On Sunday, we enjoyed an impromptu post-church lunch with some friends of ours. They have four children, two of whom were adopted into their family from mainland China. Their four children added to our own busy peach-fuzz boy called for radical decisiveness: burrito lunch around the corner. Sure. Done.
We quickly sat down, set up the kids with food and immediately dug deep into conversation (a helpful skill to learn with kids in tow). The conversation quickly focused in on their current project, which is purchasing land with a business friend, then designing and building 15 small town homes for families to move into by 2015ish. These guys are no real-estate moguls. In fact, quite the opposite. This couple feels like part of their calling as a family and as Christians is to live out their faith and to serve their community and in particular, the homeless population of our city. Their “co-housing” project is all about inviting those getting back on their feet after being recently homeless, to do life with them: live near them, share meals with them, garden with them. Four similarly-minded couples would commit to exposing their families to the real world of homelessness and share, serve and live in close proximity with ten other less privileged families. Given the location, it will imply that these four kids be pulled out of what they consider to be the best charter school in the district and placed in one of the worst performing schools in the area. They will downsize from their current suburban home. It is a whole family ordeal. Very much, a sacrifice for all six family members.
If you know Tall Mountain at all, this is the kind of idea that makes his lungs breathe in deeper. In fact, you might have heard him talking about an idea like this (minus the homeless part) himself. Last year in Heidelberg, some of his former room-mates reminded him that he used to hassle them about living intentionally with each other over a decade ago. Actually, over the past two years, we have considered joining a group intensely involved in their neighborhood like this in San Diego, CA and in the West Bank but the details didn’t quite work out. Leaving our short Sunday lunch, TM admitted that he has been waiting his whole lifetime to have a conversation like this. And here were people actually designing floor plans (the wife being an architect) and purchasing land, just waiting for the right people to join their project. Wow.
In the car, we thought about all the implications of this lifestyle, alongside much less fortunate neighbors. I certainly believe we’d be willing to share the ups and downs of life with any neighbor – but practically speaking, what would it look like to be served highly-processed, cheap American food by a well-meaning neighbor? Could we really justify buying a $25 rack of organic lamb when the single mother next door can hardly pay her rent? What would change in terms of our spending habits living in a community like this? Would we be comfortable letting Ayo interact with a drug addict who can’t escape the fixes of his former lifestyle? Would we be okay letting him attend the worst school in the district in exchange for a life-changing experience like this? How can we live more simply than now?
This co-housing project brought up a host of thoughts and conflicting values we have. We love quality food, international travel and the idea of giving our son engaging educational opportunities. Yet, our life is also so undeniably inwardly-focused and self-gratifying. We are super challenged by our answers to the questions above and will continue to be stretched as long as we think of the hopeful possibility of living life in close proximity with other people one day – whether they be homeless, refugees or your “average Joe” neighbor.