Category Archives: new monasticism

radicals and conservatives

there has been an interesting theological/philosophical discussion going on over at Kester Brewin’s blog. It began as a query as to whether the at times avant garde theology propounded by Pete Rollins, Kester and others was running into opposition, but it has become more about the nature of radical and conservative thinking. If you want to read it all from the beginning then it began with Kester’s first post here, which should be read right through down the string of comments.

Richard Passmore then chipped in to talk about Transitology, Kester blogged again and now Pete Rollins has had a little say too, explaining that both radicals and conservatives are fundamentally backward looking.

It’s an interesting exercise to reflect upon what the word radical really means, and how that reflects upon theology and ecclesiology.

I would contend that new monasticism is a radical movement in that it seeks to go back to the root of discipleship, however you might say that in adopting practises which have been modelled by other movements it is also a conservative movement. Pete suggests that to hark back to the early church is to adopt a conservative approach, I suppose it depends what the root is one is seeking to return to. If you’re looking more at practise than theology, then your root may be the early church or certainly Jesus, if your root is theology over praxis, then perhaps it goes even deeper.

Perhaps the radical and conservative split is where I think the difference is to be found between the emerging church and the fresh expressions movement – I think of the emerging church as being inherently radical, wheras the fresh expressions scene has always seemed a bit conservative to me.

Anyway, I’m just muttering, its an interesting converation with clever things expounded by people much brainier than me, apparently it all comes from discussions had at Greenbelt and Wild Goose Fest earlier this summer – neither of which I was at. I reccomend you go read.

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Interested in hearing Shane Claiborne speak this summer?

If you are interested in Shane Claiborne and want to hear him speak, but you live in the UK and can’t scrape the airfare together to hop over to Philly – then fear not. The new monasticism fairy has waved her magic wand and if you are so inclined cinderella, then you may go to the ball…

The Upside down Kingdom tour is happening this summer, with newly wed Shane bringing his counter cultural message to the British massive.

With music from the Rend collective, the tour will be kicking off in Ballymena, Co Antrim on the 19th of August, before heading to Coleford, Gloucestershire on the 24th, Southhampton on the 25th, Birmingham on the 26th, and landing in Greenbelt on the 27th. After that its Burslem in Stoke on t 28th, London on the 30th, Bromley on the 31st, Halifax on the 1st of September, Perth on the 2nd, and finishing up at Woodlands church in Bristol on the 3rd.

Full details can be found on the tour website, so head along there if you want to know more.

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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!

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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.

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I don’t even believe in Jebus

I used to occasionally watch a documentary program/series about an American family, who in many ways are the archetypal family – two young children and a baby, Dad works in industry and ‘Mom’ looks after the baby.

The son is something of a lovable tearaway, fond of skateboards and catapults, who often finds himself in a spot of trouble. His sister is studious and sensible.

Anyway, in one particular episode of the series, which was entitled Missionary: Impossible, the dad whose name is Homer, via a rather implausible set of circumstances ends up becoming a missionary in Microasia – unfortunately for him however, there is a problem. As he points out ‘I can’t be a missionary, I don’t even believe in Jebus’.

For Homer, a life of religious vocation was not ideally suited. After all,  if he doesnt believe in Jebus himself, (despite the faithful witness of neighbour Ned, and the dutiful ministrations of local vicar Rev Lovejoy) then how could he hope to talk about Jebus with others.

Homer is not the only person in the western world to have lost touch with exactly who is supposed to be the son of God – our whole society has become post Christian. You may say this is welcome, or you may not. Whatever your view, a society which doesnt even believe in Jebus is an interesting place to be a Christian worker.

If you want to discuss this with me, I’ll be hosting a seminar on this very topic at the Annual World Horizons Conference which is not far off, I’ll be at Cefn Lea park, Mid Wales, on the weekend of the 25th and 26th of March. I’ll also be playing some music, and doing some meditative stuff.

There’s bound to be plenty of interesting things going on, and all kinds of weird and wonderful people, so register now and let’s talk about Jebus.

Classic Homer Simpson quote: “I’ve always wondered if there was a god. And now I know there is, and it’s me!”

And that wonderful moment from Missionary:Impossible…

Apologies if this post is strewn with errors, I was called away during the writing on an unrelated hot cross bun based emergency, and the editing may have suffered.

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The great silence – a digital response

I spend quite a lot of time thinking about the way that monastic and religious orders, order their lives. I can see great wisdom in the concept of ordering the day around non negotiable times of spiritual activity, and I have been working for some time to try and order my own life similarly.

One aspect I have thought quite a bit about, and found most difficult to implement is the concept of silence. In a monastery, the ‘great silence’ or ‘big silence’ is (depending upon the way of the particular order in question) between Compline (roughly 9pm) and Terce (9am) so for half the day there is a silence, punctuated only by times of prayer.

The silence represents not so much the absence of sound, but the absence of interpersonal communication. The idea is that this time is reserved for meditation, prayer, reflection, and of course sleep where you can get it.

But how do you attempt to implement something like this when you are not in a monastery? In my house, silence between 7am and 9am for instance is not a possibility, nor is it possible between 9pm and 11pm most nights.  I get away with the rest because either I, or everyone else is probably asleep for most of it.

However, on reflection I have been wondering if a suitable solution may not be found in digital silence.

I already practise digital silence – apart from the occasional abberation – during the weekend, surely it couldnt be too hard for me to practise it between 9pm and 9am, or possibly 9.30 to 9.30 too? As I usually work up to about 10pm, this will hack an hour or two off my computer working time, but I sure I could claw that back by less reading of online newspapers and other blogs – perhaps my blog feeds will take a bit of a cut to acheive this.

I know that once my computer is on in the morning, the chances of me taking time out to meditate are gone, I have to do it before I download my email or else I am too distracted. If I miss an early morning meditation slot, then in ordinary circumstances my chances of making space in the morning are slim.

Anyway, just thinking out loud really – in the spirit of looking at computer use as digital communication. I am planning to implement this from next week, and I’ll let you know how I get along.

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three interesting blog posts

Here are three interesting posts, the latter two being podcasts related to the topic of new monasticism, and specifically the launch of a new book on the subject – and the first being an excellent article by Carl McColman, who is a blogger and writer on spirituality and mysticism, whom I thoroughly reccomend you check out.

His latest post on being and doing is a particularly good read.

Go here for Ben Edson’s new monasticism podcast.

Go here for the Moot community’s new monasticism podcast.

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New and Old Monasticism news

In other new/old monasticism related news:

Today – the launch of a new multi authored book about new monasticism: ‘Ancient Faith Future Mission: New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of Church’ which looks good. Some discussion of aspects of it here and here.

Out already – a film called ‘The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer’, of interest to many, download it on itunes in the US.

Coming soon – a fascinating film called ‘Of Gods and Men’ about a monastic community caught up in the midst of an African civil war.

And finally dont forget my book, ‘Totally Devoted, the challenge of new monasticism’ , which will introduce the whole subject to you, takes you to meet new monastics here in the UK, and will hopefully inspire you too.fre

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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.

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Community of the Resurrection

I had a lovely, but all too short, visit to the brothers of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield this weekend.

Originally I’d intended to meet a friend there, but when he had to cancel at the last minute, I decided to head off on my own, and have a mini retreat. It was wonderful.

I can heartily reccomend the hospitality of the brothers, who live an unusual mixture of the Religious and Monastic life. As well as organised retreats of different kinds, visitors can arrange to visit individually, and its well worth doing.

One of the reasons I originally wanted to visit was the knowledge that Dietrich Bonhoeffer stayed with them when he was developing his own ideas about a ‘new kind of monasticism’ – I think he went to exactly the right place.

I may blog some more about the things which came to mind while I was there, but then again I may just let them percolate for a while. I found the visit really spiritually nourishing, and its good to see that despite the fact that many of the brothers are pretty old, there is a real vision for the future of the community. As one brother said wryly though – “We’re a bit like Pandas in the zoo, people like to come and look at us, but we’re not very good at reproducing ourselves.”

January is nearly at an end – thoughts and revolutions about the coming year are still working through, but this visit has certainly played a part in those workings – one resolution I have made, is that Mirfield, with its large, peaceful gardens, atmosphere of stillness and calm, and ancient/contemporary spirituality –  is somewhere I shall certainly be visiting again.

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