Author Archives: Ian Mobsby

Jesus does not come to fulfil the myth of redemptive violence, he comes to begin the Missio Ecclesiae and the Kingdom of the Common Good

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It is poignant that as I encounter the shock of France of the senseless killing of ordinary French people killed for shopping at a Supermarket by an extremist religious fanatic bent on redemptive violence for a misreading of the Koran, it is poignant that the Christian Church remembers Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

The crowds were expecting Jesus to be a King, to bring in a new political theocracy by the sword, to throw our the Romans, and to get back to the idea of the Jewish people being special and better than anyone else. This was the common expectation of the Messiah.

But instead Jesus comes in powerlessness, all he can offer is the love of God, himself, this is all he brings and load of ex-fishermen and wasters from the disliked part of the country.

So Jesus hits head on with these expectations that continue to now.  In many ways Jerusalem is still in exactly the same place it was when Jesus came – divided by hate, divided by religion, and divided by the violent politics of people who believe that the sword is the only way to effect change.

But actually Jesus comes with a different agenda, he comes with the idea of love, that God through the Holy Spirit begins the missio Ecclesiae, the mission of a new social order, the mission of the Kingdom, to build a society based on the common good, on common decency, on common opportunity, on the rebuilding of our common humanity – not to be exploited or oppressed by violence.  But set free, as all are set free to be the fulfilment of love and goodness.

And so Jesus hits head on the Roman Empire, the Jewish Religious Establishment, the evil of the Crusades, and the violence of the World, and actually, Jesus is the only one that will continue – the rest will fall and fade – Jesus and his vision of the Loving Kingdom of God is the survivor.

So as the people welcome the King on Palm Sunday, they do not know what type of King they are acknowledging – even today much of the Church has no idea that Jesus stands against the myth of redemptive violence – and comes as the Prince of Peace as foretold at his Birth.

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2. You can’t think yourself into being Christian : Why is NM Important?

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Continuing with my weekly New Monasticism reflection….

It might be a very obvious thing to say, but you cannot think yourself into being a Christian.  It actually takes a lot of formation, intentionality and experience of God to be able to even begin to comprehend what it means to commit to following the way of Jesus.

One of the great problems of the Church in the West is that the Church is still thoroughly affected by modernist culture that was obsessed with the Scientific method as forms of Truth.  And when I say Truth I mean objective Truth.  They truly did believe that absolutely everything could be explained in a hypothesis and it was only a matter of time before Science will be able to explain and know everything.  By implication then, there would be no place for subjective experience, art or spirituality.  Now looking back from our current Post-Secular Culture we know that to be a lie.

So weirdly some Churches and some in the Churches believe that Christianity is a ‘belief’ system, a way of thinking. I have never understood this.  Christianity is so much more than a way of thinking, it is about a way of life, of living, in obedience to the way of life explained by Jesus as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible.

The Early Church understood this, for them, they understood the implications of the Jesus as a way of life, a calling to human community, of sharing material possessions, of giving away generously with those who had little and seeking to pray and encounter God through forms of prayer and worship.

So Christian formation in the Early Church was pretty serious.  You didn’t attend an Alpha or other course, you had to live, breath, and serve God with others to begin to get to know what it meant to know God.  The Christian Monastics, seeking to escape the excesses of the Roman Empire, escaped into the Deserts to live this way, who are our inspiration right up to today.

For example in Christian Formation, there is an obsession with ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘dogmatic truth’, or what is sometimes said – right thinking.  This reflects this same obsession with thinking.  Where is the place for encountering God?  Where is the centrality of living it – sometimes called ‘orthopraxis’ and also the central and starting place of ‘orthopathy’ or what is called right feeling or right being…

This takes us right back to the central teaching Jesus in what is called the Great Commandment which draws on the central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Great Shema – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One, you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body and strength, and love your Neighbour as yourself. Or as a wise Benedictine Abbot said – Learn to receive the love of God, to allow this love to transform your heart and being so that you can truly love others, even those who are strangers.   This is sooooo much more than thinking.

New Monastics take this level of formation and living out a whole of life approach to Christianity very seriously.  My good friend Andy Freeman of the 24Prayer Community once described formation as the Living Room, the Boiler Room and the Class Room, and that seems so right for me.  Heart, Mind and Body….. Otherwise how are we being transformed?

So in a Church so obsessed with words and thinking, a depth of spirituality expressed in life, in prayer, in encountering the love of God is I think a crucial corrective, and this is a commitment that many New Monastic Communities think is essential.

1. Called to live it not just talk about the Christian faith: Why is NM Important?

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So in this next series of posts, I want to engage with the question ‘why is new monasticism important’? Particularly when thinking about the state of the Church and the World and especially when thinking about Mission and Evangelism.

The greatest problem I think – is that people aren’t really living it and following the Christian faith – in that, we are called to live it out profoundly impacting our daily lives.

I think that in our current post-secular culture we are carrying the consequences of the violence to the faith as a consequence of modernity (period of time after pre-modernity impacting Europe from around the 15th Century onwards) and what has unhelpfully been called the ‘enlightenment’ when everything in culture was defined in relation to ‘truth’ as understood as the scientific method.  Here faith then came about ‘thinking’ and ‘reason’ and ‘argument’ so that the more experiential and the essence of Christianity became a way of life modelled on following Jesus went into the background.

So even today – when people come to proclaim faith – or as in the Church of England more likely confirmation – then it is all about what you believe rather than how you live transformed by attempting to follow Jesus.

I think today Christianity has been largely commodified and now becoming or being Christian is relating to attending a worship service once a week and to do some form of 12-week induction course.

This seriously impoverishes the Christian faith and has limited depth.  Unsurprisingly people are giving up on this commodified Christianity because it does not deeply resource you in the complexity of the modern world.

Instead what we need are examples of forms of the Christian Community that live out the Christian faith in depth – as a witness to the reality of God. Not because they are in anyway special – but more because real Christianity does not make sense if it is not LIVED.

This is why I believe so strongly in New Monasticism as a model of small missional communities, a form of fresh expression of Church, because it is one of the ways to focus on living the faith – not just talking about it – with a commitment to ‘prayerful or contemplative action’, to live a Rhythm of Life as a Community, where the focus then is on the New Commandment of Jesus – To Live God, learn to love ourselves to be able to love others and our neighbour.  It is a form of missional community of ordinary people seeking to live counter-culturally and with a sense that none of life makes any sense if it is not about the context of a life following Jesus.

So my first argument here – is that we need profound Christian communities – living out the faith and not just talking about it – not getting sucked into institutionalised and stale expressions of the Church which have no life and too focused on thinking.  And I believe that New Monasticism seeks to be this type of community because mission can’t be about beautiful media with beautiful people with glossy brochures and being cool – it is about the tough call to surrender to God your life, and to seek to follow a rhythm of life of prayer, of service, of study and of action – particularly as Jesus commanded – the poor and the stranger.

So if the Church is going to be effective in mission – we need living examples of doing this well – like Taize, the Northumbria Community and in many ways my own little New Monastic Community – the Wellspring Community in Peckham.

If there are no expressions of communities of deep faith – what then is mission and evangelism for?  It can’t perpetuate the lie of a consumptive spiritual individualst journey that is numbing and I think ultimately does not take you to the depth of Jesus – real mission and evangelism has to occur for me on the back of examples of real Christianity being lived out profoundly as an example – to stand up to all the negative steriotypes of the Church, and to be an example of real Christianity in the eyes of some form of Conservative expressions of the Church which seem to have very little to do with Jesus’ example and teachings in the Gospels.

So my great hope is that New Monastic Communities become an example of a depth of Christianity because they are deeply LIVED by people who are less than perfect but yet are committed to the path of following Jesus as they stumble towards salvation rather any sense of earning it…

This is my hope … mission and evangelism make no sense if no one is really living the Christian faith in community by example.

 

 

New Book: Doorways to the Sacred, Developing a Sacramentality in Fresh Expressions of Church (Ancient Faith Future Mission Series)

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Really pleased to see that this book is now published.  This was for both Graham Cray, Phil Potter and I, an extremely important book to get out.  It draws on the expereinces of theologians and practitioners, engaging with the really important issue regarding how the sacraments emerge and become central to a Fresh Expression of Church.  This is vital to help a missional project become an expression of being Church.  Thie book helpfully explores lots of different projects, as well as different sacraments.  This was a labour of love, and I hope people enjoy and are inspired by this. To order the book click here

 

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What is New Monasticism? 5: . A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

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In this the fifth blog on the essentials of New Monasticism – we look at the element focused on loving service.

As New Monastic Communities draw on a mixed vocation of Monk and Friar, they hold onto contemplative prayer and missional loving service.  This is why sometimes New Monastic communities are called ‘small missional communities’ as a particular focus on ‘prayerful action’.

 

So here loving action has a number of elements

– the alleviation of the suffering of the poor in sharing food, money and resources. Social and economic justice.

– hospitality in terms of friendship, kindness and human dignity.

– opening up the gospel in relational approaches to sharing the Good News of Jesús and the love of God.

– challenging injustice, oppression of people, the environment, other animals and the planet. Social, economic and ecological justice.

For those of us who are Anglican – this loving service is deeply tied into the Missio Dei – the mission of God or more accurately – Missio Trinitatis – the mission of the Trinity. Which is summarised as the marks of mission:

– To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

– To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

– To respond to human need by loving service

– To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation

– To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

It is vital then in an New Monastic Community that individuals are committed to mission and loving action just as much as they are committed to community and contemplative prayer. These need to be shared by the whole community and well as individual actions.

What is New Monasticism?

A. Introduction

1. A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life

2. A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation

3. A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

4. A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

What is New Monasticism? 4: A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

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Following on from the last three blog posts, this blog attempts to explore what is New Monasticism regarding Spiritual Practices and Radical Community.

Spiritual practices in traditional religious communities relate to the vows the individual is expected to make – such as poverty, obedience, chastity and stability.  These then relate to a Rhythm of prayer, work, rest, being community and aspects expressed as worship, community and loving service.

In New Monasticism spiritual practices or disciplines will relate to the seasonal vows or promises an individual is making together with others as an expression of the charism or calling of a particular community.  There are therefore spiritual practices related to these vows.  As said earlier these vows create a construct into which the individual grows and lives like a plant growing up a lattice.  So in the Wellspring Community of which I am a part – these spiritual disciplines are:

– prayer and devotion

– learning and reconciliation

– service and hospitality

– work and wellbeing

Now each of these disciplines relates to a whole host of practices that the individual seeks to consider in a pattern that relates to them, and also in a pattern that reflects to daily and weekly flows of the community.

For example for prayer and devotion this includes a whole set of practices that need consideration…

Will you follow the way of Jesus Christ through the practice of prayer (in listening and in stillness; in silence and aloud; individually and in community; daily and within a weekly rhythm), and the practice of devotion (in meditation; in contemplation; in leading and participating in communal worship; and in the giving of time and resources)?

Now moving onto Radical Community. Being and doing human community is tough. We have all grown up in such an individualised, consumerist, commodified and egoic world, that makes mediating being a human community really difficult. It is true to say that we all as individuals bring our strengths, weaknesses and wounds. That is why in all the New Monastic communities I have been part of,  everyone is expected to have their own external spiritual director and also therapist if needed, as there can be a danger that people play out their stuff in community.  Community can lead to the best or the worst of us as individuals. This is why the fruits of the spirit are essential – kindness, gentleness, patience etc and also the need for humility and mutual vulnerability.

One innovation I think that is crucial are different spaces of belonging. There is need to mark different spaces for the spiritual journey. In traditional communities these are known as Aspirants, Novices, Professed.  In New Monasticism I think we use some of this language – for Aspirants, Participants and Professed. All part of the New Monastic Communities but different spaces.

So coming back to what is community – this is where I am going to disagree with a lot I have seen. With so much of our culture minimising real community – community does mean I think the need for residential community – people actually living together and minimally people living dispersed but near by. In my community in Peckham there is a mixture of the two – but where we do want participants and the professed to love nearby and ideally with others.

So the internet website Facebook and all the rest are great reaching out into the world – but they can never be a real relational community because you don’t have to face your false self or your shadow side through a cyber connection… these are networks not a form of religious communities. I do believe New Monasticism needs to be localised if it is really committed to radical community that does worship, mission and community together. These communities are called to contemplative (or prayerful) action – prayer and service as real people in real contexts where all religious communities are called to serve the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the searching. These are all needed if there is an attempt to be an authentic and radical New Monastic Community.

What is New Monasticism?

A. Introduction

1. A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life

2. A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation

3. A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

4. A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

What is New Monasticism? 3. The second key element: Contemplative Prayer

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Following in this series building on my two previous posts, I want now to make a case that a form of contemplative prayer is essential if this is really New Monasticism.

Whether you read the work of Shane Claiborne, and American New Monastics, or those coming out of the Catholic Worker Movement and liberation theology in South America or Europe, a recovery of contemplative prayer is for me, essential.

Contemplative Prayer is a commitment to a form of prayer that is about encountering God, and it starts with silence. There is nothing like silence to have to face who you are beyond the ego, pride, entertainment, immaturity, that forces you to face who you are, and an openness to encountering God on God’s terms.  Prayer is so often dumbed down in todays world, where at its worst prayer is uploaded as God as heavenly counsellor who then downloads answers back to the individual.  This is so utterly individualistic and consumerist it misses the point.  Ultimately prayer is a medium of encounter with God.  It is inherently mystical, uncontrollable, and other.

Too often I hear people say – I am an extrovert – contemplative prayer is not for me – because it is for introverts.  This is just so wrong and a collusion with the shadow or false self (see the work of Richard Rohr and others on this subject).  There are different forms of prayer, ones where we encounter God from nature, from mystical experience outside of ourselves, but importantly here, also encountering God from within ourselves, where God often speaks through the details of our lives.  The bible often uses the language of the followers of Jesus as having ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’ within them.  This then requires us to seek God from within as well as without.

New Monastics I think therefore draw on different forms of contemplative prayer.  For some more into mystical theology and a bit more catholic draw on the Benedictine, Franciscan and Ignatian.  Others draw on a revitalised Celtic tradition of nature inspired  Christian prayer, and others draw on more contemplative prayer coming out of the charismatic movement descovering spiritual practices.  All these traditions draw on a similar root of contemplative prayer. Without this focus on getting beyond your thinking and feeling, the individual is too locked into their own self.  True contemplative prayer seeks to get beyond this as part of a call to prayer as part of ‘Prayerful-Action’.  This form of prayer is about seeking to catch up with what God is doing, and less about ego-consumptive gratification – the curse of so much of modern Christianity.

To be able to love God, love yourself and love your neigbour (Summary of the New Commandment of Jesus) each Christian needs a healthy,  nourishing and sustaining form of Christian spirituality.  This comes from study of the Bible, dialogue amongst Christians and importantly here – from Prayer.

In the ancient prayer traditions of the Church, there are two forms of prayer – the Via Positiva – the sense of the presence of God, and the Via negativa – the sense of the absence of God. When we encounter God, then this can lead to joy, warmth and that sense of contentment.  But sometimes God feels very absent, which is hard and painful.

Some very unhelpful writers have said that pain is an aboration to the spiritual prayerful path.  This I would say could not be further from the truth.  Pain is part of the human condition, for us to grow in our spirituality from infancy through adolescence into maturity, minus the false self and ego, change is painful.  Infact the mystics teach us, that without pain we would not change.  This is the challenge of going deeper with the path of Jesus, and prayer is very much part of this process.

Given all of this, I am convinced that contemplative forms of prayer are not just desirable for new monasticism to be real and deep enough to sustain such a way of being s Christian disciple, I want to argue it is essential. Otherwise New Monasticism just becomes one more romantic fadism that had great promise, but did not deliver.

If New Monasticism is going to be focused on ‘contemplative action’ then it is essential that those who are activists don’t just act out of their own strongly held convictions, but God MUST be the source of the action.  And equally that Prayer that does not lead to loving service, is again wrapped up in self-serving Christian spirituality, looses the DNA of Jesus who reminds us that he came in the very nature of a Servant.

So if there is no contemplative prayer, I want to argue its not new monastic, and it is therefore not following the path that leads right back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers who began Christian Monasticism on a focus on prayerful action in the deserts of Alexandria, Syria and Palestine.

What is New Monasticism?

A. Introduction

1. A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life

2. A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation

3. A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

4. A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

 

What is New Monasticism? 2. The first key element: Living to a Rhythm of Daily Life

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Traditional religious communities follow a rule of life which has elements of prayer & worship, work, rest, eating and so on. This has set times of prayer which can be as many as six to even eight set times a day. New Monastic communities hold onto this concept of a Rhythm of life which is less prescriptive about when but encourages the follower that there should be some form of Rhythm of work, prayer, rest, participation in community and loving service to others  – but this needs to relate to the personality, vocation and life situation of the individual. In this way New Monastic communities are like what are called ‘third order communities’ in that a Rhythm of life (ROL) is more tailored to the individual. However New Monastic communities commit to seasonal vows, promises and practices that are usually written together by a community, and not like third orders who have a totally individual ROL that was written by an individual. These communal and shared seasonal vows tend to be committed to every year in New Monastic Communities.

Further the ROL of the communities will have certain charisms – values and understandings particulatly catered to the particular calling or vocation of the community. For example the community I am part of sees itself as specifically urban, also a learning community, and seeking to serve God in the context of Peckham.

Like traditional religious communities, New Nonastic communities structure their ROL around spiritual practices. In this way a ROL creates a structure for an individual to thrive – like a plant growing into a lattice or frame to allow it to flourish. In this same way a ROL seeks to be a deep way of following the way of Jesús as seen in the Gospels, seeking to be faithful to Jesús’s teaching to the disciples. In this way the structure of a ROL allows the follower to be open to the Holy Spirit in the context of life.  Not unlike the ability of musicians to be spontaneous in a Jazz Band.  The focus then of a ROL is to engage with the question ‘How should we live to be faithful to Jesús’?’ This then is a deeper question than ‘What should we believe?’ Because it is about application of belief to tie practice of living well.

Put another way the high point of the Gospels for religious communities is the New Commandment – To love God love yourself and love others as put by a former Benedictine Abbot. In this way New Monastics see a ROL as essentially a structure to promote:

1. Orthopathy – right feeling or being – wellbeing

2. Orthopraxis – right living

3. Orthodoxy – right thinking.

So a good ROL needs to include the head, heart and life…..

What is New Monasticism?

A. Introduction

1. A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life

2. A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation

3. A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

4. A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

What is New Monasticism? 1. The four key elements 

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Many people have said they don’t get what New Monasticism is. I therefore thought it would be good to start to blog to explain how I think the term is being used. The first thing to say is that I have never liked the term because it has caused so much confusion, however, for some reason those outside the Church do get it, so this is why I think the term has got used. The confusion I think is for those who have some form of churched experience, and therefore it is confusing and conjures up an idea of people being over pious and wearing mediaeval clothing – this is absolutely far from the truth.

This being so I am going to define as simply as I can what it is:

1. A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life

2. A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation

3. A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community

4. A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.

I will unpack each of these key elements before proceeding with exploring key elements.

 

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