In my last post on the new monasticism, quite a lively discussion was generated regarding the viability of Protestant ecclesiology in general. I’d be curious about further discussions related to this whole topic.
Now, this movement as a whole is broadly ecumenical, the first book bearing “new monasticism” in the title included essays from persons from numerous different denominations and communities, both Catholic and Protestant. The whole thrust of the different communities that are seeking to live in this new monastic way is one of repentance. There are numerous affluent and semi-affluent Christians in America who are coming to see that maybe there are some fundamental ways in which the church in America is unjustifiably compromised with the dominant culture. And yet, these Christians, among whom I include myself are left in a quandary as to how to repent in the context of the culture we inhabit. If we are complicit in the structures of racism & classism, for example, how do we best repent of that in a non-artificial way? There’s really nothing counter-cultural about remaining affluent and just finding ways to have friends from different races, for example, as good a thing as that might be. Likewise, is becoming a “white liberal activist” (such as the many who worked in the civil rights movement) the right course?
To put it another way, it often seems that Christians such as myself see the injustices of our culture, and yet are at a loss for a meaningful way to speak Christianly toward these injustices in light of the fact that they are on dominant side in most of these conflicts. New monastic forms of living are, I think an important way in which Christians in these positions are trying to repent of their middle-classness. It is a way of trying to avoid the problems of faith that is simple activism on one hand or quietism on the other. It is not a matter of trying to solve the problems of the world through utopianism, nor is it a method of withdrawal from the world into interiority. Rather it is a statement that what we need, if we are to bear faithful witness is to construct an alternative space within the world in which we become free to divest ourselves of the idolatries of the dominant culture in such a way that we may live a life that bears the stamp of what we believe true justice and shalom looks like. Only then will we have a meaningful word to speak to the world we wish to critique.
An early example of this is the Koinonia Farms that were led by Clarence Jordan in the 1950s and 60s. Jordan was simply a conservative Southern Baptist who ended up with a Ph.D in New Testament Greek. And, in the process of studying the New Testament toward this end, he came to the conclusion, rather matter-of-factly that the Bible had a lot to say about peace and community between members of different races. So, he and a band of followers proceeded to buy some farm land and together, black and white began to live together in communion with one another, working side-by-side. Nearly a decade before MLK proclaimed his dream, it was being lived out by a small community in Machen, Georgia.
This is the vision that the new monasticism seeks to emulate. It is about constructing concrete, stable, and committed ecclesial communities that live in proximity with close relationship between all the members thereof. This, in my opinion is how Christians such as myself need to repent of the idolatries of our culture. It may be that if we were in a different culture something very different than a new monasticism would be necessary. But, I think it is necessary here, in this day and this time.
A few questions:
How should our practices of life and livelihood bear the stamp of repentance? I think this has particular relevance to Christians in academic pursuits. How might we configure our lives to tangibly bear an alternative shape to that of dominant culture?
How might communities who are not of this new monastic strip learn from those who are? What does it have to offer other Christians in ecclesial contexts where repentance from the idolatries of our culture may look different?
How far is too far? While we often like to rake the Enlightenment notion of autonomy over the coals, are we really willing to give up self-determination in terms of things like career and lifestyle? Don’t we often really fear the idea of letting others discern and speak into how we should live?