Thursday, August 13, 2009

Church of Others: Day Four: New Monasticism

[Just updated]. Here are my notes for the workshop session on New Monasticism:

See also the books School of Conversion: 12 marks of new monasticism, and The New Monasticism, in particular for this and more.

Back in the mid 1930s, between the wars, in times of global economic depression, the term new monasticism begins not only to be used but some very important foundational expressions of it begin to take shape and continue some of the impulse toward this expression of the church that have been with us forever, particularly in protestantism through the radical reformation, the witness of anabaptists and others.

Bonhoeffer in 1935 talks about a restoration of the church through a new monasticism based simply on the Sermon on the Mount. He is a crucial part of the confessing church movement that sought to withdraw from the church going along with the Nazis and dominant culture, living in communities of resistance instead. This is something also that the life of theologian Jurgen Moltmann displays about the growth of such communities in Europe even in secular ways..

Near the same time, Dorothy Day is starting up the Catholic Worker movement with others and creating houses of hospitality. Of course in some ways the church of slaves in the south also exhibited this sense of small communities of resistance as precursors and pathfinders for us. Then there is the witness of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia community in Georgia starting in the early 1940s. John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association.

Pivotal in recent history was the work of Alastair MacIntyre's After Virtue where he writes that the world is waiting for a new kind of St. Benedict. Jonathan Wilson writes about faith in a fragmented world that a new monasticism is needed to point the way.

Out of this has come groups you can find more about at places like the Simple Way in Philadelphia Shane Claiborne writes about in The Irresistible Revolution; Rutba House in North Carolina, a Christian community named for the Muslim town in Iraq that tended to these peacemakers injured during the war; Camden House in New Jersey; Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco (and the long time wonderful work in a missional way of the Church of the Sojourners in Washington DC can be reiterated here); Communality in Lexington KY. The meeting in 2004 produced the 12 marks statement listed down below.

A few preliminary thoughts before looking at the 12 marks:

One of the questions that came up at the workshop when it was being led by my colleague and friend Jonalu Johnstone was what makes this monasticism new and other monasticism old? Good question. Off the top of my head I think that 1. this one is coming through protestantism whereas the monasticism most in our world today has come through Catholicism, with all the issues of governance and polity inherent in those distinctions; it is certainly more like the small c catholicism though, as in ecumenism and universalist. 2. A book that explores this some is Scott Bessenecker's The New Friars, talking about the difference between friars who went out into the world to serve the poor, and some monks who lived only within their own walls; in some ways new monasticism borrows from the friars more than some of people's stereotypes based on some monks; 3. they are more often coed; 4. they may not follow the Daily Office but they have it as a guide and follow daily prayer time; 5. the monastic movements with orthodox, Roman Catholic, and even Anglican communities are inspirational but these movements are also open to change so we need to be careful of thinking we grasp them.

It is transdenominational, ecumenical, and in some ways interfaith (I am curious about exploring the movements of Buddhist intentional community, ecological social justice communities, learning from all). It is anti-Imperical, seeing American government and culture as taking on empire ways reminiscent of Rome. It is non-violent, anti-racist, anti-consumerism and anti-individualism in intent. (Reminding us that the Bible witness is about God creating a people, not individuals). Due to all this one of the underlying themes is that on one level it may be easy to be a Christian in America if one goes along with the crowd and the culture, but that it is hard to be a Christian in America if one tries to be that as a follower of the Jesus way. Also, that resistance as a way of being faithful, comes through celebration. There is a pathway for people coming into community as Visitors, Guests, Nomads, Novices, Partners.

The 2004 statement:

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:
1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3) Hospitality to the stranger
4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communitiescombined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of thecommunity along the lines of the old novitiate.
7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.
May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.

I think it is vital that the number one mark is relocation. Once that happens, then the rest seems to fall into place often as a response to taking that first action. Every person and every church can ponder this and find ways to relocate into these places in their own wider communities; it is part of the internal to external shift with the added focus on where that external focus should be located. Simply think of what all happens in your church on a typical week, and now think about how it can happen in an abandoned place of Empire. I love the stories happening of churches that are moving, and people in them moving, from suburbs to urban areas, to apartment complexes, to under bridges, etc. reforming themselves in the process.

Lifting up the power of downward mobility in an upscale world. Living out the Theology of Enough.

Hospitality to the stranger turns into becoming the stranger, the guest.

Check out the Relational Tithe network. Consider differences between common purse community and common standard for discretionary spending communities. Think of ways to create lending networks, eat together more, pray together more, work together more, and extend your concept of more to include more than you think.

Humble submission to the church; of course enlarge your idea of church too, but contemplate how much you are learning from and connected and honoring those who have gone before, how much of the past in the church is still being drawn upon; also how as you may find it necessary to separate in ways from churches that are not missional and have surrendered to cultural, empirical ways, how to still be in connection with other expressions of the church, to be accountable with them. Form relationships; look for ways to connect with all streams of the church.

Celibacy in singlehood? Monogamy? Use it to discuss community values of sexuality, resistance to culture. What is the challenge single people face these days regarding their sexual lives? I don't think we incorporate this enough into our church lives, which might be one small reason why so many young adults look elsewhere for connections and meaning and guidance; celibacy's merits might be good to ponder. I might not come out with the same place that the 12 marks have; I tend to extend hospitality and participation and leadership with others regardless of single celibacy (though I uphold monogamy) but in general I love this mark included for the transformative conversation and sense of grace and resistance to culture it can raise before us.

Finally, I add here the guide for deepening spiritual life in community that I use and commend to others: daily prayer and meditation, weekly worship, monthly spiritual accountability and direction and deep sharing, annual retreat/revival/special time, lifetime dedication toward a pilgrimmage; always open to random acts of kindness and beauty.


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