How embarrassing! After all the news coverage we got last week, my friends and family now think I live in a COMMUNE!
Yes, a flipping' "commune"! When I was a kid in school at Orewa, one of our teachers was a bushy-bearded hippie who lived in a Puhoi commune. We thought that was weird. It probably wasn't as weird as we thought. But the designation as "commune" would never again be a positive thing in my mind.
I am not sure which of the reporters started called Ngatiawa a "secluded commune" [Dominion Post, perhaps?] but the misinformation spread and even the guy on TV used the word "commune". I am hoping NZ Herald gets it right this weekend when they do their big spread. [Hello?]
The media can be terribly ignorant when it comes to reporting about religion. Surely it can't be too hard to say the word "monastery"? Or "intentional community"?
Some corrections are due:
Firstly, we are not "secluded". We are open to visitors all day long. In fact, my job today is to make tea and show hospitality to strangers, visitors and absolutely anyone who shows up. Every day there is someone on hospitality duty, keeping the tea pot warm and cooking nice little yummies for anyone who turns up. There is a WiFi signal here that covers the entire community. We might be in a valley, and we might be ten minutes drive from the next big town, and its true we don't have cell phone coverage, but we are not secluded.
Secondly, we are not a "commune". Really! What kind of image does that conjure up? This is the number one Google search result for "commune". [Warning: nudity below]
Yes, Google search is set to "moderate", in case you were wondering.
And here is the poster from the movie "Commune".
Are we are commune? NO we are not a commune! We actually are clothed here, most of the time, and we choose to sleep in our own beds and our vehicles do NOT look like this colourful bus that is actually the number 3 result for "commune" images on Google.
So what are we?
Ngatiawa is part marae [Maori meeting place], part monastery, part intentional community. It is probably best described as a contemporary monastery, as opposed to a more traditional [ie, a middle ages type cloister for robed men with self-inflicted bald spots] monastery. You could even call it a "postmodern monastery", a word used by NZ theologian Dr Steve Taylor who I have quoted before on monastic rhythms.
"A postmodern monastery - Combining authentic, low-budget group creativity with the task of preserving technical knowledge within the rhythms of prayer in order to cross the digital divide and catalyse open source spirituality." Steve Taylor, "Postmodern Monasteries" [PDF].
Contemporary monasteries are one of the newest movements in the global church and New Zealand has been keeping up the global trends, in some cases going beyond and further. In the UK the Anglicans are very excited about the new monastic movements as fresh expressions of church. Its a good thing. A healthy thing.
Nothing against communes here, in case you are currently living in a commune or starting one. In fact, after reading the Wikipedia definition of "commune" there is probably some value in the word.
Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times wrote that, contrary to popular misconceptions, "most communes of the '90s are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day." Wikipepedia
But here in New Zealand, where the hippie communes of the 1970's still rule our memories, I can't see us adopting the term. And anyway, winter is coming and I prefer to keep my clothes on.