Bringing The Vision Down To Earth

Building community on an economy of faith -
faith in living for the good of the whole

One of the articles in Economics In An Intellegent Universe (IC#2)
Originally published in Spring 1983 on page 22
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

During the past 15 years, the Love Israel Family has grown into a tightly-knit extended family of 200 adults and 150 children. They are very much an intentional community, actively building a network of villages and farms in the State of Washington. In this article, one of their long term members describes their economic history.

OUR FAMILY came together in the late 60′s, inspired by revelations that reminded us that LOVE IS THE ANSWER and that WE ARE ALL ONE. Applying those revelations meant we had to get together and work out our differences. We also knew we had to start living for the whole, rather than just for "little me"; and each one of us had to make a total commitment to the success of the greater family.

We believed that our creator/father would be so happy to see his children all coming back together, that he would bless our gathering, and nurture us through the process of learning to live as one.

We saw that the Kingdom of Heaven was a state of mind where love and agreement prevailed, and if we sincerely sought this agreement, "all things would be added unto us." So for 12 years we focused our attention on nurturing our lives and refining our agreement, with minimal regard for where the next meal was coming from.

It worked. We never went hungry, and never lacked shelter. The magic of combining our resources produced an economic base that included country land in 3 states: Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, and numerous houses in Seattle. It included cars, buses, trucks, tractors, and Belgian work horses. But the greatest wealth of all was a rich mixture of people with a wide variety of talents, now made available to fulfill a common vision.

Our economy was an economy of faith – faith that we would be provided for if we stuck to our purpose of building a home for our congealing tribe; faith that living for the good of the whole would keep us spiraling up the grooves of an ancient blessing. Certain attitudes emerged as central to this approach to life.

"Be Content With What You Have"

Years of not trying to work for our support, not having to budget limited or fixed amounts of income, fostered a sense of appreciation for everything that came our way. Each meal, each rent payment, had a sense of serendipitous magic to it, constantly reminding us that we were in the hands of a supportive benefactor. We frequently reminded one another not to want more than what was in our immediate grasp, or what we could afford.

Our common revelations had included the reminder that NOW IS THE TIME, and had inspired us to change our living habits to allow for the greatest amount of living in the present.

As part of our commitment to the present, we carefully avoided making appointments in the future, and obliging ourselves to any kind of debt payments. We avoided buying anything on time. We even went so far as to create a kind of reverse charge account with frequently used local businesses such as grocers and hardware stores. We would establish a positive account with such businesses by depositing a hundred dollars with them from time to time and then never drawing down into the red.

The First Fly in the Ointment The area that resisted the debt-free economic track was the overhead of housing. We had chosen city living on the principle that the city provided ready made basic amenities which would free us to focus our energy on our relationships. Besides, until we got our relationships straight, there was not much point in going out and messing up another piece of natural beauty in the country.

So we sought out low-cost houses in our Queen Anne neighborhood, and rented them on a month-to- month commitment. Frequently, we applied the same principle of "positive credit" toward our landlords; handing them a few months’ rent in advance when we were experiencing fat times, then asking them to bear with us through the lean.

Conscious of the fact that the inheritance of the earth was destined to fall into the hands of the unified Family of mankind, and that we were on the leading edge of that unification, we felt that our stewardship of the earth began now. With only a month-to-month rental contract with our landlords, we cared for our residences as if they were to be ours forever. We began to redesign these conventional nuclear family residences into structures more suitable to the needs of an extended family, a family with lots of relatives and guests.

And here is where we encountered our first temptation to wade into the waters of debt. It quickly became clear that to have the control necessary to redesign our living environment, we had to make a claim to ownership. Philosophically, we felt that individual ownership of land was as unnatural to us as it was to the native Americans here before us. We knew our job was to be stewards of the earth, and gracious hosts to the rest of our awakening family. But, to fulfill this purpose, we had to first liberate the land from the domain of private ownership.

The critical step from renter to mortgagee was an easy one to rationalize, we told ourselves that it was an experiment in which we had nothing to lose – we could invest in a property, as long as we could afford it; and if and when we couldn’t, we would give it up – not much different than rent, and much more freedom to develop the property according to our design. So, as larger chunks of money began to come into the family, we began to purchase ourselves some long- range debts, in the form of real estate contracts and assumed bank mortgages. Properties we once had rented were now owned in common by a Corporation whose name is simply "Jesus Christ."

The early 70′s in Seattle was a time of depressed economy; and 2 bedroom houses were available for $20,000 or less. Within a few years, we had acquired an interest in 10 houses in our neighborhood. Five of these houses were on adjoining lots, so they presented a unique opportunity for us to begin to redesign the urban checkerboard into our vision of a unified residential garden/park.

The most ambitious step was to join two adjoining houses into one new structure, with an expansive space for Family meetings on the first floor, and living space above and below – a center for the Family in Seattle.

Through this period of growth and expansion, we continued to feel the support of a commonwealth economy, which was capable of attracting the resources needed to acquire houses and remodel them to meet our needs. It was a time of do-it-yourself education in many practical areas. Without the pressure to go outside our borders for employment, our builders and gardeners were free to follow a course of self-correcting, seat-of-the-pants education, learning to blend our talents into teams of proficient craftsmen, forced to learn new things out of a need and a desire to do it ourselves. It was a slow way to build, compared to the high-speed competition of the world around us, but it gave us time to learn for ourselves, arid to continue to take as much time out for spiritual refinement as we felt necessary. Our time continued to be our own; we owed relatively little to anyone, "save to love one another."

The Second Fly Becomes an Albatross As a part of our growing land inheritance, we received the gift of a beautiful 160-acre homestead on the Kenai Peninsula, near Homer, Alaska. A small party of pioneers moved onto the land, and began to explore its potential as a site for a Family village. One thing became clear very quickly: that if we were to maintain such a distant outpost, we would need a good means of transporting people and goods back and forth from Seattle to Alaska. Out of this need grew our desire to have a ship. And out of our desire grew a willingness to assume an additional form of debt.

By the time the 137-foot converted World War II minesweeper, the Kathy Joe, crossed our path, we were chomping at the bit to have our own ship. So, with little regard for what we were getting into, we plunked down our down payment, and bought into the dream of Abundance from the Sea.

The reality of a 35-year old Diesel guzzling wooden boat, and a $1,800 per month debt was quite another thing altogether. For the first time since the inception of our Family, we found ourselves pressured by the commercial world; having to maintain an intense fishing schedule, having to use fishing techniques that ran counter to our natural sensibilities, having to encumber the lives of our brothers to the relentless demands of our ocean-going habit.

The "Abundance" (as we renamed her) became an object lesson in the high price of debt living; and we dreamed of the day when we could trade her in on a sailing ship, powered freely by the wind, and unencumbered by debt. As it turned out, she was destroyed, while in the hands of her would-be buyers, operating in Alaska waters. Her insatiable demands, which we, with our rich supply of manpower, were able to meet, proved to be too much for the small crew that was trying to take her on. Discouraged and overworked, they set her afire in Bristol Bay – a total loss for all of us, and a heavy lesson in how not to re-enter the world of sea and ships.

For the hundreds of thousands of man hours we had put into her, we were left with a $100,000 debt and a long unsuccessful legal battle to collect our losses from the insurance company.

The Lessons An interesting thing about our tolerance for debt: once the flood gates were cracked, they tended to widen with insidious persistence. The lessons of the Abundance were not even enough to turn us around. There were other temptations to use the gifts God was giving us to try to buy more than what we could really afford. The national debt grew, and with it the feeling of blessing in our lives tended to ebb away. Money that in former years would have arrived with an aura of blessing was now being consumed by time-contracts and interest payments. Our time was no longer ours. More and more of us had to leave the high purpose of building sanctuaries, in pursuit of steady employment. And once again we found ourselves on the treadmill of working to support our commitments and our daily subsistence.

Within two short years we had moved from a simple out of pocket economy of faith to an economy of budgets, bank financing and complicated business accounting.

It has been a heavy lesson and one that has put us back in touch with the plight of the average man. It has engendered both a great deal of compassion and a swelling resolve to turn the tide of debt-living.

The lure of debt-living is the lure of using what you have to buy more than you can afford. Its hook has found its way into the mouth of most. We, as harbingers of a new age are now more determined than ever to unhook ourselves and to set a course of liberation that can help free us all; we are determined to put us back in touch with the blessing that God intends for us to receive.

Our course of action is simple: 1) to get rid of what we don’t need or can’t afford; 2) to free the remaining property from all financial encumbrance; 3) to devise wholistic life-support systems, which will free us from the inflated demands of public utilities; and 4) to AVOID any more debt-financing.

Out of this process is emerging the concept of sanctuaries: islands of debt-free living, refuges from the treadmill of the world’s prevailing economy.

At the center of such sanctuaries is a place of peace – a centering space of comfort and beauty which will afford people an opportunity to quiet their mind and get in touch with their inner strength.

Priests will maintain an atmosphere of comfort and holiness within a structure designed for meditation and prayer. Gardeners will maintain a protected formal garden surrounding this structure.

This becomes the center of the village – a physical reminder of the importance of maintaining our respect for the peaceful, holy, aspect of ourselves.

Around it grows the residences, the cottage industries, the agriculture, and the educational and social facilities which are essential to village life. The Sanctuary, as we envision it, is also a hosting facility, a place from which we can extend God’s hospitality to other people, tribes, and nations. The more liberating its economy, the more time we can dedicate to hosting and entertaining. Our ability to host becomes a very tangible measure of our economic liberation.

And, one thing we are committed to – not to charge people the experience of being our guests. The gift of creation was given freely to us. If we manage it well, we should be able to give it freely to others.

How Far We’ve Come

During the past 15 years, we have made substantial progress toward the creation of prototype sanctuaries, especially in two locations; Queen Anne Hill, Seattle, and Arlington, Washington.

Freeing the Land So far, we have been able to liberate a 160-acre ranch near Goldendale, a 30-acre homestead on Lake Roosevelt, 11 acres of potential vineyard on the Yakima River, and 60 of the 290 acre sanctuary near Arlington. The central core of the Seattle sanctuary (6 structures) is completely unencumbered, except for the cost of public utilities.

Housing We have refined the art of living lightly on the land to the extent that 9 large households are living comfortably in portable yurts, while they develop the lifesupport systems needed to sustain our country villages and prepare to build permanent structures.

Food During the summer months, our predominantly vegetarian diet is sustained mostly by home-grown produce and by gleaning operations. Winter gardens, greenhouses, bulk buying and simple eating habits have enabled us to provide a basic diet for our city dwellers this winter for a cash outlay of only $.65 per person per day.

Employment Well over half of our adult population still enjoys the freedom from commercial employment which enables them to be educators, gardeners, and builders of the home scene. Most of those employed are engaged in occupations which would make a direct contribution to our village life, if they were freed from the necessity of earning money to pay real estate payments, debts, and utilities. Such occupations include house remodeling, landscape gardening, tree pruning, house painting, weaving, garment making, ceramics, candle making, catering, food wholesaling, woodworking, nursing, dentistry and the performing arts.

It is clear that our Family was blessed by a good taste of what life can be like without the looming task- master of debt: the pace and homeyness of retirement, with all the energy and purpose of youth. Recent years have only sweetened our taste for that way of life, and inspired us to dig our way out, together. In fact, our "original" occupation of tending the garden of the abundant earth will only regain its rightful value and affordability when the burden of debt and exploitation is lifted from the land. The formula seems simple: (1 ) free the land of debt, (2) tap into the abundant supply of food and energy that exists in the continuous expression of nature, and (3) give freely of our blessings to one another.

Although there is much to be done, the major feat has been achieved. Fifteen years of intense living together has proven our love and commitment to one another. LOVE IS REAL!

There is a feeling that we are entering a new phase of our growth. Just as our original emergence was generated by the combining energies of individuals, the full blossoming of this plant that we are will only occur through the sharing of communities. It is obvious that different communities have been cultivating different areas of strength and expertise. If we can now impart our special gifts to one another, the full glory of our common vision is bound to emerge. We welcome those contributions to our emerging reality.