Thursday, February 27, 2014

Living the simple life?

Being a volunteer through BVS can be a radically different experience from person to person.  Some of us live in single apartments, plopped down in a city or town hundreds or thousands of miles from "home" and hit the ground running with their project.  Others end up living in intentional communities where they are immediately connected to other volunteers and a hosting congregation with a well-established role for them.  The gamut covers just about everything in between, too.

In the six-ish weeks since I arrived in Elgin, I have struggled some with the concept of living a simple life.  As volunteers, we have agreed to live simply, within our means, and without (too much) excess.  Having heard stories from other volunteers and seen some of their sites, some of them take this challenge quite seriously.  For example, the New Community Project in Harrisonburg, VA has a homemade table at which they eat their communal, second-hand gathered meals.  The kicker: the table is made of warehouse pallets.  The table's creator ballparked the cost of the entire process of making the table at around $20.  Check it out:

On the flip side, my new role as the BVS assistant recruiter has me traveling all over the country in the coming year.  Last week I was in the great commonwealth of Virginia, mostly hanging out down in the Shenandoah Valley.  Fast forward seven days after returning and I'm already back on the road, now in Pennsylvania.  I'll be pretty impressed if I manage to put together an entire month back at Elgin between trips the rest of my time here.  Granted, I knew this would likely be the case when I agreed to come back into BVS.  Still, I sometimes struggle with how simply I'm actually living when I jet-set around the country so much and end up with rental cars that look like this:

And this:

Driving around in these well-maintained, relatively new, kinda sporty-looking vehicles is, admittedly, a bit fun.  It's nice to not feel constantly concerned that the [random car part] might break.  They do get pretty decent gas mileage, too.  Still, there remains an internal struggle of what it really looks like to live simply and to what degree I'm being successful in that endeavor.

In the end, I don't have an answer to the justification for the life I lead here or how to alter it for the better.  For a guy who really likes having answers, this might be one that is left for pondering.  To that end, here are a few quotes that seem to grasp at the concept of a simple existence:

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." ~ St. Elizabeth Seton
"It is impossible to detach from the love of material things unless it is replaced by love for things unseen." ~ St. Teresa of Avila
"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." ~ Confucius
May the road rise with you...


Monday, February 3, 2014

Fashion Week at the Elgin BVS House

The first thing that comes to mind when you think about BVSers usually isn’t style.

However in the Elgin BVS house a bizarre thing has been happening. Fashion has been bringing us together and strengthening our community. I agree, it sure is strange, especially for a group of people who have committed to live simply and frugally for a year.

Chelsea, Jenna, Katie, and myself love to go shopping at Goodwill. On one trip Jenna found a dress and when she got it home we all loved how cute it was AND it fit all the girls! (Tim declined to try it on) So we devised a plan. We all wore it one day the following week. Here are the results:

Although not too many people noticed that we had worn the same dress, our original goal. It did proved an opportunity for us all to have a common experience and as result strengthened our community.

Another example was just last week. Katie and I often get accused of being similar. From saying the exact same sentence (which started the first week we knew each other) to most recently wearing similar things to work, with out planning it. After being called out for this behavior by Kendra, a former housemate who still works at the offices. Katie and I decided we would match every day the next week.

Tuesday- Royal Blue Dresses
 Wednesday- Black Pants with Jean Top
Thursday- Grey Dresses with Jean Jackets and Blue Scarves
Friday- McPherson Day! McPherson T-Shirts with Black Cardigan and Jeans

I think we did a pretty good job of matching! However despite this feat something else arose for me during reflecting over the week. I felt like I belonged! And not just because of what I looked like. So much of my life I have felt like I didn’t belong. Growing up in Kansas being a pacifist didn’t necessarily make me the most popular. I also felt like an outsider moving to Minnesota after my sophomore year of high school. Since I have been in the Elgin house I have felt so connected. It is refreshing to live with people who share the same beliefs and values. It’s uplifting to be able to be 100% myself and not hold any part out. Although there are struggles with living in community there are so many more benefits that outshine that negatives. So go out there find community in the unexpected places, even if that is wearing the same dress with housemates.

-Sarah Neher

P.S. I couldn't leave out the men!