nothing can save us that is possible (part 2)

(Continued from yesterday...)

I remember crying that morning. It seemed like our future would be decided in this meeting, with little hope for a good outcome. But I so hoped for something good to come from all these years of struggle and waiting. During the opening prayer, I prayed for a miracle. As the first proposals were offered, however, it became clear that the new owners were being counseled to not let anyone from the community remain. "Nobody here should count on staying. The politics here needs to come to an end." That was unexpected and frightening. We offered a proposal also, for some of us to stay and share the land with poor Latino families in the area. I remember saying at one point, in tears again, "You may not agree, but I'm testifying here that God has saved us." Our proposal didn't get much of a hearing, though. Several people angrily challenged us for withdrawing from some of the community activities. And no one spoke up for us. It felt extremely isolating, in such a vulnerable moment. One of the people leading the meeting tried to be helpful by observing, "When the Lord said, ‘Forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing,’ I think that’s the case here." The implication was that we should be forgiven, for not knowing how we hurt the others by our choices. But I have to admit I took that comment quite differently. Upon reflection, my understanding was that people were just ready to be done, and didn't want ideas about a way to continue. We had no vote in the meeting, as we weren't members. So we went out, waited nervously, then returned to hear the decision. I kept praying for a miracle, even though our proposal seemed to have no chance at all.

It was decided that the land would be given to a nearby Christian campground. My impression was that people were not overly excited about that choice (I heard some criticizing it), but the camp had a large donor base and lots of experience managing large properties. So the decision was not surprising. But it left us confused, with little hope of staying, and no sense of direction elsewhere.

It seemed as if our choices to follow Jesus in his poverty and powerlessness had finally led us off a cliff. In the weeks that followed, I often recalled these lines from a poem by W.H. Auden:

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss...

Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

Then, two months after the meeting, we got a surprising message from the campground. Upon review, the board of directors had unanimously decided to not accept the offer of the land.

There was a confusing scramble over the next few days. Then another meeting. And this time it was decided to give the land to a nearby church, though they didn't have much money or experience. This was totally unexpected. I can't imagine this choice would have been made in the first meeting, but now, at this late date, with limited options... And the people accepting the land for the church happened to be friends of ours.

Over the years, we had volunteered for a variety of tasks as the need arose. Like building maintenance, small plumbing and electrical repairs, groundskeeping and gardening, even bookkeeping, learning lots of skills along the way. Now all those skills were useful to help maintain the property for the new owners. Our friends were very grateful that we could stay and help (and even offered to reduce our rent). We were encouraged to keep hosting retreats. And even affirmed for staying out of "the politics."

It seemed like a miracle. God had saved us.

Later, when I asked our son if he wanted to stay here, he nodded and smiled. "There are lots of pretty flowers here," he said.


nothing can save us that is possible

I've only given hints over the past several months about what is going on here, because it's been difficult to write about. Many people close to us have had to deal with so much grieving. And our experience has been so different from theirs. But it's been one of those important waypoints in my life, and I really want to get something in my journal about it. So...

We had been living here for almost ten years, with a communal group of Christians, when they decided to dissolve their group and give the land away. It was not a complete surprise, as the group had been struggling for years. But it didn't leave us with many options. We had no steady income, no car, and a three-year-old. Actually, coming to live here had seemed like our best chance for a more stable life, and now it was falling apart around us.

It had felt like a miracle when we were invited to come. We had pretty strong convictions about following Jesus' example of voluntary poverty, giving our work for free, and living on the gifts of others. And also not wielding power over others, rejecting force or group pressure so others were free to act in love. Or not, if they chose. But we understood that's not how this community (or any human organization?) was run. Maybe if the group had been stronger at the time, we wouldn't have been accepted. But we seemed young and eager to start a retreat ministry for the poor, and at the time they were eager for new energy. So we were welcomed warmly. It seemed like God had opened a way forward for us.

And it had been good, though often difficult. We were able to start offering retreats, mostly to people from Chicago, and those were rich and inspiring. There were lots of opportunities for learning and helping our neighbors. And many of the ways we could help inspired others to help us, so our needs were met for years, and we felt secure enough to have a child. Yet we never fully "fit in." We wouldn't become official members, or take part in the hard economic or political decisions that most every organization feels are necessary. As the community got stronger over the years, we sometimes heard murmurs about us, and wondered how long we would be allowed to stay. Maybe it was a miracle that we lasted so long. I was grateful for the many good years, but I was also frustrated and confused about how marginalized we (and our beliefs) remained, with no signs of change on the horizon.

Then came the collapse. Several deaths of elderly members, unexpected departures of the newest younger members, and the closing of the main farm business, all within a few months, left everyone crushed. After years and years of struggling things had been starting to look better, then this. Within a few months, a meeting was held to consider proposals from new potential owners.

(Continued tomorrow...)


psalm 37

"Yet a little while..."