Many protestants of the Evangelical persuasion, especially those in the Emergent Church movement, are rediscovering the Catholic monastic tradition and are providing interesting case studies of adapting the monastic way of life in an urban setting, with a matrix of practices that are geared towards the maintenance and revitalisation of local communities and economies. They must be congratulated in their innovativeness in making an ancient and yet still relevant mode of being fit into the dark and oft-ignored crevices of the postmodern city, and in so doing, make a radical yet orthodox challenge to a mainstreamed, bourgeois Christianity.
However one may, and in the spirit of fraternal concern should, question if the movement, in their enthusiasm to make the monastic model fit the contemporary city, either recklessly jettison many of the disciplines in the established monastic rules that give them their distinct character and endurance, or even make themselves extensions of the problem they are trying to combat. One wonders if, for instance, limiting its liturgical life to morning prayer is enough of a liturgical anchor for such communities (compared to as many as 8 times daily under the Rule of St. Benedict), or if the asceticism demanded of the Trappists, for instance, has lost its radical edge to the extent that it has to be rendered prophetically irrelevant to the city. More fundamentally, there is a question of ecclesiology: how would they conceive their community in relation to the rest of the Church (assuming such communities have a conception of a wider “Church”beyond the local community)?
However, their witness remains an important one. Below are clips from the founder of one of these protestant monastic communities, Shane Claiborne of the Little Way community in Philadelphia. Do not be fooled. Underneath the Southern drawl, tacky wannabe habit and dreadlocks is a highly eloquent and sometimes justifiably challenging articulation of the movement as well as a challenge to middle-class Christendom towards a more communal, mundane, yet more radical mode of discipleship.
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