Members of sustainable community preach gospel of nonviolence in Ithaca

Brayton and Suzanne Shanley, founders of the Agape Sustainable Community in Massachusetts, visited the Ithaca Society of Friends last Wednesday to promote their new book, The Many Sides of Peace.

Started in 1982, Agape promotes an eco-friendly lifestyle. They grow 60 percent of the community’s organic food, and they use solar electricity, a compost toilet and a car that runs on vegetable oil. It also provides an interfaith worship community that accepts people of all denominations, including atheists.

After the couple got married, they decided they wanted to live alternatively. They also started practicing what they called the “gospel of nonviolence.”

This gospel is a system that extends the concept of nonviolence from just between individuals to a person’s relationship to the Earth. Members of Agape live in harmony with nature rather than seeing it as a resource to be destroyed and plundered for profit.

“That lead us to create a place based on the desire to lead a simple life and continuing the teaching of nonviolence to others,” Suzanne said.

Dan Finlay, a member of the Ithaca Catholic Worker, said his group sometimes collaborates with the Society of Friends for occasions like this and that many members of both groups attend the other’s meetings. He has known the Shanley’s for many years ever since living with them at Agape.

“They meditate and pray daily as a basis for changing themselves, and then they go out into the world and do works of justice and mercy, which combines the contemplative and activist aspects,” he said.

Ecovillage at Ithaca, which has two 30-home cohousing neighborhoods, is similar in many ways to Agape. With some land set aside for community gardens and living quarters, 80 percent of the 175-acre site remains green space.

Ithaca is a community with the potential to embody the Shanley’s message, said Kartik Sribarra, a member of Danby’s new White Hawk Ecovillage.

“We’re both primed for it and still have a long way to go,” he said. “Ithaca is home to a lot of people who want to see things done right, but mindfulness is often absent; so I’m doing what I can to improve myself and my family.”

The Shanley’s hope their example will inspire others to take up the causes of pacifism and sustainability. This is especially in an era where, they say, human violence toward each other and the Earth-as evidenced by oil spill disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and long-standing conflicts in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria-seems to be out of control.

“We’re not going to make it the way things are going,” Brayton said. “You have to ask people, ‘Are you happy with this?’ And that’s where the work begins.”

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Alexandra Leslie and Kyle Robertson are senior Journalism majors at Ithaca College. You can reach them at adleslie13@gmail.com and krobertson1392@gmail.com.

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