Amoureax by Eve Arnold

I'm embarrassed to be breaking my long silence for advertising, but this looks really exciting:

AAANZ 2009 Conference: Communities of the Kingdom: The New Monasticism and Anabaptism
Mark your diaries now for the 2009 AAANZ conference. (And book your flights.) Christians from many traditions are learning from this vigorous alternative stream of church experience. This conference provides an opportunity to discover some of the ideals of the Anabaptist tradition and how they make sense in today’s church and world. We will explore the links between Anabaptism and new monastic movements in our two countries.

Dates: Friday evening 23rd January to Monday afternoon 26th January 2009
Location: Oasis Christian Camp, 66 Monbulk Road, Mt Evelyn Victoria
(Melbourne area)

A conversation with a respected friend of mine, Ian Barnes, directed me to the writings of G. D. H. Cole and to Associational Socialism more broadly. This Owenite socialism bears a likeness to anarchism and is related to Christian Socialism.

In reading the second chapter of Cole's book The British Co-operative Movement in a Socialist Society entitled "The Ideals of Co-operation", there seemed to me to be a rich repository of ideas here. I have done little more than become more enthusiastic to pursue some of the sources and practices of these ideas but I feel compelled to share my excitement in this limited form.

The Owenite notion of "Villages of Co-operation" was foundational to seminal Co-operation in Britain. Cole describes them thus:

"...local communities in which men, women, and children would live, produce, consume and gain benefits of education in common, and would govern their own affairs so as to have little to do with governments of the 'old, immoral world.'" p28

The Rochdale Pioneer's Co-operative Society stated their aim:

"That, as soon as practicable, this Society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government; or, in other words, to establish a self-supporting home colony of united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies." p28

Cole suggests that local self-government and loose forms of federation were envisaged as the only necessary forms of government.

This vision of communities of cooperative relationships was begun, not by a dramatic program of social engineering but through a Co-operative Weaving Society, which was unsuccessful, and later through a small shop. Coles writes:

"... they intended to feel their way by stages from mere shopkeeping on a mutual basis to achievement of their comprehensive Co-operative Socialist ideal." p29

The maintenance of this encompassing vision proved difficult and before long was replaced primarily with consumer co-operatives. Consumer co-operatives which simply employed producers in the fashion of the capitalists were seen to fall short of the active partnership between consumers and producers by the keepers of the Owenite vision.

From this fleeting glance I feel the pull of Cole's plea of 1951 for the

"... devising of new forms of Co-operative enterprise to meet the challenging social and political conditions, and at the same time trying to get back some of the idealism ... so largely lost." - p36

"Giving to the poor was neither a legal obligation, nor a matter of personal whim, but a sacramental entering into a mysterious cycle of outgoing and returning love whose widest sphere was the divine charity itself." Catherine Pickstock, After Writing, p144
What Catherine Pickstock writes of guilds in the middle ages is true of that majority of Anabaptists who were not communalist in their shape. Peter James Klassen calls this 'the economics of mutual aid.' (The Economics of Anabaptism 1525-1560) While 'mutual aid', with its resonances of Kropotkin, does not quite capture the spirit of these brethren in that way that Pickstock's "...entering-into a mysterious cycle of outgoing and returning love..." does, it seems nevertheless the most adequate shorthand if taken as entailing this deeper sense.

These Anabaptists were being accused of practicing community of goods by the authorities and such as Georg Schnabel would not deny it. Rather, it was understood, not as a legalistic requirement, but as something flowing from the Spirit who would see no one in need when another possesses more than is necessary. And so Georg Schnabel said to Landgrave Philip:
"The community of goods among believers is practiced thus: everyone who has more than he needs gladly shares with his poor brethren." - quoted in Klassen, p38
Sitting behind this practice of sharing is the fact that all is held in trust from God and belongs to no more to one than to another. Klassen writes that
"...everything beyond the actual need of the individual was placed at the disposal of the whole group." - Peter James Klassen, The Economics of Anabaptism 1525-1560, p42

This practice of mutual aid lies somewhere between Pickstock's 'personal whim' and the legalism which the Hutterites represent. What does this practice of Spirit-led, yet deeply concrete mutual aid look like for we who prefer personal whim? What structures might be required if we were to practice this menner of community of goods? These non-communalist Anabaptists so-called are perhaps communal in ways which we finds almost impossible to imagine.

Sanity breeds sanity. It is something that we undergo more than something that we create. We become more sane the more we are in the presence of sane people in sane spaces. To be sane is a gift. In this way, sanity is evangelistic. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

"The Kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace and thousands around you will find their salvation." - quoted in The Orthodox Way, Kallistos Ware, p89

Sanity is generative; captivating - it draws us into itself and in turn draws other into its circle. If we can identify it (which I suggest is a key skill for us to develop) and draw near we are drawn closer and begin to undergo it. It is like the mystery St. Paul writes of in the letter to the Collossians - it has been revealed and yet ever more remains. Kallistos Ware writes:
"A mystery is ... something that is revealed for our understanding but which we never understand exhaustively because it leads into the depths of God." - The Orthodox Way, p15

While I would not like to draw the parrallel too closely, there is something of this kind of mystery in entering into a sane space. The task can be grasped with the understanding but it is in entering into its practice that we are formed by it and find that there is yet more to undergo. Once we open a sane space and enter into it, in turn we are opened by it, we undergo it.

In his book on Self-Sufficiency, John Seymour suggests that keeping a cow has this generative quality:
"When you get a cow you immediately find the pace of all your other smallholding activities will be forced on. To feed the cow you will have to grow fodder. To use up the manure from the cow you will have to dig ir plough more land. To use up the milk by-products, such as skimmed milk or whey, you will have to keep other small stock - probably pigs. Your pigs will then produce even more manure and you will feel like ploughing more land. Besides, you will need to grow crops for the pigs. You will have calves to dispose of - what will you do with them? Your cow will go dry one day and you will need another cow to fil the gap. Then the time will come when boths cows are in milk. Unless you are part of a community you will then have too much milk. What do you do then - put the two calves on one cow and milk the other? Whatever you do you will find the purchase of a cow will push on the pace of your other self-supporting activities." - John Seymour, Self-Sufficiency, p42
What is of interest to me here, as you may imagine, is the way that the task of keeping a cow is described. The simple act of acquiring a cow demands many other tasks. It is a good reason not to get a cow if the satisfaction of the task cannot be entered into. However, where the fullness of the task can be taken up, keeping a cow, it seems, is a catalytic act.

I'm sure that most of us have experiences a creative action that we want to keep doing even as it gets dark or some other thing like sleep demands that we stop. For me it is building projects. The task draws me in to its ending - it is fun - satisfying - and I forget the time. It is such acts as these that I believe our lives may and must consist of - tasks which draw us into their satisfaction, their fullness and ours.

Of course, I am not suggesting that keeping a cow, to return to the primary example, is not demanding and costly. In fact, it is just its insistent nature which is important. I imagine that getting up early to milk is not always more attractive than sleeping in but it must be done and so a cow keeps us from sloth. If we do not heed the demand then waste occurs. The cow will experience pain if not milked and manure will because something to 'get rid of' if it is not returned to the garden.

The fact that entry into sanity is costly is precisely why I have called these reflections subsiding sanity. However, it a particularly satisfying cost and it is because I believe that a low energy, productive, sane life is a joyful one that I am driven to write about it. Like the mystery of Christ revealed and yet ever revealing, a sane space ushers us into its costly satisfaction and into other tasks of sanity. To step into a single sane space and accept its fullness is to enter into the whole world of sanity: the Kingdom of God.

We must learn to distinguish between mere financial cost and the cost of subsidising sanity, between acts of consumption and steps into sanity. We can change the light-bulbs and continue to use more electricity with no negative feedback (unless you live next to a coal station). To keep a cow demands change of us and then opens us to new and more sane vistas. We must bear in ourselves the costs in time, money and repentance that place us in proximity to sanity such that we begin to undergo it for ourselves. As we do so, others too "will find their salvation."

I would really love it if any folk who have been reading this blog since it started not so long ago take a moment to introduce themselves. I have taken this idea from Wes Daniels of Gathering in the Light, an emerging Quaker.

If you care to, please tell me a bit about who you are, where you're from, what are your interests etc. etc. If you have your own blog, please post the link, I'd love to read it.

Philip Adams would always address his radio program to Gladys, his one listener. I expect I have about as many readers, but I would love to be surprised.

Peace to you my reader,


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