A Linguistic Discovery : Community Discipleship House

It’s been just under two years since I originally started This Beautiful Life as a blog. While there aren’t nearly as many posts as I would like, the years have not been without progress for TBL. In fact, the faces, places and spaces of 2011-2012 have all worked together to add definition to my original concept, casually outlined in an introductory post from April 12, 2011.

For much of the past two years, I’ve found it difficult to explain the concept of building community using a lifestyle grounded in agriculture and simple, beautiful living. No single word or phrase seemed to really identify my intentions. The word “commune” often came to mind, as it conjures the ideas of community and even growing food, but the political connotations of the word felt too heavy when describing my vision.

Retreat center,” “shelter,” “artistsretreat,” “halfway house,” and the like also came close to describing some elements of my vision, particularly as it relates to hospitality and providing a place of rest, healing and growth. The growth of “agritourism” as an industry and the increasing popularity of “farm stays” help emphasize the farm part of TBL but is wanting in an emphasis on promoting ongoing community.

Specific examples of already existing places, like L’Abri in England also helped me get close to the idea, but again, were not quite the vision behind This Beautiful Life.

While not entirely detrimental in my ongoing exploration of TBL, the linguistic dilemma of how to describe my dream of “living in community on a farm” has inhibited effective communication regarding any specifics of this dream.

Just a couple months ago, I had the occasion to meet someone who shared his experience of participating in a dedicated, year-long residential community that emphasized the personal spiritual formation of each participant. The program allowed this young man, along with seven other young adults, a concentrated time to explore what it means to live a Christian life devoted both to Christ and community. The program also encouraged and facilitated growth in important life skills, including career prep and household management.

Specifics of my acquaintance’s program aside, it was the title of the program, “Community Discipleship House,” that immediately struck—and stuck with—me. Oh-so obvious and self-explanatory, the phrase is surprisingly uncommon. (Of the few places online I could find containing the phrase, most reserve it for ministries focused on bringing hope and healing to individuals suffering from addiction.)

Despite its scarcity, I’m amazed at how well “Community Discipleship House” fits the vision of This Beautiful Life—it’s a term that is simultaneously narrow enough to be worthwhile but still broad enough that the specifics can be left for further discovery.

Some upcoming posts will be dedicated to unpacking this term and how it is shaping the present and long term visions for this beautiful life.

Community Efforts

I’m continuously amazed (and inspired) by the ways humans increasingly employ the internet to create community. Something that is inherently individualistic and solitary in its success to disengage you from your immediate surroundings and company paradoxically serves to connect us with the global scene and population. As I consider my own efforts to create community, I admit it is much easier for me to create and maintain a website (or a blog) than actually invite a friend over for brunch and let them know the real me.

But the world-wide web is a start, if nothing else, to finding community in the 21st Century. Here is a short list of some interesting cyber-spaces promoting ideas of real-space community. Click on any of the links to learn more about each concept.

WWOOF (or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connects farmers with individuals interested in gaining real-world experience on working farms around the globe. Pay $30 and gain access to a complete listing of participating farms all across the United Statess.

Like WWOOF, FarmStayUS connects real farmers with real people interested in experiencing life on a farm. FarmStayUS differs in their appeal to individuals wanting a more relaxing approach to their farmstay, suggesting a new kind of “agritourism” for the adventuresome family.

Looscubes is a good attempt to provide community for solo-preneurs, artists, techies, financiers, and anyone else more accustomed to working at a desk 10 feet away from their bed through it’s database of workspaces around the world available for rent. Complete with the benefits of shared equipment costs and  water-cooler gossip, As someone who personally knows what it’s like to work alone and at home, Loosecubes offers a great alternative to the corner table at Starbucks.

Stonegate Farm, located in the Hudson Valley of New York, is the closest realization I’ve discovered to date of what I dream of creating someday. It’s a family estate farm dedicated to producing fresh salad greens, vegetables, berries and other artisan delicacies. What’s more, the owner is a renowned garden photographer and opens his farm to other artists for gallery shows, workshops, and garden tours.

Five Years Time

My new favorite band Noah and the Whale (a British Rock ‘n’ Roll quintet) play a song titled “5 Years Time.” I enjoy the tune for its honest approach to the brevity of most of our closest relationships. The song suggests that while our culture is adamant about loving hard and well, we are not so concerned with longevity. Through “5 Years Time,” Noah and the Whale highlight our ok-ness with moving from relationship to relationship, community to community. The song emphasizes our culture’s ever-on-the-move mentality where it’s hard to imagine today’s relationships withstanding five year’s time.

The culture this song describes isn’t something “out there” for me: the “close” friends I have today are not the ones I had just three years ago. A few of the friends from yesteryear moved and the miles put distance into our relationship. But others, nay, most, still live just down the street. Sure, I might be going to a different church now. They may have gotten married. Still others may have started more demanding careers. But I can’t help but remember that a mere three years ago all of us were “forever friends.” And today, well I might be lucky if I see them in the produce section of Whole Foods.

It seems, to me, the trend-words-du-jour like “community” and “authenticity” have made it all too easy for us to step into each other’s lives and build wells of connections. Conversely, our utmost preference for transience and novelty have made it even easier to fill in those wells with dirt and move on to new, not-yet-tasted springs of water.

As I read more and more books about farming, I’m touched by the necessity of being bound to the land you tend. And not bound for a season. Or a year. Or a decade. But for a lifetime. Good farming requires close study of the land, study matched equally with adaptation and persistence. In his 2004 essay titled “Renewing Husbandry,” Wendell berry calls the farmer’s study of the land husbandry. Berry writes:

“The word husbandry is the name of connection….Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals. To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve….Husbandry is the name of all the practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.”

Today I’m meditating on what it would look like to husband my relationships—to be intent on cultivating my connection with the people who sustain me in my day-to-day living for the long-haul…or at least five years time.

A Call to Communion

A favorite worship song of mine is “Better is One Day.” The common refrain sings “Better is one day in Your courts/Than a thousand elsewhere.” I love this song for its reminder of the strength we have when we commune with God and for its promise that “one day” we will experience this communion for eternity. At distinct moments of my life, I remember feeling as if I was already living in that “one day of full communion.” These moments are defined by complete joy in Christ, a peace with myself and the world, and unbroken closeness with the Lord. These moments are only hints of what’s to come; it’s in this very hint of feeling where I want to live my life.

Deciding to live in a “hint of a feeling” is abstract and real life is filled with concrete hurdles that hinder, (at best) and prevent (at worse) our quest for the abundant life and complete communion with Christ. A large hurdle for me personally to experience this fullness of life stems from my insecurity about being single. Singleness is a huge topic, both within and without the Church, and one I cannot fully delve into in this here post. Suffice it to say, I struggle with being ok if it turns out I don’t ever, in fact, marry.

This past fall, with a little encouragement, I decided to face this fear head-on, asking myself that should I never have the chance to marry, how would I like my life to look. How could I see my life as beautiful and not simply cope with my singleness. In asking this question, I wasn’t looking for a simple answer. What I really sought, what I really wanted and prayed for, was a vision for life. And in every sense of the word, the Lord filled me with a vision for life—so distinct from anything else I am presently doing that I know the Holy Spirit had just a little somethin’ to do with it.

Briefly stated, the vision presented the desire to learn how to grow food and work toward the creation of a farm using Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) practices. Also part of the vision was the idea to buy a farmhouse (Charlottesville, Virginia came immediately to mind), rehabbing it, making it cozy, beautiful and welcoming. I saw a vision for how I could integrate my work as a wedding photographer into this endeavor, switching a barn into a studio/gallery space and the house as a place of hospitality for clients and other artists alike.

Moreover, the vision focused on how this farmstead would also be a place for others (students, agriculturalists, seekers, intellectuals, pastors, vagabonds…) to seek comfort and love, open to people staying or periods of time long enough to learn their stories and inspire them and encourage them in the beauty of God-given life. It was a vision of simplicity but without the guilt often associated with such simplicity. It is recognizing that beautiful things and spaces can refresh and rejuvenate. It’s about not feeling ashamed for having discovered beauty and joy in a world of darkness, but instead creating a life that basks in this discovery.

As all of these ideas flooded my mind, I began to understand that my fear of not marrying was really a fear of being alone, of not being in community, of not being known and loved by others. I believe God made us to need, yes, even crave, community (as evidenced in His triune nature). But community exists only when there is something moving individuals toward each other. The vision of this farmstead is one that begs to draw others toward each other, the earth, and God. It hopes to reach downward, outward, and upward, all the while being a place that expresses the beauty God graciously provides for our enjoyment.This Beautiful Life is the namesake of this new vision of and calling on my life. This blog is my platform to share the birthing of this vision and calling. Through it, I will share my stories as I go about the task of learning to farm. Along the way, I will share thoughts on hospitality and communion, togetherness and beauty. Lastly, and most of all, I will simply tell my own story as I endeavor to live in the hint of that glorious “one day.”