Monday, May 26, 2014

Aesthetic Monasticism
“Art Monks in the House”

I am formed by capitalism & technology to want to buy things I do not need. In the pursuit of this search, my time and money now come under the submission of desires that have been surreptitiously formed in me only partly by my doing. How has this taken place?

I take much of my daily trek through life for granted. I do not question its impact on my soul nor do I question its formative power over how I express my very life. Gifts, talents, and skills are given to all and we are stewards of these giftings if these gifts are brought under Christ and His Lordship. However, I do not get off that easy. I am like a frog in hot water. I am slowly becoming part of a soup of which I think I am outside. I do not question for my perception is one of distance and autonomy. My free will has extreme powers to separate myself from the pack and allows me the ability to pick and choose which forces from my very being. Oh really?????

Society’s materialism and the church’s complacency towards it.

In many ways the church in America has found itself not only in complicity to the formative power of capitalism but a willing participant. How so? The ideology of personal and corporate success as a sign of God’s blessing have a long and illustrious history of which this article is not going to address. Yet it is clear that for many of us, our relationship with God is centrality monitored and assessed based solely on the acquisition and embracement of our personal and corporate goals and dreams. Much of our prayer life, or books and articles written in evangelical circles are written as a templates and guides for personal and corporate affluence and self sufficiency. This is an implicit value hidden deeply in capitalism in America. The power to buy is intrinsically tied to the power to define oneself. I am what I purchase. You will know my inner self based on my outer accoutrements. My wine cellar, my hair cut, my perfumes, my car, my house…all these things tell you something very significant about who I am. If you want to know who I am take notice of the accouterments for they are indicators. Once again we must ask ourselves if this is how the Bible and the Kingdom describe what it means to be human and a follower of Jesus.

There is much Scripture and narrative in our story that would say that as a Christian we assess a person solely on the basis of his or her innate worth as a creation of God. God’s image is written into their very being thus nothing they could do or own will intrinsically change this person on any level. This is not to say that stewarding our gifts and living with gusto are not parts of being human. What we are clarifying here is that what a person owns or buys actually says very little about whom the are a deep level.

Suburban life offers many benefits on certain levels of comfort. We have large entertainment centers in our family rooms. We have stereophonic sounds systems in our bedrooms that rival a sound stage. Many of us have libraries and reading rooms that allow us to ponder the beauty and glory of words and stories. Our children have their own play stations, their own cell phones…I could go on and on.

It is clear that being middle class or better has its perks. Much like drugs or sex, the front end of that world unbridled obviously brings some pleasure. Do we, however, ponder the downside of what capitalism and the bourgeois world have done to the clarity and liveliness of our souls? Do we count the cost of having to earn so much money to even exist and do we embrace the shear madness that accompanies much of our financial struggles as we attempt to weather all this terrain on our own?

As we move forward into dialogue within our mutual communities, I hope our conversations would occasionally be directed to the realties of the fallen world as it impacts our “work” and our need and attempts to survive in this world. Have we unwittingly cocooned to the point where one or two bad moves and we are heading for the poor house? Have we allowed our very heart of hearts to be formed and informed around what we own and buy and trade?

There is an urban monastic movement taking place in the States. Numerous groups are purposely taking vows of poverty and using their abundance for Kingdom purposes. Once again, this is a dialogue and conversation, but I can tell you that since arriving back in Chicago I have seen the dark underbelly of capitalism and its impact on how Christians navigate their lives. Is it possible that some of us will be called to give up some of the privileges to into which we were born? How can we live faithfully in this host culture that seems to have run amuck regarding possessions and their place in our lives?

What might be some distinctives that would guide and direct our communities?

Are we the New Sub/Urban Monastic???

1)    Submission to the larger church
2)    Living with the poor and the outcast
3)    Living near community members
4)    Hospitality
5)    Nurturing a common community life
6)    Some form of a shared economy.
7)    Peacemaking
8)    Reconciliation
9)    Care for Creation
10)  Celibacy of Monogamous Marriage
11)  Formation of the new members along the lines of the old novitiate
12)  Contemplation

It is my prayer that more communities would arise that use their abundance for the sake of the poor and beauty. There are many on the margins of life that will only be reached and heard as we listen to their cries. Are we the New Friars of this age? Are we more like a Jesuit Community of Priests that sets up an order in a particular community? Let us do small things with great love rather than simply doing great things. Let our advocacy be for the voiceless and the weak not only outside our community but within it as well.

I end this blog with an experience that to this day marks my heart. Some years back, a group of us had store front church out of a bar in the near north side of Chicago. Dave and Angie Carlson were a part of this as well and we had a real impact on that community despite the fact that urban professionals are some of the hardest “people” groups to reach.

One Sunday morning I stopped by the 7/11 to get a coffee. Out front a disheveled gentleman was panhandling as is the case on many corners in Chi-town. He approached me and as usual I felt a degree of discomfort and wondered how I was going to either turn him away or reach into my pocket and wallet and decide just what he was worthy of receiving from me on this given day.

Upon looking into his face and connecting with his soul, these words came rolling out of my mouth.

“I am sure you prayed today that God would provide a meal or two for you and I can appreciate that. I have an offer for you. I can give you some money for a few meals and I am glad to do that. However, I am a part of a family right down the street. If you would like, you can come and join us and if you do, everything I have is yours. What do you say?”

It was as if time stood still. This panhandler was not a drunk or a wandering street person. You could tell this was a man who was down on his luck and needed some money today just to make it through the day. He could hardly respond as I could tell he heard what I had said. Finally after what seemed like minutes he responded. “I’ll just take the cash.”

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet and gave him what seemed like a reasonable and yet caring amount. But as I returned to take my coffee back to the store front church I kept hearing my own words run through my head and heart. “All I have is yours if you join our family” I realize that those were the words of the Savior on my tongue. I did not say that. I could not say that. In fact, upon sitting in the service that morning and pondering what I had said, I was convicted as I realized just how rhetorical my responses to the poor in my midst generally are. I talk a big talk but at the end of the day, I am selfish to the bone and everything I do and say is for my own aggrandizement. That day, however, I felt the Savoir move inside my own heart and tell me that this was Him calling me to Him. It is my poverty that my Savior is longing to heal. My sense of being above or being better than this man are a sham. I am moments away from being homeless on many levels. This day may we offer up our seeming abundance as baubles to the Kingdom and see the riches of His love towards us and those who are in our lives.

To the revolution!!!

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