Can We Give Up on the Perfect?

Picture a two-storey timber house flowing out of a wild garden, largely open to the elements, crammed with everything from vintage suitcases to mismatched china and joyful bunting to driftwood, and offering many spots to sit, read, chat, contemplate or simply be.

In fact, it’s not a house, but a very homely home, and several times a year it welcomes dozens of neighbours for an evening called LIFEgig.

The LIFEgig website promises:

  • Presentation: three guests giving presentations on their area of expertise.
  • Local live music: Grace Turner (the night I attended)
  • Wholesome home-cooked food: the Kitchen Crew
  • Guided meditation: Annette Nathalia (ditto)
  • Rich community experience: YOU.

The last is crucial: LIFEgig arises out of the fact that, as ‘host’ Dave Richards explains, “Anne-Marie and I have always valued community or the 'sharing of life' in some way; we've even lived in an intentional community for 14 years. Those experiences have been the richest of our lives, because of the relationships. We've come to realise that the establishing, growing and sustaining of relationship is at least equal to the actual purpose or goal of any group. 

“So LIFEgig is one way we contribute to the vibrant and active community of Tighes Hill and Newcastle. It seems that bringing good simple food, local musicians and interesting discussion together in a conducive atmosphere allows for a relaxed, fun and even stimulating evening. Of course the secret ingredient are the 100-150 people who come to join in with us!”

The fact that the home Dave and his wife Anne-Marie share has no ‘fourth wall’ is a metaphor for the couple’s openness to the wisdom the neighbourhood has to offer.  LIFEgig nights are ‘full on’ for Anne-Marie, Dave and their enthusiastic helpers, and yet Dave wafts through it all, acting as master of ceremonies, serving and delighting in this ‘extended family’.

Mark Toohey is a regular at LIFEgig. “Coming along gives me a strong sense of connection to my local community and an opportunity to meet and chat with people from diverse backgrounds, interests and experiences. Without opportunities like this, we could pass each other in cars for years and not have an opportunity or reason to meet!  Dave and Anne-Marie have created a relaxed social space where the richness of lived experience and ideas can be shared (or not) and savoured, no strings attached. I leave thinking what a lot of interesting lives are being lived around my suburb and wondering what focus is planned for discussion next time!”

As a non-resident of this inner city neighbourhood, I was struck by the warmth and joie de vivre that prevailed. Clearly there is an appetite – for tasty food, a convivial glass and music − but underscoring all these, a deep appetite for conversation and sharing of ideas. Each LIFEgig is different but the principle seems to be ‘Hold it and they will come’.  

Anne-Marie is unfazed by having her home regularly fall victim to a benevolent invasion. “Dave and I have always enjoyed an open home. Each Sunday we serve good coffee to whoever rolls in. Sometimes 15, sometimes 50. LIFEgig is a bit bigger, but it's only every second month. It does take a bit of organising to serve over 100 people, but the kids and some friends usually chip in and help. There are definitely costs to the family in having people around 'all the time', and we try to remain mindful of this. There may come a time when we have to pull the pin, but we are always reminded of the fact that good and beautiful things are usually costly in one way or another.”

I attended LIFEgig during Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, and Sophia Lamont sang a seasonal song she had composed. Although wind chimes competed for earspace, the line, “Can we give up on the perfect? Nothing real is perfect” stays with me. As someone for whom regularly gathering as church is important, I was fascinated by what drew these people whose major connection was geographical. It seemed that the crowd ranged from determined atheists to devout Christians, with some agnostics thrown in for good measure. The religious aspect is irrelevant to the event, but so often we are told that people are unwilling to commit to supporting an event, and that ‘cocooning’ is all the rage. The church is imperfect, like LIFEgig, but it’s amazing how inviting a simple formula can be.

Hold it and they will come?

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Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is a member of the Raymond Terrace Parish and a freelance writer with a particular interest in church matters.

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