Mapping out the Year of Small Things

Mapping out the Year of Small Things

Early summer, two years ago:

I (Sarah) pitched an idea to our two families: what if we all took some of the “radical” Christian practices touted by folks like Shane Claiborne and his community The Simple Way and spent a year growing into them? Can downward mobility for Jesus actually happen with debt and diapers and dishes–in suburbia?

Here’s what this looks like on the ground:

One ordinary summer morning, Erin and her three little girls come over to the parsonage, where I’ve just finished nursing Sam. Micah, my preschooler, bombs around in a tizzy of excitement. The world feels full of children. So many children. But Erin and I are determined. We sit down at my kitchen table, notebooks and pencils in hand. One of us brought School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism by Rutba House; the other a bible and a stack of books by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, and the lone woman, Dorothy Day. We’re attempting to ignore what the children are doing: squabbling, mostly. We’re interrupted a lot. But one of us writes “August” at the top of a page, with a dash.

“Okay, so … seems like we should begin with the three marks of the Order of Saint James: hospitality one month, simplicity the next, evangelism or whatever.”

“Right.” Some scribbling. A pause. “Or, should we start with the twelve marks of new monasticism? I mean” –someone glances at School(s) for Conversion’s table of contents– “here’s community. Because you have to form that first. That’s what the Order of Saint James is.”

“Yes! Okay, so … August — community.”

More scribbling, a diaper change, a phone call. One of us becomes the pied piper of snack time.

“Where are we? September … Hospitality?”

“Let’s do it. Yikes. That’s a big one.”

“We’re jumping right in, though. It has to be hospitality; that’s an integral part of new monasticism.”

More brainstorming, more scribbling, more interruptions. (So many snacks.)

“Right. Now October: simplicity. This is huge. Is it about money or stuff or what?”

“All of that. Or maybe just money.”

“It seems like stuff could be its own month, all by itself.”

“Seriously. We could start and end the year with garage sales and still have too much stuff.”

More scribbling, nursing the baby, and four other children all starving, right now. But somehow, when we stand to make PB&Js, a completed list lies on the table: twelve marks, underlined, crossed out, rewritten, with lots of question marks.

Thus began our not-so-glamorous attempt at mapping out the year of small things. It took us hours on the list, days to finalize it. Each was chosen for a purpose: what conversations are missing from discussions about new monasticism? However can we pull these off? Will we all be sewing our own clothes at the end of the year?

And how, we need to know, do we do this without going broke buying All The Snacks?

But here we were with that list: hospitality, community, finances, vows, and more topics not intended for polite company. Each couple talked about it separately, compared notes. We ratified it with the Order of St. James and other friends. We pulled it out — and still refer to it — each week during our weekly dinners together: how is hospitality going? In what ways are you staying in love with God? How’s your grocery budget?

It was that simple — that challenging. These topics guided our discernment processes and conversations (and antacid-eating) for the next year, and continue to. (We’re three months into our third Year of Small Things.)

And now you, we’ve gotta add: in a few months we’ll be asking What are the conversations new monasticism doesn’t yet have that needs to be talked about? Where would you like to grow into the values of discipleship, discernment, and understanding grace? 

Grab a legal pad and a pen — it’s about to get real ’round here, folks.

An expansion from a nugget of an excerpt from The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos, January 2017). Sarah Arthur and Erin F. Wasinger still need to offer many, many snacks to small children to have a full conversation. 

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