Mon 28 Jan 2008
Today I read an interesting article in the L.A. Times about young white Christians living communally: “What Chores Would Jesus Do?” The Revealer, one of my favorite (if sometimes snide or too critical) guides to Christianity in America, tipped me off. Following on my recent post about Protestant convents, this article shows some of the challenges and rewards of self-chosen religious communities, and in some ways echoes the experiences of friends I know who have embarked on similar ventures. I appreciate the honesty of the interviewees, but the story departs from the ones I know personally (for example, Sumner House, many of whose original members have since married) in its strongly negative tone. Living in community, whatever the goals of that community may be, is a mixed bag, but does allow all kinds of love to grow.
I also found the 100ish comments, mostly by evangelical Christians, fascinating. A large number of people seem to find serious doctrinal danger in the choice to pursue to personal sacrifice and service. The community members are advised again and again to not take on too much– be friendly to everyone, volunteer at the shelter once a week, anything beyond that is excessive, especially if you have kids. “we are not all John the Baptist” said one. People worried that these folks had abandoned the idea of grace. On the other hand, some people wondered what all the moaning and groaning was about– these commenters do way more to actually help people every day instead of just talking about it, so what is the big deal? A few people advised this group to check out St. Benedict’s rules for monastic life, which I thought was a good suggestion– I’d never heard of his advice book before.
Myself, I suspect that this group is having a hard time in part because they took on so many different goals at the same time: Living in community, defining and living an economically simple life, and moving out of suburbia in attempt to serve their less-well-off neighbors. Any one of those is a radical change from typical America. But I’m glad they’re trying it, and pray that God will bless them with increasing stores of love.