Resources for Radical Living: The book and course, version 2.0–the revised structure


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Last summer, Mark Van Steenwyk and I taught  a Bethel Seminary course called HS-ML729: Resources for Radical Living. Now we are preparing to teach the course again in Bethel’s winter 2011 term, in both a Masters and a DMin mode.

Version 2.0 of the course will be different from version 1.0, both in its basic structure and in the figures and movements we will be studying under the rubrics of the prophetic life, the compassionate life, the penitential life, the devotional life, and the communal life.

We will still explore, under each of these five thematic areas, two figures/movements from Christian history and today–making a total of 10 case studies. But both the framework and the case studies will change. This post outlines the new and, we hope, improved structure. The revised list of case studies (figures and movements) we will cover in version 2.0 can be found here. The first post in this series of three presented the original version of the course.

How has the structure changed? In version 1.0 of the course, we addressed the penitential, compassionate, penitential, communal, and devotional life in that order. After the course, Mark and I put together a book proposal (coming soon to a bookstore near you . . . well, first we need to find a publisher!). In the proposal, we decided to swap the last two units–communal and devotional–and make the communal section the crowning piece of the course. The rationale is that radical Christian living is always communal! We also organized the first four units as two sets of two, based on the twofold “law of love.”

Here’s how the new framework looks, minus the case studies (see the next post for those):

Introduction

“The Law of Love” has two prongs: (1) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, (2) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Though the first prong is primary for Christians, the second is more usually associated with the idea of a “radical Christian life.” We could have structured this discussion in many ways, but it seems to make sense to ask first, how do we live radically as Christians in the worldthat is, in relationship with others, both Christian and non-Christian, and then to follow up with the question: how do we sustain that compassionate other-directedness with an appropriate attention to rooting ourselves passionately in God—that is, the first prong.

I. Loving others radically

Jesus’ way of radical love isn’t particularly pleasant. He loves—and invites us to love—both the powerful and the powerless, the oppressor and the oppressed, the exalted and the humble. Sometimes that love is expressed through acts of compassion—perhaps best typified by Jesus’ teachings of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. When we, the church, love the “least of these” we love Jesus. But Jesus also shows us a prophetic way of love: one that calls the powerful and wealthy to repentance. If love compels us to care for the weak, it also compels us to challenge the strong. And in challenging the strong, we not only show love for the ones they oppress, but also show the strong their own way to liberation.

1. The Prophetic Life

Do governments, corporations, and other “principalities and powers” behave in Christian ways? No. Should we expect them to? No. But how do we live Christ-like lives and build God-pleasing churches in light of modern states’ endemic failure to preserve peace and justice for their peoples? What does the famous “obedience passage” of Romans 13 mean in light of this sad reality?

2. The Compassionate Life

Neither Testament of the Christian Scriptures, for all their stunningly super-natural gospel message of God’s transcendent love and grace, stays very long away from the theme of compassion. Though that gospel is so clearly not a teaching about a moral system, it clearly does revolutionize everything we thought we knew about human morality. Why? Because the gospel refuses to leave us alone in the personal, individual (and super-spiritual) realm of “my soul and its relation to God.” Constantly it pushes us back to the horizontal (and thus messy and indeed physical) dimension of relationships with others—of mercy, charity, compassion. It is with us as with Matthew: sheep and goats are separated at the Judgment by cups of cold water, clothing for the naked, visits to the imprisoned.

II. Loving God radically

In our shallow society, “love” has been boiled down to sentiment. Nowhere, perhaps, is this truer than in our love for God. To many church-goers, loving God is mostly about an emotional display of singing on Sunday morning. But to many within the Tradition, loving God goes much deeper than sentiment: it is a way of life that requires deep Godward devotion coupled with ongoing self-denial.

3. The Penitential Life

The penitential life is about clearing away everything in your life that has the potential to interfere with your devotion to God—and, indeed, to others. A corrupted version of “penance” led to the division of the Western church into Catholic and Protestant branches. But the concept itself is sound: we are fallen people, prone to many sins that separate us from God. “Penance” simply means the ways we discipline ourselves and train ourselves toward God, in light of this susceptibility to sin. If the world insists we need material goods in order to live a fulfilled life, then we choose a life of simplicity for the sake of the gospel. If the world sets up sex and romantic involvement as idols, then we choose to give our bodies and hearts to God alone. If the world tells us that to be successful, we must gain for ourselves power and fame, then we choose a path of weakness and humility. To say the penitential life is unpopular today in America is to severely understate the case: self-denial is positively un-American, unless it is a sort of discipline intended to win for us even more money, sex, or power.

4. The Devoted Life

The Puritans were on to something when they framed their conversion narratives as stories of first trying to live good lives out of their own strength, then crashing and burning, then finally being pulled from the wreckage by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Without the grace mediated to us by Jesus, none of us is capable for one second of living lives that are prophetic, compassionate, penitential, communal . . . or, in short, lives that are very much good to anybody, including ourselves, let alone “radical.” So we come to the importance of devotion. Quite simply, the devotional life has been the engine of all successful Christian reform since the beginning of the church. It has also been—despite the good efforts of modern teachers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Eugene Peterson—the most difficult and elusive aspect of the Christian life for Americans to grasp and live.

III. The linchpin: living radically with others

Though the majority of readers of this book will not end up in an “intentional Christian community” of the sort represented by monasticism (old or new), we all need to recognize the communal dimension of the Christian life: we are saved as individuals, yes, but also into community—the kingdom community that the Peter calls “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). To be healthy and productive (and radical!), our Christian lives must be lived in the context of community. That’s the mystery of the church, which as Paul says is like a marriage (Eph. 5). Spouses may separate for a time, by mutual consent, but the normal married life is a life lived together.

The church is a mystery, but maybe God made the community of Christians central to his salvific purposes because this is the place where the two prongs of the law of love come together: here we love others (in ways both prophetic and compassionate), and at the same time we love God (in ways penitential and devotional . . . and also by receiving the prophetic and compassionate ministries of others)

5. The Communal Life

Community is the context of our faith. So much of what is broken about modern Western Christianity can be tied to a growing loss of community. Christianity assumes mutual submission, mutual aid, and communal spirituality. As a remedy for the dark side of individualism, we will examine the stories of three models of community: [CLIPPED, as the models have now changed].

Introduction (1,000 words)

“The Law of Love” has two prongs: (1) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, (2) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Though the first prong is primary for Christians, the second is more usually associated with the idea of a “radical Christian life.” We could have structured this discussion in many ways, but it seems to make sense to ask first, how do we live radically as Christians in the worldthat is, in relationship with others, both Christian and non-Christian, and then to follow up with the question: how do we sustain that compassionate other-directedness with an appropriate attention to rooting ourselves passionately in God—that is, the first prong.

Loving others radically (200 – 500 words)

Jesus’ way of radical love isn’t particularly pleasant. He loves—and invites us to love—both the powerful and the powerless, the oppressor and the oppressed, the exalted and the humble. Sometimes that love is expressed through acts of compassion—perhaps best typified by Jesus’ teachings of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. When we, the church, love the “least of these” we love Jesus. But Jesus also shows us a prophetic way of love: one that calls the powerful and wealthy to repentance. If love compels us to care for the weak, it also compels us to challenge the strong. And in challenging the strong, we not only show love for the ones they oppress, but also show the strong their own way to liberation.

The Prophetic Life (200 – 500 words)

Do governments, corporations, and other “principalities and powers” behave in Christian ways? No. Should we expect them to? No. But how do we live Christ-like lives and build God-pleasing churches in light of modern states’ endemic failure to preserve peace and justice for their peoples? What does the famous “obedience passage” of Romans 13 mean in light of this sad reality?

The Berrigans and Ploughshares (the Berrigans: Daniel and Philip—communist sympathizers, activists), Christian peace movement (see Christian radicalism: A reader, and look for other sources)

John Chrysostom and Economic justice stuff (how to separate from compassionate: obvious difference: prophetic is a proclamation, a challenge; Dorothy Day was only secondarily a prophetic figure—she lived out a life; Catholic social encyclicals): Chrysostom—check his biography—see the Wikipedia page; Ron Sider today

Women’s rights (secular/ecclesial): Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Grimke sisters, Francis Willard

Slavery/racist structures: MLK Jr., Sojourner Truth

The Compassionate Life (200 – 500 words)

Neither Testament of the Christian Scriptures, for all their stunningly super-natural gospel message of God’s transcendent love and grace, stays very long away from the theme of compassion. Though that gospel is so clearly not a teaching about a moral system, it clearly does revolutionize everything we thought we knew about human morality. Why? Because the gospel refuses to leave us alone in the personal, individual (and super-spiritual) realm of “my soul and its relation to God.” Constantly it pushes us back to the horizontal (and thus messy and indeed physical) dimension of relationships with others—of mercy, charity, compassion. It is with us as with Matthew: sheep and goats are separated at the Judgment by cups of cold water, clothing for the naked, visits to the imprisoned.

Christian medical and physical-social compassionate ministry: early church adoptions, modern adoptions, early Franciscan leper colonies, hospice movement, L’Arche, crisis pregnancy movement, medical missions, hospitals (nobody born in a hospital that didn’t start with Christians—do it as an exercise; many started by nuns, Salvation Army, etc.), Christian missions to prostitutes, Christian ministries to alcoholics, addicts, and the homeless

Journal of Early Christian Studies

Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2007

E-ISSN: 1086-3184 Print ISSN: 1067-6341

DOI: 10.1353/earl.2007.0021

Schroeder, Caroline T., 1971-
From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (review)
Journal of Early Christian Studies – Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2007, pp. 122-124

The Johns Hopkins University Press

Caroline T. Schroeder – From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (review) – Journal of Early Christian Studies 15:1 Journal of Early Christian Studies 15.1 (2007) 122-124 Muse Search Journals This Journal Contents Reviewed by Caroline T. Schroeder Stanford University Andrew T. Crislip; From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity ; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005; Pp. x + 235. Accounts of ascetics miraculously curing the sick have captivated audiences both ancient and modern. Now Andrew Crislip turns our attention to a less scrutinized form of ascetic healing: institutional care for the ill. From Monastery to Hospital examines organized health care in late antiquity, arguing that the nearest antecedent to the hospital was the Christian monastery. Crislip meticulously combs Egyptian papyri and monastic texts (including some unpublished texts of Shenoute), Basil’s Shorter and Longer Rules, Augustine’s rules, and other sources for references to the infirm and their care. He interprets the…

Dorothy Day/Catholic worker movement

Hospitality to homeless, the poor (and other radical impulses flowing out of it: Berrigans—both lived in Catholic Worker communities). During the Great Depression, America found itself blessed with an unlikely saint. Coming to faith from a background in communist activism, Dorothy Day (along with Peter Maurin) founded a movement of “Catholic Workers” who committed themselves to the works of mercy. Practicing hospitality among the dispossessed, Dorothy Day demonstrated a deep way of compassion that still serves as an example not to only dozens of Catholic Worker houses around the world, but to an entire generation of Christians who are discovering the power of radical hospitality.

Loving God radically (200 – 500 words)

In our shallow society, “love” has been boiled down to sentiment. Nowhere, perhaps, is this truer than in our love for God. To many church-goers, loving God is mostly about an emotional display of singing on Sunday morning. But to many within the Tradition, loving God goes much deeper than sentiment: it is a way of life that requires deep Godward devotion coupled with ongoing self-denial.

The Penitential Life (200 – 500 words)

The penitential life is about clearing away everything in your life that has the potential to interfere with your devotion to God—and, indeed, to others. A corrupted version of “penance” led to the division of the Western church into Catholic and Protestant branches. But the concept itself is sound: we are fallen people, prone to many sins that separate us from God. “Penance” simply means the ways we discipline ourselves and train ourselves toward God, in light of this susceptibility to sin. If the world insists we need material goods in order to live a fulfilled life, then we choose a life of simplicity for the sake of the gospel. If the world sets up sex and romantic involvement as idols, then we choose to give our bodies and hearts to God alone. If the world tells us that to be successful, we must gain for ourselves power and fame, then we choose a path of weakness and humility. To say the penitential life is unpopular today in America is to severely understate the case: self-denial is positively un-American, unless it is a sort of discipline intended to win for us even more money, sex, or power.

Francis/Franciscans

Francis lived in a time of increasing plenty and ease—at least for the rising merchant class to which his wealthy father belonged. The problem was: he found it hard to be Christian and wealthy at the same time. Famously, he stripped off his very clothes before the bishop and gave them to his father, proclaiming that he had now only one father: God. The most important thing for Francis was to live a life in imitation of Christ. He symbolically married “Lady Poverty” and lived a praying, preaching, begging life, content to subsist on whatever the Lord provided through his people. This looked crazy. But so had Jesus’ own life, in many respects! And people flocked to Francis to join this penitential discipline of poverty, so that the story of his order became a story of the perpetual struggle between institution-building and, as the American Shakers later put it, the “gift to be simple.” Few figures challenge Western Christians as much as this one.

Wendell Berry & New Agrarianism/Back-to-the-land

Although he hardly ever uses the word “penitential,” Wendell Berry is, perhaps, modern America’s clearest penitential voice. In a society of hyper-mobility, he exhorts us to stay put. In a culture of consumption, he calls us to frugality, care for the earth, and sustainable practices. In a climate of increased individualism, he calls us to the kind of interconnectedness and community that requires personal sacrifice. He is one of America’s strongest voices against greed, violence, and waste, and for this he is like a modern-day John the Baptist. Berry doesn’t cry out from the wilderness; rather he calls out from the small farm. And many have been responding to that voice. In a movement that has much in common with earlier “back-to-the-land” movements, people are again exploring a sustainable way of life that is anchored to a sustainable place, while the chaotic storm of American life rages.

Include Schumacher, Berry, rise of rural intentional communities, rise of environmental concern—Berry exemplifies some but not all.

The Devoted Life (200 – 500 words)

The Puritans were on to something when they framed their conversion narratives as stories of first trying to live good lives out of their own strength, then crashing and burning, then finally being pulled from the wreckage by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Without the grace mediated to us by Jesus, none of us is capable for one second of living lives that are prophetic, compassionate, penitential, communal . . . or, in short, lives that are very much good to anybody, including ourselves, let alone “radical.” So we come to the importance of devotion. Quite simply, the devotional life has been the engine of all successful Christian reform since the beginning of the church. It has also been—despite the good efforts of modern teachers such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Eugene Peterson—the most difficult and elusive aspect of the Christian life for Americans to grasp and live.

Wesley/early Methodists

John Wesley’s and the early Methodists’ style of devotion to God speaks to us today because it was both rich and seamless, like a finely brocaded carpet. Certainly the gold thread that ran through it was the experienced, liberating power of saving grace. But this was not sheer experientialism: Wesley wove his vision of the Christian life on the loom of Scripture (in an era when many Christians discounted Scripture’s authority and put their faith, instead, in reason and self-effort). Likewise, the tapestry of early Methodist life featured a design of intense, wholehearted worship of the Living God. But alongside these powerful images of devotion shone pictures of compassionate action. Finally, the early Methodists did weave into their lives the intense, private devotions of the spiritual diary, the prayer closet, and the solitary study of scripture. But they knew that without the public discipline of accountable community, such private practices would become threadbare and useless. Said Wesley: “’Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.” We are beset today with trendy “cafeteria spirituality”—devotion as consumerism. The early Methodists challenge us with the disciplines of a truly integrated Christian life.

Slave spirituality—trajectory to MLK Jr.

Contextualized spirituality, specific. Exodus narrative; slave spirituality. You can see that the heart and soul of slave Christianity is this deep sense of spirituality and devotion. And you can see where it led. It bore fruit, issued in social challenges.  We should “out” the cultural use of black spirituality in the work of (Toni Morrison?). Potential for audio-visual content: slave spirituals performed by conntemporary artists

The linchpin (200 – 500 words)

Though the majority of readers of this book will not end up in an “intentional Christian community” of the sort represented by monasticism (old or new), we all need to recognize the communal dimension of the Christian life: we are saved as individuals, yes, but also into community—the kingdom community that the Peter calls “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). To be healthy and productive (and radical!), our Christian lives must be lived in the context of community. That’s the mystery of the church, which as Paul says is like a marriage (Eph. 5). Spouses may separate for a time, by mutual consent, but the normal married life is a life lived together.

The church is a mystery, but maybe God made the community of Christians central to his salvific purposes because this is the place where the two prongs of the law of love come together: here we love others (in ways both prophetic and compassionate), and at the same time we love God (in ways penitential and devotional . . . and also by receiving the prophetic and compassionate ministries of others)

The Communal Life (200 – 500 words)

Community is the context of our faith. So much of what is broken about modern Western Christianity can be tied to a growing loss of community. Christianity assumes mutual submission, mutual aid, and communal spirituality. As a remedy for the dark side of individualism, we will examine the stories of three models of community: those of the Benedictines, the Koinonia Partners, and Jean Vanier’s L’Arche community.

2 responses to “Resources for Radical Living: The book and course, version 2.0–the revised structure

  1. Wow! Hold on to your hat. Just about to post on that . . .

  2. Are you spilling the beans yet on who your new models will be?

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