Laird Schaub (community and consensus blog) and Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig (www.maikwe.net) are members of neighboring Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, respectively, in Rutledge, Missouri. Laird co-founded Sandhill Farm in 1974 as an egalitarian, income-sharing farming community, and is one of the creators and current administrator of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, an organization committed to nurturing and promoting intentional communities worldwide. He has worked as a group process consultant for 25 years, providing training in consensus facilitation, conflict resolution, and communication skills. Ma’ikwe is author of Passion as Big as a Planet, which explores the connection between the inner and outer dimensions of ecological activism. She is a consensus facilitation trainer, often working together with Laird, directs Ecovillage Education US, and gives workshops on starting communities, leadership, and spiritual activism. She is the mother of a teenage son and expresses her passion for people and planet through helping Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage grow into its vision of a full-scale, ecologically regenerative village and center for research and education.

In our conversation, Laird, Ma’ikwe, and I discuss the consequences of communities lacking a common understanding and agreements around how to handle emotionally-charged conflict. We explore the strengths and weaknesses often exhibited in communities with a shared spiritual orientation, and the challenge of bringing the full range of human modes of knowing into the room—including emotional, kinesthetic, intuitive, and spiritual—in a culture that is heavily biased toward translating all forms of knowledge and experience into clear thinking. Laird talks about his experiences working with communities and the most common causes of group conflict he encounters, such as scapegoating (the contagious belief that “things would be better if only so-and-so would…”) and the tendency of groups to harden themselves around particular narratives. Finally, Laird and Ma’ikwe speak of the advantages Christian teachings offer in establishing healthy relational and communication habits in community, and of the spiritual benefits of consensus process and decision-making, and its congruence with a Christian sacramental worldview—of God in all things.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.


With Mother Hilary Crupi OJN

The Order of Julian of Norwich Monastery in Waukesha, Wisconsin, has been on my radar screen for some years now. In fact, when I entered the novitiate at New Camaldoli Hermitage, I took the name Julian after Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Englishwoman who lived as an anchoress, or solitary, attached to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, England. Reading Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love had such a profound impact on me, especially in her portrayal of God as completely devoid of all forms of violence, that I realized that part of my life’s work was to live into her radically subversive vision of God’s love. Consequently, I was excited to learn of a monastic order committed to living out the vitality of this vision in the context of a shared life of contemplation, liturgy, and manual labor. Founded in 1985 by Fr. John-Julian Swanson OJN as a contemplative monastic order within the Episcopal Church, the Order of Julian of Norwich weaves various threads of traditional sources (Cistercian, Benedictine, Carmelite) under the guiding inspiration of the words, witness, and enduring spirit of Julian of Norwich.

I arrived at the monastery with no expectations other than to share prayer, a meal, and hopefully engaging conversation. Meeting with Mother Hilary after lunch, we quickly began talking about the life of the monastery and changes the community’s undergoing. Of course, we talked at length about Julian of Norwich. But she surprised me when I spoke of my tour and the new monasticism and she expressed her earnest desire to find ways to pass on the wisdom of the tradition to these pioneers who are building the next phase of the monastic movement. Having evangelical Christian roots herself, Mother Hilary understands some of the struggles and aspirations driving the many young evangelicals who are spearheading the new monasticism. In fact, she’s even taken this question of how to support these emerging communities to conferences with other leaders of religious communities.

Pedaling from the monastery, I felt nourished in body, mind, and spirit, inspired by Mother Hilary’s enthusiasm, openness, concern, and sense of responsibility for sharing the gifts she’s inherited. I hope this marks the beginning of a relationship that bears fruit.

Photo by Scott Langley

Imagine Benedictine monasteries hosting conferences and providing help to lay people looking to incorporate monastic values and practices into their lives. Nothing new, you say. People have been flocking to such monasteries, especially over the past couple of decades, gleaning wisdom and guidance on contemplative prayer, Lectio Divinaliturgy of the hours, and other portable practices. For now, though, let’s reconfigure this image so that these particular practices passed on to lay people are first located in their monastic context. What might it look like, then, for monks and nuns to transmit the more foundational principles and practices of their way of life, such as common ownership and structures that break down inherited socioeconomic divisions between people?  In other words, what forms might such a monasticism-in-the-world take that, like Saint Benedict and the tradition he consolidated in his Rule, understood concern with economic realities to be as intrinsic to a life of prayer as prayer itself?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is Associate Minister at the historically African-American St. Johns Baptist Church, directs the School for Conversion, a nonprofit organization that educates people in Christian community, and has authored a handful of books, including God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth GospelThe Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, and a contemporary paraphrasing and commentary to The Rule of Saint Benedict. Jonathan is also editor of the New Monastic Library Series (Cascade Books) and associate editor of the Resources for Reconciliation Series (InterVarsity Press).

In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah co-founded the new monastic community Rutba House in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina (the community is named after the town of Rutba, Iraq, where injured members of their Christian Peacemaker Team were given medical care in a hospital that had been bombed by U.S. forces only three days prior). The community at present consists of two houses and fourteen members (including four children) who share a common life of daily prayer, meals, mutual support, hospitality, and active peacemaking.  They live by a modified common-purse economy, working full or part time and contributing 30-40% of their income to the community. These shared resources in turn cover not only all household expenses (including a car co-op) but also enable them to provide meals, housing, and other forms of hospitality to homeless or struggling friends in the neighborhood.

Rutba House Members and Friends

In our conversation, Jonathan and I discuss the meaning of monastic social and economic relocation in the context of today’s largely urban, non-cloistered new monasticism movement, especially as lived at Rutba House.  For the 4th century monastics of the Egyptian desert, this relocation represented a physical flight from the dominant culture into uninhabited places, in order to focus unerringly upon the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and to confront more directly the spiritual forces at work in the world and in themselves. As an heir to this tradition, in the 6th century, Saint Benedict of Nursia configured this relocation in the context of self-contained, cloistered monastic communities. For today’s new monastics, Jonathan believes, the call to relocation is not primarily to uninhabited regions or even to cloistered, celibate monastic communities, but rather to set down roots as families and single people living together in the ‘abandoned places’: those areas scarred by social, cultural, and economic marginalization.

Drawing on monastic sources as well as contemporary civil rights wisdom, particularly John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association movement, Jonathan speaks about how Rutba House has concretely sought to take the values of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution seriously. We discuss the community’s in-house economy and its outflow to the neighborhood, and the ways in which this outflow has fostered forgiveness and friendships based on trust, in place of suspicion. In fact, Jonathan uses the language of repentance to describe this deliberate movement of taking responsibility for inherited economic and racial privilege, and seeking to break down these barriers that divide the family of God. For Jonathan, this movement of small, inconspicuous, locally-rooted intentional communities embodies the kind of transformative social engagement, the leaven within the dough, practiced and prescribed by Jesus in the Gospels and by monastics in every age, according to the particular needs of their time and place.

Other people, places, and things mentioned in this interview: 12 Marks of the New MonasticismS. Margaret McKenna of the Medical Missionary SistersNew Jerusalem Laura; John Cassian on the Three Renunciations.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

60 miles out of Little Rock, by late evening I found myself on a horrendous, loose-gravel road just north of Kensett, Arkansas. I would precariously pedal for 50 yards or so before the front wheel would slip out from under me. At least half the time, this meant that I simply crashed to the ground since I couldn’t get my feet out of the clips in time. On the whole, then, in fits and starts, I lurched along at about four miles per hour. And each time I’d hit the ground, I’d let out a torrent of curses that would make an Italian sailor blush! Finally, wisely, after fighting for a couple miles, I gave up. I looked to my right and found a break in the woods between the road and the railroad tracks. I tucked in 30 yards from the road, out of sight, and a mere 30 yards from the tracks as well. Not a bad campsite overall, though I would have slept better were it not for the dozen or so trains that passed through the night and shook the ground beneath me like rolling bundles of thunder!

Incidentally, given that the principle virtue that engenders safe, satisfying stealth camping is discretion, strategically speaking, I wouldn’t recommend hurling hair-raising profanities into the dusk of a quiet rural community before settling in for the night.

The following evening I enjoyed some of the best riding of the tour through the foothills of the Ozarks. I glided effortlessly along a ribbon-route, dipping through forest and lake and then bobbing to the surface again to enjoy a wide-angle view of sprawling, jagged tree-topped waves of green. At one point, I passed a boy waving and shouting enthusiastically to me from his porch below. I looked and saw several adults with him, and so turned into the drive and asked if they could either let me camp on their land or recommend another place for the night. One of the men pointed me to a city park in Mount Pleasant a couple miles further. Arriving ten minutes later, I pitched my tent in a discrete spot behind the park, introduced and explained myself to a couple of locals who were running and lifting weights there, and enjoyed a quiet, restful night at last.

City Park, Mount Pleasant, Arkansas

(For parents who find the above image…well, somewhat troubling, let me assure you that it is exceedingly unlikely that there are bicycle tourers lurking in the underbrush behind your local playground! And in the rare case that there are, they should be departing early morning without leaving a trace.)

Poolside Camping, Lanton, Missouri

Upon crossing the Missouri border the following evening, I once again found myself cruising through pristine rolling hills with minimal traffic. Looking for a place to camp for the night, I spied a man, Peter, sitting beside a small catfish pond in front of a campground, enjoying the dusk. I rolled over the grass toward him and we chatted about hiking and biking and the like. A native of Austria, at 75, Peter still bikes 20 miles a day after years of hiking and mountain-climbing. At one point in the conversation, I asked him how much he charged for tent-camping. He said $20 but told me to name a price. I offered $5 but he wasn’t going below $10. We continued to chat awhile longer, and then I filled up my water bottles, intent to push on to find free camping. As I straddled my bike to leave, he invited me to camp for $5. I took advantage of the facilities, delighting in a hot shower (as opposed to sponge-bathing in the woods with a single water-bottle’s content of water [the other two being reserved for drinking and food-prep] while simultaneously shooing away mosquitoes)—a real stealth-camping luxury!

South of Houston, Missouri

The next night proved to be one of the more dramatic of the tour. I’ve learned that, if you want someone to stop and give you directions in a decent-sized rural town, just stand at the intersection of the town-center looking confused. So I planted myself on the corner of Main Street and U.S. Hwy. 17 in Willow Springs, MO, and waited. Within a minute or two, Jim parked his motorcycle next to me and offered his services. After learning that I study theology, he excitedly removed his helmet, dismounted, and told me he spends 8-9 hours a day with his New King James Bible and Strong’s Concordance. An unusual conversation on biblical history and interpretation ensued. Finally, we got down to business. He gave me some great advice for a route and even recommended a place to camp. Eighteen miles later, I found the turnoff he suggested, leading to a creek below. I set up my tent and was satisfied. However, as I was getting ready to sleep, I checked the weather forecast. 30-40% chance of scattered thunderstorms! And because I anticipated a hot and muggy night, I had left the rainfly off. I peered into the night sky. Clear. I’d take my chances and enjoy the cool breeze without protection. Ten minutes later, I noticed flashes of light from the north playing on the trees above. I was in no mood to get out of the tent, so I tried to apply the psychology of denial. “It’s just my eyes adjusting to the dark…no…it’s the headlights of northbound traffic,” I tried to convince myself. But of course, it was neither. Resigning myself to reality, I crawled out of the tent, ran up to the road to survey the situation (naked except for shoes!) and caught an utterly fantastic electrical storm dancing in the clouds headed my way. I ran back down to the tent and, rather than put on the rainfly, simply dragged everything under the bridge. The rain came, the wind howled, lightening and thunder struck, but I stayed dry.

After sulking out of the tent the next morning on very little sleep, I set off and pedaled another sixty miles. Upon arriving in the city of Rolla, I spied a large park run by the Lions Club: frisbee golf, a large lake with a fountain and bridges, gazebos, multiple playgrounds, walking trails, covered picnic tables galore with functioning electrical outlets, porta-potties, and as I was to discover later, unsecured Wi-Fi blanketing the whole park! A veritable stealth-camper’s paradise! I was preparing dinner in one of the picnicking areas when a local named Don approached me. I asked him what he thought of my camping for the night in the park, and if he had any advice. He thought it was a fine idea and, after talking with me, took the matter to one of the “lions” lounging about the place. He returned shortly thereafter to relate to me that the lions don’t care, but the police who patrol the park at night might, so just keep out of sight of the road. Later that night, having set up my tent tucked in along the tree line of the park, the patrol came shining bright spotlights into the park’s nooks and crannies. And they were thorough!

Hobbit Hideout, Rolla Lions Club Park

Now, here was the problem—my tarp still lay out in the open grass and would likely be seen. With no time to hesitate, spotlights already raking dangerously close to the spot, I ran for the tarp, grabbed hold, ran back and dove into the woods, crouching in the dark while the spotlights sprayed the trees. In truth, both I and my tent were well hidden, but the imagination reeled! Think hobbit running from orcs in The Lord of the Rings! Think human hiding from Agents in The Matrix! How exhilarating! In fact, I was so in love with this place that I took the following day off and spent a second night. I tried to stage another close-call near-chase scene but no such luck. The patrol never came round a second time.

You see, when I talk about stealth camping to non-tourers, their first thought is that I’m placing myself in danger. But the fact is that, over thousands of miles, I’ve never met with any trouble worth mentioning. Surprisingly, I felt most vulnerable on this tour while house-sitting alone in a rural home. Here I was, after all, in a large structure that virtually screamed to all comers, “He’s in here!” In contrast, the majority of my stealth-camping sites render me invisible. In fact, even if a person knew in general where I was camped, they’d still have a very difficult time locating the specific place even if they tried. Of course, there’s always a twinge of insecurity while searching for a site each night, but by the time I get settled in, I usually feel very secure as far as humans are concerned. Animals may be another story, but aside from being kept awake by the occasional inquisitive armadillo or other harmless creature, the worst animal experience I’ve had is having a raccoon eat my granola. In the absence of real excitement, then, I found it refreshing to be able to manufacture at least a moment’s high drama in the shadow of the lions.

As for the lions themselves, they didn’t care.

Coming soon: a highly thought-provoking podcast interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, on relocation, redistribution, and economic repentence.

Next stop: Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage/Sandhill Farm in Rutledge, Missouri.

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” —Ezekiel 37:4-6

Here’s how it happened.

I arrived at Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, on Holy Thursday, and found myself in the midst of an Easter Triduum retreat. That evening I attended a talk given by one of the monks and was pierced to the heart. It wasn’t precisely the content of what he said but in what was behind the words: over 60 years in monastic vows, in touch with the latest developments in theology and cosmology, able to spontaneously weave those insights into a lively, engaging conversation—in short, his words and his bearing bore witness to a longstanding, loving commitment to the gift of his vocation. My experience of this encounter prodded and clarified something I’d been wrestling with throughout this tour, and immediately after the talk I sought out the resident spiritual director while the matter was still fresh.

You see, in the retreat house of this monastery there is a room. And within this room sits a woman quietly knitting until someone takes a seat beside her and initiates a conversation. And although she is physically blind, I am convinced that her role within this monastery is analogous to that of the Oracle within the Matrix—the one who sees! I entered the room, poured out my heart, spoke of my longing for that inner wellspring of stability, as well as its outpouring in stable relationships and commitments, and she responded, simply and confidently, “You need to stop. You need a time of stability. You’ve been Martha for so long that you need to take time to be Mary simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. You need to listen to what the God who loves you is communicating to you through all of these experiences.” Specifically, she suggested the monastery’s monastic guest program, wherein I could stay on a month-to-month basis in a work-exchange arrangement, living the monastic rhythms and steeping myself in prayer, silence, community, and simple labor.

At first, I balked at her suggestion. After all, I had responsibilities! I had communities to visit and a podcast to produce! In fact, I had a handful of audio files begging for my attention. How could I let all of that go for even a single month? But the seed had been planted, and after successive visits with her throughout the weekend, on Easter Sunday I decided to take the plunge and spend a month at the monastery. In the meantime, I would have to leave and return in a week. Amazingly, a friend serendipitously offered a house-sitting gig in a small rural town 60 miles away for just that amount of time! I bicycled to her empty house that day, settled in with plenty of coffee, lentils, and rice, and got to business transcribing and editing the last 4 podcast episodes, scheduling their publication in advance, one episode per week, while I remained off-line in the monastery—the first time I’d been able to unplug in a whole year!

In both personal reflections and reflections on community, I’ve kept returning to the themes of stability and commitment. And indeed I think these are the key lines of intersection between the tour of communities and personal pilgrimage, issues that I and so many in our culture struggle with in our lives and relationships, that are so integral to community living. To speak more personally about my own struggles, by my seventeenth birthday I had been placed for adoption twice, endured two divorces in two unrelated families, and for all intents and purposes had no real family left to call my own. I was primed, then, for life in hyper-flux, without stable points of reference or relationship. Ten years later, while on a Zen meditation retreat, all the various living situations I’d had since leaving home began parading themselves before my mind’s eye, and I decided to count them. I was stunned: between the ages of 17 and 27, I had moved 27 times. Yes, I realize that sounds like a virtual mathematical impossibility, and I really don’t know how I managed to move approximately every 4 ½ months. But I did. And this realization was a wake-up call. I needed to learn to live differently.

In the years since that meditation retreat, while I haven’t stayed in one place, I am satisfied that I’ve learned to move more mindfully, and discern wisely where I choose to live and why. However, that moment on retreat wouldn’t be the last time this alarm would ring to alert me that something was amiss in my life, that I needed to change my way of living. In fact, that alarm has been sounding throughout this journey.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t plan to suffer a major loss and disillusionment just before setting out on this tour. I didn’t anticipate that this disillusionment in a personal relationship would spiral inward and, with surgical precision, expose layers of self-delusion, self-defeating motivations, and fantasies that have dominated my life. I could not have foreseen that this journey of self-knowledge would open a seeming abyss beneath my feet, revealing a continuing pattern of a lack of commitment, stability, and intentional engagement that is in fact far more subtle and interior than merely learning to stay in place. And I could not have foreseen the degree to which the communities I’ve visited and the people I’ve met on this tour would serve as intimate mirrors throughout this process, exposing areas of pain and longing in my own life, while pointing to a more fulfilling and fruitful way to live.

I was aware of this emerging inner tumult from the start, and in fact have taken occasional time off the road or from communities, seeking space for reflection, prayer, and guidance. But in each of those instances, the timing seemed somehow off-the-mark, and in any case I was still involved with the podcast and blog.  Now, however, at the monastery, rather than relying on my own initiative, I had responded to an unexpected invitation from a spiritual guide to come and rest in God, and with such auspicious liturgical timing! In fact, I do believe that this past Easter Triduum has marked the end of a certain kind of momentum that had been propelling me, and the beginning of a new stage of the journey.

The month in the monastery was a wonderful reprieve from the constant improvisation, adaptation, and unpredictability of the tour. I reveled in the unhindered periods of silence and solitude, while simple manual labor and friendship with the monks provided a necessary, nourishing balance. And of course, I continued to receive wise spiritual guidance throughout. As the time drew nearer to set out on the road again, I had begun to obscurely sense what the whole self-stripping process of this tour has been leading me toward all along: a gentle invitation to entrust myself in faith, hope, and love to the One who had led me though being reduced to a mere pile of disjointed bones, and who was now prepared to weave me back together.

Throughout this journey, I had been under the assumption that the tour of communities was the primary story and the personal pilgrimage the underlying subtext. In truth, the order has been the reverse. I would even go so far as to say that I was likely responding more to the divine invitation to transformation when I began the tour, whether I realized this or not, than to my interest in exploring intentional communities. At the same time, these two aspects of the journey have been deeply interwoven in ways that I anticipate will bear surprising fruit in the months and years to come. However, at this point I cannot anticipate the forms this fruit will take and can only relax into the invitation to trust the wisdom and love that has enfolded these travels all along.

You may be inferring at this point that the tour is over, and if so, you are perhaps partly correct. What has ended, at least this is my hope, is the restless grasping for what-I-do-not-know that has possessed me till this point. What remains is a more playful, open-ended tour of just a handful more communities that I am eager to visit, with no expectations or problems to solve, but with a posture of curiosity and the anticipation of discovery. What remains is a walk in the dark.

On Pentecost Sunday, I pedaled from the monastery with hopefully less baggage than when I arrived. And so the journey rolls on.

I pray…

Lord, thank you for sending your Angel of Disillusionment and the Vultures of Self-Knowledge as my faithful companions throughout my travels. The Angel has ensured that I’ve been stripped of all sense of direction apart from that of unknowing faith, while the Vultures have stripped my flesh to the bone, not even sparing the ligaments.

Lord, thank you for reducing me to a pile of dry bones. I trust that you have something more in mind than that I return from this journey a mere pile of bones on a bicycle seat. Rather, in ways that I cannot see or comprehend from my narrow perch in this strange and fragile human life, I trust that even now you are weaving a new garment of flesh and a new heart, animated by your Breath.

Lord, apart from you I am nothing, can do nothing, can know nothing. You are the question and the response that haunts me in the dark of night. You are the Ray of Darkness that illumines my steps even when I appear to be faltering.

Lord, all that I have and all that I am is yours, and into your hands I entrust all.

Ever since my first major bicycle tour 20 years ago, bicycle touring has become a central recurring theme in my dreams. In fact, I find myself bicycle touring in dreams so often that from time to time I’ve wondered whether my dream-self is simply on bicycle tour all the time, and that the places I dream of are places I’ve arrived at by bicycle. The other night, in my dreams, I was in such a place, a stopover on a bicycle tour. In this dream, my dream-self was enjoying incredibly vivid, sensuous memories of previous places passed through on bicycle tour. And as I began to wake, still in that liminal space between dreaming and full waking consciousness, I continued to savor these vivid memories, never doubting their validity, until I realized with a start that I had never actually been to these places that, just a moment before, I had “remembered” with such stunning clarity and realism.

But my dream-self, tracing its own contiguous route through elastic landscapes, recognizes these places, these memories, without doubt.