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Archive for the ‘Historical Perspectives’ Category

Lois Arkin is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit CRSP (the Cooperative Resources & Services Project) Institute for Urban Ecovillages. In 1993, she co-founded the Los Angeles Eco-Village as a project of CRSP. Other organizations that she’s co-founded or have grown out of CRSP include the Eco-Home Network, the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, and the Urban Soil Tierra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Co-op (LEHC). She is co-author and co-editor ofSustainable Cities: Concepts and Strategies for Eco-City Development andCooperative Housing Compendium: Resources for Collaborative Living. In the late 1980s, Lois received an award from the American Planning Association-L.A. Section for Advocacy Planning for, in her own words, “having a big mouth.” She is also a founding member of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and a board member of the Global Village Institute.

In this episode, the first of two with Lois on the subject of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in particular, we explore what constitutes an ecovillage, the history of the ecovillage movement, and Lois’ own experience as an ecovillage founder. From her suburban childhood romping unfettered amid her close-knit neighborhood, to working with troubled youth in inner city Los Angeles in the 1960’s, Lois was passionately drawn to explore the question of how to reinvent urban living to enhance quality of life and address the underlying causes of social ills. This aspiration took a decisive turn in the wake of the L.A. riots in 1992. In light of the glaring, urgent needs this tragedy exposed, a plan to build a demonstration ecological neighborhood on an unpopulated site outside the downtown area was scrapped in favor of revitalizing and retrofitting Lois’ own 2-block Koreatown neighborhood. Beginning January 1st, 1993, Lois and fellow volunteers hit the streets, talking to neighbors, spreading “positive gossip, ” planting trees and garden plots with children, hosting social events, all intended to build a sense of safety and community. Thus were laid the foundations of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

What inspires me most about Lois’ story and ecovillages generally is their truly integrative approach to re-envisioning how human beings inhabit the planet. Taking into account the social, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of shared living, ecovillages function as research and development centers, evaluating new possibilities and critically reevaluating processes and practices that the dominant culture takes for granted. In the case of Los Angeles Eco-Village, this includes integrating human-scale, ecological technologies, growing food and running a food cooperative, establishing an affordable housing co-op and community revolving loan fund, implementing inclusive, participatory decision-making and conflict resolution processes, all within the heart of a preexisting urban neighborhood.

Links to other resources mentioned in this interview: Global Ecovillage Network, Ecovillages Newsletter, Los Angeles Eco-Village blog, Los Angeles Ecovillage Wiki.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Dan Schmitz with wife Jan and their son Peter

By the time I arrived in Oakland, California, a question had grown in me that I now sought to address more directly: what makes evangelicals tick? Having grown up Catholic and returned to the Catholic Church by way of Buddhism, the differences between my self-identity as a Catholic Christian—from how I read the Bible, to how I pray, understand the nature of Christian community, tradition, authority—seemed strikingly different in many respects from the evangelical Christians I was meeting. While I may have known about these differences on paper, I still found myself somewhat disoriented in my actual encounters with evangelicals and evangelical communities. At the same time, I was aware that there were profound shifts taking place in the evangelical ethos that underlie these community movements; I’m merely swimming along the surface of currents whose depth and breadth I could only dimly infer. And the most curious aspect of these shifts, from my perspective, is that they’re prodding evangelicals, especially young evangelicals, to mine the riches of the pre-Reformation tradition, in search of a wisdom that can more thoroughly address their aspirations and challenges today. Hence, wanting to deepen my own understanding in these respects and learn to better situate myself in the growing overlap between evangelical intentional communities and the classic monastic tradition, I spent some time sharing in the lives of and learning from the kindhearted, generous folks of New Hope Covenant Church in the Lower San Antonio District of Oakland.

The beginnings of New Hope strike themes I’ve heard several times thus far (see for instance Debbie Gish of Church of the Sojourners): a youthful immersion into the whirlwind of urban ministry leads to an aspiration for a more sustainable way of life in community, but the resources and models needed to bring this aspiration to fruition aren’t close at hand. Dan’s insertion into this story begins with his affiliating with Harbor House Ministries in East Oakland and moving into Oak Park Apartments in 1989, inhabited primarily by poverty-stricken Cambodian refugees and Latino immigrants. His intention was to live in a local equivalent to the overseas urban slum conditions he anticipated encountering though foreign mission work. Soon joined by others, especially young Christians associated with InterVarsity, the budding community found themselves deeply enmeshed in the often chaotic lives and overwhelming needs of their neighbors, including organizing a successful lawsuit against the building’s negligent owner. Rather than go overseas as originally intended, however, Dan chose to remain among these neighbors he learned to relate to as family, participating in the shaping of this community of mission-minded Christians into the multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse New Hope Covenant Church, of which he is the present acting pastor. Given the lessons he’s learned helping to birth this new model of church from such unformed beginnings, Dan recognizes some of the challenges faced by evangelical leaders and communities in light of radically changing social and cultural conditions.  As a response, he presently focuses much of his energies on leadership development and formation as interim chair of The Mosaic Center of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Dr. Joan Jie-eun Jeung prays during a Sunday service at New Hope Covenant Church. Photo © 2010 Lacy Atkins / San Francisco Chronicle

In our conversation, Dan and I discuss how the complexities of our increasingly religiously and culturally pluralist “post-Christian” world challenge evangelical theology and spirituality to adopt more holistic perspectives. In contexts where a basic Judeo-Christian framework can no longer be assumed, the good news of salvation must be expressed through a living witness of rooted commitment, living side by side with the poor and marginalized and sharing their struggles. This in turn requires processes of formation that impart a deeper understanding of social, historical, and economic issues across cultures, and practices that can integrate this learning within one’s own self-awareness and spiritual development. How am I connected to the exploitation of migrant farm workers? How has the church been implicated in racist attitudes and practices, and how must I repent and change in response? What presumptions and privileges must I divest myself of in order to live in solidarity with the poor? How do the Bible narratives reflect God’s ongoing concern with structural injustice and oppression, and where am I situated in that story? An adequate formation for contexts like that encountered in Oak Park must prepare leaders to ask and respond to these kinds of questions, for themselves and their congregants.

Another element that makes Dan’s perspective unique is his Catholic upbringing in a Franciscan parish. And while he now serves as an evangelical pastor, in his own words he never “protested” his Catholic origins; rather, he has sought to integrate in his own life and ministry the values and strengths of both worlds. Hence, he’s right at home among evangelicals now eagerly learning from “Catholic” figures such as Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, Benedict of Nursia, Antony the Great and the early desert abbas and ammas. As well, in thinking about new models for evangelical churches that incorporate the kind of changes we discuss, Dan looks to the Catholic orders and their ability to diversify and incorporate people in varying lifestyles and degrees of intensity of commitment, such as the three Franciscan orders: Order of Friars (celibate men), Order of Saint Clare (celibate women), and the Third Order (inclusive of lay people, married and otherwise). His larger hope? That this integrative impulse and drawing on the whole Christian tradition helps facilitate the healing and unification of the Body of Christ, the Church.

My heartfelt gratitude to all in the New Hope community who welcomed me, fed me, gave me a bed or couch upon which to lay my head, played games with me, drank, laughed, prayed, shared enlightening conversations, and all-in-all made me feel right at home.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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I knew going into the interview with Paula Huston that she had a different perspective than Bruno Barnhart, and I was (and still am) glad to be able to offer listeners diverse of points of view on the subject of the current status and future possibilities of monasticism. What surprised me, however, was how stridently and single-mindedly she put forth her views. Whereas she sees the fruits of the Romantic Movement as continuing to exercise a corrosive influence on modern/postmodern culture, making the flourishing of traditional monasticism or any deeply committed, highly disciplined way of life all but impossible, I wondered if she herself wasn’t operating from an exaggerated idealization of monastic life. So I put the question to her and am publishing her response below, which I think is a clear, concise summary of her main point.

On a personal level, this interview perplexes me in so much as it’s likely the one thus far wherein I find the most to disagree with, while at the same time am sympathetic to her argument. Hence, while Paula and Bruno’s views on everything from art and creativity to theology and monasticism can seem diametrically opposed, I personally cannot take a side. Rather, I see Paula’s caution and skepticism toward new developments, and reverence for ancient patterns, a necessary compliment to Bruno’s dynamic, revolutionary approach. On a deeper level, this perception of complementarity reflects how this journey is stimulating my own wrestling with the tension between attraction to “emerging communities” on the one hand (dynamic, creative, spontaneous) and “ancient roots” on the other (depth, stability, historical continuity). Paula tips the scale strongly toward the latter and I welcome that contribution, even while I cannot give it my full assent.

St Catherine’s Monastery © 2007 Christopher Chan

Paula Huston: “The word “romanticism” is another term that in common usage has been robbed of its original meaning, or at least its literary meaning, and has come instead to serve as simply another way to say “idealization.” As I said, I was using it during the interview in this much narrower literary sense. Though the British romantics did indeed idealize the past, particularly the ancient pagan world and high Medievalism, they did so for a different reason than the one at work in my own high view of the past. They sought (or created out of thin air) previous cultures that seemed more passion-driven and connected to the earth than their own. Much of this was driven by a rejection of the preceding era, the Enlightenment, which looked to Reason for salvation. The goal of these young romantic rebels was to follow their passions wherever they led, which put them in direct conflict with the wisdom of the classical Greeks and ancient Christians, who BECAUSE they had such great respect for the power of the passions (and their ability to fragment us and destroy our lives), stressed self-discipline as the path to self-preservation. Obviously, monasticism has its root in this second view. Monastic ascetical practices would have been anathema to the high Romantics (and especially the most romantic of the 19th century philosophers, Nietzsche). What the romantics bequeathed to our era were 1) an automatic resistance to moral and spiritual authority, 2) a rejection of traditional wisdom about the dangers of unrestrained passion and desire, 3) an almost religious worship of “the natural” vs. the institutional or dogmatic, 4) a strong focus on the self and its perceived needs as opposed to focus on the community and its needs, and 5) a belief that truth is individual and to be found “within” rather than in any exterior or transcendent form. Actually, they bequeathed a lot more to us, but these points constitute the essence of my beef with them. This romantic attitude toward life, coupled with the unbelievable technological mastery we’ve become heirs to in the 21st century, has created, in my mind, a culture that suffers from an extreme form of what the ancient Greeks would call hubris. We have been convinced that we need to look no further than our own selves for wisdom and truth. Modernism, to a large degree, is about self-worship.

This is what I meant when I said that contemporary monasteries are engaged in a death struggle with modernism. Within the modern framework, there is absolutely no place for a philosophy or religion that depends upon sources of moral and spiritual authority outside the self. This is why people come to the monastery, are briefly intrigued, then drift on to something else more interesting. They are in the business of “experiencing” life, the business of discovering their own wants and pleasing themselves rather than seeking to break out of this narrow cocoon of self-absorption in order to actually find their place in the Body of Christ. The two worlds represented in this culture clash are so far apart at this point that it really does require crossing a great and frightening gulf to be willing to live in this radically alternative, monastic way. And, as a side note, this is why I don’t have a lot of optimism about the current new monastics. Just as all of us are in the post-modern world, they (and we) are absolutely soaked in the philosophy of self-pleasing. Self-sacrifice is a completely foreign concept. And so (of course) they will be tempted to set things up in a way that’s comfortable for them, that doesn’t challenge them in any real way, that doesn’t get at the core of self-worship. They will call this way of skirting the hard work required of real monastics (and real Christians, for that matter) “creativity.” The hard stuff, the truly challenging, soul-changing stuff, is too “rigid” or “authoritarian”–or it is simply “not me.” Hence my sincere admiration for people who are called to traditional monastic life and actually stick it out–the long, boring, confining years when it seems as though life has completely passed them by and they are dying on the vine–but they stick it out because they can look back over 1700 years and read about people who did the same and not only survived but were transformed. It is SUCH a hard life, if it is truly lived this way, that I know I could not do it myself. But I can certainly honor it and do my best to defend it when I’m asked for my opinion.”


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For the last 30 years, Phil McManus has been actively engaged in promoting peace, justice and active nonviolence in Latin America and in U.S.-Latin America relations, working with a number of different organizations, including the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation. He is the Latin America Program Officer for the Appleton Foundation, and with Gerald Schlabach, co-editor of Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America (available from Wipf and Stock Publishers). He is an Oblate of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, and a member of the Redwood Nonviolence Community, an intentional community based in Santa Cruz, CA.

In our conversation, Philip and I discuss his experiences in Latin America working for nonviolent social change in the context of often brutal repression and injustice. In particular, we discuss the widespread phenomenon of Christian base communities, which continue today but flourished especially for several decades after Vatican II (1962-65). Prompted by Vatican II’s emphasis on the church as servant to the poor, sensitive to reading the ‘signs of the times’ as the lens through which the gospel message is received and acted upon, the Conference of Latin American Bishops met in 1968 in Medellín, Colombia, to discern what this entailed for Latin America. Taking serious stock of the Latin American social, economic, and political landscape, the Conference took the unprecedented step of urging a ‘preferential option for the poor’ for their churches, posing a strong challenge to 500 years of the Catholic Church’s virtual collusion with the economic and political elite of the region. Amid this ferment, Christian base communities arose in astounding numbers, comprised of mostly poor, disenfranchised people who read, studied, and acted upon scripture from the reality of their own experience, perceptions, needs, and challenges.

Philip speaks of how his own Christian faith has been nourished and transformed as he encountered fresh, challenging readings of scripture from the “base”; that is, from within the collective struggles of those at the bottom of the social pyramid striving to realize the reign of love Jesus taught and inaugurated. This form of reading and responding to scripture challenges North American prerogatives in at least four ways: first, social conditions illuminate the meaning of scripture and vice versa, which is to say that the truths of scripture do not float above history but rather dynamically address our common needs and concerns today, and what God intends therein; secondly, the reading of scripture is a communal rather than individual undertaking; third, the poor and marginalized, as the victims of social systems that glorify wealth, power, and prestige, occupy a privileged position from which to understand Jesus’ message; and fourth, the gospel cannot be understood apart from action—through a cycle of action and reflection, the community interiorizes and actualizes the gospel message as an ongoing transformative process. These basic tenets pose a stark contrast to the common tendency to privatize the gospel message as primarily concerned with individual salvation, independent of social, economic, and political realities.

I was eager to include Philip’s thoughts here because of his ability to communicate, from a particular perspective, a theme I encounter over and over again. From Parish Collective’s insistence upon doing theology in the context of rootedness in one’s neighborhood, to New Monasticism’s provocative first mark (“relocation to the abandoned places of Empire”), to Servants Vancouver’s incarnational approach to mission, each share the insight that context and community matter. The concrete needs of our neighbors lay claim on us as disciples of Jesus Christ, and this requires some understanding of the social, economic, and political systems in which we’re embedded. From a Catholic perspective, this “method” was profoundly enfleshed amid the liberation movements of Latin America during the time period alluded to above.

For many of us Christians in North America, formed in a fragmented culture, habituated to an illusion of self-sufficiency, taught a gospel of individual and more often than not unearthly salvation, the habits of communal living don’t necessarily come easily. Hence, lessons gleaned from people on the margins, who are inescapably sensitive to their dependence on God and one another, can be indispensable to our own growth in community.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Bruno Barnhart is a Camaldolese-Benedictine monk of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, and was one of my primary teachers during my own monastic formation. He is the author of The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center, Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity, The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity, and co-editor of Purity of Heart and Contemplation: A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions.

What might happen if a monastery, whose Oblates (nonresident lay associate members) outnumber the monks within by a 50 to 1 ratio, embarked upon an experiment in renewal that altered the very form and function of what conventionally comprises a monastic community?

This interview is actually the tail end of a much longer conversation, wherein we had discussed such topics as wisdom, evolution, poetry, and especially the exhilarating, irrepressible, revolutionary impulse at the heart of Christianity. Our primary guides were the restless, Christ-possessed, future-oriented Apostle Paul, and the 20th century Jesuit scientist, theologian, and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, especially in their understanding of the Cosmic Christ. Also relevant to the interview, we spoke of literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and his distinction between the Party of Memory and the Party of Hope (applied by Emerson particularly to political parties but ultimately seen as forces in tension underlying all human affairs) and Owen Barfield’s notion that the Christ event fundamentally shifted the trajectory of human history from a position of receptivity and learning to one of creativity or co-creativity with God. What emerges is a hope-filled vision of a divinely-charged human creativity flowing from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, with a preference for the innovative and experimental.

At the point at which this interview actually begins, I bring the conversation down to earth by asking, in essence: what does this have to do with monasticism? That is, how would this dynamic, creative, future-oriented perspective change a monastic culture that tends to focus its energies on conserving and recapitulating the past? From there, we begin to sketch what such a new monasticism might look like in the present day; the role existing monasteries would play in this transformation; and how this might actually take shape in a monastery like Bruno’s own. Since New Camaldoli Hermitage’s situation—of a flourishing life outside the cloister, yet seeming diminishing life within—is by no means unique, the ideas expressed here have a potentially broad applicability for a new monasticism and new monasteries.

(For a critical response to this interview, see Paula Huston)

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Sister Mary Forman, OSB, is a member of the Monastery of Saint Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. She is the editor of One Heart, One Soul, Many Communities and the author of Praying with the Desert Mothers, as well as numerous articles on Benedictine spirituality. Currently, Sister Mary teaches undergraduate theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and monastic studies and spirituality at Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota.

In our conversation, Sister Mary and I discuss how the monastic tradition undergoes fluctuating periods of diversity and standardization, and some of the factors that make the present time a unique moment of growing diversity, both within and beyond monastery walls. In particular, we talk about the significance of conversations and relationships forming across denominational lines, including mutually enriching encounters between traditional monasteries and emerging forms of lay community.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Emerging Communities • Ancient Roots’ first podcast episode! I talk with Ivan Kauffman about the New Monasticism: a Christian ecumenical movement with roots in evangelicalism, of intentional communities most often located in impoverished inner city neighborhoods, with a strongly articulated social justice orientation and an aspiration to learn from and appropriate elements of the classical monastic tradition.

Ivan is a self-identified Mennonite Catholic, a participant in the Mennonite-Catholic dialog group Bridgefolk,  and a lay associate of Saint John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Presently, Ivan is a scholar-in-residence at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. His research focuses on the interface of religion and politics in history, with an emphasis on peace and nonviolence, and the many ways Christians have come together through the centuries to build communal lives of radical discipleship.  Ivan is the author of Follow Me: A History of Christian Intentionality, which was written to provide a historical framework for understanding the New Monasticism movement.

In our conversation, we discuss Ivan’s experience attending the June 2004 New Monasticism gathering, wherein the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism were discerned as articulations of shared values and practices. We also discuss the strengths, gifts, and challenges facing New Monastic and other lay intentional community movements, the New Monasticism’s relationship to the classical monastic tradition, and finally, Ivan’s wide-angle view of the historical context in which the New Monasticism is taking shape—what he calls “the view from 40,000 feet.”

It might be helpful to have the 12 Marks at hand while listening to the podcast:

12 Marks of New Monasticism

1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3. Hospitality to the stranger

4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

Enjoy, and please share your comments. I especially appreciate hearing what questions arise for you, so that I might integrate them into future interviews.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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