March 16, 2009

Two Weeks To Rod

On Saturday, March 28th, Christ the Lightgiver is going to be hosting Rod Dreher. Rod is an editorial columinst for the Dallas Morning News, and he also writes the popular blog, "Crunchy Con", on beliefnet.

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).

The Orthodox Agarian that Rod mentions also had some really good things to say on the subject. Here's a long passage from his blog:

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?

fr. aidan


ViridianBill said...

A close-knit church community is a great thing. Before moving to Austin, Josie (my wife) and I lived in such an environment, and it is our dream to do so once again. Nothing beats a community of people whose commonality is the worship of the Most Holy Trinity in a common faith and doctrine. A great example happened just this week. This weekend we will be moving my 92-year-old mother from her "independent living" apartment to a much-smaller "assisted living" apartment within her retirement village in Mississipi (we moved to Austin from Mississippi in 1989). I called up one of the deacons in our old church to see if I could round up a couple of volunteers for the move, and his response was "I'll handle everything, do y'all need a place to stay?" Now, we have a couple of pickups a trailer, and 3 or 4 guys on tap.

That kind of response of service is not automatic for us humans, though. Most of us are too busy to help other people--we just have too much on our plate--this is always my excuse! Service in such a community is a learned behavior, a discipline, like fasting and prayer. And it does not come easy. It takes teaching, organization (the Deacon is in charge in the above example), and a cultivated environment of selflessness which Jesus directed his disciples to create. It means extending the same service to members of the community who might be less interesting to be around, or not your age, or emotionally needy--you get the idea. I think that St. John has the potential of being just such a community, and Josie and I are excited to be a part of that.

Carol said...

I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, mostly in a small Texas town, where my family was very active. The church was a big part of our lives and not just on Sundays.

Infant baptism is the norm for Presbyterians and I remember only one adult baptism ever happening in our church, but I remember it well.

The recipient of the sacrament was Murray, a man so disabled from a condition I never understood, that his speech was basically unintelligible. He walked sort of hunched over and looked pretty odd but he was active in the church, and not just on Sundays, exactly like my family was.

One Sunday, some kids in my Sunday school class were doing a pretty good job of imitating Murray's peculiar walk and speech. I wasn't contributing to the mockery but I was laughing along with them and thus ancillary to the crime.

The teacher walked in on us and gave us a Sunday School lesson I never forgot. "This church is the only place where Murray is accepted as a person," she said. "Accepted as a person," I pondered this new phrase. Well, of course he's a "person" but then I realized that my participation (although passive) in the ridicule of this person was very wrong. Oh, I knew it was wrong even when I was doing it but, until I thought of Murray as a "person", I didn't understand WHY it was so wrong.

Although ashamed of myself, I was proud of our church for being the first to recognize Murray's personhood! What a horrible life must he have led up to that point. After that Sunday lesson, my attitude changed and I squirmed less when Murray rose to make a garbled statement at Church Family Night. I strained to understand him. I saw that others were doing the same. Everyone listened respectfully, although I think only a few understood any of his words. Even my Mom confessed to me that she could not.

Murray was the only adult we kids were allowed to address by first name only. All other adults were "Mr., Mrs. or Miss" Somebody. Looking back on this, our mode of address might now be interpreted as somewhat condescending. However, Murry seemed happy with us. He even served on a committee once with my Mom (who still struggled to understand his speech).

At the time, I didn't appreciate the wonder that I was witnessing -- a community of believers, many of whom were college professors and other educated and eloquent "professionals", bound to support and accept as an equal a person who might appear externally inferior. As Viridian Bill said, being a church community often means dealing with those we'd rather not, for one reason or another, count as friends. I had to have it pounded into me and sadly, I've not learned the lesson perfectly, even now.