Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the Lands

Now there's an apt name if ever I heard one.

Check this link to an article that was reprinted in the Catholic Worker's paper 'The Common Good', it gives an interesting glimpse into life with the Land family on the St Francis Catholic Worker farm in the Hokianga (not far from us).

A couple of the questions I've got (or perhaps two ways of asking the same question):  firstly, at what point does counter-culturalism ("Yaay!") become cultural disengagement ("Booo!"[ I think]) and are they on a continuum?  And secondly, at what point does Earth-affirmation ("Yaay?") become world-negation ("Booo?") in the broader sense?

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- note; this article first appeared in Organic NZ magazine so is pretty thin on some of the details that would interest me the most.  I've got an invitation to go and visit so perhaps I'll have the chance to write from another perspective!


  1. Well Peter, the CWs are pretty Amish aren't they? That is an amazing article. Like you, I'm left scratching my head over exactly the same set of questions that you raise. Sorry mate, nothing to offer other that the need to think and pray very hard over these questions of radical difference and radical engagement.

  2. Great article... definitely some lifestyle pull that I feel there.

    Your questions are critical though. I think it would be incredibly dificult to live that kind of life, and still have time for active engagement in a modern culture. But maybe there is a middle road that is not quite as extreme, but takes/utilises the best of both worlds?
    If our Cristology always remains at the centre and the driving reason behind everything we do, then perhaps it is easier to travel a path that sits on some sort of continuum you mentioned.

    I guess we would also need to define what "engagement with the world" amounts to - maybe our idea of engagement needs to be scaled back. Perhaps it is more human to be engagement with substantially less people? Further, perhaps forsaken that hyper connectedness could be some kind of prophetic lifestyle? Ol' Jacques comes to mind here...

  3. The question of displacement…

    For the past 5 years in particular, but, generally, for the past 25 years, I have struggled to understand a growing sense of inner defilement as a Christian, and displacement, both from the church and from the larger culture around us. So this question of place that you raise Peter, is personally very pertinent to me. For this reason I have needed quite some time to respond.

    I see it like this. The question of place is essentially secondary to the questions of separation and engagement – one should be able to be in the world but not of the world anywhere – but at times, when the church becomes very much of the world, the question of place demands very close attention. That is, I think any commitment to separation from the world that is gospel driven is a question of separation not just for the sake of truth and faithfulness, but for the sake of redemptive engagement with the world. The early church had no interest in leaving the godless Roman empire and going to the desert, for the difference between the church and the world was very stark, and this separation from the world, evident within the world, gave a point of leverage from which to redemptively reach into the world for the gospel. This is the church of the martyrs. After Constantine, as Yoder points out, the distinction between church and world became almost impossible to locate. The point of leverage was lost, and so a movement of place out of the realm of empire, a move of costly renunciation, was required in order to recover a suitably distinct way of life from that of the world, so that redemptive witness, in the mode of distinctly non-worldy Christianity, might be recovered. The Christian can only be for the world by being against the world. If the Christian is of the world, then witness and redemptive grace is no longer possible. I sense that we are in similar times to the origins of monasticism. We modern Western Christians have so little that is distinct about how we live compared to non-Christians, that witness to the gospel and the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit is almost unknown in our midst. At this point, perhaps, the call to be separated, may be on again. But the call to separation is not for the sake of separation, but it is for the sake of engagement. And perhaps this call will require a physical separation, and possibly a voluntary remove to a more low-tech, manual labour intensive ‘desert’ in the terms of how our culture understands the good life. This can probably be best pursued in a rural context. But, the internet makes engagement from anywhere possible now, so the double movement of withdrawal and engagement may well be possible to perform from a special distance from urban life. What do you think, oh far Northern Kiwi man?

  4. Error message: second last sentence above should read "spatial distance".

  5. Ok, this is actually starting to get quite freaky;

    I've just been pondering some of the problems inherent in being a counter-cultural movement.

    To be specific, in the couple of hours immediately before I read that comment I was exercising myself over the problem of just what a counter-cultural movement (such as I hold genuine Christianity to be) could do when that which it resists against capitulates in enough of it's outward forms (leaving inward structures intact) so as to negate much of the aforementioned movement's distinction, and therefore it's audience, and perhaps even it's very raison d'ĂȘtre

    I could only think that strategically it would need to find an unexploited point of genuine (that is, uncontrived) difference in which it was able to exploit a cultural opportunity to once again display outwardly it's inherent internal difference. 

    I believe that the Church may have precisely that kind of opportunity in front of it now with regard to environmental issues, because here is an unexploited point of genuine difference in which the Church is able to proceed from an extremely solid theological basis, and in which the Empire appears unable to capitulate, or otherwise mollify, without exposing it's necessary internal power structures (such as technique and economy).

    Once again I have to thank you for giving such articulate and well-referenced expression to the inarticulate and naive speech of my own soul.

    Yes, separation for the sake of engagement, precisely the kind of paradox that I'm learning to feel right at home with.

    Keen to talk this over some more.