Sunday, October 16, 2011

Initial reading on New Monasticism: Or Sitting On My Front Porch Listening To Traffic And Reading About Twenty-first Century Friars and Monks (No really)

I am on what us Presbyterian Ministers in New Zealand call study leave. We accrue it at the rate of one day per month of service and as I come to the end of my time in my current church planting project I am taking three years worth and spending my time reading about, and hopefully encountering in the deserts of the real ( A matrix moment) new monasticism.

I have in the past found myself drawn to this rediscovery of an old way to do Christian faith in community. I read 'Punk/Monk' by Andy Freeman and Peter Greig, chronicling the move of the 24/7 prayer movement into rediscovering the rhythm of prayer, community, hospitality, creativity and mission, amongst the new tribes of Europe.  I also read'Irresitable Revolution' by Shane Claiborne, chronicling his own journey of discovery of a call to simple communal living, where his faith in Christ is work out in prayer and action in the modern urban deserts or rather as Claiborne puts it the places deserted by empire. I found myself moved and challenged by the depth of these peoples faith and the ways that they have been prepared to live it out seeking a vision for life shaped more by the gospel than the bankrupt dream of consumerism, standard of living, suburbia and comfort that our western society and the global mall try and sell us.

So far, in my fist week, I've read three books that I think offer a useful introduction to new monasticism.

The first is  'New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church' ( Graham Cray, Ian Mobsby and Aaron Kennedy ed.: Canterbury Press, Norwick, 2010). This is the second in an on going series of reflections called 'Ancient Faith, Future Mission' coming out of the Fresh Expressions Initiative within the Anglican and Methodist Church in England. The book provides a great introductory collection of essays on new monasticism by practitioners and academics. It provides a good understanding of the roots of monasticism and new monasticism. It explores the breadth of different expressions of the movement, from groups committing themselves to meeting for worship and service on a regular basis, through residential communities, and missional orders. Claiborne's essay on the markers of the new monastic movement is very enlightening and a good overview of how the movement sees itself. Tom Sines is very insightful into the social circumstances that have contributed to the rise of this movement and how it fits in with both the new economic and ecological realities that the west is facing. Other articles and essays give a good insights into various communities and orders and how they structure their lives and lifestyles.

The second  ' New Monasticism: What it has to say to today's church' by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove  (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, 2008) takes the marks of New Monasticism and explores how they Speak to the church of today. Wilson-Hartgrove maintains that monasticism has never seen itself as parachurch but always prochurch and has in its history been places where church renewal has been possible, siting such historic people as Benedict,Francis of Assisi, and reminding us that Martin Luther was a  monk. WIlson-Hartgrove, asserts that the church like the monastic needs to relocate itself to the margins to regain the desert vision of what it means to be the people of God, similar to the way in which the people of Israel and Judah had to be relocated into exile to rediscover God's dream for them as God's people. It is hard to see how much we have been assimilated into our culture until we step away from it. He also looks at how the rediscovery of a shared economy in the monastic movement and a move to simple life style speaks volumes to the church, he sees it as a call to become a 'generousity- driven church'. Also from his post 9?11 war on terror American context he calls the church to be place that will practice a new sense of peace making in the world. He also calls for the church to be a community of truth and grace where people across all the boundaries of our society, race, gender and the socio-economic groupings of have and have not can find community together. He at the end of this book reiterates that monasticism is not parachurch or stepping away from church but is radically engaged with the church. Wilson-Hartgroves insights and reflections are very challenging and provocative and I believe cut to the heart of a church that finds itself wrestling with what discipleship means in the sticky mire of western affluence.

The third book is 'Simple Spirituality' by Christopher L Heuertz. Heuertz writes from his journey with missional community Word Made Flesh, which strives to live out Christs love in the darkest and poorest places on earth. It is a reflection on how this has shaped and continues to shape his spirituality. Picking up what he calls the five stones of   hope and promise as he has sought to see Jesus more clearly in the broken world around us. These stones he names as Humility, Community,Simplicity, Submission, and brokenness. Stones he says that , using the story of David and Goliath, he is slowly using to slay the giants that stand between him and genuinely seeing Jesus. Sitting on my deck sipping coffee, while my kids, home on holiday spend time amusing themselves on screens, make this a hard book to read. It challenges a comfortable lifestyle to the core. Heuertz suggests like other New Monastics that it is only when we need to sit with the poor to allow them to teach us about Christ. He uses his five stones to stripe away the baggage the church has managed to accumulate on its journey.

I started this exploration thinking that it would be easy to pick up a few tips that would help alleviate the pain of isolation in modern life and ministry. There are things I could easily take from what I've read and say here are some gems. Like Bishop Graham Cray's assertion that new monasticism gives the support needed for the long term process of church planting in a non churched environment. Yup as my study leave proposal used a funny story about a Irish bricklayer to articulate my desire to look at monasticism/community because I was sick of working alone. Similarly I could have taken, and may still take, Ian Adam's story of ministry huddles where ministers in a variety of parishes huddle together to pray with and for each other and share common spiritual practises and together encourage each other to develop and grow.  But as I started to open up and read even on the surface I see that New Monasticism with its call to seriously consider discipleship in the context of community and its context of living in the deserted places of  the urban landscape and world, while radically engaging with he world and gospel, run so much  deeper. Again in a Matrix like moment it would be easy to take the blue pill and wake up tomorrow and continuing to believe what ever I want or to take the red pill and just see how deep the rabbit hole goes.  One thing is for sure my reading list keeps getting longer... and I continue on the journey.

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