Yesterday evening was our regular meeting-up with other members of The Order of Mission. Our friend Mark Carey was sharing some recent reflections on relationship with God (UP), one another in the church (IN), and with our neighbour (OUT). He observed that our relationship with God is the source of our identity, and therefore the place where our confidence comes from. However,
“God gives us each other for the purpose of character-formation.”
In other words, our character is not formed in isolation, in spending time alone with God, but through the testing and refining that comes by living in community with other people; by having our rough edges worn down by other people’s rough edges, as we knock against each other.
This is significant, because the temptation is always to take the route of least resistance, to form community with people who look like us, but in doing that we limit the potential character-formation God wants to work in us. We need to embrace those we find difficult to love, those we have ‘nothing, other than Jesus’ in common with, those who are hard work.
Moreover, Mark observed that the highly individualistic model of evangelism, whereby the church (at best) supports me in my personal place of witness, is flawed because it fails to recognise adequately that we are the body of Christ. As such, our call is not to operate as supported individuals but as one body,
“taking the gift of the body out into the world.”
This has profound implications. If we are called to take the gift of the body out into the world, we need to wrestle with the extreme fragmentation of ourselves within the world, caused by the shift to an ever-increasing and highly individualistic professionalization of every sphere of life. For example, monasteries functioned as communities that provided accommodation for the traveller (hotels); medical care for the sick (hospitals); respite care for the infirm (care homes); libraries and scriptoriums in which learned was collected and passed on (schools, universities, publishers); almsgiving for the poor (welfare); employment for farmers, blacksmiths, and a host of domestic servants; microbreweries...All these functions have been taken over by the State, or private enterprise, and rather than operating as communities of salt and light, Christians work as isolated grains and motes, only coming-together to worship.
While I am not advocating a mass exodus of Christians from our schools or health service, I do wonder whether the models that overtook the monasteries are themselves reaching the end of their life, the limits of their capacity? My hunch is that the rise of ‘new-monasticism’ is not just about a rediscovery of a disciplined Rule of Life, but about the reappearance of ‘new monasteries’ serving our neighbourhoods...