69 Comments
Mar 25Liked by Jack Leahy

I fear my response to this vision of a “wild Christianity “ is one of questioning its validity.

First let me acknowledge that the world is a really scary place right now and seems to be growing more scary by the day. Climate change, Ai, the growing power of “the machine”, the internet, politics that grow increasingly bizarre - there is no shortage of reasons to panic. I think that the desire for a “wild Christianity “ or “ the Benedict option” is coming from a place of real worry. That very human desire to want to protect ourselves and those we love - and that is not a bad thing - I just think we need to get honest about our reasons for wanting this and not try to sell it as some new and desirable spiritual quest. That doing this will save us or Christianity or some form of the culture is doubtful.

I think it is possible that God may actually want us to stay right where we are because that is where He has placed us and we have serious work to do there - on His behalf.

So the first question we must ask is why we think going to the wilderness is a good idea?

If our desire is based on the desire to seek God in a more serious way we should look at those who have gone before us.

The original desert fathers went to the desert to “leave the world” behind for purely spiritual reasons - to seek God in a barren place without worldly distractions. They weren’t trying to do anything in a group - it was a solo journey.

Even as some reluctantly agreed to start monastery’s- the goal was not to become the custodians of knowledge, books, medicine or the faith (which , ironically , they did)- it was to seek God without distraction.

Of course- few of us are called to the monastic life - but each Christian is called to be “in the world, but not of it”. This means that it is possible to seek and find God right where we are - but it requires some self discipline and a bit of self denial. We could probably start with turning off our phones when we get home in the evening . If the online world represents much of what has gone wrong in the world at large - we have a quick and sure escape route - the off button on our many devices.

If we believe that we must physically head off to an isolated place to “really find God” I question this - because if we can’t find Him here - where we are now - it will be no easier in a new place. Where I go - there I am…sigh!

Much of the talk of going to the “wilderness “ seems pretty romantic and lacks defining information- like what that means and where exactly that is .

I fear this imagined wilderness is mainly a fantasy- most of todays real wilderness areas really are uninhabitable wilderness - because most of what could be considered “ livable or farmable” wilderness land was bought up long ago. Of course that is still available for purchase for a steep price. And yes - you can find land for less - but watching a season or two of “ homestead rescue” should make clear the perils of such “good deals”.

And then the question is - if you go there how will you live? You will have to learn to grow your own food but this is not an easy thing.

Having personally spent a few years trying to grow a substantial amount of my own food I can tell you it is not as simple as throwing some seeds in the ground. There is much to learn, organic gardening still requires many inputs, and without the basics of the right climate, sunlight, water and soil - it is futile.

But if growing food is important- could we grow food where we are? For many folks the answer is Of course we can - as you noted in your essay -permaculture has been putting a great deal of focus on changing the suburbs. Even apartment dwellers have balconies and many town’s have community gardens.

I dare say that if the goal is learning how to grow food - starting out in a place with a lot of resources is really helpful. As is living in a place where a failed crop will not equal hunger.

But the real question we have to answer is this - Is God calling us to this lifestyle?

While I am sure there may be some who should do this - I have a feeling it is not for most of us.

Because if all the Christian’s head to the hills who will be there to live the gospel? To do Christs work - to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to visit the prisoners…..you get where I am going here. Christ told us that what we do for the least of these we do unto him. That is where we live right now - among the least of these.

In the very early years of the church the gospel spread for one reason and one reason alone. Christian’s lived their faith in the towns and cities they lived in and they lived it very well.

While they didn’t have to worry about todays “machine “ or climate change - they did live under crazy emperors who were fond of feeding them to lions - among the other horrors of the colosseum.

They faced death and laughed in its face because of the God they served.

We serve that same God and he calls us to the same life - what is the difference?

I think we have lost our wonder and our humility. We are so caught up in ideas about God that we miss experiencing Him.

Christ commanded us to develop lives of prayer, alms giving, fasting, humility, repentance, love of the poor, to work on righteousness and strive for perfection.

If we focus on these things ( instead of trying to escape what ever the future may bring) we will experience God in profound ways and we will find Christs promise to be true:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:17

Unfortunately - this is not nearly as appealing as heading off to the wilderness - and until we start really trying to live the spiritual disciplines we may remain terrified on many days. But the fear will abate as we do the work before us .

I believe here lies the path to our salvation and that of those God puts in our lives.

Let’s not be afraid but embrace it with joy!

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This couldn't be more timely--I recently quit coffee for a somatic therapy class (it turns out not being adrenalized by drugs is helpful to calming anxiety.) I ended up doing a bit of research on the rise of coffee during the industrial revolution. After about two weeks off of all caffeine, I had to give in and allow myself a green tea in the morning to get any writing/ work done. I'd like to try again one day to see if the depressed state ever lifts. It's also worth accepting that we simply won't be as ambitious without coffee. Thanks for the reflections.

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Mar 26Liked by Jack Leahy

Your thoughts about achievement and the subsequent quotes speak to a constant internal struggle of my existence in the world of music. Can one really build a career without self-promotion and waving around ones achievements? And the pursuit is exhausting and kills the true quest for beauty and authenticity in art. And yet, there must be a path to authenticity, humility, and true beauty as an artist outside of the machine. There must be a way to give the gift of music and live from the gift of music without all the encumberments of societal expectations.

And I do fantasize about a more simple life. Simple, not easy. I'm currently looking to apprentice at an urban farm near me that has goats and chickens. I want to learn to make cheese.

I've created a plan in my mind to build a community with my brothers and their families, each with our own homes, caring for our aging mother and tending gardens and farm animals. It's all very peaceful in my mind. And I fear that it is an illusion. An escape. I overestimate my ability to rise early and tend to chores. I love my morning coffee/reading ritual too much. And the comforts of my suburb home.

I don't really have a point in writing all this. Your post provoked thoughts. I feel a sense of camaraderie as a musician in pursuit of a spiritual way, struggling with the state of the world.

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Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

Seconding Clara’s recommendation above of Holmgren’s ‘Retrosuburbia’ and adding a book who’s name escapes me.

Wendell Berry and Snyder fruitfully corresponded for many years from their different places, both geographic and cultural. The settled, lowland Christian and wilder, mountain Zen. ‘Distant Neighbours’ ? I think Mr Kingsnorth may have edited and introduced.

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Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

I've found it's better to quit caffeine cold-turkey than to try and dabble in it. In my experience, headaches the first two days, and about a week of not feeling super-energetic. By day two, though, my sleep is amazing! The only downside I've found is that, decaffeinated, I can't crank out the work quite as fast. On the plus side, I'm less irritable, less anxious, and sleep so deeply! If you've never done it, you should give it a try.

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Mar 24Liked by Jack Leahy

Oh, many interesting thoughts here. Coffee is definitely a ritual/comfort to me. I don’t know if it makes me cleverer. I do know it makes me poop. Maybe makes me more awake, but I can always feel how tired I am, underneath.

It’s social too, on weekends when I share a pot with my husband. On weekdays I drink instant coffee. I am no snob. Fancy or overly strong coffee just makes me sick. But the main requirement is that it must be as hot as possible though. Cold or lukewarm coffee, ew.

I am really looking forward to an upcoming family holiday in the relative wilderness. In a cabin, specifically. I am planning to take books and crafts and lots of fun clothes. Maybe some insights will happen, but I’m happy just to slow down time a bit.

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Mar 23Liked by Jack Leahy

I gave up alcohol for lent. So far so good. Down to half a cup of coffee a day, down from 2-3. Trying to phase out coffee entirely for tea but we shall see.

My wife and I have been gardening for about 12 years now. We decided to move in 2021 from a one acre plot in a burgeoning city, to a small .25 acre lot several states north. This spring will be the beginning of year two in a small but intensive backyard garden. Mix of dwarf apple and pear trees, lots of berries, and perennials of all kinds. Rotating cast of annuals. We aren't experts but we are trying to grow something worth leaving behind in our little place.

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Must be lived out from day to day.

Vision held open in the dark

By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that

The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace. That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day, and finds it good. - Wendell Berry

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The David Holmgren approach to suburbia has it's merits, but it requires a lot of retrofitting. Check out Doug Tallamy's books regarding how the wild can be folded back into built. Form and emptiness, emptiness and form both folded back into each other!

And FWIW, according to Buddhist legend, tea leaves are actually the eyelids of Bodhidharma. Drinking tea is just a peppy eucharist!

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Mar 23Liked by Jack Leahy

Jack, thank you for the link to the video on how to make a city block into a village. I sent it to my parish council president as we’re in the early stages of building a new church.

I’m not a city person anymore, but for those who are, it’s a fantastic idea. The idea of an old Eastern European village design centered around the church has been what I had asked them to consider, but didn’t really have a clear idea of how to do it.

Anything that gets folks to concentrate on their spiritual lives and jettison their commodified lives is a grand start.

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Mar 22·edited Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

I quit caffeine about 18 months ago after two decades of (ab)use. Anyone who tells you that withdrawals only last a couple weeks has never actually quit. I was able to do my job (writing code) at the same level after about a year. It was completely worth it though. I'm able to concentrate better, work for longer stretches, sleep better, and most of the anxiety I used to feel has abated.

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Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

Caffeine started to disagree with me about a year ago and so we had to part company. It was a tearful farewell but I somehow managed to carry on. I gave up ambition voluntarily and have no regrets. :)

As a person who's deeply passionate about sustainable/regenerative horticulture and agriculture, the idea of shifting towards a different vision of suburbia is very appealing. The hardest part will be convincing people they don't need a bowling green for their front lawn.

Thanks for that poem as well.....sign me up, I'll happily make up the numbers.

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Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

Nice post , Jack. You would like Retrosuburbia by Dave Holmgren. He advocates for these cool suburban transformations in great detail. One of his pieces of advice for surviving a future of less and less extra is to quit caffeine. He talks about lots of addictions that people don't usually call addictions that we could more easily deal with now, than in a crisis time. Think how irritable people trying to get through a tough situation might be, simply because their addictive habits are interrupted, not because the situation itself is insurmountable. There is anther book on this topic called The Art of Frugal Hedonism about enjoying the simple things. So, I thought there was a very cohesive thread running through your post. I am caffeine-free person, too. If I do get a dose of it I jabber on and on and am very funny and hyperactive.... but then a headache and irritable. Clara

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Thanks for this piece, something many of us deal with!

I’ve recently replaced my first tea with a cold plunge outside. I have to say, it works, you do feel a boost of steady energy for a few hours. I do have one or two teas during the day though.

I spent some time on an organic farm quite close to the Hinewai reserve while travelling around NZ 10 years ago. That area is wonderful, though really the whole country is. It’s the only place I have been where I felt most people really valued nature.

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Mar 22Liked by Jack Leahy

Hi Jack

Greetings from the other side of the Pacific as we enter Autumn. In a peculiar sense Easter when it comes resonates more deeply as no one expects new birth as the days shorten . . .

Anyway- sat here with my 12oz triple shot extra hot cappuccino. . . Wild Christianity is simply finding our way back to Creation, our Createdness, our true being, unaffected like a child. Whatever else Jesus means by becoming like a child, just doing ‘you’ is it’s heart. But we’re lost and the urban jungle is no place for humanity. We both lose and find ourself, that which is hidden with Christ in God, in Silence. May we echo Manley-Hopkins ‘for this I came!’

Funnily enough I’m considering a call ‘home’ at present. . .

I hope you are well

Words long coming are best :)

Blessings - Eric

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Thank you for the words and the videos, which I have just started to watch. The idea of reforming the way we think of neighborhoods and local communities seems to me central to any great counter-movement to the current trends. The wild should never be far; always within reach for ourselves, and for our children: dirt, trees, animals, water, wild flowers, untamed life. It can make things complicated (like racoons invading the garden) but these are complications that do not hurt the soul.

And you definitely have my sympathies when it comes to the coffee.

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I empathize with your caffeine challenge - I drink a lot during the year but go cold turkey during Lent. (along with the Orthodox fast I have added social media and news ) Lent helps me put my physical dependence in perspective and also provides a frame for discipline which I find otherwise incredibly difficult to uphold.

Will take a look at the videos you posted - thank you.

While I believe that mature, thoughtful adults will be able to forge new ways of living, the younger generation is going utterly lost. Given that most youth can barely outdo the attention span of a goldfish, should our focus start with supporting children and youth in reconnecting to reality and real life relationships, so that they may grow in a conviction that forming alternative ways of living is necessary and worthwhile?

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