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?
We had found our church; we had met Tom and Sarah and a slew of other friendly folks there.
But it took us a while to get from acquaintances to deeper friendships.
See, TheYear of Small Things’s backbone was a relationship between our two families that went beyond a friendship based on mutual interests. After months of figuring out what to even name this relationship, we settled on “covenantal friendship.” Covenantal because we actually ratified a document between our families. The piece of paper bound us to uphold, support, and challenge each other. Covenantal is serious business.
Dave and I didn’t have a lifelong mission statement, unlike some other people.
We married and had three kids in rapid succession. Since 2008, our lifelong ambition has been to hide the frozen yogurt from the kids.
On the spectrum of radical faith — with Jesus on one end and a bag of marshmallows on the other — Tom and Sarah have been edging ever closer to Jesus since before they were Tom and Sarah. On the other hand, Dave and I simply lived in a succession of beige-walled apartments and one cute single-family house, from Toledo to Lansing by way of Wisconsin.
We spent weeks at our newspaper jobs; weekends doing laundry and watching TV. We have never been arrested for demonstrating outside the Capitol. We haven’t had anyone stay at our house longer than a week or so.
Innocuous enough, and yet life-changing for the Arthurs. I won’t go into how we fell in love with not only the household but the vision, how we prayed, and talked, and came over for more meals. Suffice it to say, by fall semester we did not renew our lease on the one-bedroom near Duke.
We moved into the ‘hood–and stayed. For three years we shared a household with other community members committed to simplicity, hospitality, sustainability, and reconciliation—as well as with women and children in transition out of homelessness.
You know that feeling of regional vertigo, when you’ve been traveling so long that when you climb out of the car or step off the plane you can barely remember your own name, much less what state or country you’re in?
Maybe you’re hungry, and you think, “I’ll just grab a burrito from Cosmic Cantina on the way to the hotel,” and then you realize that Cosmic Cantina is roughly 867 miles away, and you haven’t a clue where to get food around here. Yeah, that. In addition to the bodily weirdness of traveling so far, there’s now a mini existential crisis, a spiritual displacement, as if your very identity, including the God you worship, is now up for grabs.
All because you walk on unfamiliar ground. Which is another way of saying that place matters.
“I think we’re almost there,” I (Sarah) said, hands at ten and two on the wheel of the moving truck we had called home for the past thirty hours. As we eased down the suburban-country road south of Lansing, Michigan that Memorial Day morning seven years ago, our rusty Subaru trailering behind us, Tom and I gazed with interest out the truck windows. A newish subdivision, a church or two. Two farm stands (hooray!), followed by a barn with pygmy goats, and then more subdivisions. Garage sale signs by the dozens. Bus stops. Most properties well-manicured, even picturesque. And then–unexpectedly–a trailer park, across from which we read the sign for yet another subdivision, “English Meadows.”