Yesterday evening Jason Evans and I laughed as we attempted to flip buffalo burgers on the grill, each of us holding a beer in one hand and a utensil in the other. Meals at the Hawthorn House are a happy experiment, bringing together family recipes, sustainable ingredients, curiosity, and a desire to share food with friends. I’m living here this summer, in a house that embodies the experimental spirit: 9 adults, 2 kids, 2 dogs, a half dozen gardens, a couple of compost bins, and some renegade skunks all sharing one street address.
For me this summer is an experiment. I spent two happy years after college living in my own apartment, enjoying the solitude having my own space afforded me. My home became a refuge from the busy life I lived working as the Campus Minister at UCSD, beginning the ordination process, and dealing with life back in America after a year-long stint in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I loved closing the door at the end of the day and sinking into my couch. So this summer by intentionally sharing space with others I am actively exploring what it means to hold space in common.
Holding this in common with this group of people so far has been more of a blessing than a hardship. I stay up too late drinking good beer and talking theology with my fellow nerds Jason and Lars, get hyped up about the politics of Michelle Obama’s organic garden with my housemate Brooke, commiserate about the insanity of the free clinics I’m working in with Bethany, or blow hookah bubbles with the guys upstairs. I may get labeled a monster, but just by Matty-boy (who is 5) and Paige (who is 7) as we play. If all else fails Tasha, the family dog, will throw her chew toy at my feet expecting a game of fetch.
When trying to explain this concept to others I have often been meant with odd stares. What do you mean you’re going to live with that many people? Did you join a commune?
Others are familiar with what has been called “new monasticism.” A number of communities have arisen (and disappeared) over the past decades attempting to pattern their lives toward a shared vision of following Jesus. Shane Claiborne of “The Simple Way” in Philadelphia made his community famous when he described their life in his book The Irresistible Revolution. These communities generally understand that their movement to live together and work in economically deprived areas mirrors that of the monks and nuns who came after St. Benedict, St. Francis, and St. Clare.
Hawthorn House avoids the title “new monasticism.” My guess is that the term indicates that a community has come to some imagined settled reality. The Hawthorn House community, like the meals we eat, is an active experiment. At Hawthorn we bring together the traditions we hold dear, ongoing questions, friendship, and a desire to follow Jesus. This summer I’m trying not to hold on too tightly to any vision of what my future life with this community could be. If the experiment continues it will be because this is a community that knows that cultivating tomatoes while cultivating friendships can teach us a great deal about the kingdom of God.