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From the Twentieth Anniversary Report November 2004

1. The Antecedents and Beginnings of Realistic Living

In 1962, Gene’s seminary professor, friend, and mentor Joseph W. Mathews led the creation of a Christian religious order of families rooted in the theology of Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and H. Richard Niebuhr.

Realistic Living is an outgrowth of the work begun by that body of people who called themselves The Order: Ecumenical.

Still earlier roots reach back to the prophetic writings of Søren Kierkegaard, and to the wondrous self-criticism and biblical scholarship that Christian scholars accomplished in the twentieth century.

Gene, his first wife Ruth, and their children joined the Order:Ecumenical in October of 1962. This order grew in its first few years from a group of nine families in Evanston, Illinois to a body of over 1200 adults and their children in 101 places around the world. It established two nonprofit corporations: the Ecumenical Institute and the Institute of Cultural Affairs. The former worked with local Christian congregations and trained leadership from many denominations throughout the world. The latter was involved in more secular work: town meetings, community development projects, and methods-training programs. A wide movement of people and activities came into being through the initiative of this religious order.

In 1971 Joyce ran onto the training programs of this movement and became an active member. In 1974 and 1975 she worked with Gene as a faculty member of the Academy, a leadership-training program of the Ecumenical Institute. Each Academy was an eight-week residential program for 100 to 200 people from around the world. Gene was dean of the Academy for seven years during which he had the opportunity, indeed faced the necessity, of pulling together into teachable curricula the vast and innovative research of the Order:Ecumenical. During the last of these years Joyce became a well-trained teacher of these topics.

After their marriage in 1977, Joyce and Gene moved to Los Angeles for a period of training in psychology and contemporary therapy methods.  In this period they began putting together the programing initiatives that were to become Realistic Living.  Click here for Joyce’s reflections.

Moving to Dallas in 1982 we (Joyce and Gene) began teaching religious programs in churches and various secular programs in community colleges, service clubs, and other venues. We had begun writing essays and reviews to share with friends and colleagues in 1977, and the first book, The Future of Religion, was written in Dallas in 1983. The realization that we could do credible writing on topics that were nurturing to many people sparked us to create a journal and the name Realistic Living. A regular journal, a mailing list of old and new friends, and a nonprofit incorporation began the journey whose 20th anniversary we are now celebrating.

One key discovery of the early years in Dallas was that only our religious courses were producing a lasting constituency and an ongoing community of action.  So, for the next few years we taught an updated version of the order-developed course on The Twentieth Century Theological Revolution 14 times, across the U.S. This course, known in those days by the name “Religious Studies One” enabled an expanding mailing list for Realistic Living. The journal readership also expanded to an ever- widening circle of new people.

In Los Angeles we had begun meeting regularly with colleagues for our own nurture and for fellowship. Then, in Dallas we settled into weekly meetings that we called a “house church.” With help from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others, we began creating our own Christian life together.  We published an expanding notebook of methods and resources on this topic.

Soon after moving to Dallas, our concerns with Christian outreach and social justice led us to a close relationship with the Bioregional movement and with EcoTheater. We will report on those activities in later sections. It is important to note here that the form of Christianity we were developing was never limited to in-group nurture. Nurture meetings were related to living in the whole scope of life. We have followed Paul Tillich’s model of living on the boundary between the secular society and the religious heritage.

Through the years the support of members of the house church, the legal board members, the advisory board members, and the general constituency of Realistic Living have enabled the organization to do its unique work, to stay in touch with grass roots realities, and to remain solvent for these twenty years. 

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