Category Archives: Community living

My personal experiences with intentional community living situations at home and abroad.

12 hour van ride+10 people+civil resistance=Jonah House, Baltimore

One of the two llamas roaming the 17th century cemetary, where Jonah House resides.

One of the two llamas roaming the 17th century cemetary, where Jonah House resides. (photo courtesy of Emily Thenhaus)

Over spring break, my Vincent and Louise housemates and I traveled to Baltimore to learn from Jonah House, an intentional community rooted in faith, nonviolence, social justice, and civil resistance. The week was spent in playing with the livestock that roamed the grounds, working in the garden, celebrating community and cultivating our house tenet of social justice.

Four women aged 60 and beyond and one gentleman in his late 20s make up the current Jonah House community. Amongst them is Liz McAllister, an early organizer of some of the major civil resistance movements that erupted in the 1960s. From burning Vietnam draft files to founding the anti-nuclear plowshare movement in the 1980s, all while working to abolish the death penalty in between, McAllister and Jonah House continue to put their faith into action.

Many of my housemates and I went into the experience weary and uncertain of what the week would entail. Yet wherever we were on the spectrum and however we felt about the mission of Jonah House, we all knew we would be challenged one way or another. Every night we reflected on our day’s experience, attempting to deconstruct our lived experiences amongst the backdrop of this radical, Christian lifestyle.

A lot of us left Jonah House with more questions than answers. Emmanual Garcia, one of my nine housemates appreciated having the time and opportunity to step outside of his life in Chicago and at DePaul to reflect on questions like, “how can I practice nonviolence when we live a violent culture?” and “how can I integrate what I’m learning here with what I want to do in life?”

This was my second time visiting Jonah House, and I’m still completely unsure of how I support to incorporate these experiences into my life.

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V&L hosts Open Mic Night

Mark Bychowski performing spoken word at Thursday's Open Mic night.

Mark Bychowski performing spoken word at Thursday's Open Mic night.

Performers of all walks, songs, poems, and acts of life showed off their talents at last Thursday’s night Open Mic Night—a Vincent and Louise House tradition. The evening maintained an informal, yet joyful rhythm as members of the DePaul community took up the stage to perform for friends and strangers alike. Each of the 16 ecletic acts contributed to the energetic vibe, but some of the night’s highlights included Mike Rogers rapping about the mystery of faith; an interactive improvisational skit by Lake Ponchatrain;  spine-tingling spoken word by Mark Bychowski;  V&L residents Emily Thenhaus’ and Kelli Nelson’s powerful piano version of “Winter Song;” and Dan Pasquini’s heartfelt reading of an original poem.  Dinners at the Vincent and Louise House Sunday through Wednesday are always great ways to enjoy conversation and (free) food with the community, yet the Open Mic Night was an opportunity to intentionally celebrate one another’s authentic forms of self-expression. The Vincent and Louise House will be hosting another Open Mic Night Spring Quarter.

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A Kibbutz experience in Israel

While  in Israel, I was introduced to a collective communal experience in Israel called a Kibbutz.

The heart of Jerusalem

The heart of Jerusalem

Traditionally, Kibbutzes were based agriculture with ties to socialism and Zionism. Back before Israel became a state in 1948, the Kibbutzes served as utopian driven movement formed by Aliyah immigrants to not only create a Jewish homeland, which at the time was Palestine, but to create a new type of society where all would be equal and free from exploition. Without considering the possibility of conflict between Jews and Arabs over the now contested land, Kibbutzes moved forth towards principals of equality and communal life amongst Jews and for political motivations towards state recognition of statehood. Nowadays, many Kibbutzes have strayed from some of their communist principles to keep up with Israel’s modern and rapidly moving economy.

The Israeli sound producer/editor that traveled with us in Israel (yikes, I’m blanking on his name) was raised on Kibbutz and was opening in sharing his experiences. Growing up in safe, trusting environment was a positive memory that he hopes to provide his future children. His Kibbutz, like many others, are still located on a large piece of land with anywhere from 5 to 100 famalies. Tasks, from farming and cleaning are shared and community events, like meals are emphasized.  Kibbutzes for the most part today are a traditional way of living for about 5% of Israelis that make practical economic sense, while providing a communal backdrop to raise families.

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Simple living, a choice and cause

 

Making music, a simple joy, with Jesus and Kelli

Making music, a simple joy, with Jesus and Kelli

Simple living is not meant to deprive ourselves of things. It is easy to think of simple living more as acts of taking away, giving up, or saying no. And yes, in some cases, to lead a more simple life, we must first sacrifice certain things by distinguishing our needs from wants. But this is only the beginning. It is a starting point to help guide us on the route to freedom, because once we give up things that unnecessarily stress us out, be it a tight schedule or technology with more functions than we know what to do with, we will become closer to free. This freedom allows us to say yes, to receive, and as a result, give the best gift to others—ourselves. Saying no to taking on another commitment, extracurricular or day of work enables us to focus us on what already lies in front of us and produce them with love, care and quality. Giving up a few extra hours of watching TV a week opens us up to knowledge and wisdom in books, conversations and inward reflections.

Living a simple lifestyle can also help to shorten the gap between members of our communities of different socioeconomic statuses. Rich conversation about why some go with and others with-out is an invitation to look at consumerism, materialism and what our culture values. With the help of a community, we can begin to clear the clutter in our lives to help us delve deeper into social analysis, destructing the systems that perpetuate unnecessary injustices.

There is no one definition of simple living. However it is a definition that can and should be constantly redefined in conversations with friends, family and community members. If you would like to learn more about simple living and the different ways of engaging in a simple lifestyle check out “The Garden of Simplicity” at http://www.simpleliving.net/content/custom_garden_of_simplicity.asp

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A visit with the Jesus People

A barefooted youngster in dinosaur pajamas skips to the grab a bowl of cereal. A man, in his early 20s, also shoe liberated with banana in hand, joins his friends for breakfast. An older man sits on a bench outside of the clammer inside the dining room as he slowly sips the last remains of his coffee. About 400 more will pass in and out of this dining room to have breakfast before attending church at 10am–without ever having to leave their homes.

carolyn“I could go weeks with out setting foot outside,” says Carolyn, 26, “but it’s a choice we make about how involved we are.”

Involved with Jesus People (JPUSA) that is, a 10-story, 325 room old hotel transformed into a communal living situation for families, singles and seniors. Located in Uptown, Chicago’s most diverse neighborhood, JPUSA is modeled after the Christian community depicted in the New Testament. Since beginning in 1972, and then moving into their new and most recent address at 922 Wilsen Ave in 1989 JPUSA has been the butt of skeptism and criticism of journalists and sociologists alike.

My brief three hours eating, worshipping and conversing with community members of JPUSA by no means paints an entire picture. However, living in a communal environment myself, I can understand how outsiders can be quick to judge their counter-cultural lifestyle.

“Communal living is not for everyone,” Carolyn said. “It’s difficult and pushes you to respect other people you may have a hard time getting along with.”

AaronShoe-free feet Aaron Tharp, 21, said, “Living in community makes it possible to open yourself up and make yourself more available to outside world by sharing resources.”

The community itself resembles a small town, heavily relying on one another. JPUSA is self-supporting and generates 90% of their income from community-owned businesses like a roofing business, T-shirt printers and sheet metal shop. Those who can work, do five times a week without salary. Instead they receive compensation in food, healthcare, schooling for their kids (at their internal school, K-12) and of, course free housing.

I visited the 4th floor to get a tour of it looks like to share confined spaces with sometimes 100 others on one floor. Sarah and Mark Brousi (sp?) and their three kids, aged between one to seven, have lived at JPUSA for ten years. Originally from the Czech Republic, they moved to the U.S. to be closer with Sarah’s mother in Wisconsin. With their children, they share two rooms. The parents and the baby share a comfortable sized room with a loft bed, crib, bathroom, small eating area and enough room to curl up on the couch to watch a movie. The two kids live down the hallway in their own room.

“Our kids love it here,” says Sarah. “Their friends are here, it’s safe, and there’s always a babysitter around. We all rely on one another.”

Previous to entering into JPUSA, I researched past stories studies done on JPUSA. Despite some of its muddy past, counsel members claim some of the issues have been resolved. Still, some who have left JPUSA claim they have left damaged. However, it’s difficult to decipher if these claims are genuine or out of spite. I can understand how power in such a large community, be it relgious or not, can be abused. However, I can also understand how a group of people simply wish to live in commuity to share one anothers lives, but more so to show that there is another way of living.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vABFXUjp7g

Still working on getting the sound…

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Salvaging food

By the time Alex and I open the red van car doors, it’s still dark. My housemates are all sleeping and I’ve somehow managed to remain vertical despite the few hours of sleep the night before. But still, it’s time for a Whole Foods run.  It’s time to salvage hundreds of pounds of food before it is discarded in a dumpster and tuned into a feast for rats and pigeons. I’m new to movie editing, note the “raw” footage and “easy” jazz background. Ha.

 

Despite the need to get up at 7am every Monday morning, I look forward to the receiving the renewed treasure to come from Whole Foods. Will it be crate after crate of grapes today? Gourmet crackers? Loaves of artesian bread? Guacamole? Alex and I never know what we’ll get, but whatever it is, we are grateful. We will deliver  a van load of food to the St. Francis Catholic Worker and then to the Cornerstone Community Center in Edgewater where the food will then be dispersed to feed those who go without.

 

Of course, we aren’t the only ones saving slightly expired and damaged food.  Monday through Friday, the Chicago Food Depository set out in refrigerated trucks to rescue prepared and perishable foods that would otherwise end up in the dumpster. the Food Rescue Team, an orgranizaed and experienced operation (since 1978), picks up high quality and nutritious food from grocery stores, restaurants, corporate cafeterias and caterers to then deliver it directly to Food Depository agencies that  use the items into their feeding programs for the hungry.

 

Last year, Food Rescue program turned more than 46 million pounds of food into meals for Cook County’s hungry last year. That’s the equivalent to 95,000 meals every day! These food donations serve soup kitchens, shelters and pantries.

 

Another worthy organization, Food Not Bombs, is a worldwide, grassroots, political movement of over 175 autonomous chapters. Each Food Not Bombs group serves free food to people in need and in support of political organizing efforts.

 

The Chicago Food Not Bombs chapter recovers healthy, nutritious, vegetarian food that would have otherwise been discarded and cooks and serves it to people in immediate need. Food Not Bombs recognizes the problem isn’t too little production, it’s poor and inequitable distribution. As an alternative food distribution organization, Food Not Bombs is intent on building sustainable community food sharing programs. Volunteers (including cooks!) are always in need.

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Localized communities

While scanning the web tonight, I stumbled across a professor of anthroplogy from Brigham Young University, Charles Nuckolls, who recently spoke on “The Community Solution: How New Residential Patterns Can Re-Shape Our Future in a Troubled World.”

Rising oil prices may make our traditional sprawling suburbs unsustainable. One alternative is the community solution: creating residential areas that encourage a strong sense of community, cooperation and earth stewardship. Essential to this approach is the process of drawing on local resources for community needs, such as food.

Intrigued, I read on. In the last few weeks since blogging, I’ve learned the many names of communal living: communes, ecovillages, cooperative living, cohousing, etc. However, Professor Nuckolls uses the term “localized communities” in his research. So I ran a google search to see what would appear, and voila.

Some meat (or tofu) to my potatoes. An appealing and information book on a subject I would like to send my focus to. Defending Community, written by sociologist professor Randy Stoecker, examines the conflicts between the needs of capitalism and the needs of community. The author was attending graduate school when hr mStoecker's "Defending Community"oved to Cedar-Riverside, a Minneapolis neighborhood known for its determingation to uphold of peace, justice, participation, and a “localized community”. There he experienced first-hand the clashes between a radical community and state-backed urban developers.

Here is an excerpt of Stoecker’s book that speaks to the essence of living in community.

When ideology and social reproduction combine in a movement constituency, a movement community forms—no longer a group of isolated individuals, but a group of people who share a common culture and care for one another. Even the most well known recent national social movements—the civil rights movement, the student movement, the women’s movement, and neighborhood movements—have been, to a large extent, based in communities. Members of these movements have done more than protest together. They have been neighbors, roommates, friends, lovers. They have been community members.

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