Saturday, January 26, 2008

"What Chores Would Jesus Do?" An article and short rant on "The New Monasticism"

Article on folks from "The New Monasticism" in the L.A. Times.

What's fascinating --and frustrating-- about this new movement is its a) reinventing the wheel and b) lack of ecumenical and historical grounding. If they just connected with other similar communities past and present -- Catholic Worker houses, various communes and religious houses, Amish, more mainstream Mennonites and Brethren, Quaker communities (Quaker testimonies include "simplicity") and retreat/resource centers, Jesuit Volunteer Corps communities and Mercy Volunteer Corps (not to be confused with the Mercy Corps) and their Presbyterian counterparts (yes, the Presbys have a volunteer corps, doing border work in and around Tucson), the Sojourners folks (the original ones, anyway) and any number of others -- they could get some practical tips and talk to people who've been at it for a while, in the case of the present-day communities in the U.S. The Rule of Benedict isn't made for married people, but checking in with Catholic and Anglican communities who have associates or oblates might also be helpful. Community and simplicity aren't new impulses in Christianity, though in any era they are tremendously challenging.

I'm feeling old.

There are also other "New Monasticism" communities around the country, so you'd think they'd form a loose federation or at least check in with each other.

Note: there is a New Monasticism organization and website, so it's not like there isn't some of what I am talking about going on -- but the very practical side of things needs some assistance so people can communicate and support each other. And share struggles and ideas. It's not rocket science.

This is where American individualism and also Protestant fear of and ignorance of Catholics (and other Protestants, and Anglicans) impair well-meaning efforts like these.

We also can't underestimate the grip that consumerism has on all of us.

End of rant.

I need to go and get some protein in me.

The article has some very moving aspects and is worth a read but I am just struck by the lack of "vertical" and "horizontal" (historical and geographical/present/communication) connections. We have a local group here that is an "emergent" community, lovely people --not a live-in community though, but the problem is similar-- and they are reinventing wheels all over the place.

Of course the fault may be partly ours in the institutional churches that have wonderful and rich resources. We've hidden them or not made them attractive or failed to help people outside our immediate communities see how they could renew their lives and nourish them. And folk are suspicious of established churches for all kinds of very good reasons. So, there's work for us to do too.



pj said...

Hmmm. Well, I wonder if part of the problem is the LA Times. No way was the writer going to do all that research. And there's only a certain amount of space for stories, and they don't want to lose readers. (They want readers to see the ads, of course.)

Also, the human race as a whole has a tendency to always think it's doing something brand-new. (Like teenagers and sex.)

Jane R said...

Heh. I always joke that my younger students (half our students are adult students, half are "traditional age" 18-22) think they invented sex. They really do. It's quite funny. They just can't conceive of the fact that older people have or had sex.

Or previous generations. That's why it's fun introducing them to Abelard and Heloise or to the Song of Songs (which NONE Of them knows about!).

I get the journalism thing -- but I do think it's the people in the communities. They sound like they are disconnected from any historical or communal resources -- and I know from the local example I mentioned that there is a lot of reinventing the spiritual wheel going on.

I am an Official Old Fart, no doubt about it. I can't quite get it out of my head that I have stopped being the Precocious Kid after so many years of that and of being the youngest staff person or student here and there. The tables have turned.

Captain Noble said...

The Jeromy in the article has a blog,, if you're interested in learning more about him and his thoughts.

Captain Noble said...

Oops, forgot to mention that Jeromy has spoken with members of other communities and visited one in California, so he really isn't totally fumbling in the dark. Most of the time anyway. He definitely put a lot of thought into this and did a lot of research about it. Of course, something like this is much different in the abstract than in the reality. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

Jane R said...

Thanks, Captain Noble. I'm less rant-y now that I've had some protein :-). I will checking out Jeromy's blog -- and of course you are right, working these things out in practice is very tough, as I tried to say somewhere in the middle of my rant. This is why it is helpful to have other communities to connect with, of course.

Thanks for stopping by. Blessings.

johnieb said...

In 1971-73, some of my fellow students & I attempted a community very like what I've heard about the "New Monasticism". I feel for those who attempt this, and wonder, with others, why such efforts seem to overlook the tradition: past and present.

Anonymous said...

I've learned never to be surprised at re-invention of wheels in the U.S. 'emerging church' crowd. I was grabbing a beer with the Boston Emergent cohort when Tony Jones, who is e.d. of Emergent (tm), was in town, and he actually said -- with not the slightest bit of tongue in cheek -- that the people of Emergent were "the only people making the connection between contemplation and social action." My jaw just about hit the floor -- and he stuck to that story even after I started rattling off the names of movements and theologians. Even my pointing out that Richard Rohr's center, founded over 20 years ago, is called the Center for Action and Contemplation and my pointing out that he was sitting half a block from a seminary full of faculty who were making those connections didn't seem in any way to make a dent.

As long as the poor are hearing Good News I can't complain, but I do sometimes wish aloud that people could find ways to say "here's a contribution I think we're making" without dissing or dismissing those on whose shoulders they stand (insofar as they're standing on solid ground, anyway).

Jane R said...

Amen, Dylan. Thanks for stopping by! Always good to read you.