Rod is going to be speaking on one of his favorite topics, what he calls "the Benedict Option," and it just so happens that he was blogging about that subject this past Saturday--which was the day when the Church honors St Benedict of Nursia. Here's a bit of what Rod wrote on the subject:
I highly, highly recommend this reflection from Orthodox Agrarian on the relevance of St. Benedict and his Rule to our time, and to the lives we do live, and ought to live. It touches on what I often call The Benedict Option, which is the idea that the times call on those (Christian and otherwise) who wish to live out a life of virtue in community should to some extent separate from the wider world for the pursuit of that life. (Laypeople, I mean). In our parish here in Dallas, I've been talking with a few people about what that could mean for us, practically speaking (versus idealistically; ideally, we'd all live in the same neighborhood, and build some sort a common life, though that is hardly possible now).
In my final semester of college, I was required to take a so-called "Values Seminar." Quite serendipitously, I happened to choose a course that exceeded my wildest expectations. It was called Classical Values: the Art of Living. The course took as its premise the idea that philosophy should not be a pedagogical exercise or a graduate school discipline but a way of life, and it should (taking a cue from Pierre Hadot) contain spiritual exercises.
One of the books chosen for the course was After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre's spectacular indictment of the Enlightenment experiment. And at the very end of the book, MacIntyre offers his own remedy for any possible reform of the West, writing:
"It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age . . . and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. . . . What they [those that withdrew from the Roman commonweal, including monastic communities] set themselves to achieve—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict."
Waiting for St. Benedict
As I said above, St. Benedict's life and his Rule offer an important example to the Christian family, what Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons, calls the Benedict Option... we should devote our time to the construction of new communities, adapting the methods and means of St. Benedict to the realities and difficulties of contemporary communal and family life. Like St. Benedict's monasteries, these new communities must always be organic developments, not decreed from on high and ordered by a centralizing authority. It will look much like the new growth around Clear Creek Monastery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the slow but steady stream of families that have chosen to settle around the monastery, where access to the sacraments in the traditional rite are readily and openly available, where families have access to rural farmland where they can grow their own food and raise their own livestock. These families are choosing a lifestyle that's both revolutionary and reactionary, a life in tune with both the natural and religious cycles. St. Benedict must surely be smiling. A similar example is the Eastern Orthodox community of Eagle River, Alaska, gathered around St. John's Antiochian Cathedral.
I think to develop this monasticus sensus in the greater Christian community must be one of the great tasks of the future, and the ones who must naturally lead the way are the clergy, and more specifically, the episcopacy. The large bureaucracies and centralized chanceries that characterize most churches (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) are no model for the kind of de-centralization and sacralization that's needed for American churches. Orthodoxy, in particular, is still a small, if growing, population in this country; the Orthodox Church in this country also has an inordinately large number of bishops (owing to the multiplicity of ethnic jurisdictions). The de-centralization of church bureaucracy, with its concomitant decrease of ecclesiastical paperwork and ecclesiastical committees, will allow for greater episcopal-laity contact. It will also decrease the rather relentless flow of money back and forth between parish and chancery. Like the Christian home, let the parish be as self-sufficient as possible. There's no reason why a parish church cannot provide for much of its own needs if the practice of Christian stewardship is honestly preached and practiced. The homeless within a parish's boundaries should be fed, clothed, and sheltered with the resources of that parish. National collections, or even diocesan-wide collections, can serve a noble purpose, for instance, in collections for particularly baneful disasters, like the Asian Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina, but they should be rare.
Of course, all of this is what we are trying to foster through our community at Christ the Lightgiver. We want the store to be a place where people can gather and get to know one another, a place where people can find support for a world view and a way of life that is increasingly at odds with the prevailing culture. And this isn't at all a marketing ploy: we are all aware of those bookstores and coffee houses and restaurants that are part of large corporate enterprizes, and those bookstores and coffee houses and restaurants often bill themselves as places where people can gather--many times, they even refer to themselves as communities. And, someone, somewhere in the corporate structure may, in fact, want to see that actually happen, but, ultimately, the reason these establishments describe themselves as gathering places and communities is because their market research has indicated that's what folks want to hear.
But at Christ the Lightgiver, we actually are in the community building business. Yes, we sell books and icons and tea, but we do that as a way of providing folks with the best resources available for living a traditional Christian life (we don't believe that beauty and truth are optional); we also want to provide folks with access to some of the pleasures that are a natural part of life ( intelligent discussion, good movies, great tea). And, thankfully, we don't need to make lots and lots of money--we just need to pay Matt and Rebekah and Vickie.
As we get ready to host Rod--he'll be speaking at 4pm on that Saturday, and there should also be plenty of time for him to answer questions and sign books--we'd like to hear about your ideas on community and "the Benedict Option". What would you like to see at Christ the Lightgiver? What could we do to help foster community? What kind of support would help you?