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Living Intentionally & Nurturing Community: A Conversation with Dan Hines

How can we build a more compassionate world? In our fast-paced society, how can we live intentionally with one another and nurture community? How can we channel our longing for societal change into the active pursuit of it? These are just a few questions that lead the life and work of Dan Hines, an Anglican priest, leadership consultant, and facilitator of personal and professional development programs for the Center of Courage & Renewal.


Dan’s mission is to “create a more just, compassionate and healthy world by nurturing personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it.” His dedication to living with meaning not only informs his work as a facilitator, but also guided him to co-found the intentional living community, RareBirds Housing Co-operative, a group and cooperative home dedicated to reducing their environmental footprint, sharing resources and living costs, and providing social enrichment and community support for one another.

Dan kindly took the time to chat with me about his passion for nurturing relationships, living sustainably, and his work at the Center of Courage & Renewal.




A Small Good Thing: Your work is focused on living together in community and striving towards a more connective, compassionate world. How did you begin living in this way?  

Dan Hines: My first awakening to community was probably through Church, seminary and ministry where I was seeing the potential of the faith community as a resource for transformation. As I grew up, I was quickly learning about consumerism, which I now see as a narrative that is doing us little good.  Church told an alternative story and awakened me to community.


ASGT: How did that translate into your wanting to build a lifestyle around community?

DH: One of my mentors is Jean Vanier who is a humanitarian, communitarian, and social thinker. Jean says we go through a series of conversions throughout our lives. I look back and I think one of my conversions has been falling in love with the world. One of my other teachers calls it horizontal transcendence or deeper materialism. It’s a spirituality of not trying to fly above the nest, but to go deeper into it with others.


ASGT: I think your intentional community, the RareBirds Housing Co-Operative, sounds like a powerful project. Can you tell me a little more about it? How did it start?

DH: We’ve been at this together for 5 years. It’s interesting, because it comes back to the power of film. A couple of our members had seen an eco-comedy about sustainable living called “How to Boil a Frog” and decided to get serious about living a more sustainable lifestyle with others in an intentional community. For three years we worked on developing our group -- communication, consensus decision making, conflict resolution, and how to hold safe space -- so that the project would be sustainable on human emotional and spiritual levels. Then we bought property. Then we built a house. We’ve been in the house now for 2 years. It’s solar driven, we generate a fair amount of our own power, and we have solar hot water. We’re also an owner-equity cooperative: we have equal shares in the house and we self-financed the project.




ASGT: How has it evolved and what effects have you seen in your community?

DH: It’s become a bit of a focal point for the community around what’s possible. We’ve had great conversations with people who say, “I have been talking with my friends about this for a long time and it’s nice to see someone doing it because this is a daydream of ours.” It will be a growing edge of the housing movement. Co-housing already is a big part of the movement, but I think we’ll see these are a lot less expensive and more efficient than co-housing units. This is the monastic lifestyle. You come together and you support one another.


ASGT: You are also a facilitator for the Center for Courage & Renewal. What drew you to the Center for Courage & Renewal?

DH: The Center for Courage & Renewal is the product of the work of Parker Palmer, who is a community organizer, activist and Quaker reflector and writer. Parker and others received support to develop programs that would address the sustainability of teachers, and Parker brought Quaker small group practices, deep listening, and attentive awareness. It evolved from teachers to other professional groups and in 2003 it became the Center for Courage & Renewal.

The work is focused around a movement model of social change, which is the idea that the transformation of individuals triggers social change as those people begin to find their integrity and authentic voice. They can no longer be silent in the face of injustice. It starts with a handful of individuals who choose to live divided no more and not to tolerate disconnect.

I had read Parker as part of my work as an Anglican priest – I was traveling a lot, helping congregations in conflict and in change. Parker addresses the way people talk to one another in a small circle, breaking patterns of insular relationships, and introducing truth-telling. From there, I got invitations to retreats and workshops and a couple of years ago I decided to freelance. I’m working on a yoga retreat in Panama with Courage & Renewal practices. I like those on top of the community-activist work. It’s intensively soulful and bodied and physical.




ASGT: What are your primary resources for your work?

DH: All of Parker’s works have been very influential for me. Probably the most helpful has been A Hidden Wholeness, which is his book about Quaker practice, how it has been operationalized over centuries, and how we borrow and learn from it and other spiritual communities.

The writing of Jean Vanier has also been very powerful, particularly a book called, Community and Growth. We use that as a reflective tool for our intentional community. Since the 1960s, Jean has been writing and thinking about the nature of community itself.

Peter Block’s writings have been growing in me, particularly a book called Community: The Structure of Belonging. He has been opening my eyes to the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of work on individual transformation, but his challenge is around community transformation. That’s taken me into political activism.


ASGT: What inspires you when you are putting together these programs?

DH: I was sailing with friends a couple of years ago. My buddy noticed that I had been looking down at the navigation screen too much and he said, “You need to look up and around.” It triggered a memory of a talk I had heard on Pacific Islanders and the art of wayfinding, the ancient practice of navigation that relies on wind and wave to provide direction. They go on 30 day voyages and keep track of space and time by a deep awareness of what they’re taking in. That whole metaphor jumped out to me. I went to the Hawaiian islands and spent time in the voyaging community, learning. Just a taster was all I got, but it was enough to remind me of what we’re capable of and how what they’re doing on the ocean, we’re all doing in life: trying to navigate with limited information and trying to orient ourselves in difficult situations. It’s a lot of storm activity, we’re in a huge societal transformation, so how do we know where we are? How do we know where we’re going? How do we sustain a vision for the island and conjure it up out of the ocean? It’s not about moving somewhere, it’s about realizing what’s coming and embracing it and being true to it so that you can manifest it. That’s become a powerful teaching story. I find that if I can stay true to story, metaphor, and imagery, that’s powerful.




ASGT: Your upcoming forum is called “The Activist as Mystic.” What does it mean to be an activist in a world where we’re searching for connection?

DH: Anything that’s going to be sustainable in activism or in mysticism has to be done with others. We’re all in this together, so I think the first movement for anyone who is serious about active living and spiritual growth is to find a community. Find like-minded folks to share that vision, to sustain you and also to hold you accountable.

I think “activist” and “mystic” are terms that shut people down because they seem daunting. The reason I love A Small Good Thing is the idea of small acts of kindness -- small initiatives that are not small at all, they’re significant, but we say they’re small because they’re not getting media coverage. That kind of storytelling allows people to see themselves as activists and as mystics.


Dan will be screening “A Small Good Thing” on April 23, 2016 as part of his forum “The Activist as Mystic,” a two-day event on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. 


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