to make the world a better place. So it's only fitting that, as they enter their twilight years, they're working to leave behind a cohousing community that perpetuates those values after they're gone.

The Smiths are co-owners of Windekind Farm, a 225-acre property on a south-facing slope of Camel's Hump in Huntington. This stunningly picturesque landscape, which they named after a character in a Dutch fairy tale Marijke was born in the Netherlands features mountain meadows, woodlands, ponds, streams, gardens and pastures. Currently, the Smiths operate a wedding and vacation cottage business on the land. There's even a one-fifth-scale model railroad that Mark built, which visitors can ride through the woods in warm weather.

But the Smiths' latest project is their boldest yet. Their goal is to create what they've dubbed the Commons at Windekind, a cohousing community of nine privately owned, single-family homes that share common resources and the values of community, collaborative decision making, energy efficiency and sustainable living. Launched three years ago, the project is halfway through the permitting process; construction of the first homes is expected to begin this summer.

The Commons at Windekind is the latest "intentional community" to pop up in Vermont, one of 22 such communities statewide, according to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, an international nonprofit. While a few are religiously oriented, most are secular and based upon a philosophy of sustainability and resiliency in the age of global warming. Ted Montgomery, founder of the Ten Stones cohousing community in Charlotte, once described his community as "a subdivision with a soul."

Although cohousing communities may seem like relatively new additions to the landscape, Mark points out that they actually hark back to Vermont's traditional land development patterns.

"The basic premise is, a shared economy is a stronger economy," he explains. "It all goes back to the basic principles of what Vermont is all about our town meeting tradition, our village green, our common schools. It's a marvelous concept."

Marijke, who retains her Dutch accent, recalls how she and Mark met on horseback in northeast Brazil in 1963. Mark was serving in the American Peace Corps, she in the Dutch equivalent. When Mark's two-year stint was nearly over, the two realized they'd never be able to stay in touch, so Mark asked Marijke to marry him.

The couple left Brazil to "wander the world together," he says, first to the United States, then to Holland to marry, then back to the U.S. and on to British Columbia. During a stint at Outward Bound in Colorado, they learned about a farm for sale in rural Vermont. So, in 1967, the couple bought the Huntington property, a defunct dairy farm, for $30,000.

For many years, Marijke worked as a counselor in local public schools while Mark taught developmental psychology at the University of Vermont. By 2000, the Smiths were facing retirement and the challenge of how to preserve their land despite its enormous tax burden. Recalls Mark, "We just didn't have the financial wherewithal to take that on."

To make ends meet, the pair launched their current lodging business, offering three rustic post-and-beam cottages to vacationers. They then expanded into the wedding business because of the location's gorgeous panoramic views.

But about three years ago, the Smiths, now in their seventies, realized they wouldn't be able to indefinitely sustain the housekeeping and routine maintenance by themselves. So they began work on a succession plan.

Initially, Mark says, they assumed one of their three grown children would take over the business. But because their kids' families and employment are diverse and mostly based elsewhere, he and Marijke began exploring other options.

After mulling a conventional development that is, a standard subdivision that involves selling off parcels of the land piecemeal Mark says he became keenly interested in the literature on cohousing and permaculture.

"That whole body of knowledge spoke to a much more integrated and community-based mechanism to sustain the land," he says. "It's really a design approach that does a lot of things for the landscape and the people that traditional development patterns don't do."

Diving into the process wasn't difficult for Mark, who served for years on various municipal bodies, including Huntington's Development Review Board, selectboard, school board and planning commission, the last of which he chaired twice. Such involvement gave him the expertise to navigate the various bureaucratic hoops necessary to bring the project to fruition.

Due to its topography, the Commons will be considerably less dense than many traditional cohousing developments.

"We value the idea of a home and not crowding people together," Marijke says. That's resulted in some "pushback" from Vermont's cohousing community, which prefers denser development. But the Smiths hope to retain the "rural village concept" that makes this spot so enticing.

They have also invested considerable time into creating a mission statement, bylaws, design standards and the like for example, they've mapped out common land for use as future gardens, orchards, pastures, even a community center. That said, much of what the community will ultimately look like will be up to its future residents.

They'll include Steve Hood, 65, one of the Commons' first investors. He and his wife had been looking for a home or property to build on in Huntington for the last five years when they chanced upon the Smiths.

"Initially we had no interest or intention of joining a structured cohousing community," Hood admits. "But this appeals to us on a bunch of levels."

Hood, who's already had a hand in shaping the orientation of his lot and the design standards, says he's surprised these lots haven't sold out already.

"We were looking for real value," he adds both in community and real estate. "If you read the bylaws and mission statement, you can really see the values that Mark and Marijke bring to this project."

For his part, Mark expects interest will grow once more potential investors learn about their plans.

"I've lived a long time and done a lot of things, but nothing has captured my imagination like this project," he says, as he surveys the land from a vantage point high above the valley. "It gets to the heart of my values about community and preserving open space for future generations."

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Why Restore Kellogg Beach? A Look at Its Inheritance and Legacy – OB Rag

Posted: at 7:37 am

Architects rendering of proposed San Antonio Condos & Kellogg Condos

By Michael Winn

A real estate speculator has proposed to replace a single family home on Kellogg Street in La Playa with a concrete sea wall and 9 condominiums, where there is now a beach.

How can the community assess this proposed development without consensus about the fate of this beach? Colloquially called, Kellogg Beach its actually the last remaining part of the beach for which this community was originally named, La Playa, perhaps, in the 17th century.

La Playa (translated: the beach) is one of just four places shown on an 1851 U.S. survey of San Diego Bay. Other places are Ballast Point, [Old Town] San Diego and New San Diego. A trail is shown on the 1851 chart that connects these places. Today, my Google navigation shows La Playa across the Peninsula (not Pt. Loma).

My neighbor in Tunaville tells me his ancestors beached their fishing boats at La Playa in 1915. A 1950 aerial image of La Playa, before the sandbar was connected to develop Shelter Island, shows a hundred boats moored off a beach, extending from [Shelter Island Drive] to Ballast Point.

Following constructions by the U.S. Navy on the western end of La Playa, the remaining part of the beach, from which the area takes its name, began to quickly erode. Rising sea levels guaranty that, unless we take action to prevent it, there will be no beach in La PlayaUnless we take steps to restore and preserve Kellogg beach now, the current real estate speculators proposal eliminates the possibility.

Caption reads: 1950 and view of sandbar, soon to become Shelter Island.

If loss of this valuable and important topographic feature was intentional, Id feel differently. I dont lament the absence of the sand bar now called, Shelter Island, because I feel this trade-off was conscious and intentional and still provided shelter for boats and beaches. (Albeit I so lament the loss of habitat for aquatic species.)

Erosion of the last remaining beach of La Playa was not intentional: It was the unintended result, when Point Loma Naval Command altered tidal currents by building a rock jetty to protect the Scripps/Spawar docks, coincidentally changing hydraulic dynamics in the bay protected by Shelter Island.

The beaches that gave La Playa its name and prominence were inherited. We have a choice to pass this inheritance on to our grand children. If we dont, this community will bear the resulting weight of ultra-high-density development, examples of which we neednt look far to see.

Communities are empowered by state laws to draw the lineto choose urban developments that nurture and serve our families, especially regarding coastal access. But the economics of speculative real estate development make it necessary for communities to be proactive about this or lose their heritage.

Restoration of our public beaches is less difficult than building Shelter Island or the new fuel import docks the Navy recently developed east of the submarine base.

San Diego Bay beaches are the political responsibility of the San Diego Unified Port Commission, which is appointed by our Mayor and City Council members of San Diego and other S.D. Bay cities.

The Navy has previously restored beaches, where its construction and/or operations caused environmental damage, for example, at Los Alamitos, (Seal Beach and Surfside, CA) and the San Diego Port has also been obligated to restore and preserve environmental features in the bay.

Michael Winn is a scholar, composer, writer and filmmaker who resides in Tunaville. He claims to be an ardent kayaker in San Diego Bay, where during the last four years, hes paddled from Bessemer to the end of the point, and is a keen observer of local natural and human phenomena in the bay.

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The Art of Paying Attention – Sojourners

Posted: at 7:37 am

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires. Jewish Teaching Story

The parable above demonstrates the very reason why I tell stories the way that I do. In my youth, I experienced firsthand the varied but often very limited effects of getting on ones soapbox and preaching to the masses. All may hear, but who will listen? This lesson occurred during my early 20s and I found myself having more than a few conversations around beauty and identity for ethnic minorities and women. Most of those conversations ended with me trying to patiently explain (though alternately fuming or saddened on the inside) why some particular harmful standard, judgement, or idea was not helpful for humanity and the crowd on the other end was either disinterested or silently staring at me with glazed eyes.

And then I began to make art.

My primary medium is portrait photography, and during my sessions I draw people out by asking questions about their very literal story. What is delightful for you in this season? What is hard? What Ive found happen in these conversations is that decades of untended pain or suppressed pleasures begin to break forth, find air, and heal as needed or grow.

The resulting photographs were much less Instagram-able but a lot more beautiful and real.

Ive seen this beautiful realness reflected in these initially nervous portrait sitters, now become ambassadors of authenticity and courage in their own communities. This has been true for my 68-year-old shut-in neighbor who never saw her dark skin or the story that came with it as beautiful but is now going door to door to other neighbors and caring for them, asking for their own stories. It has been true for an anxiety-prone working majority culture mother of three who was too unsure of what she had to offer her community, but now proclaims everything matters to the young adults she mentors into their own safety and peace.

And everything does matter. What we look at and how we give attention to it matters. How we see ourselves matters because it influences how we see others, and how we see others also matters.

Addressing how we see others is the other prong of how I tell stories.

I am often celebrated for how I photograph people of color. I am told that there is so much light, so much energy, and rich insight in how these individuals and communities are portrayed. That has been intentional.

For years I have been working with a group called The Voices Project, which sponsors a tour to a variety of historically black colleges and universities in the spring. I photograph this tour with a specific goal to showcase the life and humanity that is in black gatherings. By showcasing scores and scores of little tastes of what it looks like for black people to eat out in restaurants together, to share a laugh, to be a little tired after a show, to sit pensively while listening to a speaker, it allows one who starts out as simply a looker to one who can suddenly see.

This seeing has its effect on people of every side of a particular perceptual divide. The person who has two black friends from church gets a little more clarity and kinship in the way those gatherings remind them of their own families or the palpable emotions that run through their own friendship hang outs. The young student follows yet another Facebook page on leadership development and suddenly is immersed in a story rich with images that emphatically exclaim yes! and you too! Its a surreptitious way to subvert a prevailing idea and introduce an additional but oft ignored other narrative: a narrative that says that these people also matter.

These are the stories that I tell: yes and you too and yes and they too stories. They are stories that open the heart to the similarity in the other and stories that open us up to the yes and amen in ourselves. When these stories are embraced and emphatically proclaimed one by one, each community and eventually, the world is changed.

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The Promise of Paradise features area – 100 Mile House Free Press

Posted: March 12, 2017 at 8:30 pm

The Promise of Paradise

image credit: Tara Sprickerhoff

A new book by journalist Andrew Scott called The Promise of Paradise showcases some of the unique stories British Columbia and the South Cariboo have on offer.

The book delves into the history of "intentional" or "utopian" communities throughout British Columbia, exploring their roots and the many different attempts to build idealistic colonies in the wilderness of B.C.

The Promise of Paradise is an updated version of a book by the same name, published 20 years ago by Scott. The new edition contains a chapter on the history of the Emissaries of Divine Light the spiritual community led by Martin Exeter that helped found 100 Mile House as well as how intentional communities have evolved in British Columbia.

"Quite a bit has happened in the last 20 years and nobody else has really written about it," says Scott.

Scott says it was important to include the Emissaries of Divine Light in the revised version of the book.

"They were one of the largest and most successful for a long time of communal intentional communities in British Columbia."

While the Emissaries of Divine Light were spread throughout B.C., they were headquartered in 100 Mile House for many years. Scott says they were unusual because of their size.

"They built 100 Mile House. There were hundreds and hundreds of other communal communities in the 60s and 70s but most of them might have had a dozen or 20 people. At the most, to have 100 people working together and learning together is unusual, but to have 1,000 is unprecedented."

Among other stories, the book also tells the history of the Ochiltree Organic Commune, a "rebel commune" with an interesting history that often brought meat to more traditional "hippy" vegetarian conferences and often saw themselves in conflict with other groups or local government. The group has now morphed into the Community Enhancement and Economic Development Society (CEEDS) located near Horse Lake.

The new version of the book also includes a chapter on modern day intentional communities.

"The earlier communities were often led by a single charismatic leader who inspired people and had followers. While he was leading, if he was doing a good job, some of those communities flourished."

Styles of intentional communities have since changed, however.

"Over the years what I call distributed forms of leadership became more successful," he says. "Most intentional communities are really based on developing consensus, not having a strong leader, but having everyone at once participate in the leadership."

Scott tells the stories though a combination of careful archival research and first-person accounts, where he brings the stories and people featured in the book to life.

"I generally have a lot of respect for people who have stuck out doing these kinds of things. The Emissaries of Divine Light are very much reduced in size, but they keep hanging on and I wish them well," he says.

"There have been a lot of hilarious accidents and failures over the years, but generally speaking I think people will feel inspired reading about these groups."

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Speak out about your experiences – Hibbing Daily Tribune

Posted: at 8:30 pm

HIBBING An innovative program designed to bring generations to together is inviting Hibbing residents of all ages to Speak Out.

Hibbing is the newest community to step forward to join the Northland Foundations AGE to age: bringing generations together, which is an initiative of the Northland Foundations KIDS PLUS Program.

For 25 years, KIDS PLUS has been working with communities in northeastern Minnesota to improve the wellbeing of children and youth, from birth to adulthood, said Lynn Haglin, Northland Foundation vice-president and KIDS PLUS director. AGE to age began in 2008 with a handful of communities and has now grown, with the latest addition of Hibbing, to 16 sites throughout the seven-county region.

To show residents what AGE to age is all about, community members are invited to a Speak Out event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, in Hibbing Community College commons, where dinner will be served and, as the organizers hope, much conversation will be had.

This is a special opportunity to hear from Hibbing area residents representing a span of many decades from present-day youth to people in their 80s or 90s, speakers will share what it was like to grow up in Hibbing, Haglin explained. The audience can listen to these interesting stories, ask questions and share their insights as well. It will be a chance to learn about their community history and find out what has stayed the same and what is different about being a young person in Hibbing whether they grew up in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and so on, up to today.

The program aims to create intergenerational connections between Hibbing residents to not only learn from each other, but to work together to build a stronger community by using these discussions to develop plans and projects for the area.

As Haglin pointed out, it is rare for discussions of this type to occur these days.

In many communities today, there arent many intentional ways for young people to meet and benefit from the older generations, she said. In many cases, weve lost the inter-generational connections that families and communities used to have in the past. Grandchildren may not live near grandparents. Neighbors may not know neighbors as well as they once did. AGE to age links the generations to share their time and talents.

In other cities participating in the program, projects developed through these dialogues have included community gardens, walking clubs, teaching traditional activities such as crafts, baking, language, storytelling and helping older adults with smartphone and computer technology.

However, there is no one telling residents what to do.

Each community knows best what its resources are and what its needs are, and AGE to age being guided by and engaging local people at each site allows the program to be unique in each location, Haglin explained.

In fact, the greatest resource in making these decisions is each and every resident of Hibbing.

This is a chance to understand one another better and learn some of the things that we share in common, no matter our age, Haglin said. We hope the room is full of people of all generations.

What: Northland Foundations AGE to age: bringing generations together Speak Out

When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14. A light supper from 5 to 5:30 p.m.

Where: Hibbing Community College Commons, 1515 E. 25th St.

Who: Youth, parents, adults 55-plus, parents, and representatives from K-12 and higher education, state/local/tribal government, faith communities, youth serving organizations, health and human services, civic organizations and businesses. Ages 9 to 99 are welcome.

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National Expert Shares Thoughts on Environmental Justice – WUWM

Posted: March 11, 2017 at 8:31 am

Jacqui Patterson works in communities around the country to engage African-Americans on climate issues. She directs the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and helped build the program from the ground up.

"I think that the biggest thing that was clear from the beginning and continues to be clear is the need to help folks see, whether its environmental issues broadly or climate change specifically how they connect to every day issues that are in our communities. Patterson adds, How they connect to food, water, energy, basically the commons - the things to which we should all have access.

Patterson says its her job to suggest ways to shift away from practices that drive climate change, while at the same time, help prepare for the fact that climate change is already here impacting communities.

Whether its starting local food movements, community-owned solar projects, starting recycling projects helping people know how they can be part of the change that we need to make, she says.

Before Patterson joined the NAACP, her work included teaching, social and tackling a range of social issues.

"I wanted to be part of the systems change to eliminate the inequities as opposed to help people cope better within the inequities."

Every time Ive done those various things, its been clear to me that whatever kind of issue or problem Ive been working toward, theres a deeper systemic underpinning for it that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, its just a band-aid or were just making things better for people who are vulnerable, rather than removing vulnerabilities, Patterson says.

She reports that progress is being made. Were part of a group called the Climate Justice Alliance. We have whats called the Our Power Campaign and the notion is power with pollution, energy without injustice."

Patterson says throughout the country community-owned solar gardens are springing up. That have resulted in coal plants being closed or shifting away from burning coal which is so harmful to communities. We have multiple communities were working in where the communities were previously food insecure and now they have networks of gardens where they have networks of gardens.

In Milwaukee, Patterson cites the Urban Ecology Center as a model.

Seeing those centers having formal relationships with schools where theyre including in the curriculum this hands on connection with nature and our role within our role within the ecosystem, she says. We need to be active and intentional about fostering harmony with nature in order for us to have a sustainable place of habitation.

Patterson also points to community activism that helped shift the power plant in downtown Milwaukee from coal to natural gas.

(And) the situation of the lead in the water, the coalition of folks coming together from all walks of Milwaukee society, health, civil rights all coming together to protect the well-being of the community, she n says.

She calls these examples of intersecting efforts, fighting against the bad and advancing the good.

Yet, a myriad of environmental and climate justice issues remain to be conquered. Patterson says solutions need to come from within.

Patterson spent time in Flint, Michigan after its water crisis. We sat down and had a series of visioning sessions. Its not like I came in and I said, you should do this and this. They came up with all of the ideas and I was literally just the scribe. The best people to prescribe the solutions for Milwaukee is Milwaukee, for sure.

More of Susan Bence's conversation with Jacqui Patterson.

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