"Christian Cohousing, " spiritual cohousing in general, and "Nutcases" (like me?)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 15:24:05 -0800 (PST)
Dear Cohousing List--

One of my favorite quotes is from Herb Caen, the late S.F. Chronicle columnist: 
"The problem with 
'born-again' Christians is when they're an even bigger pain the second time 
around."  It serves as 
a valuable lens and caution for my own efforts.  

I have been a fan of cohousing for about twelve years, and immediately 
recognized in this model 
much good to address many factors which have led to the downfall of so many 
idealistic intentional 
communities.  I am part of a community which prides itself on connecting with 
the cohousing model 
in physical and social design principles.  And I'd like to set the record 
straight on a couple of things 
(as far as I am able) if I may.

An analogy: in a modern economy, so much of the machinations of government are 
designed to 
address what are apparently natural fluctuations between poles of prosperity 
and hardship (the 
Kondratieff Cycle), and regulate them into a stable model where constant effort 
will produce more 
constant rewards.  Similarly, much of what I find in cohousing seems to be an 
attempt to provide a 
relatively stable social environment capable of providing for a constellation 
of needs which we humans 
all possess, that must be addressed in order for us not to go "off the rails" 
at times.  As with any 
model of "regulation," it only serves well when it does not unnecessarily 
stifle freedoms.  

So I completely understand the natural aversion to the notion of "Christian 
cohousing."  The question 
remains, how much diversity can a community embrace and be cohesive long term?  
Cohousing has
tried valiantly to expand that notion, but must be wary of being too 
self-congratulatory (as of yet) of 
having achieved it.  That siad, you'd be surprised at the diversity which flies 
under the cohousing banner
already (see the article on Dorothy Day Cohousing referenced below).

I very much enjoy the community of this list and was heartsick at the recent 
posting of a message by 
an apparently "fellow Christian" who tried to "take cohousing to task" based on 
poor analysis, faulty 
assumptions, and what appeared to be a silver spoon attitude.  My attempt to 
assess him off-list on 
these problems yielded only one possible clue as to his inordinate anger (as 
well as further confirmation 
that he is in need of help).  His first inquiry (as an unsubscriber) was posted 
on November 15th of this 
year as a favor by the moderator, an innocuous request for housing advice in 
the Santa Rosa, CA area, 
after which he signed (for good or for ill) "in Christ" as an ending 
salutation.  He alleged that what he 
got in response was a floodgate of offlist return mail which was so unwelcoming 
that he decided to 
engage individual cohousers on a more aggressive footing (apparently believing 
his tirade would never 
get posted to the list, if submitted there).  Here are his words:

"I originally had a post simply asking for a rental opportunity, and I signed 
that e-mail, "In Christ."  I 
was bombarded with people from cohousing commuities around the country telling 

What Stambler apparently didn't know is that the subsequent letters to him were 
not posted on the 
listserv, and so this "battle," if true, was fought purely in private, offlist, 
without so many of the voices 
which call for a more sane assessment of things from among cohousing veterans.  
This would mean that 
an already psychologically-unstable ("Head Prophet of the World?") person was 
subjected to a harangue 
"in the name of" cohousing, by being posted to the list with the "in Christ" 
tag line.  

I wonder if the same thing would have happened if it read, "For the earth!" or 
"In the name of Allah, 
blessed be He."  Of course, this is the nature of things when it comes to the 
internet.  There's no 
guarantee against it.  Unfortunately, there's also no way I can confirm his 
allegations.  If true, the 
promise he sees in this model would appear to him to have been hijacked by 
those who would "fight" 
against his "right" to learn from and use it. 

So I am writing to 1) make you aware of the situation 2) remind the list that a 
search of cohousing-list 
archives on the subject of "Christian cohousing" --or, for that matter, "Jewish 
cohousing" (Buddhist, 
Islamic, Pagan, etc.) is hardly the welcoming foray that might be hoped for, 
with so many cohousers 
apparently offended at the very idea of combining physical, social  and 
spiritual community in one package, 
even with safeguards such as consensus voting in place 3) once again announce 
(as per Allen Butcher's 
uncharacteristically terse contribution) that "Christian cohousing" and other 
forms of "spiritualized" 
cohousing models are here to stay, and that no amount of wishing will make it 
otherwise (there are even 
forums for it-- www.msainfo.org<http://www.msainfo.org/>, e.g.), and 4) ask 
that any listers out there who use the information 
from this list to "do the cohousing movement a private favor" by haranguing 
people offlist (just like 
"Stambler" did, apparently in return) think twice about the glee they feel when 
"the ref only sees the 
second foul."

Every movement I've ever studied has elements in it which are noble and 
uniting, as well as elements 
which are potentially (and often in implementation) a compromise, or worse, of 
those very elements.  
Cohousing is no exception; neither is Christianity.  What draws so many who are 
already in spiritual 
communities together into the desire for residential community is the memory of 
a past where it seemed 
to work, and from which much positive good emerged.  In the Roman Empire, 
pre-Constantine (when the 
emperor seized the chance to consolidate Christian political power by making it 
the official religion of the 
Empire-- sound familiar?), Christians were actually derided because of their 
work (and substantial 
membership) among the poor and disenfranchised, which took place in the context 
of stable Christian 

While not as glaringly visible today, this work continues in, for example, 
Catholic Worker Houses whose 
street-level efforts have reduced misery in cities world-wide (see article on 
Dorothy Day Cohousing 
Community, at 
 the L'Arche movement 
which combines residential community with a mission to "mainstream" disabled 
individuals into everyday 
community life; the Taize communities which have effectively promoted 
ecumenical unity across a wide 
spectrum of sects; the Sojourners communities, outgrowths of a thirty-year-old 
movement which works 
to "connect progressive politics and Christian faith and attract a diverse 
group of evangelical, Catholic, 
and Protestant Christians, as well as others who are united on issues of 
justice and peace" 
(www.sojo.org<http://www.sojo.org/>);  and others (especially overseas, in 
places like Australia). 

Our own community, Bartimaeus, is admittedly less "radical" than these, but our 
goal is to be effective 
in similar ways (www.bartcommunity.org<http://www.bartcommunity.org/>).  The 
broader truth that Christianity has been co-opted and 
in peril ever since it first gained this cultural ascendency is more and more 
widely recognized these days.  
Jesus Himself said "My Kingdom is not of this world."  This is what led the 
(very religious) Constitutional 
Framers to ensure that church and state remained separate, while simultaneously 
praying "Thy Kingdom 
come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

In that light, its more accurate to speak of "cohousing among mainly 
'Christians'," than "Christian 
cohousing"  --no particular person or community can lay claim to being exactly 
what Jesus would want.  
It just remains a convenient term to describe the aspiration, like the word 
"community" itself.

A lingering question as to the legality of a "Christian cohousing" (or Jewish, 
Buddhist, or whatever) 
community needs to be addressed.  There are certain limitations to the Fair 
Housing Act which allow for 
some forms of common-interest or otherwise configured privately-developed 
housing to retain their 
preferential religious orientation.  It is not within the purview of the Act to 
mandate that any and every 
form of housing everywhere be considered a public commodity for regulation 
under Fair Housing purview until and 
unless the houses go up for sale on the open market or use a real estate agent 
in transferring ownership 
rights.  Many private real estate developments remain outside the Act's 
regulatory categories.  

As distasteful an example as it is, this is why the Augusta Country Club in 
Georgia can legally exclude 
women from its Clubhouse, despite the perception of it being a public 
commodity.  Legal rulings have 
upheld this legal, if distasteful, practice.  Many private intentional 
communities around the world 
represented on the Intentional Communities listing 
(www.ic.org<http://www.ic.org/>) are more examples of the same.

The goal of our community is not such "distasteful" (read: discriminatory, 
hateful, "unclean") exclusion.  
Our policies are inclusive of variety, within limits we agree upon mutually as 
to the nature of the 
community ethos we wish to set --mainly for our young, growing children.  They 
will begin to encounter 
and try to understand the wider world soon enough.  Just like a pagan parent 
needs to take special pains 
these days in raising a moral child, and wants to provide a nurturing 
environment for them while they're 
very young, so do we.  In fact, we share the same concerns -- a non-utilitarian 
view of nature, and wish 
them to learn to be appreciative and respectful of God's good creation.  We're 
also painfully aware of the 
wrongful subjugation of women in history to male domination, and align 
ourselves with the aims to restore
things back to God's good created order as represented in the Bible and 
explicated in the literature of 
organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality 

We wish to largely (but not necessarily exclusively) share a spiritual 
tradition in common, so that our 
efforts on building consensus do not focus around matters as mundane as whether 
we can have a 
Christmas tree in the common house, but focus more on service outreach.  For 
that matter, we also 
want to be able to celebrate Jewish festivals (like Jesus did) and reflect on 
them within the perspective 
of the common tradition we share.  Our goal will be to practice hospitality 
towards those of diverse 
perspectives.  A commitment to embracing diversity need not involve a 
commitment to hide one's own 
unique commitments, nor to stifle the desire for enough commonality on a day to 
day basis from which 
to engage and embrace diversity without feeling threatened by the amount and 
pace of change which 
those very encounters will allow us to ponder.

Respectful active listening takes time, as does reflection among valued and 
trusted neighbors in framing 
a response to the many challenges of postmodern life.  If we are ever to move 
beyond mere tolerance 
to a respectful appreciation and even, some hopeful partial integration of 
views, there must be both 
vehicles for change along with vehicles for stability.  The cohousing movement 
as a whole has so many 
of the answers for what our society needs, that I remain hopeful for its 
future.  And, as a Christian, I 
remain of the conviction that so does Jesus (infinitely more so)--regardless of 
the confusing admixture 
of the rest of the baggage of "Christianity."   


Guy W. Coe
Bartimaeus Community, www.bartcommunity.org<http://www.bartcommunity.org/>
Bremerton, WA.
(Yes, this is also shameless promotion for potential new members... : )

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