Totally Devoted – reviews

My book seems to be undergoing a small spike in sales, I wonder if that is to do with the review which I am told appears in Christianity magazine this month – and which declares (amongst other kind words):

If the Church is in ruins, then this book is part of the repair kit!

Which is kind of nice. And a little worrying. I mean, y’know – that’s a big responsibility!

Anyway, feel free to write your own review, but only if you are willing to say nice things – if you don’t like it, then shhhhh!

You can get the book here, here, here and indeed here. Apparently there may even be a bookshop or two with it in!

Totally Devoted – reviews

community life – and my sunny weekend

I spent most of Friday and Saturday at the house of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, near Leeds. It’s the second trip I’ve made there this year, and I enjoyed it even more than last time.

For one thing, this time I was joined by my friend James, who blogs here and tweets @n0rma1 – this was James’ first visit, and I was really encouraged to see how much kinship there is between his kind of new monasticism and the older monasticism/religious life that is to be found there.  It makes me think that my book was about right on that.

It’s great to see how links are forged between communities, and principally between individuals who represent different communities. It is sometimes only by making those face to face visits that we recognise the humanity in one another, and see past the preconceptions or societal stereotypes.

I also relished the opportunity to spend some time in quiet, and feel reinvigorated now, ready to dive into more preparations for meditation workshops, MBS fayre stuff, books, community projects and so on.

I was also encouraged by something I read in the Tablet, which was an article by Christopher Jamison in which he wrote about the way that so many people try to minister to those around them by inviting them to Mass – or to a general church service if you’re a protestant. What we are doing, points out Jamison, is adding another level of busyness to already overburdened lives – people genuinely have a lot to do. What we would be better doing is finding ways for people to experience peace in their everyday lives, rather than adding a new level of activity.

I agree with this – only this weekend I heard somebody talking about how we should be inviting people to church, by which this person meant a church service. For many of the people I know though, Sunday morning is about the only time of rest they get, going to church would put the kiebosh on that too. I’m much more interested in finding ways to help people create oases of peace in the everyday, to experience the justice, peace and joy which we talk about often, but dont tend to generate in sunday morning meetings.

Dont get me wrong, I’m not trying to abolish church ‘services’ only trying to encourage us to make more of our ‘service’ to others, and not to limit church to congregational meetings.

People who have heard me talk recently about ‘post congregationl church’ will perhaps see what I mean here – our view of what it means to be church is too often stuck in a rut of ‘meeting attendees’ – lets make our church wider and broader, and turn our towns into temples.  (Also our villages, cities, estates etc, just that towns and temples scan nicely.)

It was so good to spend time at the monastery this weekend, I can thoroughly reccomend it as a great place to visit – especially when the weather is good, as the garden is glorious.

One of the brothers there also mentioned this piece from the guardian by Toby Jones, a lovely chap whose own community is a great example of what it might mean to create something along kind of new monastic lines. His column in the observer is now over, but it makes great re-reading, and you can look back through it to see just what sort of journey Toby and his family have been on recently.

In our case of course, the reality is somewhat less glamorous. We’re yet to see whether we will stay here beyond the summer, or whether there will be pastures new on the horizon. The house we want to move into here hasnt yet become available – although we’re still hoping. But even if it does, there’s no saying what rental price tag it will come with. Presumably somewhat more than our current abode.

We’re also really in need of more people to work alongside us – ours is a new monastic vocation really, and if you’re calling is partly to prayer, partly to study, and partly to service – then you’re in the same groove as us – so why not get in touch.

community life – and my sunny weekend

The old – new monasticism

I’ve been party to a bit of discussion recently about new monasticism, whether it is in fact new, or monastic. Monastic is of course a word which has different meanings to different readers, and in one sense you might say indeed, there is not much monastic about many of the new monastics.

But when Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of a new monasticism, he called for one which had nothing in common with the old, save an unswerving allegiance to the sermon on the mount.

What has fascinated me, among other things, is what contributed to getting Bonhoeffer to this point. One thing I noticed was that he spent time with the Community of the Resurrection (CR), and following my own visit to them, I began to see a link.

The man who founded CR was called Charles Gore. Gore was a privileged, well educated young man who clearly had a prodigious intellect and a powerful social network. But despite his privileged background, Gore was an iconoclast, an early socialist and as founder of CR a man who encouraged the return of the church to religious life. Even within the church, his Anglo Catholicism set him apart.

Anyway, Gore was fortunate enough to go to Harrow school, one of the best boys schools back then (an maybe today too) – this was in back in the 1860s. Whilst at Harrow, Gore came under the tutelige of a man called Brook Fosse Westcott, another extraordinary character.

Westcott has had a good deal written about him, as has Gore, but the key moment for me, was a sermon Westcott preached to the boys of Harrow School when he was assistant Master – this was in 1868.

In the sermon, which powerfully impacted Gore, Westcott extolled the ‘Disciplined Life’ – but then went on to contend that St Benedict, St Francis and Ignatius of Loyola, founders of the Benedictine, Franciscan and Jesuit orders respectively, had expressed this disciplined life in a form ‘inappropriate’ to the time they were now in.

Wetcott explained:

“History thus teaches us that social evils must be met by social organisation. A life of absolute and calculated sacrifice is a spring of immesurable power. In the past it has worked marvels, and there is nothing to prove that its virtue is exhausted.”

He then went on to call for a new kind of disciplined, monastic, or religious life, which in a ‘pre-post modern’ way was to be a kind of bricolage of other rules:

“We want a rule which shall answer to the complexity of our own age. We want a discipline which shall combine the sovereignty of soul of Antony, the social devotion of Benedict, the humble love of Francis, the matchless energy of the Jesuits…”

Legend tells that when Gore and five others founded CR in 1892, they each took a different rule to study. From each they pulled out certain elements which they took to be particularly important, and pooling them, began to form a new rule, relevant to them in their current age.

An interesting point to note is that now the community is looking again at the issue of the rule. They are now drawing more heavily on the Benedictine rule rather than their own, which they now seem to recognise was very much ‘of its time’.

CR was then founded to be an order of religious life within the Anglican church. This was at a time when these things were being revisited, and it represented a shift in focus. Over the 100+ years of its existence it has shifted a bit and settled a bit, and now resembles something perhaps more akin to a settled monastic order of the old sort – albeit with strong elements of the religious life.

Curiously Gore was also at Harrow at the same time as a master called Rev W D Bushell, who in 1897 bought Caldey Island, a small but significant place in South Wales, just off the coast of Tenby. Caldey has been home to monkishness for centuries, I have personally visited a very ancient  ruined Celtic building there. In an attempt to rebuild some of its ancient monastic heritage, in 1900 Bushell invited a community of Benedictines to live on the island, selling the whole place to them six years later.  Bushell’s more romantic association with medieval monastic history wasnt exactly close to Gore’s progressive and political religious life thoughts, but its a curious cross over.

So when we talk about new monasticism today, and we wonder whether something is new or indeed monastic, lets try and take the long view. CR as a  community exists today as an important part of the older story, but they were once very new – a radical left wing outpost of Anglo Catholicism in the dirt and grime of industrial yorkshire.

I am sure that when Bonhoeffer looked at them he saw something of this heritage, his visit in the 1930s was barely 40 years after the community had been founded (in 1892) and it was still getting going.  He must surely have seen in them the driving force of a desire for a new kind of monasticism, or a new kind of disciplined life, and recognised in them the same motivation as his own.

I’m deeply indebted to Alan Wilkinson’s book ‘The Community of the Resurrection – A centenary history’ for this article. That is where you will find the quotes I give above. It’s out of print, but if you hunt you will find it – I did.

The old – new monasticism

Looking forward to my weekend

It’s not often that I nip away for a night, but this weekend is going to be a bit special. I’m meeting up with my good friend James, and we’re off to visit a special place.

The Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, Yorkshire, is an Anglican monastic community, which follows the Benedictine rule. The community are particularly notable historically for a couple of reasons – firstly for their remarkable anti apartheid work in South Africa, and more recently Zimbabwe. Their corporate efforts in Southern Africa have been ongoing for more than a century. If memory serves me well, I believe that community members later had some involvement with Bruce Kenrick, who after being inspired by the East Harlem Protestant Parish went on to form the housing charity Shelter.

And secondly, although very notably from my perspective, they played home for a short time to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he was looking at the shape of his own ‘new monastic’ community which later took form at Finkenwalde, which if you read my book ‘Totally Devoted‘ you will of course already know.

So this trip is part pilgrimage, part reunion, part adventure. I’m really looking forward to it.

Looking forward to my weekend

new monasticism network

Maybe its the new year, or perhaps just the nagging thought in the back of my mind that there was something I had been meaning to do… but I just got round to joining the online ‘New Monasticism Network‘ which – although perhaps not quite my usual medium – will I am sure prove to be both very interesting and very useful.

If you are interested in new monasticism, want to network with others who are similarly interested, or seeking information about what on earth people mean by ‘new monastic’ (there are a lot of ideas out there) then I reccomend you join in, because in my limited experience of such things, the more people join in, the better it is likely to get.

And as if that wasnt enough, they are even kind enough to publicise my book, and even the rather dodgy video I made for it on my allotment (back when the book went by a different name!!!)

new monasticism network

Totally Devoted review in ‘a pinch of salt’

Reviews of my book ‘Totally Devoted’ have been a bit slow in coming in, so if you want to make me happy please write a review on your blog, facebook account, or on one of the many websites which sell the book – I’d prefer you to leave a good review, but an honest one will do :)

Anyway, I was very pleased to open my copy of the Anarchist magazine ‘a pinch of salt‘ – which I commend to all and any – to read Keith Hebden’s review of the book.

I wont republish it all here, but Keith has been very kind in his comments, saying:

…Cross has an often chatty style of writing that works for an internet genre-ation and is fond of extended quotes, often of several pages. Publishers don’t always like these so it’s great to see both used to good effect. The regular change of voice and pace makes the book very readable. This is also a great book for charismatic evangelicals disillusioned with institutional church but still wanting to journey on in their spirituality and in company.

Totally Devoted acts as an introduction, opportunity for reflection, and – most practically – a brochure of new monastic and religious movements in Britain…. If this book does what it could then we’ll need a second edition for all the ‘new’ New Monasticisms that subsequently appear.

Keith’s comments about my style of writing reflect the fact that I am in essence a tabloid hack – and when it came to being taught to write, it was drummed into me long and hard… ‘make it easy enough for a Sun reader, and not off putting to a Telegraph reader, and most importantly, get every cough and spit down boy, every cough and spit.’

Anyway, if you write reviews for a print or online publication (blogs included) and you want a review copy – let me know. And if you are somebody who likes the book – then please do tell other people, and leave a review somewhere.

Totally Devoted review in ‘a pinch of salt’

Saint Francis

Today is the feast day of Saint Francis, the poor man of Assisi.

Francis founded the brotherhood now known as the Franciscans, and is widely regarded as a model of selfless Christian virtue. His commitment to radical living is respected across the traditions, but its worthy of note that very few of us are willing to follow too closely in his footsteps.

Here was a man who repented so thoroughly of his worldly ways that he gave up all of his possessions, choosing to abandon everything and rely solely on providence and charity. A difficult enough task for anyone, but consider that Francis was born into wealth and privelige, and from an early age had a reputation for being a party animal.

Francis demanded of his brothers a vow of poverty which was considered too extreme by his contemporaries, leading him to evenutally be deposed from the leadership of his own order.

His poverty wasnt tokenism either, he suffered for his choice, hard living and malnutrition leading to his becoming ill towards the end of his life (he only lived to 45), and going blind. When the pope heard of his blindness, he ordered that he should be operated on – which meant the cauterising of the eyes with red hot pokers – nice.

So Francis models radical devotion, selfless and without personal consideration. He reminds us that it is not the self publicists and the powerful who can have great influence for good. He reminds us that Christianity means suffering, that none of us are exempt from hardship because of virtue.

No wonder so few of us want to model any part of our lives on his, but love to talk glowingly of him as one of our favourite saints.

Just a note by the way – Francis was originally Christened Giovanni – which is ‘John’ after the Baptiser – his father demanded he be renamed Francesco and should become a businessman and dandy. It was only when he broke with his father’s expectations that he reclaimed the mantle of the itinerant prophet clad only in rags.

Francis too is remembered for his love of, and respect for, all nature. He has much to teach any of us who make pretentsion to care for the environment and the garden in which we live.

A truly important figure in the ongoing story which we are part of – and one on whom we need to turn more of our attention.

Saint Francis