Monasticism, Beloved Community, and The Common Good
Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Goodis sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.
Benedict of Nursia is on my mind this morning as I ponder what it is that Jim Wallis is trying to accomplish with his new book, On God's Side. Adam Ericksen pondered the virtues of baseball, winning, and losing in his post from earlier this week. Adam questioned the metaphor. What do we do with our losers? How can we all win?
What would it mean if people of faith began transferring their human identities from class, racial, and national loyalties to a global identity in a new beloved community created by God?
~ Jim Wallis, On God's Side
Today I'm wondering about where Jim was when he started pulling all of this together. Jim shared that he went on retreat (a good practice, in my humble opinion) to gather his thoughts for this new book. He went to a monastery (also a good practice, in my humble opinion). He prayed the hours. He wandered the grounds. He spent some time in silence. He read the Narnia books and gave some serious thought of C.S. Lewis' Aslan. All of this led to a question, well, many questions, but this question I've pulled out is what caught my attention. What if, indeed, Jim. What if we were to do this thing ... the beloved community?
It is no surprise to me that this question would emerge while Jim was at a monastery. Of course it would. And that he riffs on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a way is also wonderfully telling. "Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives," said Dr. King. Our souls must change. So too must our lives. Dr. King said much about the beloved community. So too did Benedict of Nursia.
There's so much to say here. I'm a little stumped. The beloved community is the Church, but it is exemplified by the monastery where people relinquish their individual control of their worldly goods. Monastics take vows to pray and work together. There's a shared rhythm of life. There is a shared mission. It's a challenging and difficult life, and not all Christians are called to it. Obedience, stability, conversion of life. If we want to be the beloved community, then the we must avow ourselves to such a Rule. Indeed, we must give up our personal or private identities to the service of all.
But how do we do this as a culture, a global church? What a challenging vision. It smacks of utopianism, of course. It should. But we must not linger there. We know the history of the Civil Rights Movement. We know the challenges of the Christian monastics throughout history. There's nothing romantic to be had in this. Forgiveness must be a constant spiritual practice. We're going to give each other many opportunities to practice forgiveness.
To be the beloved community is to sacrifice ... for the sake of the others in the community and, now get this, for the sake of the world. Obedience, stability, and conversion of life are practices intended for the salvation of the world and not just for those who live out such vows. The common good is not about common membership in the monastery. The common good is a sacrifice those who are called into community make for the benefit of all.
Is this vision possible? Can all Christians make such a claim? Can we make such vows? I ask these questions in order to shine a light on the seriousness of Jim's vision ... the inconceivable difficulty of it. This is not in order to dissuade us from attempting it, but to offer a reality check.
To be on God's side is to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. To be God's friend is to lay down one's life in obedience to our neighbor and our God in Christ Jesus. This is so much more than voting and lobbying or signing a petition. This is a radical conversion of life into the beloved community.
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.