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This Great Society


Illustration: Courtesy of L'abri

"Reconciliation in Rural Holland” Personal Essay by Linette Schut
Illustration: Courtesy of L'abri

A couple months ago, due to a series of unusual events, I spent a week at Dutch L’Abri.
          It’s hard to describe this unique community – an old homestead in the tiny Dutch village of Eck en Wiel. The concept of L’Abri, which is the French word for “shelter,” originated with the Swiss theologian Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith. During the 1960s their home in the heart of the Alps became a gathering place for people who were searching for answers to life’s big questions, and a safe spot to come for deep discussion. The Schaeffers decided to officially open their home to these searchers, and now there are 11 L’Abri communities around the world.
          Dutch L’Abri is comprised of two houses – one of which dates back to the 13th century – and a dilapidated barn housing a few thousand books, a huge cassette collection and some old-school tape players. Children run through the gardens, amid weeds growing over the paths. A stack of bricks leans up against a half-bricked shed housing ancient generators, and four goats munch on clovers in the backyard.
          I admit, at first I was skeptical. Not only was everything old and rundown, it seemed like a place for people escaping a cult or getting over a bad divorce. These were the stories of the first two other students I met, anyway. I didn’t feel like I had big enough issues to be there. I should be battling a mental illness or struggling with deep philosophical issues. I was doing neither of these things. I was just a girl on a European adventure. How did I end up here?
          But when I saw the Douglas Coupland novel on the bookshelf in the living room and settled into my log-beamed room with its sloping roof, window open to the sky, and floral-printed bedspread, I felt like I had come home.
          Looking back, it was these bits of culture that made me feel comfortable. That shabby-chic look, the vintage feel of the bedroom. I would choose this feel for my own room. And Doug! He’s my all-time favourite author. To see him sitting on the shelf – and not only in English: there was a Dutch translation of Generation X next to Polaroids from the Dead – was like being with an old friend.
          I had shown up at L’Abri in the middle of a two-month backpacking trip through Europe. My travel partner had just gotten on a plane back to Canada, and I was looking for a place to relax, read, and learn something new.
          So I settled in to spend the week in the library, inhaling as much information as possible. I ended up spending a lot of time reading about and discussing how the pop culture I so enjoy fits in with the Christianity I’ve grown up with and still continue to hold to.
          We discussed themes of forgiveness and selflessness in the movie Stranger than Fiction and whether or not there is any hope to be found in Coldplay’s Viva la Vida. I read The God Who is There by Schaeffer at the same time as Nick Hornby’s How to be Good, and both made me think about what I can do to live a better life. The whole week was a melding of Christian principles with current culture.
          In an unexpected way, this rural community that on first glance had little relevance to my life helped me see that pop culture and Christianity can exist together seamlessly. My experience at L’Abri gave me renewed appreciation for the importance of a safe place to ask questions and search for answers.




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