Monday, 30 August 2010
Tiny Ant can start a Revolution
So here we are at Greenbelt, UK’s hippy Christian festival that speaks up with passion for social justice and re-imagining the world according to the principles of the Kingdom, having a groovy time. The photo is a view of the Alahambra Palace, a wonderful toyshop with a sign saying 'Miraculous Simplicity', raising money to restore a derelict watermill in Cumbria. Inside the Palace was like the interior of a gipsy caravan, woodstove and all. There was also a small windmill on top, with a Jolly Roger attached.
I have done (okay, a tad prematurely) a fair chunk of my Christmas shopping, rushing excitedly from stall to stall overflowing with beautiful colourful handcrafted fair-traded artefacts that are changing international society while solving my increasingly challenging gift dilemmas in one go. Hooray!
I can neither tell you nor show you what I have bought in case (ssssh!) Father Christmas is put in a compromised position by having his recipients early alerted to his intended surprises. I can tell you they are fab and groovy though, and the Elves will be feeling less tense than usual when Advent comes around.
In amongst this shopping spree I did make a valiant and semi-successful attempt at attending some seminars. I wanted to hear John Bell speaking on Imagination – really wanted to: last time I came to Greenbelt, back in about 1992, John Bell gave a whole series of talks and I went to every one, concluding that if he asked me to follow him to the ends of the earth I would go cheerfully, pram and all. Greenbelt has revved up since those days, and now if you want to go to a seminar you have to queue – and I do mean queue, though you won’t necessarily get in as everyone else is queuing right there ahead of you.
John Bell’s queue was not allowed to commence until three-quarters of an hour before his seminar, unlike one the previous day where queuing had commenced three and a half hours before the event! Half an hour before John Bell’s the queue was about a mile long and people were sitting there in camp chairs making an afternoon of it, with a burly Yorkshireman bearing a bright blue placard saying END OF THE QUEUE, Greenbelt’s variant on ‘Repent the End is nigh’. I gave up.
But I did get to Tom Sine’s seminar about re-imagining society. He talked about the New Monasticism; re-forming society along lines built on community living, as a way to affirm and celebrate life in the face of deepening recession and widening gaps between rich and poor. He described the New Monasticism as being delineated by Liturgy, Rhythm and Direction – which is to say I guess that it has a praying together element, a regular rhythm of shared life and work, and a common vision.
He spoke about new initiatives for communal living, and at one point he asked who of us gathered there lived in community. ‘We do!’ I said excitedly to the Badger who was there with me. ‘No we don’t:’ he disagreed, ‘we just live with our family.’
Later, talking about it together, I outlined again at some length (!) my utopian vision for re-modelling the world starting with the Wilcock family.
When hard times hit us and we were scattered, at one point I asked the tribe to keep in mind that Hastings would eventually be Home. Those who wanted to keep the family together could converge on Hastings, and one day we would all make our way back: which we have. In moving back this last winter, we looked only at houses in a small nexus of roads, so as to be within walking distance of the other family members – and now we all live no more than fifteen minutes walk from one another, and each household can reach the other by Tricycle Routes (ie child friendly paths that go through the park or tiny quiet roads and alleys).
Living together as we do (whether in one house or shared proximity) has allowed our money to stretch the furthest possible. Money that has come to us from the generosity and frugality of the grandparent layer (mine and Badger’s) of the family, which would have been enough to finance one household living conventionally (ie, me and the Badger, and the younger generation can wait their turn to inherit) has contributed significantly to married households getting started in their own houses and to securing accommodation spacious enough both to allow unmarried family members to live alongside us and create an important bolt-hole for the remnants of the grand-parent generation. It’s been my observation that older people can continue the independence so precious to them provided they have such a bolt-hole to come and stay when they are tired or discouraged or unwell.
The price of accommodation has risen by ridiculous levels over the last decade. In 2000 I bought a 2-roomed apartment for £26,000.00. I sold it in 2007 for just shy of £100,000.00. Prices have come down again since then. Perhaps it would sell today for £75k or £80k?? But no way has the price gap between 26k and 80k been closed by increasing wages since 2000. Many people in our town earn between £7k and £12k a year. Anyone earning over £20k is among the well-off. Our family is, in the main, not among the well-off. Sharing a home makes the difference between the impossible and the possible, the terrifyingly unmanageable and security.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Living as we do keeps overheads down to an amazingly low level – especially as our household is frugal, simple and almost completely vegan. We grow our own veg, we make our own entertainment by being together, and we live a small precarious on-the-edge kind of life. This means that we are free to answer God’s call on our lives: a freelance stone mason, a stained-glass artist , a full-time Christian writer – and one of us working as the chief cook and bottle-washer in a log cabin on the shores of a lake teaching youngsters to live in and love the wilderness, a summer occupation only. You can see at a glance, none of us is going to get rich this way! Of the rest of us, one works for the town council with the midwifery school, one of us is a full-time mother and intends to home-school, one of us publishes Christian books, and two of us are musicians. One of the musicians and the stained glass artist also back up their vocational work with relatively undemanding day-jobs that leave a lot of creative space respected and free in the soul. So the way we have chose to live also allows a kind of minor tribal renaissance. Or so we like to think.
It's important that we have support systems in place, because a crucial aspect of this is that some of us have no intention of ever becoming rich. We have noticed that our government likes to spend a lot of money on guns and bombs, we were dismayed by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and we do not like to think that we are helpng to finance such ventures. We prefer to stay within the law (though I admire those Quakers who withold in protest the proportion of their taxes that would be spent on war), so our strategy is to keep our earnings so low that we pay little or no tax, but by living together allow our earnings to cover what is necessary to provide for our daily needs and take care of one another. Council Tax we don't mind paying, because that goes directly to the local services like schools and roads and hospitals and police, which we feel a citizen's duty to share in supporting.
And it doesn’t just stop with the finances. Somewhere in my wide-ranging reading about the Amish (possibly in the book called ‘After the Fire’) I came across reference to the Stolzfuss family’s approach to church, which was that it melded seamlessly with their approach to life, and was based squarely on family. As family they farmed, traded, lived and worship: life without dislocation, joined-up living. The writer identified this as creating a very strong foundation on which to build; and I believe it to be so. When we live a family life of mutual support and trust, when we know that we can absolutely depend on the love and backing of the rest of tribe, so that their resources are our resources and they will never let us down, then as people we become strong: we become those who can contribute, build, and give.
I know that as an individual, in ministry I am weak: but in the context of my family, that capacity for ministry is strengthened beyond recognition – by ministry I mean teaching, worship, intercession, hospitality, and the healing and prophetic life.
After listening to Tom Sine today, it occurred to me that there are two aspects to bringing in the Kingdom, creating the Revolution, which might be classified as:
Public and Domestic, or
Masculine and Feminine, or
Structural/Strategic and Detailed Everyday Minutiae, or
Aspirational Dream and Mundane Nitty-Gritty or
Visionary and Earthed, or
Macro and Micro
Both aspects are political and theological, and essential for the thing to work. Tom spoke about how he loves to cook, and how he would rather be in the kitchen making supper for the grand-kids than a guest-speaker to a packed audience all the way across the Atlantic at the Greenbelt Festival. But whatever his personal preferences might have been, he was where he was. And it occurred to me that you do need a team. In order for any of us to be overseas igniting the vision, some of us have to stay and keep the home fires burning. Part of the revolution is about speaking and teaching and strategizing and platforms and speeches and publications: part of it is about watering the vegetable garden and reading bedtime stories and waiting for the right weather to do the laundry so it dries on the line in the wind.
Both halves of the equation must be present to fulfil the prophetic life.
What encouraged me today, as I listened to Tom Sine who attracted an audience filling the tent to bursting and whose books are avidly read and widely respected, was the reflection that, yes, we are doing this. We, who have (most of us) written no books and spoken to no audience, who will never be remembered or celebrated because we haven’t been heard of in the first place, by making Kingdom choices and stewarding our time and resources in our lifetime the Kingdom way, can be the Revolution we dream of.
When my husband Bernard died and my daughter and I left his little cottage on the edge of the woods and returned to an urban existence, we realized as we drove into town that we’d unwittingly brought a stowaway with us. Sitting on the dashboard of the car was a wood-ant, still clutching the little piece of bark she’d been bringing home to contribute to the building of the Great City.
Here we have no abiding city, but we look for the city that is to come: and I firmly believe that however quiet our voice and however overlooked our lives, we will find a way to bring whatever small piece we have managed to hang on to, and together we will build the new Jerusalem.