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Theme:
Alternative Community

Alternative Community

Saturday, June 6, 2020
Summary: Sunday, May 31—Friday, June 5, 2020

People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. (Sunday)

Without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves. Becoming who we really are is a matter of learning how to become more and more deeply connected. (Monday)

In this awakening renewed Christians are called to exercise a prophetic role. It is this new lifestyle—this new way of relating with persons, goods, institutions, and God—that is itself an arresting alternative to the ways of the world. —Virgilio Elizondo (Tuesday)

Somewhere deep within was a “place” beyond all faults and virtues that had to be confirmed before I could run the risk of opening my life up to another. To find ultimate security in an ultimate vulnerability, this is to be loved.  —Howard Thurman (Wednesday)

I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.  —Gregory Boyle (Thursday)

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day (Friday)

 

Practice: Contemplative Solidarity

I take great joy in how the Living School community has developed and grown over the past six years. I can’t say that we got it right immediately, but each year, we’ve found new ways to encourage vulnerability, empathy, and connection. This has taken place not only among the students, but even more importantly, between the students and their communities back home. Students know that any wisdom they’ve gained is not for themselves alone, but for the world. We ask them to make a commitment to “contemplative solidarity,” to being in mutual relationship with someone very different than themselves. I invite you to read the following practice from CAC Living School alumnus, Scott Dewey, an active member of an alternative Christian community in Denver, Colorado.

We practice ways of seeing [with our heart and soul]. . . .

How we see [with our heart and soul] matters, so we practice. We tend the soil of our souls, cultivating the direction toward which our tendrils stretch and our growth inclines. . .

We practice.

“I fell in love with beauty there.” A friend tells me of a dark time living in a meth house while addicted and removed from her children. “I took long walks every day looking at nature. That’s really what I remember most.”

“I cannot breathe sometimes,” confides a neighbor whose second son was gunned down on the street 10 years after her first. “And then one breath comes. And another. To be honest, at first, I didn’t want to breathe. Still don’t some nights. Before all this, I never paid any mind to breathing. Like it or not, every one of those breaths is a gift of life. I see it now. I wake up and tell myself, just keep on breathing.”

We exercise our [heart and soul] eyes by practicing gratitude—for instance in the classical personal reflection or [Ignatian] Examen or in a thank-you note. We step out and walk, as my friend did daily from her meth house, and awaken to the natural world among our city sidewalks. A bitter experience crushes us and then in time we breathe, breathe, breathe into a life that eventually surprises us with how it gleams. We grow to see and sustain a way of seeing, by refusing to break faith with goodness glimpsed.

[And with our vision liberated] . . . we can risk. We can risk rest, in the face of pressing need. We can risk an audacious plan, with our credibility at stake amid fears it might be our only shot. We can risk great sorrow, trusting we’ll be held. We can risk our delight, trusting its own worthiness and the worthiness of the world to share in it. We can risk a painful path of healing from whatever has us in its grip. We can risk a hard conversation or a joke that might work if the timing’s right. We can risk a song.

We practice. My, do we need practice! We nurture such visions tenderly, playfully, and fiercely in the world. With growing trust in what we’ve seen—and what we haven’t yet beheld—we water seeds.

Reference:
Scott Dewey, Beyond Our Efforts: A Celebration of Denver Peacemaking from the Center for Urban Peacemakers at Mile High Ministries (Mile High Ministries: 2019), 65–66.

For Further Study:
Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press: 2010)

Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes (Orbis Books: 1997, ©1963)

Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise (Orbis Books: 2000)

Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018)

Richard Rohr, Creating Christian Community (CAC: 1994), MP3 download

Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1979)

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

Loaves and Fishes
Friday, June 5, 2020

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day

Everyone relies on community in some way or another, no matter what our personal, social, or economic circumstances. No one can do it all—feed, clothe, heal, comfort, house, employ, and educate—for ourselves or our families. Despite our current obsession with independence and individualism, we were never meant to try! From the very beginning of the evolutionary process, species have worked together in mutually beneficial ways to survive. Mammals particularly have a track record of fostering the young of others within their species and kinship group, but it happens across or between species as well. Even the “fittest,” biggest, and strongest do not survive without the cooperation of others.

The Ayni Institute, an organization that envisions systemic changes through reciprocity and mutual aid, points out that human societies have worked this way for thousands of years.

In hostile environments and less than ideal situations people came together, cooperated in order to survive, and continued our legacy of life.

As tribes we collaborated, traded, and built cultures around our collective identities. We created federations and large and loose organizations of reciprocity across groups. . . . Those arrangements created practices, rituals, wisdom that sustained life for thousands of years. . . .

Our history is not a history of competition, rather a history of collaboration. We must develop alternatives that have memory, that seek to bring the evolutionary wisdom of the past in relationship to our current reality. . . . [1]

Our own Christian scripture and tradition teaches this insight. All four Gospels contain some version of the miracle of the “loaves and fishes,” where Jesus feeds the multitudes from only a small amount of food (see Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6: 30–44, Luke 9: 10–17, John 6:1–15). However, without the willingness of the few who shared the little they had, the miracle could not have taken place. Many have proposed that, in reality, the “miracle” was the generosity lying dormant within the crowds. The resources were there waiting to be called forth.

Jesus’ example of mutual aid was so inspirational to Dorothy Day (1897–1980), the founder of the Catholic Worker, that she called her book about the movement Loaves and Fishes. She wrote, “Young people say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.” [2]

May we all pray for an “increase of love in our hearts” that will awaken, transform, and multiply the impact of our actions.

References:
[1] Ayni Institute, “Our Forgotten Past,” https://ayni.institute/alternatives/

[2] Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes (Orbis Books: 1997, ©1963), 176.

Epigraph: The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Harper & Row: 1981, ©1952), 286.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

Being One with the Other
Thursday, June 4, 2020

It would seem that, quite possibly, the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it. —Gregory Boyle

Homeboy Industries may be one of the most visibly transformative communities in the United States today. It was founded in 1998 by Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle, or “G” (as his community likes to call him). Moved by the heartache of the people he served while pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg started Homeboy Industries to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Along with many Homeboys and Homegirls, he believes the healing process can only happen when we are in relationship with one another. The success of this organization offers evidence to support his belief.

Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just “forgotten that we belong to each other.” Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.

Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.

Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that. . . .

No daylight to separate us.

Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses onto fulfillment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it [2:3].”

Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.

At Homeboy Industries, we seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them—and then we watch, from this privileged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again. No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it—it is just that huge.

References:
Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press: 2010), 187, 188, 190, 192–193.

Epigraph: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (Simon and Schuster: 2017), 51.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

Devotion at the Center
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

As Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) observed, one of the most segregated hours in the United States still occurs on Sunday mornings when we attend church services. [1] Yet as early as the 1940s, African-American writer and mystic Howard Thurman (1899–1981) was seeking to build a worshipping community across racial differences. In 1944, along with his white co-pastor Alfred Fisk (1905–1959), Thurman co-founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the country’s first interracial, interfaith congregation. Reverend Thurman describes how the collective experience of God became the center of the community’s life, unifying people from many different backgrounds and cultural expressions.

Fellowship Church was a unique idea, fresh, untried. There were no precedents and no traditions to aid in structuring the present or gauging the future. Yet [my wife] Sue and I knew that all our accumulated experiences of the past had given us two crucial gifts for this undertaking: a profound conviction that meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them; and absolute faith that if such experiences can be multiplied and sustained over a time interval of sufficient duration any barrier that separates one person from another can be undermined and eliminated. We were sure that the ground of such meaningful experiences could be provided by the widest possible associations around common interest and common concerns.

Moving out from this center of spiritual discovery many fresh avenues of involvement emerged. Art forms provided a natural expression. . . . And around all of these and other activities, one basic discovery was constantly surfacing—meaningful experiences of unity among peoples were more compelling than all that divided and separated. The sense of Presence was being manifest which in time would bring one to his or her own altar stairs leading each in [their] own way like Jacob’s ladder from earth to heaven.

Our worship became increasingly a celebration before God of life lived during the week; the daily life and the period of worship were one . . . rhythm. Increasing numbers of people who were engaged in the common life of the city of San Francisco found in the church restoration, inspiration, and courage for their work on behalf of social change in the community. The worship experience became a watering hole for this widely diverse and often disparate group of members and visitors from many walks of life.

It was not long before I realized that what I had learned and experienced as to the meaning of love had to be communicated as a witness to the God in me and in our personal conduct as a witnessing congregation.

What had I learned about love? One of the central things was that the experience of being understood by another was of primary importance. Somewhere deep within was a “place” beyond all faults and virtues that had to be confirmed before I could run the risk of opening my life up to another. To find ultimate security in an ultimate vulnerability, this is to be loved.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Communism’s Challenge to Christianity,” Sermon (August 9, 1953). See The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. VI: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948–March 1963 (University of California Press: 2007), 149. To read more on this topic, see Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Sunday Is Still the Most Segregated Day of the Week,” America (January 16, 2015), https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/sunday-still-most-segregated-day-week

Adapted from Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1979), 144, 145–146, 148.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

A New Power
Tuesday, June 2, 2020

In an ideal sense, a community is a safe place. By protecting and nurturing the dignity of its members, the community is sustained even when challenged by external forces. Virgilio Elizondo (1935–2016), a Catholic priest and community organizer from San Antonio, Texas, compared communities formed among the marginalized in Latin America today with the earliest Christian communities. Working together in faith, they bring new life, hope, and dignity to their individual and corporate selves. Perhaps the current civil unrest we are experiencing across the nation is a cry for the same?

What happened in . . . parts of Latin America appears to be no less miraculous . . . than the spread and consequences of early Christianity itself. When the poor, the oppressed, and the marginated become aware of who they are in the Lord and begin their struggle for humanization, then the true liberation of humanity has begun. No matter how slow and difficult it might be . . . liberation will succeed, because no human power can keep Jesus in the tomb. . . . Not with the weapons of destruction will the converted poor triumph, but with the weapons of the power of selflessness and truth in the service of love.

An important element of this new power is that it is not power for the sake of personal gain, but power for the sake of all the oppressed, ignored, forgotten, and exploited members of society. The powerless are recouping power . . . the power of the gospel, which works for the betterment and liberation of all, especially those in greatest need.

In all this, prophecy is not just being spoken about; it is being lived out in ongoing confrontations by the previously powerless of society who now dare to go to the Jerusalems of today’s society: city hall, transnational corporations, boards of education, ecclesiastical offices. Those who had before simply accepted their state of exclusion and exploitation are now coming out of their tombs of substandard housing, disease-infected neighborhoods, economically enslaving jobs, schools that strengthened illiteracy, and churches that perpetuated segregation. Those who had been dead are now coming back to life.

In this awakening . . . renewed Christians are called to exercise a prophetic role. True prophecy is based upon a prophetic lifestyle, which of itself—wordlessly—confronts an ungodly society. It is this new lifestyle—this new way of relating with persons, goods, institutions, and God—that is itself an arresting alternative to the ways of the world.

Deep bonds often form during times of crisis, loss and uncertainty; people seek solidarity in human connection. What new communities and associations are being forged right now? How will they grow in the months and years ahead? What lifestyle changes and prophetic actions are being called forth by the new realities created by Covid-19?

Reference:
Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise (Orbis Books: 2000), 118–119.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

Community as Alternative Consciousness
Monday, June 1, 2020

The goal of the spiritual journey is to discover and move toward connectedness on ever new levels. We may begin by making little connections with other people, with nature and animals, then grow into deeper connectedness with people. Finally, we can experience full connectedness as union with God. Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything. Without connectedness and communion, we don’t exist fully as our truest selves. Becoming who we really are is a matter of learning how to become more and more deeply connected.

The spiritual experience is about trusting that when you stop holding yourself, Inherent Goodness will still uphold you. Many of us call that God, but you don’t have to. It is the trusting that is important. When you fall into such Primal Love, you realize that everything is foundationally okay. Unfortunately, this confidence is often absent in our world especially under conditions of great upheaval and suffering.

Foundational love gives us hope and allows us to trust “what is” as the jumping-off point, no matter how unsteady it feels. It allows us to work together toward “what can be.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us what’s fully possible. God will always bring yet more life and wholeness out of seeming chaos and death. In the words of Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, “Faith in the resurrection is the ground on which Christians hope for a different future, a transition to a society less destructive, more peaceful and more whole. Living in this hope . . . calls ekklesia [the assembly of Christians] to live as a ‘contrast community’ to society.” [1]

Building such “contrast” communities was precisely Paul’s missionary strategy. You can see it throughout the New Testament. Paul believed that small communities of Jesus’ followers would make the Gospel message believable: Jesus is Lord (rather than Caesar is Lord); sharing abundance and living in simplicity (rather than hoarding wealth); nonviolence and chosen suffering (rather than aligning with power). Paul was very practical. He taught that our faith must take actual form in a living, loving group of people. Otherwise, love is just a theory.

Paul seems to think that corporate evil can only be confronted or overcome with corporate good. He knows that a love-transformed individual can do little against what he calls “the powers and the principalities,” or what some of us call the “system.” Our collective consciousness deems such institutions “too big to fail.” We are mostly oblivious to these forces because we take them as normative and in fact absolutely necessary. Cultural blind spots can only be overcome by a group of people affirming and supporting one another in an alternative consciousness. Thankfully, we’re now seeing many people, religious and secular, from all around the world, coming together to form alternative systems for sharing resources, living simply, and imagining a sustainable future. It has been one of the spiritual gifts of the pandemic. God never misses a chance to help us grow up.

References:
[1] Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, Transition Movement for Churches (Canterbury Press: 2013), 79.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018), 101-105; and

Richard Rohr, Creating Christian Community (CAC: 1994), MP3 download; and

Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 9 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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Alternative Community

Common Ground and Purpose
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Pentecost Sunday

It’s sad to say, but for centuries the Christian vision was narrowed to what we have today—a preoccupation with private salvation. Our “personal relationship with Jesus” seems to be based on a very small notion of Christ. We’ve modeled church after a service station where members attend weekly services to “fill up” on their faith. We’ve commodified the very notion of salvation.

People want something more from church than membership. They long for a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday morning. Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal: a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Too often, the formal church has been unable to create any authentic practical community, especially over the last half-century. In response, we see the emergence of new faith communities seeking to return to this foundational definition of church. These may not look like our versions of traditional “church,” but they often exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. They’re seeking creative ways of coming together, nurturing connection, of healing and whole-making. The “invisible” church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible one. The Holy Spirit is humble and seems to work best anonymously. I suspect that is why the Holy Spirit is often pictured as a simple bird or blowing wind that is here one minute and seemingly gone and then nowhere (John 3:8).

It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on any community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries and not co-dependent groupings. I certainly learned this lesson myself through my participation in the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s, and even earlier as a Franciscan brother. Almost any community can serve as an excellent school for growth, character, and conversion, even though it may not be a permanent “home” for many reasons.

So what makes a good community? The remainder of this week we’ll look at a few of the factors that contribute to healthy, whole communities. Our very survival as a faith tradition, not to mention a species, might just depend upon this. Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. It was Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church and even divine presence—“two or three gathered together” in the right spirit (Matthew 18:20), and “I am there”—just as much as in bread or Bible!

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018), 101-105; and

Near Occasions of Grace, (Orbis Books: 1993), 14; 50–51.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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