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

I joined the TGIF crowd again this morning at Brooklyn mall. Cori invited me last week, I wasn’t aware of this group until then. Roger Saner was speaking on neo-Monasticism, a topic I know absolutely nothing about, but have a lot of thoughts on lately, so I was eager so listen. Steve Hays was there as well, and left some thoughts on what Roger said, which I’m not going to repeat, it was a little early for me, so I’m not sure whether I listened so good. Roger will post some thoughts on his blog somewhere, and said he’ll try and upload the podcast as well onto ons of his blogs.

I had one question though. I struggled to see the line between neo-monasticism and the emerging conversation in Roger’s speech. Still wondering on the relation between the two…

But OK. This is my thoughts, thoughts which I’ve been pondering for a while now, and which was again triggered in the last few months when I read Blue Like Jazz. I’m not sure yet was the relationship between intentional communal living and new-monasticism might be, but I think I might be more onto the former than the latter, not sure yet.

I’ve been living in a communal setting for 5 years now, moved out end of last year. It might be communal settings we seldom recognize when talking these things in theological conversations, but this really is what it is. It was called Taaibos, and is a University residence at Tukkies. 240 guys, 7 corridors, some intentionality (making first year students part of the community – with a very positive orientation program, winning res of the year, having fun, that kind of thing) but usually a few people managing the system, and a lot sitting on the fringe, a lot like a congregation actually. But I really learned a lot form this communal experience, a lot about people, about living together, being together when things aint good, that kind of stuff.

So, why think about communal living again after 5 years? I think the general communal living system which students follow can be a great experience, and really teach you a lot, however, after 5 years I’m thinking that their might be something more. Something which won’t give you what this open communal systems gave, but maybe give something else later on in life. A more intentional group. Maybe this is similar to what the guys at, for example, nieucommunties are doing, but some things will have to differ.

  • When thinking communal living/neo monasticism/call it what you want, the sustainable idea is to have communities of people working or studying, with normal lives. Not devoted only to the community.
  • I think we need more than a religious community, it should also be a community where we develop rythms of life which will cause a sustainable lifestyle (in the psycological, physical, but also the ecological sense of the word)
  • It should be a place where spirituality is developed, but with a strong theological base, and a close link with tradition, or else I feel a sect or a cult coming
  • It should be a commited group, but a free group, since we are not working with monks who vowed their way into this community. So something like a minimal commitment, but which is kept
  • Yes, it should also be a missional community, but the form of mission might differ, because we have a lesser commitment, and people working and living a life that is bigger than the community

Sometimes I think I’d like to experiment with something like this, taking what we’ve learned about communal living at university, joining it with monastic, neo-monastic, intentional communal living, emerging, or whatever ideas, and seeing what developes out of this.