Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Fourth Mark

Posted by Jack

12 marks of New Monasticism are simply 12 principles that have resurfaced in Christian communities throughout church history.

In the coming weeks, I plan to highlight each of these 12 marks, briefly explain them, and explore their significance in relation to the Mulberry House.

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of the 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.

Chris Rice has written a very insightful and helpful chapter on this mark and I am indebted to him as I write this post. I will summarize some of his main ideas, but be sure to pick up the book and read his very relevant words in full.

When it comes to racial divisions, we live in a fuzzier time than we used to. We are a generation removed from the Civil Rights Movement, and many of us today have no memory of the intense battles that raged or the freedom fighters who led us into a better age. While racial divisions still exist, they are much harder for us to see sometimes as they are below the surface, or hidden in plain sight, and not as overt as they once were in this nation.

Fuzzier times do not call for quick solutions, but deeper diagnosis of the divisions among us.

To see racial division in our society, one needs look no further than the church. It is reported that 95% of white American Christians worship in all-white congregations while 90% of black American Christians worship in all-black congregations (see Michael Emerson's Divided by Faith, Oxford University Press 2000).

* [Please note, I am using the terms "black" and "white" in this post as shorthand representing the broad divisions among us. These terms are not meant to be blanket descriptions of all races as many unique and beautiful contours exist among us, including but not limited to Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and European-Americans as well as South and Central Americans... please give me grace as I speak in generalizations.]

This tells us that the vast majority of our churches are ethnic specific. Rice begs the question, are these different church worlds acceptable? Should we accept the existence of these sub-cultures within the Body as diversity and preference? Is it okay to simply worship with people who are "like me" without harming others? Or do we declare this segregated Sabbath a sign of deep seated racialization and division?

What Do We Lament?

Rice writes about two congregations in his city: both of them are over 100 years old, both are situated in the same neighborhood, very near one another, but one remains essentially white and the other remains essentially black. Despite their close proximity to one another and their shared history together, these two congregations have never worshipped together, entered one another's sanctuaries, prayed together, worked together on a shared project, or even become friends with one another until very recently.

In the century they have existed, they have remained strangers. If Christians everywhere are one family, how is it possible to remain so isolated from one another?

Where isolation from others is rampant, language of division is sure to follow. We. They. Us. Them. It becomes easy to put others, and ourselves, into categories. These self-imposed categories and patterns are soon taken for granted. Our divisions become "normal." The gulf between us and our neighbors continues to widen, our differences look less and less reconcilable, and division is seen as inevitable.

Wendell Berry called the problem of racial division our nation's "hidden wound." He noted that this problem is not marked by open hostility, but by normalization within racialized, divided, accepted patterns of who "our people" are and who they are not. These divisions are seen as normal and acceptable on both sides. Them, not us. Those people, not our people. Other and alien, not family.

Lament as Remembering and Grieving Well

Rice makes 4 points I will summarize briefly here.
  1. Divided congregations, such as the one described above, did not fall from the sky. The ground we live on is not innocent; it only seems so because of our forgetfulness. Recognizing the trajectories and histories that have brought us here is essential. We must look below the surface to understand why seemingly "normal" divisions have come to be.
  2. Lament, then, becomes a practice of remembering and grieving well. We must say BOTH, "God, we see and feel the pain of our divisions and brokenness," AND, "We know this is not the way God wants things to be! We have new life in Christ!" Grief over our past, and hope for our future.
  3. In pursuit of holiness, we are called to social analysis. Through theological and social discernment, we must bring visibility to divisions within our communities, whether it be between men and women, privileged and marginalized, or even between different faith traditions.
  4. Diversity, or differences among us, should not be seen as divisions, but as facets of God's beautiful creation. We must celebrate the unique features of the Body of Christ, not eliminate the differences that "stick out."

It will be a messy challenge, but it is a vital one. This is not a matter of political correctness or mere tolerance. It is a matter of allowing the Holy Spirit to disrupt our normalized brokenness and transform us into New Creatures.

Throughout the book of Acts, in the Bible, two themes pervade the growth of the church. First is the power of the Holy Spirit in the Risen Christ. Second is the formation of profound new communities across lines of language, ethnicity, and privilege.

As I write this, I risk sounding naive or simplistic. Concrete solutions are hard to come by. It is not as if any of us can effectively reach a just reconciliation to address our racial divisions and brokenness.

I will leave you with the words Chris Rice spoke to a friend after addressing this topic in a speech. He said, "To be deeply bothered is a sign of hope. We have to keep proclaiming what is not, even what is not in our own midst."

It is absolutely right to put "lamenting racial divisions" in front of "pursuing a just reconciliation." Lament reminds us that we are not God, that visions like the new monasticism do not capture the Kingdom, that true reconciliation is only in the eschaton, when all things are reconciled in Christ. We keep naming the "not yet" of the coming Kingdom, keep praying to be interrupted by the unexpected, keep reaching out to the stranger, keep holding our hands outward for the gift of new people that the Holy Spirit may bring us tomorrow. Or not.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Saddest City in the United States?

Posted by Jack

A local news source has informed us that Springfield, OH is the saddest city in the U.S., according to a recent Gallup poll.

Granted, these polls are not infallible... in fact, they are often quite subjective. But since Springfield is making national news in this regard, maybe we ought to be alert to it.

We do not quite know how to respond to this news, but in the very least, we hope to plan some joy-inducing actions here in our neighborhood. What do you think? Let's raise the Happiness Index together.

More to come...