intentional living for professionals: neo-monasticism, systems theory and sustainable living

March 13, 2008

Monasticism, Systems theory, Sustainable Development… how could these help us to form a vision of intentional communal living for a post-modern, globalized, hyper-technological age? What’s been on my mind the past year or so, and more and more pressing the past few months, is how would intentional communities with young working professionals look like. Not full-time monastic experiences, but simply living for those in full-time jobs, or maybe studying.

After reading Blue Like Jazz, and especially after listening to Roger speaking on neo-monasticism a while ago, I started asking myself where my ideas on communal living was formed. I think I can again trace it back to one of my second bibles, the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. The ideas of especially Arkady and the Hiroko group (seldom do you find direct access to Hiroko herself, rather you see what she has formed by looking to those around her) was my first introduction to communal living. Without knowing what this will do to me, I then had a five year communal living experience in a University residence called Taaibos. And somewhere through taking part in the Emerging Church conversation ideas started forming…

Neo-monasticism, Systems theory and Sustainable Development, three concepts which I know very little about, but which I think together might help provide a vision for intentional communal living. Sustainability prod us into the question, into considering communal living, it also might help us find the intentionality in what we are doing. Systems theory help provide us with a way of approaching the question that might result in sustainability, and linking into the monastic tradition open an age old tradition of intentional living up to us.

Sustainable development, or sustainable living, concerns the question how we should live, how we should develop, so that this could continue, also in generations coming. The concept usually concerns ecology, but I think also looking at it psychologically and physiologically might help. It was, however, the ecological and economic perspectives of sustainability which first made me think about communal living. The question is simple: Is it sustainable to have everyone living as a nuclear family in a 200 square meter home with a dog and a cat? I think not. Not only Robinson, but also other Sci-fi writers probably helped me ask this question, because in sci-fi living in some form of communal setting is quite common: think about space ships or living underground after some nuclear war for example. But sustainability had more to say for intentional living. In intentional communities we need to rethink how we live, do we live in harmony with the ecology around us? Can we do something to lessen the human footprint on ecology? Can we create a culture that is ecologically friendly? Touching on ecology, psychology and physiology: How does our diet look? In intentional communities we need to intentionally look into this aspect of life. Are the networks we are in sustainable psychologically, would be another important question. This goes both ways, some communal settings can turn sour, which means that we did not have a sustainable way of living in relation to others, but the extreme individualism where we do not link up with those living around us I believe is not sustainable either. In community we need to find this sustainable way of living. Also physiologically, is the way we treat our bodies sustainable. Yes, our bodies will die, but are we killing ourselves unnecessarily?

Within Systems theory you find the well-known concept that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; this needs to be true in communal settings. Especially when working with professionals working while living in community. We need communities which do not drain more energy from people than they give to people. I envision a system of a minimal commitment therefore. This would mean that we have a commitment when living intentionally, and this commitment we need to take seriously, whatever exactly it might be. But it need to be a minimal time commitment, the community shouldn’t attempt at taking as much as possible in terms of time from this within the community. Rather, the community should give time, intentionally help those within it to manage their time in a healthy manner. Some of this time would intentionally go into the communal part of the community, but this I think should be mostly around the practice of eating together, a practice which can be considered important from a psychological view, but, for Christians, also follow in the way of Jesus.

Neo-monasticism I understand the least of all, so I’m sure others participating in the synchroblog will give better definitions. I add this because I think intentional living for professionals, centering on a sustainable lifestyle, could learn from the monastic tradition, and might do so more easily by learning from the neo-monastic movements. The community needs to help each other to form positive life patterns, disciplines which will result in a healthy lifestyle. For many these would include spiritual disciplines, and has a lot to learn from the mystic tradition, but could include more, also a strong intellectual emphasis, for example, when working with professionals.

These three things I believe can form part of the foundation for a healthy intentional community for young professionals.

And for interest sake, if you know of any communities like this in the Pretoria-Joburg area, do leave a comment.

Also check out these great bloggers on monasticism:

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Beth at Until Translucent
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian

11 Responses to “intentional living for professionals: neo-monasticism, systems theory and sustainable living”


  1. […] Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]


  2. […] Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]


  3. […] Underground Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Brian Riley at at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]

  4. Bryan Riley Says:

    YWAM bases are a great resource and can utilize people of every skill set and training, and I believe there is one in joburg, but I’m not sure. I left my career as a corporate attorney to do missions full-time and now live in community in England.

  5. Bryan Riley Says:

    Here is the correct link to my post, as well:

    Charis Shalom

  6. Beth Says:

    The sustainable living connection is a really important one and something I don’t think others of us have picked up on. Living in a shared situation (we have a 3-apartment house in an urban neighborhood) does allow sharing of resources, purchases in bulk, and so on. We have a long way to go ourselves here in being more intentional about that, but it’s a great thing to bring up in this context.


  7. […] Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]


  8. […] Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]

  9. Ray Says:

    For any intentional self sufficient community to work, the EGO must first be exposed and understood…until that time, things will work as longs as all EGOS are attached correctly…a fleeting situation. After that, EGOS will fight to change things so they can survive the death of what they formerly were attached to.


  10. […] Coleman at Eternal EchoesBryan Riley at at Charis ShalomCobus van Wyngaard at My ContemplationsMike Bursell at Mike’s MusingsDavid Fisher at Cosmic CollisionsAlan Knox at The Assembling of […]


  11. […] Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions Alan Knox at The Assembling […]


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