Fifty-two readings on living in intentional Christian community to spark group discussion.
Gold Medal Winner, 2017 Illumination Book Awards, Christian Living
Silver Medal Winner, 2017 Benjamin Franklin Award in Religion, Independent Book Publishers Association
Why, in an age of connectivity, are our lives more isolated and fragmented than ever? And what can be done about it? The answer lies in the hands of God’s people. Increasingly, today’s Christians want to be the church, to follow Christ together in daily life. From every corner of society, they are daring to step away from the status quo and respond to Christ’s call to share their lives more fully with one another and with others. As they take the plunge, they are discovering the rich, meaningful life that Jesus has in mind for all people, and pointing the church back to its original calling: to be a gathered, united community that demonstrates the transforming love of God.
Of course, such a life together with others isn’t easy. The selections in this volume are, by and large, written by practitionerspeople who have pioneered life in intentional community and have discovered in the nitty-gritty of daily life what it takes to establish, nurture, and sustain a Christian community over the long haul.
Whether you have just begun thinking about communal living, are already embarking on sharing life with others, or have been part of a community for many years, the pieces in this collection will encourage, challenge, and strengthen you. The book’s fifty-two chapters can be read one a week to ignite meaningful group discussion.
Contributors include from John F. Alexander, Eberhard Arnold, J. Heinrich Arnold, Johann Christoph Arnold, Alden Bass, Benedict of Nursia, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Leonardo Boff, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan Chittister, Stephen B. Clark, Andy Crouch, Dorothy Day, Anthony de Mello, Elizabeth Dede, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jenny Duckworth, Friedrich Foerster, Richard J. Foster, Jodi Garbison, Arthur G. Gish, Helmut Gollwitzer, Adele J Gonzalez, Stanley Hauerwas, Joseph H. Hellerman, Roy Hession, David Janzen, Rufus Jones, Emmanuel Katongole, Arthur Katz, Søren Kierkegaard, C. Norman Kraus, C.S. Lewis, Gerhard Lohfink, Ed Loring, Chiara Lubich, George MacDonald, Thomas Merton, Hal Miller, José P. Miranda, Jürgen Moltmann, Charles E. Moore, Henri J. M. Nouwen, Elizabeth O’Connor, John M. Perkins, Eugene H.Peterson, Christine D. Pohl, Chris Rice, Basilea Schlink, Howard A. Snyder, Mother Teresa, Thomas à Kempis, Elton Trueblood, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
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About the Author
Charles E. Moore is a member of the Bruderhof community and teaches at the Mount Academy in New York. He writes for Plough Quarterly and has compiled and edited several acclaimed books, including Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Everyone Belongs to God: Discovering the Hidden Christ, and Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship.
Read an Excerpt
The Great Idea
He had long been an official in the town; he was in a prominent position, respected by all, rich, and had a reputation for benevolence. He subscribed considerable sums to the almshouse and the orphan asylum; he was very charitable, too, in secret, a fact which only became known after his death. He was a man of about fifty, almost stern in appearance and not much given to conversation. He had been married about ten years and his wife, who was still young, had borne him three children. Well, I was sitting alone in my room the following evening, when my door suddenly opened and this gentleman walked in....
And from that time forth he came to see me nearly every evening. And we should have become greater friends, if only he had ever talked of himself. But about himself he scarcely ever said a word, yet continually asked me about myself. In spite of that I became very fond of him and spoke with perfect frankness to him about all my feelings; "for," thought I, "what need have I to know his secrets, since I can see without that that he is a good man. Moreover, though he is such a serious man and my senior, he comes to see a youngster like me and treats me as his equal." And I learned a great deal that was profitable from him, for he was a man of lofty mind.
"That life is heaven," he said to me suddenly, "that I have long been thinking about"; and all at once he added, "I think of nothing else indeed." He looked at me and smiled. "I am more convinced of it than you are; I will tell you later why."
I listened to him and thought that he evidently wanted to tell me something.
"Heaven," he went on, "lies hidden within all of us – here it lies hidden in me now, and if I will it, it will be revealed to me tomorrow and for all time."
I looked at him; he was speaking with great emotion and gazing mysteriously at me, as if he were questioning me.
"And that we are all responsible to all for all, apart from our own sins – you were quite right in thinking that, and it is wonderful how you could comprehend it in all its significance at once. And in very truth, so soon as people understand that, the kingdom of heaven will be for them not a dream, but a living reality."
"And when," I cried out to him bitterly, "when will that come to pass? And will it ever come to pass? Is not it simply a dream of ours?"
"What then, you don't believe it," he said. "You preach it and don't believe it yourself. Believe me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It's a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, people must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach people to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Everyone will think his share too small and they will be always envying, complaining, and attacking one another. You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation."
"What do you mean by isolation?" I asked him.
"Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age – it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realization he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units; they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, 'How strong I am now and how secure,' and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in people and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days people have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens ... But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw people's souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die."
Religion, which is as immemorial as smiling and weeping, does not begin with a Saint Stylites alone on the top of a pillar. If it had so begun the saint would soon have perished without a sympathetic community to see him – or, what is more important, to admire him. It is foolish for us to waste any precious time trying to settle the issue whether religion originates with the individual or the group. It is as absurd as trying to find a stick which has only one end. Individual and group cannot be cut apart and be treated as though either were real as a sundered existence.
The moment an individual has arrived on the scene with a capacity for the mystical, that is, the direct personal apprehension of God and capacity to interpret his experience, there is bound to be behind this individual the long molding processes of history, the accumulations of the experiences and transmissions of many generations. If the given individual runs on ahead of the group, as a prophet-genius does, it will be along the lines and in the direction for which the group has long been preparing the line of march. And the individual does not possess his insight with a permanent assurance until he has interpreted it and carried others along with this conviction. In short, however important the creative insight of the rare soul may be, religion does not count as a contribution to the race until a beloved community is formed and the discovery is interpreted and transmuted into a social movement. As far as its significance is concerned, religion is essentially social. It is an affair of a beloved community....
The primary function of a church, if it is to be the continuing body of Christ in the world, is to raise human life out of its secular drift and to give reality to the eternal here in the midst of time. When it ceases to bear witness to the real presence of an eternal reality operating in and upon our lives, its race is run; it has missed its mission. But just as certainly the church is commissioned as the organ of the Spirit to bring health and healing to our human lives and to the social order in which our lives are formed and molded.
It may be true, as the higher critics tell us, that the kingdom of God as presented in the Gospels is not a new social order to be slowly, painfully, and creatively realized here in the furrows of our world through the cooperation of God and humankind together. On the other hand, there is most assuredly a type of life presented in the Gospels which, when it appears, seems to be already the kingdom of God – a type of life in which love is the supreme spring and motive, in which the spirit of forgiveness has come to ripeness, and which aims to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Insofar as the church carries on and incarnates that commission it becomes the sower of the seeds of the kingdom of God and the bearer of a new order for human society.
There is a proverb which says that God empties the nest not by breaking the eggs, but by hatching them. Not by the violent method of revolution will the new social order of life come, not by the legal enforcement of ancient commands, or by the formal application of texts and sayings, but by the vital infusion of a new spirit, the propagation of a passion of love like Christ's, the continuation through the church of the real presence of eternity in the midst of time, will something come more like the order of life which we call the kingdom of God. It is the role of the church, I maintain, to be the fellow laborer with God for this harvest of life....
Christ calls us to ... [live] as an organic part of a kingdom, a fellowship, which expresses in invisible and temporal fashion, in ever-growing and unfolding degrees, the will of God – the heart and purpose and spirit of the divine life. Here in this kingdom God's life differentiates itself and pours itself through finite lives as the sap of the vine pours itself out into all the branches and twigs and shoots which go together to make the vine a vine. It is the vast Yggdrasil tree of a spiritual humanity. The kingdom, even in its imperfect stage as we now see it – still a good deal of a mustard seed – is the most impressive revelation of God there is in the world today. It is the only way that the will and life and love of God can be fully revealed. In this emergent group life, where love comes more fully into play than it does anywhere else, we catch some gleams of the Great Life that works through us now and some prophecies of that kingdom which shall be when all people see what a few see now.
Life culminates in forms of organism, in which the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. The kingdom of God is the highest form of such organism that has yet emerged – a corpus spirituale, a "blessed community" – a living whole in which part contributes to part, and all the parts unitedly cooperate to express the life of the whole. Each member is both end and means, an end in itself and a means to the fulfillment of the life and purpose of the whole. We are as far removed here as we can be from a scheme of life which focuses upon rewards or which aims to secure an excess of pleasures over pains. In fact, we have transcended categories of calculation and even of causation and have entered into that organic way of life where each lives for all and where the interpretation of the life of the whole is the business and, at the same time, the joy of each member. The formation of such a kingdom, life in such a kingdom, is the fundamental end of life for Christ, as set forth in the Gospels. The length of his purpose horizontally is the inclusion of all people in such a cooperative community and the height of it upward is the raising of all people to a full consciousness of sonship with God, in a family-fellowship, living to do his will. Here, once more, the emphasis of Christ is on life and action, not on theory and definition. The kingdom of God is something we do – not a place to which we go....
We are forever seeking to find ourselves, but our sporadic quests lead us off on trails that end in some cul-de-sac, or, as Emerson would say, "up a tree in a squirrel hole." Our subordinate ends bring and have always brought frustration, disillusionment, and defeat. Let us once find the real end for which our nature is equipped and we can live thrillingly and triumphantly. That real end, according to Christ of the Gospels, is the kingdom of God, a spiritual organism, a fellowship of persons, bound together in cooperative love and forming in union with God the tissue and web of the spiritual world – the eternal universe. To this end were we born and for this cause we came into the world, that we might bear witness to this reality and that we might reveal its laws, its principles, and its serene and demonstrative power.
Style of Life
Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt
For those who keep their eyes on God's kingdom, it is not only in the future – it is already coming into being in the present. And it is present, for this faith is today shaping a community of men and women, a society in which people strengthen each other toward this goal. Without such a society, how is faith possible? The kingdom of God must be foreshadowed in a human society. The apostle Paul calls this society the body of Christ, of which Christ is the head (1 Cor. 12:12–27). Peter calls it a building, where each stone fits the next so that the building becomes complete (1 Pet. 2:4–12). Jesus calls it his little flock, where all love one another, where each answers for the others and all answer for the one. As such, we are fighters for the future, through whom the earth must become bright. We know what we believe; therefore we testify to it, and live it out. In this way God's kingdom comes into the present, just as it shall be in the future.
In order to form such a society in Christ there must be people who are resolute and free from anxiety. Right from the beginning, when the apostles began to preach, Christians sought this freedom from worry. But do not misunderstand this. You can't just say to your neighbor, "Don't worry!" When a person lives utterly alone and nobody is concerned about him, when other people kick him around or want nothing to do with him, when a person is excluded from everything that lends dignity to life, when there is nothing for him to do but earn his bread with much worry, toil, and burden, then it is a sin to say to him, "Don't worry!"
Today it is coldly said of millions, "They shouldn't worry. If they would only work, they would earn their wages." Those who talk like this pass right by such folks without caring a jot for them. The majority of working people still do not have jobs worthy of a human being. They live scattered and isolated lives. What a misery it is to have to beg, or to work two jobs. Yet how many people have to do it! What an unworthy existence it is for people who want to meet their obligations and be respected, but who cannot pay their taxes or their bills or are unable to serve society in any meaningful way. How can I say to such a person, "Don't worry"? What coldness of heart!
At present the whole world, including the wealthiest of nations, lies deep in worries and cares. But within the society and organism that proceeds from Christ, worries can and should cease. There we should care for one another. When the apostle Paul says, "Do not worry," he takes it for granted that these are people who are united by a bond of solidarity so that no one says anymore, "This is mine," but all say, "Our solidarity, our bond, must take away our worries. All that we share together must help each one of us and so rid us of anxiety." In this way the kingdom of heaven comes. First it comes in a small flock free from anxiety. Thus Jesus teaches: "I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. ... But seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:25–34). From the beginning, ever since Christ was born, people have sought such a society, a fellowship of the kingdom, free from cares and worries. There is an enormous strength when people stand together, when they unite in a communal way. The idea of private property falls away, and they are so bound together in the Spirit that each one says, "What I have belongs to the others, and if I should ever be in need, they will help me" (2 Cor. 8:13–15). This firm and absolute solidarity in a shared life where each is responsible for the other is the kind of life in which you can indeed say, "Don't worry!"
Time and again, people have attempted to live together in this way. Yet it has never come fully into being. And this is the reason why Christianity has become so weak. To be sure, people throughout the ages have known that this building up of a social order in which one need not worry anymore was originally Christ's will. Christ told us not to seek after riches or the honors of this world. He said this precisely because he took it for granted that his united people would always have the necessary means for life. He told his followers that their oneness in love, their lifestyle of sharing, would provide them with sufficient food and clothing.
Again and again people have thought that this is the way society should be. But because it does not fully come about, they give it up eventually and settle for charity, where those who have offer something to those who have not out of a charitable urge. This is the way it has always been. Many people find ways, with their extra means, to help the poor here and there. Yet this is not what Jesus Christ wants. Just the opposite! What worries are caused by the many charitable institutions of our day! Millions of people continue to worry how they can get a little here and a little there. Often they are turned away by charity itself. Does this surprise you? Do not be taken aback when the philanthropists of this world fail to give help. Charity is not the way; it still holds back what is essentially needed. Therefore we must join together. A united company of Jesus must come about.
Excerpted from "Called to Community"
Copyright © 2016 Plough Publishing House.
Excerpted by permission of Plough Publishing House.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas, xiii,
Introduction by Charles E. Moore, xv,
PART I A Call to Community,
1. The Great Idea, 3,
2. Blessed Community, 7,
3. Style of Life, 12,
4. Embodiment, 17,
5. Brothers, Sisters, 22,
6. Pentecost, 31,
7. Christian Communism, 36,
8. A Visible Reality, 43,
9. Counterculture, 48,
10. The Way, 55,
PART II Forming Community,
11. A Vision, 71,
12. Life's Task, 80,
13. It Takes Work, 86,
14. Communion, 93,
15. Idealism, 98,
16. Illusions, 102,
17. Obstacles, 107,
18. Poisons, 113,
19. Beyond Self, 121,
20. Surrender, 125,
21. The Center, 130,
22. God's Call, 137,
23. Promises, 141,
PART III Life in Community,
24. Love, 151,
25. Deeds, 159,
26. Vocation, 165,
27. Acceptance, 171,
28. Irritations, 176,
29. Differences, 184,
30. Conflict, 189,
31. Unity, 196,
32. Dialogue, 202,
33. Leadership, 208,
34. Submission, 213,
35. Money, 218,
36. Children, 224,
37. Family Values, 229,
38. Solitude, 235,
39. Transparency, 241,
40. Repentance, 247,
41. Forgiveness, 254,
42. At Table, 259,
43. Celebration, 264,
PART IV Beyond the Community,
44. Revolution, 273,
45. Comfort Zones, 278,
46. Good Fences, 283,
47. Next Door, 290,
48. Interruptions, 295,
49. Hospitality, 301,
50. Welcome, 307,
51. Wounds, 313,
52. Mercy, 319,
Discussion Guide, 327,
Further Reading, 344,
Sources and Acknowledgements, 346,
Index of Authors, 352,