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.

Why Farming?

When people ask me why I have a sudden interest in farming, I generally give the reply “I dated a farmer and the interest in farming lasted longer than the interest in the farmer.” While I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is true that an attractive boy is what first attracted me to farming.

This farmer was a bona-fide corn and soybean farmer from small-town Indiana. Our romance lasted just a short time, but long enough for me to get a rudimentary crash-course in the realities of the farming lifestyle. For me, meeting someone my own age who was a real farmer—one who owned land and spent days out in the tractor planting and harvesting corn—was a culture shock. Even more penetrating was the realization that seemingly “old-fashioned” ideas of bequeathing the family farm to the first-born son, the consequences of family inheritance feuds, and the ever-increasing cost of land are ongoing realities for hard working American farmers. In short, farming became a real occupation and farmers became real people to me after meeting and dating a farmer.

As I got to know a farmer and about the work he did, it didn’t take long for my ideas about food to change. All of a sudden, I began to wonder if I knew the person who had grown the corn in my corn flakes (highly unlikely, but still a possibility!). I began to consider the logistical gymnastics required for a mango to arrive fresh from the southern hemisphere in the middle of December to the local grocery store. I began to listen for agriculture news and read the “buy local” labels at Whole Foods a little more closely. I’ve never been much of a foodie, but all of a sudden “where food came from” became a BIG idea for me.

Other, small things, also brought my attention increasingly to the world of agriculture. I’ve heard missionaries say that when they received their calling to the field, God places specific locations on their hearts. God then confirms these destinations by little “signs”—the country is mentioned in the news, a story they hear from a friend, a native they suddenly meet. Similarly, the idea of “farmsteading” sprung into everyday normalcy after my initial encounter with a young farmer. For instance, I randomly stumbled on a www.centralvafarms.com and discovered that a house with land in and around Charlottesville, VA (absolutely stunning country, for those who haven’t been…) is actually quite affordable. I read an article in Vogue magazine while waiting for my tires to be changed, of all things, about a young writer-turned-farmer. I learned that the local park district rents garden plots for a mere $25 to residents, all of a sudden making it possible for me to start growing food of my own.

Clearly, agriculture/farming/gardening etc. was top-of-mind as I sought the Lord in giving a vision for life. To some, that may seem I simply grabbed at what was my most immediate and recent fascination. To me, though, the Lord laid these things in my path in His own timing, uniquely aware of their greater significance.

As I’ve meditated and prayed about this entire concept/endeavor, I’ve come to additional understanding and appreciation as to “why farming.” Kristin Kimball writes in her novel The Dirty Life, “I think that in some way, human begins are hard-wired to be agrarians. This is what most people in the history of the world have focused their energy.” It’s this realization, and appreciation for agriculture’s necessity and normalcy in human endeavor, that enchants me as I move forward.