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What’s next? > Monasticism 2.0

July 9, 2011

I love what the new monastics are doing. I think I feel right at home among them and naturally fit in this tribe even though I don’t have any formal connections. I resonate with how they do life, the way they pursue spiritual formation and mission in community, their emphasis on justice and reconciliation…. there is so much that resonates in these ideas for me. I love that they (we?) are not just deconstructing old forms of church life but are busy borrowing from the best of the Christian past and adapting it in constructive ways… in ways that move us forward and incarnate the gospel and make the kingdom tangible in our actual neighborhoods. Deconstructing can be an important part of the process of moving into new territory but if we live there too long it just devolves into an ecclesiastical bitch session. I’ve been a part of those. They are not meaningful or fun and they leave a bitter after taste in my spirit so please excuse me if I’m not as critical as you think I should be. I happen to see great value in delving into the church historic and finding new ways to apply the best of what has come before us and be about the business of co-creating with God and his peeps. In the new monasticism I see practitioners working hard in local contexts to incarnate the good news of the kingdom.

I want to explore the 12 marks of the new monasticism according to some of its finest practitioners. Under each ‘mark’ I’ll talk a little about how our family and friends locally (Norwood (central Cincinnati), OHIO)  have been engaging with this new/ancient way:

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

So at this point we’ve had well over 100 people move to Norwood to live in a neighborhood that is daily ridiculed on local talk radio (and I can tell you who if you ask me but I don’t want to link to them here and give them more ‘credit’ for google searches!). Also when we first arrived the police told us that the intersection we were closest to was known as the “arm pit of Norwood.” Some of the ridicule was even coming from churches in other parts of the city where they would joke about Norwood from the front at their large celebrations. Norwood is like the Nazareth of the Cincinnati area. So I have asked over the years, “Can anything good come out of Norwood?” …and I smile because I already know the answer!

This neighborhood has literally been abandoned by large corporations like General Motors (GM) and many churches have moved out as well… which is how we ended up buying a large Catholic church building for next to nothing, a story for another time. When GM pulled out the local economy was nearly devastated as hundreds of people had literally re-located their families – most from Kentucky – to take a job in the GM factory. Most of these fine folks who were in search of a better life for their families ‘in the city’ ended up jobless. The local economy took a huge hit and it has never fully recovered over 20 years later.

But that tide is turning and people have started to move back in over the past 15 years and now we have a network of around 100 people who have moved to this abandoned place -and many of us  have purchased homes that are intentionally too big for our personal needs and then invited people to live with us. So we have scores of people living in close proximity and many of them are living in community houses or c0-housing types of arrangements. (And by the way we have room for lots more people if you’re interested in joining us! You are welcome here…)

So my family lives in what is called The Brownhouse. This house was previously a rectory where priests who served this parish and the gathered community next door in the beloved St’ E’s (our church building named after St Elizabeth of Hungary) lived for decades. My family has lived in this home for over 15 years in some form of community ranging from a common purse with several families to ‘renting’ out rooms to singles from our community. The two things that have tied us together and sustained us no matter what form it has taken is shared meals and prayers. Those have been the anchors in our weekly rhythm over these many years. It has been an incredibly rich way of life for my family. Our 3 kids were literally born (or adopted!) into it and it is the only life they have known. They have been surrounded by an extended family of adults who care for them and talk to them and encourage them. Nearly every night our large dinner table is full of friends and guests. Every morning there are people praying around that same table ancient prayers from the Psalms and cries of our heart for neighborhood and personal concerns. We have thrown literally hundreds of parties and hosted hundreds of guests – some for a night, others for a week or more.

And did I mention we have room for you? Come as a guest… or come and buy a home in this neighborhood. We’re here for the long haul! Inspired by our Benedictine siblings, many of us have taken vows of stability to live our whole lives in this place, among these people. And if not here what about your local context? Where is an abandoned place you can get to know, inhabit and love?

Up next: #2 Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

+++ Lord, thank you for the shared life that has emerged in little old west Norwood – a neighborhood many have written off and overlooked for years! But you didn’t. So we are here. Please help us to shine the light of your life giving gospel in this place and carry on the good work you started here long before we ever arrived! Thank you for the priests and nuns, the churches and social agencies that have gone before us. Gives us strength to carry on this good work and not hide the light we’ve been given. Amen. +++

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2011 1:31 pm

    The Brownhouse continues to be a space where I meet, see and hear God like I do in few other places. That kind of presence is cultivated by steady, ongoing and sustained prayer. I celebrate your house of peace in that neighborhood. Nicki and I are lifers with you in this city, let’s keep asking “what’s next?”.

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