Themes / Everyday people

Reflections on 'A Different Way' 2013

Susan Miller-Vulling & David Cook

Manna Matters May 2014

‘A Different Way’ is a live-in intensive week run by Manna Gum and TEAR towards the end of each year, exploring Christ’s call to a new way of living. The week follows a rhythm of singing and prayer, Bible study, issues-based discussion and practical, hands-on work. The week covers issues such as creation, work, money, food, standards of living, the poor, living in the city, and more.

Susan Miller-Vulling

During my time on the A Different Way course I found myself absorbed in the community living. It caused me to reflect more deeply about what kind of lifestyle we wanted to lead with our young family (we took our one-year-old son with us on the course).  As each topic was studied I found myself keen to create an action plan which brought our lifestyle more in line with what we had learned.  As an introvert I was challenged by the focus on community but found myself very attracted to it at the same time. I was constantly inspired by the members of our group living their lives simply. Something I struggled with before the week, as well as during and after, was what a privileged life we lead consuming much in safety and wealth without thought of the impact of that consumption. The reality is that everyone can’t live as I do (in terms of consumption, waste, pollution) so why do I think it is ok for me to live this way?

Now that it has been a few months I realise the key thing is to make sure you have others around you to encourage you in your journey. The words of one of the songs we sang are so true: ‘our return is small, our work is slow and humble, and the world does not give its praise’. I find this often as I try to engage people in discussion on ethical purchasing, living with less, giving more generously, spending quality time with people, acknowledging the links between our purchasing and modern day slavery, etc. Most people don’t want to think about these issues, which can dishearten you to wonder why you do choose to think on them. Then I remember what the Bible says and also that I am not alone on the journey.


Susan & Miriam pulling apart e-waste for upcycling at the Green Collect warehouse.

David Cook:


David separating waste at the Green Collect warehouse.

A different way – but which way? My wife Anna and I were keen to go on this course because it addressed various life issues we were already exploring: food, shopping, sustainability, finances, work and community. We’d started to realise just how much our lives were built on the culture around us, but didn’t know what do next.

It can be tempting to want to join a new kind of trend, like putting a milk crate on the back of your bike because that’s what hipsters do. Or to elevate yourself above others, like I sometimes do when riding past a whole lot of petrol-guzzling cars with no passengers in them. But I think the truth is that making changes in your life should only flow out of your beliefs and convictions.

This course was the perfect setting to cut back our lives and look afresh at how we might live our lives as God intended. As a small group, we were invited into safe, family environments. As we shared our daily lives, we bonded and could frankly discuss radical questions together. It was a real privilege to have families invite us into their lives, sharing a lot of detail for our benefit.

During Bible studies I learnt that we are descended from the Earth. Yes, I knew that God had created Adam from the Earth, but hadn’t before considered it my heritage. Did you know the name ‘Adam’ sounds very much like the Hebrew word for Earth (‘Adama’)? To unpack that concept deeper has changed the way I see it, and also changed how I expect God wants me to behave.

An issue I particularly wrestled with was my occupation. I had recently left my office job to spend six months exploring opportunities for a more meaningful vocation – one that could honour God more and help make the world a better place. So this dominated many of my thoughts while on the course, tying in with questions such as: what am I working for, or whom am I working for? What is money really worth, and how much do I really need? And still more radical questions: can I actually depart from this economy of money?

Another struggle, particularly for Anna, was other people’s opinions (or our perception thereof). We were fairly afraid of what those closest to us would think. (From experience) we expected antagonism toward things like choosing organic, not driving, and the way we used our money. But it’s been quite encouraging to be able to connect at least one element with most people, and it’s started many fruitful conversations that I hope will leave others thinking.

Going away on a course can be inspiring and exciting, but I did wonder how I would ensure it made a lasting impact. The best thing is to have somebody on the journey with you. I’m proud to say Anna and I are on the same journey together. Although we’re individuals from different starting points, we try to do everything together so we’ll continually become more and more aligned. And so we continue the never-ending (and often challenging) conversation on how we should live our lives.

Plus, it wasn’t as hard as I would have thought. Being connected in to people who have dealt with these sorts of issues already is a huge encouragement and motivation.

So why live in a different way? Sometimes it feels like it’s for the health of the Earth. Other times it’s better for us, to make us happy. But I choose not to worship the Earth, or the people who live on it; instead I worship the creator. So then we must live God’s way.


(L.toR.):Mairead, Elvira, Anna, Dave, Miriam, Anne, Patrick, Grace, Timshel, Jeremiah, Justus and Susan after the obligatory compost-making session in Cudgee.