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Archive for New Monasticism – Page 2

The New Quaker Monasticism and Liturgy

This Ash Wednesday, a few friends and I got together to observe the beginning of Lent. We shared a meal, and then we read the lectionary scripture for the day and settled into waiting worship. After worship had broken, we walked together over to St. Mark’s Episcopal church to attend their service. For me, the Episcopal service was at once foreign and familiar.

Several years ago, while in seminary at Earlham School of Religion, I lived as part of a new monastic community called Renaissance House. We lived together in a big, dilapidated mansion in the once-prosperous Starr District of Richmond, Indiana. We hosted public dinners three times a week where all were invited, and which were frequented by the mentally ill, the very poor, college professors, entrepreneurs, drug addicts, seminary and college students, and neighborhood kids. We lived off the land, dumpster diving for food and foraging for wasted wood and fallen trees to heat the house. We prayed together as a community four times a day.

As we explored what it meant to be a worshipping community, we visited a nearby Roman Catholic monastic community, the Sisters of St. Francis, in Oldenburg, Indiana. One of the surprising things we learned was that we at Renaissance House did a lot more corporate prayer than the “real” monastics did. We gathered for worship before breakfast (Matins), at noon (Sext), before dinner (Vespers) and in the late evening before bed (Compline). We prayed liturgy out of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, we sang, and we read the Scriptures aloud.

Because I had come to Christianity in the Quaker tradition, this form of worship was new and somewhat strange for me. I did not know quite what to make of spoken liturgy, especially because the Friends tradition that I was being steeped in put a high value on extemporaneous, “Spirit-led” prayer and vocal ministry. To have our prayers “scripted” seemed questionable. Despite my reservations about the details of our worship, I felt very committed to the worshipping community at Renaissance House. I believed in our way of life as a Christian brotherhood. I believed that our ministry to the neighborhood and wider community was meaningful; that we were truly “being the Church” in that time and place.

My experience at St. Mark’s this Wednesday surprised me. First of all, it became clear to me that Renaissance House was an Episcopal-inspired new monastic community. Having the chance to participate in a more formal Episcopalian service, I saw how almost all of our practice at Renaissance House was based in that tradition. Second of all, and far more shocking to me, I realized that I missed the liturgy. I missed the corporate recitation of the Psalms. I missed the congregational call and response. I missed the corporate confession of past failure, and repentance from sin. I missed the discomfort of being asked to say things that I would not normally say.

Recognizing that spoken liturgy has meaning for me, I feel the need to reflect on how this relates to my distinctively Quaker interpretation of my faith. I know that the early Friends rejected precisely the form of worship that I am now finding compelling. And I feel like I understand why they did. When the Quaker movement was emerging in the middle of the 17th century, the Church of England (now known as Episcopalian in the United States) was an oppressive force that demanded submission to an array of priestly codes, and which made the Gospel something that had to be mediated through educated, humanly authorized clergy. I affirm the early Friends’ rejection of human-based authority and the idolatry of Scripture and ritual.

But the early Friends did not merely leave the “apostate” Church of England and take up a revised liturgy on their own. They did away with the liturgy, with pre-arranged congregational singing, Scripture-reading and prepared sermons. They insisted that for worship to be conducted “in Spirit and in Truth,” there could be no pre-arrangement. True worship was when God was waited upon and women and men preached out of a sense of immediate leading by the Holy Spirit. The liturgy was a dead letter imposed by the human mind, but the Spirit gave life.

I think that this may have been the right answer for the early Friends. This first generation of Quakers had been filled to the brim with ceremony, liturgy, singing and Scripture. From their earliest childhood, the tradition of the Church was inculcated in them. The liturgy was practically in their DNA! The early Friends already knew the Scriptures, the creeds and the hymns of the Church by heart before they broke away from the deadening ritual and hierarchy that fallen humans had employed to take the Gospel captive. The early Friends rejected the abuses of Scripture, music and liturgy – but they retained full knowledge and use of them as they gathered to wait on the Lord.

More recent generations of Friends have not been as fortunate. We have been raised without as rich a sense of the tradition of the Church: without a corporate knowledge of our hymns; and without a regular corporate confession of our faith, our recognition of sin, and repentance. Many of us have lost even a basic awareness of the Scriptures.

Given our present context and condition, I wonder whether some form of liturgy might not be a good thing for Friends. What is the balance between us waiting on Christ to lead us in every step and us taking initiative to respond to Christ’s call?  What would be a Quaker way of doing liturgy?

Shane Claiborne comes to Wichita

The Church in Wichita was honored to receive Shane Claiborne, a fellow laborer from Philadelphia, who is a prominent voice in the New Monastic movement and an inspiration for many people – especially young Evangelical Christians – who are tired of “business as usual” in the Church and who long for a more radical call to discipleship in the Way of Jesus. Claiborne came to Wichita as a part of a larger speaking tour, during which he visited several Kansas communities. In Wichita, he spoke at Eastminster Presbyterian Church to a largely Evangelical audience. Claiborne preaches a message of unity within the church and between Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, and other branches of Christianity. He says that he and those in his community seek a renewal in the Church, not a continuation of the centuries of divisions that created the modern face of the Western church.

Claiborne especially highlighted the obligation of Christians (or “Christ-followers”) to work for social justice. He says that, “one of the signs of the early Church was ending poverty” (see Acts 4:34). Claiborne’s inclusive message stresses the importance of working with those whom we do not fully agree with – theologically or otherwise – so that together we might be about the work of the Kingdom of God. Hospitality to our brothers and sisters is critical to Claiborne’s understanding of the gospel. In particular, Claiborne preaches a Christ-like solidarity with those who are most shunned and despised by our society, such as the homeless, the addict, the physically and mentally infirm, and the poor. It is not enough to give charity, we must be an incarnational community; we are called to live and work among the poor. Flowing naturally from this loving concern for all of God’s children, Claiborne was explicit that the Way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence: War and oppression are incompatible with the Christian life.

I was impressed with Claiborne’s message, especially in that he combined a fidelity to orthodoxy (right belief) with a commitment to orthopraxy (right practice). Claiborne affirms the creeds of Roman and Protestant Christianity, but he insists that mere belief in Christ is not sufficient – we must strive to be like Christ in our lives. Love, mercy and humility are the key ingredients of our walk in the Way of Jesus; if our way of living does not give testimony to our belief in the person of Jesus, our intellectual assent to church doctrine is meaningless. As Claiborne put it: “You can have all the right answers and still be mean.”

One disappointment that I had with Claiborne’s presentation that day was that he did not explicitly direct his hearers to the Inward Teacher, Christ in us. During the question-and-answer session, several individuals stood and asked questions of Claiborne: they wanted to know how they were to live this radical life of discipleship that Claiborne had been talking about. It felt like they were looking for a technique, a set of steps to follow, a rule to walk by. Claiborne did well in that he did not claim to have the answers; he made it clear that he was living out of his own experience and in his own context and that each of us must determine what is right in our own situation. But I wish that he had taken it a step further, directing his audience to seek guidance from the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst and in our hearts. I wish he had said, “I can’t tell you what the next step is for you – but Jesus Christ can, and he’s ready to lead you if you get still and listen within your heart for his voice.” It is clear to me that Claiborne himself practices this inward listening; it was implicit in everything he said. I just wish he had made it explicit for his audience, many of whom may never have heard of such a concept.

How far am I willing to go?

I had a good conversation recently with a f/Friend. It started out extremely intensely, since I found myself defending the idea that Quakerism needed to be grounded in a sense of Scripture being a checking authority in discerning the will of God. I believe that this is true, but as I argued the point I felt convicted of my own failure to live up to the life that Christ Jesus calls me to with the example of his life and teachings. For all I could say about the need for scriptural authority in the Religious Society of Friends, I cannot escape the fact that my own life does not conform to the life of Christ.

I act out of ego – out of desire and fear – so very often, and it is relatively rare that I act out of agape-love. And there is so much of my life that I hold back from God. I shy away from the cross. I expect that I should be able to be a suffering servant without having to suffer for it! I expect that I should be able to say to my Lord: “Yes, Lord! I hand my life over to you – just as long as I have health insurance and food to eat.” I don’t want to face the fact that God offers the ministers of God the same health insurance that is offered to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I feel released. I feel clear in abandoning expectation of anything, even necessities. Maybe it serves God’s will in my life that I go without healthcare. Maybe God is glorified best in my life when I give up all semblance of control, all wealth, all security. My f/Friend spoke of his experience as the son of two missionaries and remarked on how they lived in great poverty, practically begging from the religious community they served. He related this to the tendency for men and women of God to live like beggars. Consider Francis and the true monastics, Rumi, the Buddha and his monastics. Perhaps the path that God has called me to is that of being a beggar, renouncing all semblance of self-sufficiency.

Am I truly willing to die for my faith? Am I willing to be homeless, without healthcare, literally begging for my daily bread, if that’s what God is calling me to? I must cease fretting so much about how I am to do God’s will and simply do it. Thy will be done, Lord God – even if it means humiliation and death. And this means not resenting others who are making different choices. If I am truly grounded in God’s call for me and truly given over to follow that call, whatever be the consequences, the I have no reason to be upset with anyone. That’s not to say that I should let sinful behavior off the hook – but speaking to it should never be about me. My only motivation should be Christ-like care and compassion for my fellow beings.

It is time for me to let go of everything but God, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, seeking no vindication but that of my Parent in Heaven. Come what may, no matter what others think, I pray that I might be faithful to God, walking in the Way of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Yucatán, idleness and Quaker Monasticism

Since my last post, Andrew and I have gone from Mexico City to Xalapa, Ver., to Veracruz, Ver., and are now in Mérida, Yucatán. Ever since leaving Xalapa, the weather has been steamy, and these boys from Kansas are scrambling to adapt to the heat and humidity of the region. We’ve seen some concerts – Spanish-language hip-hop, Veracruz folk music, Cuban bands, serenades on classic guitar – walked on some beaches, visited some cafés. Muy tranquilo. Today, we are headed out to Chichen Itzá, to see some of the more impressive Mayan ruins that are to be seen here in Mexico. My main concern is to avoid getting too sunburned. I am unsure as to how successful I will be, after this afternoon.

This trip has been very relaxed, mostly just Andrew and me hanging out with Mexico as a background, and it has given me opporunity to do some thinking. I have been reflecting a lot on my own spiritual life and how connected it is to community and place. I am seeing in very concrete ways how much community and place impact my spirituality in the way that I feel spiritually off-balance traveling here in Mexico. Being here, largely disconnected from Friends and all of my familiar patterns of life, it is far more difficult to keep myself oriented towards God. I am more easily distracted, most easily confused. This trip has convinced me that, at least for the time being, travel for pleasure is not an activity that I should be engaged in. To be here in a foreign land without a sense of mission, without work to do, is dangerous idleness. In the future, I hope to be more conscientious about bringing all of my plans before God and listening very carefully before I commit, rather than assuming that I know the answer already. Just because a plan seems good and logical to me does not mean that that is how God wants to use me.

With all of this travel, I have also had the chance to think a bit about the Quaker tradition and how it relates to forming or joining more intentional community. I identify with the convergent tendency, wanting to move forward in radical, unexpected ways, but not at the expense of the important “check” of our tradition as the Quaker branch of Christianity. The place that this seems to become most difficult is in forming or joining intentional or new monastic communities that are composed of various types of Christians. Straight “emergent” makes sense when dealing with a bunch of people from different Christian backgrounds. It seems like in that case, you’re just looking for the lowest common denominator, so that everyone can be included. Unfortunately, it seems that in many if not most neo-monastic communities, the lowest common denominator is not, in fact, very congenial to Friends who want to remain in the Friends tradition. “Basic Christianity” almost always seems to include bread and wine communion and water baptism, as well as extensive spoken liturgy. Where waiting worship might come in here, I’m not sure; but there doesn’t seem to be much reference to it.

This is only a problem because we Quakers are such a small group, and, on top of that, a group that teeters between a significant minority that does not strongly identify with Christianity and another that does not strongly identify with the Quaker stream, often prefering to “just be Christian” (that is, Protestant). What I am personally hoping for, as a Friend of convergent orientation, is to see explicitly Quaker intentional and neo-monastic communities grow and show what a new Quaker monasticism could look like. The question for me is: will Quakers come to the banquet, or will we need to call in anyone and everyone, accepting the change (dilution?) of our corporate witness as Friends as our makeup becomes much more Protestant in flavor?

Do you feel led to more radical, intentional Quaker community? Let’s talk.