After graduating from Vandebilt Catholic High School in 2007, Sarah Duet went on to earn a degree in communication from Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport. Since then, she’s put down roots in Shreveport, helping to create and establish The Yellow House of Highland, an intentional community for young adults. Currently, she is working as a freelance graphic artist, sometimes-singer-writer, and serving coffee at a local coffee shop. Other favored activities include researching (slightly) obsessively, watching Downton Abbey with friends, pursuing beauty in all things, making home, and keeping her off-kilter kitten, Nash, entertained and out of trouble.
ART & COMMUNITY
I can think of no more appropriate place to start than with a look at art and community. Perhaps for much longer of a time than I knew, but explicitly for the last five or six years, these two things have been absolutely central in my formation as a person in the world. In tandem, art and community have been my primary teachers, my counselors, my doctors, my doors to adventure, my safe places, my most challenging places, my means of expansion, and the modes through which I’ve first experienced then expressed both my deepest pains and deepest joys.
I’ve found through these things that I am and will be stubbornly myself, no matter how many times I might shy away or run away from that identity. And I’ve found that I am an artist—I make meaning of life in the world by making things and sharing those things with people in hopes to connect. To connect in a world where it’s often terribly difficult to remember that we belong to each other is not an easy or simple feat. But I have found nothing to be more essential than finding the courage to share in such a way that people might be different and better because of their encounter with one another. This is the starting point for real and full life.
MADE TO MAKE, MADE TO CONNECT
Making and connecting are fundamental to who we are as humans, whether you are an artist vocationally or not. I believe we bear the image of a God who creates, reveals and gives Himself for the good of that creation, and is intrinsically connected within Himself and to all that He’s made. So we, too, are made to create, to share ourselves, and to honor the connectedness of all things while pursuing right relationship with God, with each other, and with the world.
When getting honest enough with each other about our stories, we find the commonalities of our human experience. It is a powerful thing to know confidently that you’re not alone. I’ve heard it said that the two most comforting words in the English language might be, “Me too.” I often agree, but someone has to share a story for another person to have the chance to relate. And real honesty is risky business. Scary business. What if the response isn’t “me too,” but rather the confirmation of exactly what you most fear hearing? Well, I’ve seen personal and collective bravery rewarded too many times to accept that attempting to connect isn’t worth the risk. So, the question becomes: How do we create spaces that are safe and hospitable for this kind of sharing? How do we best do life together, so that we might heal and grow and expand into the people we can become and that the world needs us to be? How do we get better so the world can get better?
The best answer for these questions I’ve found is intentional community—a way of life marked by disciplined intentionality and striving in everything to love well for the common good. A friend of mine describes the heart of intentional community like this:
The passionate belief that faith belongs in our daily lives, and committing to learn what that looks like together. We learn that it has a place in how we spend our money, how we eat our meals, how we take care of the earth, how we acknowledge God, how we work, what we make, and how we get to know and love those around us … the want for more than shallow, surface-level and sporadic connections … the need to fall deep into the cracks of each other’s brokenness even on the smallest of levels as to heal, as to grow.
I had an unnamed longing for this sort of deeply integrated life for years, aching for it and failing to find it in a number of not-quite-right places. That search brought with it a host of consequences, including a fairly awkward anger I carried for a while. Part of that frustration had to do with the fact that I didn’t see this depth or integration of belief with practice in the place that claimed to be about both of those things—namely the institutional church. (Let me clarify that the fact I couldn’t find it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. But I can confidently say it’s not the norm in our culture right now, and I think that is problematic.) So, this conflict of integrity really began to shape me as I finished high school and left town for college. Providentially, during my first semester at Centenary College, I was simultaneously introduced to the “new monastic movement” and to the group of friends that would comprise my primary community in the years ahead.
In new monasticism, I found examples of communities all over the country reconsidering what it means to be Church in the world, moving together to the margins of culture, sharing all aspects of life, making relationships with people unlike themselves, pursuing healing, justice for the poor, and freedom for both the oppressed and the oppressors in the world. These communities, like The Simple Way in Philadelphia and Rutba House in North Carolina, ground themselves in the rich tradition of monasticism that goes all the way back to the early church in the book of Acts, the fourth century Desert Mothers and Fathers, and progresses over time with communities led by the likes of St. Benedict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton. Through their writings, these people have been some of my teachers. But unlike the earlier monastics who retreated from society, new monastics go into it.
In my friends, I found some of the most creative and alive people I know. We shared a love for God and people—and a crazy hope for the world—that would propel us forward into territory I couldn’t have dreamed up for myself. And we’ve been equipped with a willingness to be vulnerable with one another as we’ve fostered trust, learning how to share deeply in such a way that, we joke, has made it all not “half as hard and twice as good,” but “twice as hard and twice as good.” We traveled around the country and back and forth to Haiti as the band Chasing Canaan, and eventually we put roots down to establish the Yellow House community, our own attempt at the new monastic kind of life, in the Highland neighborhood of Shreveport. Seven young adults live within its walls, 30-50 pour in for family meals each month, about 20 wind the streets with us for prayer walks, 80-100 flood the property for neighborhood connection events, and folks from the churches and the college show up for service days. People are buying and renting houses on our block and on adjacent streets. There is a village of caring people, and it’s growing.
This year, we’ve had the honor of merging with Community Renewal International, a nonprofit based in Shreveport-Bossier City. Together, infusing each other with hope and seeing real, little-by-little change in the city—like a 50 percent drop in major crime in target neighborhoods since CRI has been present—we seek to be what we hope for the world to become, working together to make the world a home, where every child is safe and loved.
ALL OF LIFE IS A SCHOOL
I know Shakespeare’s saying goes: “All of life is a stage.” (A playwright would see it that way.) But I’ve started looking at all of life as more of a school. (And maybe a naturally autodidactic learner finally free of higher education would see it as such.) Regardless—stage, school or otherwise—I think maintaing a posture of learning and always remaining teachable is essential to a rich life, to personal growth and formation, and to healthy relationships. This is one of the things my friends and I value and work to be intentional about. Here are some of things we are learning:
We’re learning the value of togetherness. It is isolation that let’s fearful unrealities steal the life we’re made for. And isolation that keeps us from knowing each other, our Maker, and what freedom and vibrancy is possible for us. And it is togetherness that may make for messiness and the extra effort of reconciliation. This can be exhausting, but it is good and worth-it work. It is also togetherness through which we are repeatedly freed and saved from all that wars on the good, true and beautiful within us and around us.
Togetherness—through reminders of each other’s sanity, the calling out of each other’s craziness, or providing the graces of fresh-made coffee, a prepared meal, a clean room, kind texts or notes or personalized gifts, a late-night conversation when you’re already exhausted, or a spontaneously choreographed (and ridiculous) original dance move just right for the moment, the person and the laugh. Through giving the neighborhood kids rides to school and opening up your porch on a Saturday night for whomever might want or need to congregate there. Togetherness through attempted alignment with the Gospel in all things, through shared values, through accountability to live into those values. Through work and play and presence and praying in the places we’ve been given to share. It’s together that we are free, and together that we are saved.
We’re learning how to love the weak. Yes and always yes—the widow, the orphan, the ill, the homeless, the prisoner, the hungry, the single parent. But also always the intimate weakness of roommates, housemates, spouses, parents, children, siblings, co-workers, customers. There is immense and undeniable weakness in me and in my friends. Weakness that is perhaps the most difficult to love at times, considering its constant vicinity and the potential for it to rear its head repeatedly in ways that rub the sharp edges of one’s brokenness against the already-worn, sensitive spots of another’s weakness. But I am being loved and watching people being loved out of the bindings of those weaknesses into forms of freedom, strength and tenderness that I couldn’t always see as possible. It might take years, but it happens. It’s happening. And as it gives life to person, place and the Body, it gives glory to the God of all of it.
We’re learning that there is a very real resistance in the world to what is good, true and beautiful. We must fight it continually, and there’s strength in solidarity when we do that together. We must declare the victory of Goodness in all sorts of ways—speaking, singing, writing, painting, texting, emailing, playing, photographing—over every corner of our lives. Be it on a prayer walk through Highland, on the upstairs porch, on a bedroom floor, on couches in our weekly family time, on the guesthouse steps in Haiti, in the coffee shop, in the car, or at school. We declare it over depression and addictions to substance, self, pornography, idolatry and worry. Over cycles, bindings, sexual abuse, violence, secrets and fear. We declare it over the rampant evil of cancer. We declare it over the gap between the haves and have-nots, racial prejudices, injustices of all kinds, and the consequences of boredom, lack of resources, and broken families … in our house, on our block, in our neighborhood, this city, this state, this country and throughout the world.
We’re learning to plant in one place, committed to staying, to be part of the family that would rebuild ruins long forgotten. Ruins in individual minds, bodies, relationships and households. Ruins in thought, church traditions and societal norms. In classrooms. In houses and yards and neighborhoods begging for care and renovation, in children’s homes in Haiti, and further within and beyond these places. We are humbled and energized by even being invited into the story.
I’m learning that beauty breathes in breaking things. These things are heavy all the same. But together, the load is lighter and the way more walkable.
I’m learning gratitude for points of integration. Points at which seemingly fragmented experiences of yourself, your personality, your history and your communities are at least momentarily converged seamlessly in what is clearly a good story. One that you could have in no way imagined, much less made on your own merit. And, therefore, it cannot be yours to sustain. A story that by its beauty and rightness compels you forward, trusting a bit more. A little bit different, a little bit better, and with a little more to give generously wherever you can find to give it.
At this point in my personal story, I can extract three encouragements I want to share with you. These pursuits have been transformative and life-giving in ways I’d want each of you to experience as well:
Pursue self-awareness. Take some personality tests, read books, see a counselor (all the cool people are doing it!). But, seriously, you might be fascinated by what you find, learning not just about yourself, but about the people and the world around you.
Pursue holy friendship. This has always been and continues to be the place in which the stories of our lives are written, and, therefore, where the Story of the world unfolds. You’re invited into that Story, to connect and grow and to live freely. Deep, right and healthy relationships make life full.
Stay curious and ask good questions. Remember that game we played as kids? Seeing how many times we could ask “Why?” until the adults cut us off, exhausted from trying to come up with so many answers? Learn to play that game again, and make sure the kiddos keep playing. Good questions require active response, and activity keeps us living good stories. In Shreveport, we typically start with questions like this:
What kind of world does God want?
What kind of community makes that world possible?
What kind of person makes that kind of community a reality?
What kind of environment makes that kind of person actualized?
What do we have to do to grow that environment?
To be clear, you don’t have to live in a house with seven other people to do life together intentionally. How could you ask and answer these questions for yourself, your family, your workplace, your team and so forth? How could you step further into the story you’re here to live?
Keep up with Sarah and the rest of her intentional community. Visit www.criyellowhouse.com to connect with them, read blogs and find out what they’re up to next. And while you’re at it, stop by www.duetartanddesign.com to discover Sarah’s artsy side.