Ecofriendly Living Is Not the Point of Community. It's a Result.

January 3, 2018 by

I’ve still got tiny cuts and punctures in my fingers from last Saturday’s project to fox-proof the chicken cage. There was a tragedy last week. Our family keeps a few chickens in a moveable outdoor cage, the idea being to “graze” the chickens by moving the cage to a new location every day. We used to have six. The cage was covered in fencing mesh that I thought was adequate; too small for a chicken to get out or a fox to get in. What I forgot to take into consideration was the ancient truth about the grass always being greener on the other side. The chickens routinely stuck their necks through the wire to get at the grass; one night a fox lay in wait and snapped one chicken’s head right off. I found the headless corpse in the morning with the five remaining birds standing around looking awkward and a little confused. “Don’t ever leave the compound,” I told them. “It’s a jungle out there.”

The chickens are ostensibly a project for our five-year-old; he certainly considers them to be his, and collects the eggs every day. I just do the unimportant stuff like giving them food and water, moving the cage, mucking out their house, and generally fretting over them. Of course as he gets older, my son will take on more responsibility. Care for animals is a great thing for kids to do, something I’ve written about before, and many of the families here at Darvell have similar projects. In our communal livestock area we have horses, a donkey, goats, pigs, a milk cow, and chickens; on weekends there is a lot of activity there as families do weekly muck outs and emergency repairs. Since the public footpath goes right through the barnyard we get a lot of our neighbors coming by to visit the animals as well.

Boy with Chickens

Inevitably this leads people to some funny assumptions. Some think that the primary purpose of our community is to be self-sufficient and live off the land, or that it’s an extreme attempt to be eco-friendly (horrible thought). Others see us walking around the countryside or riding in the horse-drawn cart and assume we are opposed to any sort of modernization and that this is how we get around. At one level this does not particularly bother me. People can think what they want. At another level it’s infuriating because it quite misses the point of what we are all about.

Let me try to explain. There are a lot of aspects of our community life that are really right on, things the BBC would think marvellous: raising much of our own food organically is down-homish and healthy, heating with wood hearkens back to the old days when life was simple, recycling and car sharing are great for the environment (yes, we do all these things). The catch for me is that none of this stuff is very important. It’s great if you can do it; in fact, it is a lot of fun, but this stuff is a by-product; the key thing is radical discipleship of Jesus. Reading the Sermon on the Mount, it’s striking that pretty much everything Jesus tells us to do is about how we behave toward other human beings. People are knobbly. Forgiving, going the extra mile, making peace, loving people who hate you; this stuff is just bloody difficult. Even loving people who love you is no joke. Sometimes members of my own family make me feel like going to some quiet place and screaming. Much easier to buy Fair Trade coffee and rant about Trump.

At the Bruderhof, we start with the idea that Jesus meant what he said, that the Sermon on the Mount is an instruction manual. Do we manage? Not all of the time. But we know it’s possible and we’re trying. And isn’t the experience of striving, failing, repenting, and starting an important part of discipleship? I’ve been thinking about the following bit spoken by Eberhard Arnold, one of the founders of our community movement, who said the following:

Your life will have a kind of perfection, although you will not be a saint. The perfection will consist in this: you will be very weak and you will make many mistakes; you will be awkward, for you will be poor in spirit and hunger and thirst for justice. You will not be perfect, but you will love. This is the gate and the way. Whatever you desire for yourself, wish the same for others. If you expect something from people, give the same to them.

This is exciting. Embracing the roller coaster ride of discipleship is what makes life in Christian community worth living.

Back at the chicken run, I got hold of a roll of finer mesh to cover the cage with. The wire was thin and quite easy to cut, but the roll was wound tightly and kept trying to unravel. Furthermore, as I bent the wire into place the sharp ends went right through the skin on my fingers in several places. It was freezing. The job, which I thought would take half an hour, was still not finished after two hours. My two older boys (twelve and nine) had come down to the barn with me, but were messing about, first riding the ponies and then coming over to watch me wrestling with the roll of wire and cursing in low tones.

“Gee dad,” my older son said, “look at your hand, it’s bleeding.”

I stood up slowly and looked at him for a long second. “Son,” I said, “I’m aware of that. Now get over here and start helping.”


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • Thanks for the very informative article on what I have come to believe is "living out the Jesus story." Blessings.

    Chaplain Edward Huff,BCC