Monday, April 27, 2009

New York City and Community

We came home a bit tired Friday night after about 12 hours of travel. Although our angelic son had handled the trip both ways like a seasoned traveler, we all three were so glad to be home. New York City was amazing, edifying, and huge, but we sure were glad to be back in the not-so-big, not-so-busy city of Montreal: our stomping grounds!
We've now had a few days to reflect on our whirlwind experience, and have all agreed we did things like New Yorkers in New York City. When in Rome... And although I feel I'm still processing much of what took place there, I really want to share some of our experiences before I lose any precious details.
To summarize, as mentioned in an earlier blog, our main goal (beside doing some sight-seeing, touristy stuff) was to visit a few communities that we felt were exemplifying what it means to live in Christian community. The whole concept of "living in community" has been burgeoning anew in and outside of Christian circles throughout North America. It's often viewed as a way to fight against our individual-oriented, materialistic North American culture. New York City proved to be fertile ground for such a goal. All in all, we visited with six communities: two churches, four intentional communities, and one Catholic Worker.
One community, Bruderhof, was a community of 15 people living under one roof, families and singles. Although this community shares all its money and eats together each night, most of its members have jobs out in the city somewhere where they are able to serve the larger community. Some were teachers, some nurses, some volunteers, some worked for Non-profit organizations, etc. These people lived in close community, and welcomed us into their home for dinner and lots of good conversation.
Another community, All Angels Church, comes from the Anglican tradition and is located in the Upper Westside, a very rich area of Manhattan. However, this church has struggled for years to include the poor and homeless in its congregation. Through this, they have developed weekly soup-kitchens, where not only food is provided, but also professional counseling and career opportunities. They were very honest with us about the many struggles that have resulted from being radically open and welcoming to the poor and homeless (mostly black and hispanic males) amidst their predominantly rich, white congregation.
New Song is a 150 person church in Harlem that is about 10 years old. The pastor there told us that when the church began with six people in an apartment, they commited to focus on a 10-block area of Harlem. Out of this very narrow focus, they have been able to do some amazing things within the last 10 years. Not only do they have a church building, but they also own affordable-housing buildings, a youth development center, a health and wellness center, and are soon opening a restaurant where they will serve healthy food and offer hospitality. This is all within a 10-block area of Harlem!
Another community, Bronx Household of Faith, was in the roughest area that we visited during our time in New York City. This community, started by two couples, has been there for nearly forty years. They too have a very modest, yet focused area that they work with. The community resides in two houses and one apartment all along the same street. One of the couples that started the community has had six of their own children and adopted seven, most from pretty rough backgrounds. The father runs a ministry that helps troubled men in the troubled Bronx area get back on their feet, while the mother has home-schooled and is still home-schooling all 13 of their kids! Two of her children gave us a little concert with their cellos while we visited. Amazing stuff.
Lastly, we visited the Catholic Worker in the East Village. The Catholic Worker exists throughout the world, but is concentrated mainly in the U.S. The one we visited was the original, started by Dorothy Day, an amazing woman. She died in the 80's and is somewhere on her way to being canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. The lady who spoke with us worked with Dorothy Day, and told us that she often said, "Don't call me a saint because then you won't take me seriously." Dorothy Day was and the Catholic Worker is still today extremely concerned with serving the poor and homeless in each respective community as well as affecting political change on a national, even international, level. It's quite a decentralized organization, so much so that you wonder how it doesn't lapse into chaos. Nonetheless, it has done some great things much thanks to the woman who got it all started.
I could go on and on about our experiences there, but I'll stop here. Needless to say, the week definitely clarified for us what it means to live in community in a culture that goes in the opposite direction. It was an extremely interesting and extremely challenging week, one that I will continue to reflect on for months, maybe years, to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Spiritual Disciplines

A few weeks ago, we went out to the Quebec countryside for a week's teaching on the spiritual disciplines and a weekend-long silent retreat. It was one of the best weeks of teaching Lauren and I have experienced in this school. Basically, the teacher, Jeff Pratt, who happens to be great friends with Brennan Manning (author of Ragamuffin Gospel), taught on adopting a daily rhythm of prayer similar to those practiced in monasteries for centuries. Jeff actually started what he calls an urban monastery ( in New Haven, Connecticut where he and the other members of the community commit to a common Rule of Life: 1. to daily moments of reflection and surrender (30 minutes minimum) 2. Holy Communion and prayer observed each Wednesday 3. Accountability friendships 4. Weekly acts of service to those locally in need of compassion or justice 5. Weekly sharing of Truth with pre-believers. It comes across as a very structured spirituality, but Jeff insists that these commitments are time-tested not only by the thousands of saints who've gone before us but also by Jesus himself. You can't read too far in the gospels without coming across a passage where Jesus goes off to pray. For us, it was nice to realize that although some of these disciplines may sometimes feel like striving or even legalism, the fact of the matter is that they bring us to a place where communion with God can take place. They don't cause communion with God, but they help us become attentive to his voice. As an example of a sort of daily rhythm, Jeff suggested praying over a psalm in the morning, maybe mid-day writing a prayer to him, and in the evening praying through music, etc. It's just one example. There are many ways to pray, and many books written about those ways as well. Fortunately, we believe in a God who values diversity and creativity. So, Lauren and I were really inspired by this teaching and have slowly begun to develop (individually and communally) a daily rhythm of prayer. It's a long journey, but we're glad to have begun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

At last, at last...

Easter is here and Lent is over. He is risen, He is risen indeed. It's a new blog, a new blog indeed. Now that Jesus has freed us from the bondage of our Lenten fasts (internet, chocolate, alcohol, etc.) we are back with lots of exciting news, impossible to contain in one blog. We just wrapped up a busy Holy Week, and now are joyously reveling in a free Easter Monday. The sun is shining brightly, the snow has all melted away, and a week of Springy weather awaits us. The hope of the season is upon us.
The last blog I put up was from early March announcing our commitment to Montreal for two more years. Now, we're almost to mid-April and, although the end of the school approaches, there's still much to be done. For example, this coming Friday the school will travel to New York for a week's trip to meet with different intentional communities. Basically, an intentional community, according to our definition, is any group of people who meet on a regular basis and share a common vision or higher calling. For example, any church could qualify as an intentional community. We'll meet not only with some churches but also with communities taking things a step further. For example, one group in Harlem (formerly called Bruderhof, now called Church Communities International) lives in a house together, shares all its money, and eats together daily. Another group in Brooklyn called Radical Living is somewhere in between: they live in three separate houses, close in proximity, and meet together 3 or 4 times a week for meals, devotional times, or community action. The goal, being in an urban center ourselves, is for us to learn about different constructions of community in a context very similar to our own. We want to search out people who are exploring different ways of seeing Christ and being Christ in the city. It's shaping up to be a really interesting week.
Then, we'll have a few days back in Montreal before I (Denny) and the other four students in the school strike out into the Quebec wilderness for five days. No, that's not a figurative statement--really, five days in the wilderness. That's all they're telling us...It's called a NIKO camp; Lauren did one when she went to Argentina for her DTS in 2006. She's still alive, so I'm hopeful. By the end of that it will be almost mid-may, and only a few weeks from our much-anticipated return to the golden state for the Summer.
Stay tuned for another update before we leave for New York on Friday. I'll go into detail about our time of Lent, the silent retreat we participated in, and the latest developments within my internship and volunteering.