New Monasticism

Why Relocation Matters...

Written by Joel Davis, YH Intern, Originally posted at hisvigorousheart.blogspot.com

 Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

The sun beats mercilessly through the windshield as I wind my way through the streets of Highland. Yet again, my arms are not so much glistening as they are dripping with sweat. The seatbelt has already stamped a diagonal wet mark across my chest, and I haven’t even been driving for 5 minutes. It’s a good thing I remembered to stash an extra pair of clothes in my backpack this morning. 

My car has a leak somewhere in the air conditioning system, and none of the windows roll down--so in this Louisiana heat, some days can get pretty miserable. I arrive at the Cedar Grove Friendship House where I volunteer with under resourced high-schoolers every afternoon absolutely drenched, mumble some hello’s, and head straight for the dirty bathroom in the back that never seems to have any paper towels. 

As I stand there trying to wipe off enough sweat to avoid soaking my fresh change of clothes the moment I put them on, it hits me: This isn’t easy. And I’m not just talking about crappy cars or Cajun humidity. When I walk out of that bathroom, I will be face to face with a room full of strangers who are absolutely foreign to me. Everything about them, from their skin color and their taste in music to the streets they grew up on or the way they’re being taught math; it’s totally “other” to my way of life. Just last week, the dad of two of the boys I work with got shot and killed, and that’s unfortunately not uncommon in this city. They were just glad it wasn’t their mother or the man who runs the House where we meet. The funeral was Saturday. 

 Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

In the face of so much otherness, it isn’t easy to relate to these kids. It certainly isn’t comfortable. And I know it must not be any easier from their end, either. Here’s this young white guy who’s graduated from college and traveled the world who now tries to help with homework or serves them food but doesn’t usually eat any of it. 

I realize then that the lines are blurred; these poor black 14-year-olds have iPhones and instagram accounts and the latest Nike shoes, but this rich white 24-year old has never owned an Apple product or a new pair of Nikes in his life and drives a car that is about as worthless as a greenhouse on wheels. But at the same time, violence is a norm for them and eating spaghetti with Rotel is apparently some type of delicacy, whereas I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole and I’ve never been in a legitimate fight in my life. I realize that understanding happens not from perpetuating stereotypes, but through genuine relationships. It’s only when each of us, on both sides, are willing to relocate some part of our being that we are able to find fullness, honesty, and vulnerability in the relationship. 

This idea of relocation has been one of our main themes at the Yellow House. We believe one of the best ways to follow Christ is to relocate (either physically, spiritually, or ideologically) away from ourselves and towards Him. For us, we talk about relocating to the abandoned places of empire; those areas populated by the oppressed, the forgotten, the ones whose voices have been overlooked by the wealthy and powerful in the name of convenience, comfort, and efficiency. 

When we relocate from our perspective of privilege, we are able to love others as Christ loves them. Sometimes that means actually physically selling our things, giving to the poor, and living among them. Other times it merely means being willing to engage an idea that is new or uncomfortable, “relocating” from what we have always been taught. At the Yellow House, we have tried to strike a balance between the two. And what we have found is that by befriending the unloved and listening to their perspectives, we can better determine what it looks like to follow Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

 Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Here at Club (that’s what we call our after-school program) it’s especially true. Despite our differences and different-ness, the effort to trust, to know and be known, is being made every day. And I am finding that lines which used to be clearly established dividing black and white (no pun intended?) now appears much more fluid, more grey, and is at times even invisible. By relocating to this space and among these people, I am continually becoming aware of my own prejudices, my own faults, and they’re things I would have remained ignorant of otherwise, if I had remained in my safe, comfortable, rigidly perfect life. 

I don’t want to preach at you, but I feel like the question needs to be asked: How have you relocated your life, your thoughts, or your faith? How are you changing--not for change’s sake itself, but in order to avoid becoming stagnant, and to ensure that you are still growing and bearing good fruit? Maybe this blog (and countless others like it, let’s be real; I don’t think that highly of myself) can be a start. But don’t let mere head knowledge and vicarious living alone convince you into thinking you’re relocating and growing; at some point this information has to reach your lifestyle and your actions have to be changed.

As for me, I will continue to walk in this path of relocation, wherever the road may lead.

Dear Church, Have You Considered...?

April at the Yellow House was our month for focusing on Humble Submission to Christ’s Body, the Church. This is not a month we take lightly, gloss over, or shy away from around here. As a new monastic community, part of our inherent purpose is to learn to be the Body of Christ with these people in this place in such a way that helps to preserve or reawaken parts of the Church's identity that over time may have been forgotten or become distorted. This is obviously no small task, but it's a deeply important one and our little cell of the Body has a small part to play in that preservation and reawakening.

So we practice being the Church we dream of together (aware that only once in a blue moon do we "get it right") submitting ourselves to one another and the God that connects us in love. We read about the history we stand on (see The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle), learning to see the patterns of cause and effect that got us to this moment and thoughtfully considering where the Spirit could be moving in our midst for today and the days coming. And we engage conversation with folks in other cells of the Body, specifically those working within the institutional church...a part of the Body that we love dearly, to which we owe much of our own formation, and for which we have some questions. We commit to thinking critically, but never settling for criticism that isn't hand-in-hand with compassionate creativity.

In one brainstorming session, we sat down to dream up some ideas we'd love to see experimented with in local congregations, and we've shared the shorthand version of that list below. Perhaps these simple bullet points could get our collective wheels turning in some fruitful directions. If anything sparks your curiosity, we'd love to dialogue in the comments section below or via email or face to face if you're looking for some conversation (and coffee...we always have coffee): 

-Creating intergenerational & interracial mentoring relationships

-Prioritizing community members getting to know their neighbors. “Get to know your literal neighbor” charts (idea credit: John Hawkins of Clearview Church, Shreveport)

-Small-group based relational tithe’s

-ECO-FRIENDLY BULLETINS. Biodegradable or electronic bulletins or at the very least recycling bins stationed at churches. OR 4-6week’s worth of information in 1 bulletin which is reused each week. Create weekly e- bulletins and encourage those with smart phones not to grab the hard copies.  

-Mini-experiments in life-together (i.e. 2-week structure retreats that mimic and teach intentional community)

-A system of needs-cards/provision-cards and a way to match them up

-Gleaning rooms for clothes and/or supplies and/or food pantry

-Open-minded Bible studies and discussion forums (not being afraid of controversy)

-Creating/carving out space to grieve and respond to current events/social injustices

-Encouraging daily morning prayer within zip coded small groups and/or at the church

-Standing in solidarity with oppressed people groups outside of the church (going to them). Asking, “What do you need?”

-Asking, “What do you need?” of neighbors that live directly around church buildings.

-Prison visits + re-entry programs within the church

-Encouraging hospitality rooms within churches and within homes of community members

-When 2 small churches are dwindling, joining up (even and especially when one congregation is black and one is white)

-Encouraging more participation from congregants 

-Partnering business leaders in churches with neighbors to help provide jobs

-Embracing and creating times of silence 

-Having a feeding night for congregants and the broader community (and incorporate communion)

-Considering a more racially diverse staff in an effort to encourage diversity of the congregation

-Writing music that pertains & speaks to the lives that are actually being lived by community members

-Teaching and focusing more on all of the spiritual gifts

-Free child care for single parents (a list of who would be willing to be on that list)

-Diversity in language during service as to also encourage diversity (dual screens or translators)

-Is your church ADA accessible? Sign-language friendly?

-Creating insurance alternatives

-Creating/encouraging covenants and pathways for reconciliation within small groups

-Financial assistance classes, years of Jubilee (encouraging the forgiveness of some form of debt every few years), asking families to not live in houses bigger than what is needed OR having them invite others to live with them

-Encouraging community members to live geographically close to other community members or to the poor or different

-Encouraging intentional relationships

-Setting up a retreat center with pastoral care and guidance and offered to people with little money

-Offering income based or communally funded counseling

-Reassessing what resources are being wasted and what ways they can become more sustainable

-home-based programs to save on church resources and/or multi-purposed church spaces (soup kitchen by day, shelter by night, church by weekend)

-encouraging/teaching nonviolence

-encouraging the coexistence of singles and married people and families (specifically things for singles that doesn’t pertain to life starting “after marriage”)

-small groups that are zip code based

-Community gardens

-resourcing people with information about how to do meal wagon and coalition child care

-Tool libraries, car pooling, etc

-equipping members to be foster parents or better yet, homes that invite single/young parents to live with them


Thanks for reading! May we become the Church we dream of...little by little.

The wisdom of stability (A conversation with jonathan wilson-hartgrove)

We were honored to invite Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove into our home, our neighborhood, and our city last week! If you missed our conversation with him at the Yellow House or just want to listen again, check out the complete recording of Wednesday night in the above audio player.

Watch the short book trailer if you're curious about the book of his that we studied in January, Wisdom of Stability. We're so grateful for the challenges, encouragements, and stories that it is filled with, which have been helping us learn how to put down roots of love in this place with these people over the last few years.

The 12 Marks of What?!

Originally posted at sarahduet.com/blog/12marks...

 Photo by Jessie Smith, YH Intern

Photo by Jessie Smith, YH Intern

“Some have become domestic communities and are eventualizing in what we now call “the new monasticism,” a way of being in which Christians, bound together under vows of stability, living out their private lives together in radical obedience to the Great Commandment...

Life on the margins has always been the most difficult and, at the same time, the one most imaginatively lived.”

— Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence

As some of you may know, I'm part of a New Monastic community that has put down roots in the Highland neighborhood of Shreveport, LA. A new mona-what? If that's your question...no worries. It's a common one. And while it's not the easiest question to answer adequately, I write today in hopes to do it some justice. 

WHAT IS MONASTICISM ANYWAY?

Let's start with the word monastic. Think of the communal life that has been shared by the monks, nuns, & mystics throughout history. I'm not exactly talking about Friar Tuck from Robin Hood or The Reverend Mother singing "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music–though they are both awesome characters. But I've digressed. Back to reality...

Monastic movements have sprung up throughout history as a means by which to preserve the character of the Church in the world, to remind the Church who She is in times when Her sense of identity is in jeopardy. The New Monasticism is no different in this basic premise. However, the world is different today than it was in the 4th century for the Desert Mothers & Fathers, in the 6th century for St. Benedict his fold, and even in the 16th century for the Reformers. 

OK, SO WHAT'S NEW ABOUT IT NOW?

Monasticism today in many ways looks different. Many exciting ways. Most notably, the New Monasticism goes into society–relocating to the abandoned places of imperial culture to embody the kind of life we hope to preserve, rather than retreating from society to do so. Put simply: Same goals for the Church and for the world. Different geographic starting place & execution strategy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer–20th-century German pastor, martyr, and expert on Christian community–wrote in a letter to his brother in 1935:

“The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Prophetic.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to describe the New Monasticism would be "Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity." However, we've abstracted and complicated (or worse, ignored) the Sermon on the Mount so much in the American church that we hardly have a picture in our minds of what exactly "Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity" looks like in the real world anymore. (To read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount see Matthew 5-7, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-49.)

OK, SO WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

In 2004, a group of New Monastic communities came together to articulate some of their primary common threads–something like a summary of the "rule of life" that was guiding them and a starting point that future communities in the movement would be shaped by. There is much diversity among the communities all over the US (and the globe), but these are 12 values generally upheld by most communities associated with the movement. You can read the official 12 Marks here, and the following is our particular community's current adaptation of the language to best translate into our context:

1. We make sure we are located in an abandoned place of the empire. If we are not, we relocate. 

2. We share our economic resources with fellow community members and those among us who are in need.

3. We make our homes and our lives hospitable to the stranger, maintaining a willingness and preparedness to open our door to friend, foe, neighbor, and traveler alike. 

4. We lament for division within the church and our communities, combining that with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation (for the hate and division concerning race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender, and all types of othering that isolate and dehumanize those made in God's image). 

5. We humbly submit to Christ's Body, the Church, dedicated to always pursuing unity and seeking to be the church we dream of rather than complaining about the church we do not see. 

6. We are committed to intentional formation in the Way of Christ and the community's agreed upon lifestyle (common rule) along the lines of the old novitiate–valuing the depth and freedom of discipline as we embody a new way of being in the world. 

7. We nurture the common life among members of intentional community by following the rules of relationship (eat, play, study, grieve, share, celebrate together, etc). 

8. We support celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children, committed to coexisting as one family. 

9. We live in geographic proximity to community members who share a common rule of life, understanding and promoting the wisdom of stability. 

10. We care for the plot of God's earth given to us along with supporting our local economies. 

11. We make peace in the midst if violence and practice conflict resolution within the community along the lines of Matthew 18, committed to the nonviolent enemy-love exampled by Jesus. 

12. We are committed to a disciplined contemplative life of prayer, agreeing to silence ourselves in a busy world that we might free up the space to listen to God and respond. 

I can't help but be a little overwhelmed by writing those out, uncomfortably aware of how far we have to go before our lives fully reflect these statements. But we know values shape our lives, so we stay committed to aspiring to live in line with these values–trusting that we'll be molded into a people that embodies them at some point. And trusting that the mere but earnest attempt is the willingness to which we are called that can make us better little by little, in turn making the world around us better little by little.

OK, SO WHERE'D ALL THIS COME FROM?

The New Monastic movement's birth is hard to pinpoint, but stirrings of what is now a global movement seemed to take shape in the UK in the 1970's & 80's, following soon thereafter in the early 1990's here in the US. One of early leaders and articulators of the movement here in the US was Jonathan Wilson, who proposed 4 characteristics of the New Monasticism in his book Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World, published in 1998:

  •  it will be "marked by a recovery of the telos of this world" revealed in Jesus, and aimed at the healing of fragmentation, bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Christ;
  •  it will be aimed at the "whole people of God" who live and work in all kinds of contexts, and not create a distinction between those with sacred and secular vocations;
  • it will be disciplined, not by a recovery of old monastic rules, but by the joyful discipline achieved by a small group of disciples practicing mutual exhortation, correction, and reconciliation; and
  • it will be "undergirded by deep theological reflection and commitment," by which the church may recover its life and witness in the world (p72-75).

...4 statements that, I think, are proving themselves to be prophetically accurate in characterizing the movement.

OK, SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ME?

In short, I don't know. 

But I suspect it means something, and I hope you'll consider what that might be. And remember, the invitation is always open tocome & see...

This writing was largely theoretical, I know. That was intentional, as I hoped to provide some foundational understanding of what motivates those of us pursuing this sort of life-together. However, there are plenty of places to read stories about the day-in-and-day-out practicalities and experiences in New Monastic life, which surely get closer to the heart of all this.

Here are a few of the many places you can find those stories:

  • britneywinnlee.com Gandhi Got Out Again: A Blog About Intentional Community (Stories from neighborhood life here in Shreveport)
  • jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com New Monastic Leader, Founder of Rutba House & School(s) for Conversion
  • redletterchristians.org Red Letter Christians' Goal: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The list of books we read as part of the Yellow House internship. Great stories. Great resources.
  • Reba Place Fellowship, a community in Chicago, IL
  • The Simple Way, a community in Philadelphia, PA

Note to the reader 

I've grieved the lack of understanding &/or the misrepresentation of this movement lately, and it's moved me to share some words from my very small perspective, from our very small corner here in Highland to attempt even a brief overview of the New Monasticism–one of integrity, one that might make a little sense. One that I hope at least sparks curiosity, clears up a few things, &/or opens a mind or 2 to the possibilities that such a lifestyle holds for the Church and the world, for families and individuals, for adults and children, for people and environment, for neighborhoods and cities, for countries and the world.

Thank you for reading,

Sarah Duet (YH Intern Director)

Heaven on Earth



 Kyle Bickham, YH Intern Director

Kyle Bickham, YH Intern Director

My wife, Hailey and I were recently blessed with our first son, Cohen James Bickham. To say that our perspective of life and love have changed would be a profound understatement. And keeping with the theme of new life in this season of change, God is also giving birth to new ideas and revelations in my spirit on a daily basis through the Yellow House of Highland in Shreveport, LA.

 

I’d been searching for deeper purpose in Shreveport for months. And two days after Cohen’s birth, I received a phone call from Britney offering me a position as an intern director at the Yellow House. (If ever a selfie were in order, it would have been at that moment because I wish so badly that I could have captured the goofy smile on my face). I’d been a resident for a while at Yellow House, catching a glimpse of the transforming power of intentional community. I knew that the friendships, teachings, awkward moments and side-splitting laughter of those 8 months would equip me for God’s work somehow. And now I get to invest more fully into what I believe to be one of the best expressions of Heaven on Earth: New Monasticism.

 

It took me a while to learn how to pronounce (and spell) the name for this new/old movement that has been growing in the hearts of intentional communities around the world. And it’s taking me even longer to allow the teachings to sink into my soul and invade my everyday life. But as I learn more about the simple but challenging Marks of New Monasticism that unite these communities, I see more of Jesus in my life and the lives of those around me. Things like shared economics and hospitality become a reality when neighbors down the street offer to help out with 6 months of our rent and offer up their guest room when our AC goes out (5 times this Summer and counting). My wife and I have witnessed and experienced what happens when neighbors simply choose to follow the teachings of Jesus. And we’re convicted to give ourselves to seeing more of it in our city.

 

New Monasticism takes us back to the old monastic traditions and explores ways to live out the Gospel in the abandoned places of our world. Many in our generation have sensed a need for renewal in the Body of Christ, and I’m certain that I’ve stumbled upon an incredible sign of hope in what God is doing here. It’s my dream that all believers would have a similar experience. Heaven comes to Earth when God’s people love their neighbors unconditionally, welcome the stranger, and hammer their swords into plowshares.

-Kyle Bickham