by Brian K
Thank you for listening to my testimony this morning. This theme of “fasting from individualism and feasting on community” was a compelling one. When I think of “community” that word stirs memories of this specific time in my life –between 2007 and 2013 –to be exact when Em and I were part of a Christian anarchist community in Detroit.
So, right about now, you might be wondering: How did we end up in a Christian anarchist community?
I don’t know how to answer that question without talking about Detroit. And…there are many, many things I could say about life in Detroit, and I want to side-step most of them this morning. One thing I will say is that Detroit is the kind of place that exposes self-sufficiency and rugged individualism as myths. They are lies. Detroit is the kind of place where you really cannot make it on your own. Detroit is the kind of place where you need your neighbors and where people stick together because there aren’t really other options. That’s exactly how I was feeling when I showed up on the doorstep of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Easter Sunday in 2007. I was terribly lonely, and I knew I needed somewhere to belong, but I didn’t know yet what to expect.
Things happened quickly, and we formed some fast friendships. Two years later, Em and I moved to be part of the community. This community was spread out along a city block in Detroit -where people had bought houses (some for 10k) or rented rooms, and set up what was this little village along a tree-lined street, doted with gardens and brightly colored houses. We were surrounded by the infamous rust-belt decay of Detroit.
The community we joined was a deeply counter-cultural group of people that wanted to band together critically examine how we were living our lives as Christians, as part of the American Empire, as people who were alive during this particular time in history. Every basic assumption that we had about personal safety or private property was up for debate. For example, one of my friends told me once that “the good Christian thing to do is to live with your doors unlocked” –this was not a metaphor. This was not a spiritualize symbol of anything. This is really how he lived. He felt that people (anybody!) should be able to come and go from his house as they pleased and they could help themselves to what he had because all his “stuff” wasn’t really his.
So, hospitality was a big deal to this community. Urban farming was a big deal for this community as well. I’m not talking growing tomatoes on the porch. I’m talking goats, bee hives, chickens, rows of crops that span a city block.
This community taught me to see the world through a fresh set of eyes. It taught me to see things that I could not see on my own. I can’t talk about that without showing this picture. Em is nursing baby Hendrik, while in the background a couple guys are plowing an empty lot to make the way for what is now a thriving apple orchard, complete with benches and bee hives. I don’t know where they got the horses. I don’t know how they learned to plow. This was the sort of thing that you just got used to, but looking back, I have all these questions…
Some people see urban blight, while others see an apple orchard and community park.
As part of this community, for the next five years, we were part of countless potlucks, community meetings, protests, harvest seasons, marathon food preserving sessions. We had debates about the role of police and the myth of redemptive violence in our neighborhood, and about whether or not to provide cover for queer kids and pregnant teenagers who had been disowned by their parents. It was a blur, and it was wonderful.
So, I also have to say this: I felt kind of cool being part of this community. By day, I was this buttoned up and anxious PhD student, fighting an intense and invisible battle with imposter syndrome, and by night I was sitting by bonfires, drinking dandelion wine from a jug with people who had done time in federal prison for trespassing on military installations and defacing nuclear warheads.
One of the people who had done federal time for defacing nuclear warheads was the pastor who married Em and I and baptized Hendrik, by the way.
Even though it came time for us to leave, we have carried these memories with us. I think of this community whenever I see abundance in strange places, whenever I see life hanging on against all odds, whenever I gather with like-minded people over good food and drink.
There’s another way we’ve taken this community with us: Hendrik’s middle name is Larkins. Larkins is the name of the street we lived on in Detroit.