Thursday, 19 August 2010

Quotes. Empathy. New Monasticism. Travel.

Hank, I know it doesn't feel this way all the time but we get to choose what to think about and what to spend our resources on. We choose what, or ideally whom, to lust after. We choose what to watch, what to like, what to build, how to spend the breaths we've been allotted, and the fact that many of our choices are unconscious - get that handbag, get that Starbucks, look at that Snookie - does not in any way make us less responsible for those choices. I'm happiest when I feel like I'm part of a community that helps me choose more intelligently and with greater empathy. — John Green
That quote can be found at the end of John's latest Vlogbrothers video. It dovetails nicely with the things I've been musing on these past couple of days and weeks. Even though John is talking about Nerdfighters (and I totally agree that Nerdfighters is doing what John says) but I also feel that this should be true for the Church. I'm lucky to have a community of people at my church who help me choose intelligently and with more empathy in many different ways. We are, as a community, trying to figure out what it looks like to live like Christ on the Gold Coast - a unique city in Australia.

I think we're getting there. Slowly but surely marvellous things are starting to happen. But I'm not sticking around. Next year I plan on moving overseas; most probably to the United Kingdom. I have a lot of worries about it but I feel like it's the right time because I've been wanting to do it since I was in Year 10 or so. I'm not sure I want to just do the Australian-in-the-UK thing though. I'm interested in exploring what it means to live in a Christian community that is even more explicit in thinking about how we consume, think and empathise.

New Monastic communities such as The Simple Way in Philadelphia are fascinating to me. Unfortunately, the United States is super-restrictive when it comes to long-term visas so I can't check out these American communities for myself. I did find a similar community in Scotland, though, called Iona. I'd love to live there for a bit and just see what it's like living in such a close community centered on social justice. Basically, I've become disillusioned with popular church culture but my love and trust in Christ has remained. I think Sufjan Stevens put it pretty well in the following quote:
I think what people react against is the institution of Christianity, which is what I call Christendom, but Christianity itself or what Christ embodies is so foreign to how we see Christianity manifested in institutions, in politics, in the current US administration, you know, the church as an institution is pretty disturbing because an institution yields power, you know, is possessed by power and possessed by greed and controlling things and controlling society and the principles of Christianity do not mix with that. It’s like oil and water. So I think what we have now is like.. what you perceive as Christianity in American culture, especially, is actually a bastardized version of it and feels very distant and very ugly to me and I consider myself to have very, very orthodox Christian beliefs but I have very deep emotional and political and spiritual convictions against so much of that. — Sufjan Stevens, 2004
The question is, "How does Christ want me to choose?" or (somewhat humorously?), "What does Christ want me to 'lust after'?" I want to explore these questions with the breaths I've been allotted for next year. I don't think I'd spend my whole trip living at Iona or whatever New Monastic community I find. I'd also want to see my friends, travel around mainland Europe and go to VidCon 2011. Nor do I think that living in a Simply Way-style community is actually something I should do for the rest of my life. How would my video-making fit in with the communities' call to simple living?

But it's something I want to try. I'd love to go there and learn how the community works and bring that back to my church here on the Gold Coast. I'd love to learn how to be part of a community that works so closely together to encourage each other to choose with greater intelligence and empathy. I'd love to spread that amongst the greater Church and change that culture to become less about power or image and more about loving God and loving your neighbour.

That post I've been talking about for the past few days? This is it, and I don't quite feel I've done it justice. Those are my first-draft thoughts on the issue, though, and I've got work in the morning so I have really, really got to sleep.

Here's a song from the aforementioned Sufjan Stevens - For the Widows in Paradise:

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!


  1. Jesus and Sufjan all in one post, Rohan? Stop being the perfect man, seriously.

    I guess right now I'm trying to figure out what living like Christ looks like on a college campus. I'd like to get more involved in my church and our college ministry this year. Unfortunately, the career path I was called to doesn't leave much time to go live in a community like Iona or The Simple Way, but that sounds like it would be an amazing experience.

    At the same time, though, I feel it's very important, as a Christian, to live with non-Christians. I know that I always found when I got back from church camps or mission trips that it was a little bit harder to connect with my other friends because there can be such an "us vs. them" mindset that can come about. When, really, there should just be an us. You can't show the love of Christ if you aren't loving people, right?

  2. My mother lived in a Christian Community called "The House of the Gentle Bunyip" in her first few years of living in Australia. I think she was probably about your age actually. She's always raved about how good it was and how she would love to go back for a while.

    I guess having heard how wonderful it is my whole life, the idea of living in a Christian community has always appealed to me. It would certainly be a worthwhile experience.

  3. I know we often agree on a lot of things, but I don't think there's a word in this post that doesn't describe exactly how I feel. "Disillusioned with popular church culture" is what I've felt since about grade 10. It sort of comes and goes in waves and some times are worse than others but it's always sitting in the back of my head.

    I've been thinking about the sorts of communities you mentioned a lot lately as well. I don't know if something like that is the answer for me but it's definitely something I think about. I've been reading about Thomas Merton a bit lately and I've found him pretty encouraging. Especially towards the end of his life, where he was basically a hermit except that all these rad people visited him all the time. Before that he gave up a really promising academic career to become a trappist monk. What a badass.

  4. I've been thinking about that sort of thing recently too - I keep coming across others who are having similar thoughts and feelings. It's crazy, but very encouraging. It's so cool that you've been thinking about this. I'm not sure if it's just the type of people I tend to associate with (which is probably a large part of it), but I've really sensed a trend towards a lot of people feeling like they want to get away from popular church culture and get back to the roots of what it means to follow Jesus and love people.

    Living in community (and WITHIN communities). Hospitality. Caring for practical needs. Caring for emotional needs. Caring for spiritual needs. Really focussing less on the Sunday morning 'experience' and more on the day to day of how we live our lives together as Christians and how we reach out to others. Not just helping people with token acts of kindness or charity, but really getting to the heart of what they need and want. Not throwing money or time at them, but really loving them and befriending them.

    Earlier this summer I read 'The Irresistible Revolution' by Shane Claibourne - amazing book. It was maybe not as life changing for me as it is for some people, but not because it wasn't challenging. It just was for me more of a confirmation of what I felt God saying to me for a long time rather than the first time I'd encountered that way of thinking and living.

    I'm really interested too in how those ideas can work out in my life. Not everyone is called to living in the inner city or living in a community based on simplicity. But I think a lot of the underlying principles can be built upon. Personally, I'd love to stay in my university town and live in one of the council estates there. It's not as rough as the inner city, but there is so much need. It may not look like it from the outside, it looks relatively middle-class, but there are so many family issues and domestic abuse and unemployment. I'd love to help bring God's love to those people through a loving community based right where they live. Going to them, not expecting them to come to us as the church.

    I would encourage you to not give up on your interests and talents in video making etc. - although it may not fit in with some of the 'new monasticism' communities, I'm sure you would find likeminded people who don't feel the call to live completely simply. God has given you those abilities for a purpose!

    I'll let you know if I find out any more about Christian communities like the ones you wrote about here in the UK - I'm interested to learn more about them myself!

    (Sorry, that was a blog post in itself! haha. But it's a topic that really gets me passionate!)

    (Oh, and here's a great article about a community in Manchester: )

  5. Sorry to spam you with comments - but here's a link to the website for the Eden projects (like the one in the article I linked to above):