“On one level, the Benedict Option is deeply attractive. Its greatest strength is that it sees that Christians need to attend to their communal formation as a whole. It is not enough to simply go to church on Sundays, for the religion of lifestyle liberalism is working on us the rest of the week. Rather, we need an all-embracing form of life coordinated and ordered to the love of God and neighbor. We can look to the very real Christian witness of cloistered, vowed religious life and say, “see, it can be done.” That should give all of us enormous hope.
On another level, however, “the Benedict Option” has a serious flaw. It can be summed up in one word withdrawal. Neither MacIntyre nor Dreher have intended anything like withdrawal from the common good, or even from a commitment to political institutions. But I must confess that the image of withdrawal is powerfully associated with the Benedictine monastery, and so appeals to the Benedict Option miss something.” – C.C. Pecknold
Note: He does not say that “the Benedict Option” is a withdrawal, but rather that Benedictine monasticism has a bad public image for being a withdrawal from the fight. Benedictine monasticism puts an emphasis on community, not necessarily direct evangelism.
Here is yet another article talking about whether or not monasticism is withdrawal or engagement.
Is there a movement happening? A reconsideration in Christendom of monasticism? On the one hand, a lot of “disconnected” thinkers are thinking about this. On the other, those tightly bound to one particular tradition – unwilling to go beyond their short traditions – are typically not thinking about monasticism at all.
Here are some worthwhile quotes from the article:
“No doubt, the efficiencies of the preaching orders lent themselves to the challenges of forging a new world with its industrialization and rapid mobilization, but one wonders if this happened at the expense of the view of contemplation central to Benedictine spirituality. Quietism has never fit well with the pragmatic American ethos and from one angle the Benedictines smack too much of quietist withdrawal.”
“Sometimes out of the resources of the local and the regional, Benedictine spirituality will blossom outward to impact the broader cultural ethos as it did with the creation of All Souls’ Day or in the wisdom of spokespersons from Bernard of Clairvaux to Thomas Merton. This is certainly active cultural engagement, but such engagement largely privileges the rural and local over the urban and the national. It speaks the simple language of the farmer or the shopkeeper and revels in the work of the folk artist. It is why historically Benedictines engaged in primary education.”
“The beauty of Christianity has been that cultural engagement emerges from the variety of charisms that the Spirit bestows. Those charisms come about as believers launch out from the bosom of the Church to forge new forms of Christian life. There will always be a Benedictine option and a Dominican option.”
Amen, brother! Amen! Amen! Amen!
Why, why, why have Christians left the English department? I don’t mean the teachers and I don’t mean the students; I mean the writers in the books. Where are they? I don’t mean the writers that have died. They are being studied and discussed, but they are no longer held accountable for their writing, nor are they standing up for their beliefs. Highly figurative: they are laying down for their beliefs. They are martyrs. We need no martyrs. We have plenty of them. We need living saints – future martyrs. We need them in the English department. There is so much talk about the culture wars, but here is a clear battlefield; atheists like David Shields are directly attacking the traditional (and who cares about tradition when tradition is for the dead? Who cares about tradition when it’s used as a cane for the spiritually disheartened, the fearful, the shy applauders? The cynics of the nontraditional and the contemporary?). There are deconstructionists out there – a lot of them. They are zealous for their beliefs, they are courageously nihilistic. They see the force that man can have and they believe in it exclusively. We are seeing the results of a Romans 1 situation; this is what happens when culture-makers worship the created rather than the created. Their pettiness is not the first fruit of their idolatry (although pettiness is always there, at the root, in the trunk, in the fruit, in their mouths). Power is the first fruit. When man worships himself, whatever he makes has the potential to be as powerful as his ambitions take him. If his ambition is to persuade people to embrace courageous atheism, to take the leap of faith, to reject the transcendental, antiquated, dead, acidic (and here’s the irony) recent past, then he will persuade people with his explosive pride. People are persuaded by confidence. And the side without god is far more confident to say that they do not have him. Why have Christians left this fight? Few even have the strength to participate in an in-fight, too fearful, too saccharinely ecumenical. We are left redefining terms we once trusted, shifting our positions when no one but our enemies told us to. We’ve gone into the back of the shop and reorganized the shelves according to some system we made up during lunch break. We are afraid of the word “Christianity” – let’s call it Christendom, because that is more rooted in place and being obsessed with place is definitely not a contemporary secular trend; no only we are thinking about these things – and the word “Christian” – too over-used, I mean, people call themselves that, but do they really mean it? How about “disciple of Christ?” No, too Jewish; “follower of Christ.” – and the words “systematic theology” – it makes room for explicit contradictions, how about something a little less clear, like “applications of the Gospel?” or why not throw out all the terms, shut up, sell everything we have, move to Detroit, and never be heard from again? – and there is nothing left to defend. We have out-deconstructed the deconstructionists. We have nothing left to say, because we are sure that our sterilized terminology is highly resistant to any corrosive cultural understanding of who we are. Big words. Why not let them think bad thoughts about us?
Let them think that a Christian is a superficial noun, one without depth. Doesn’t everyone use it? Let them think that Christianity is big and slow and falling into the ground. Isn’t it? Let them think that systematic theology is boring. Haven’t we made it that? Let them think that we are in a very bad spot. Aren’t we? Let them hate the church. Do they have any other calling? Let us die during the battle (I find the metaphor of us being soldiers – of this being a fight – to be over-used, cliche, and distracting; it’s more like conflicting birthday parties), because the zealots came at us with swords and we used our bodies as walls, not our terms. We sat down, because humility is the first fruit of the Gospel. We got up, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. We stood with our shields, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. We died, because that is a fruit of the Gospel. They joined us, because we did not shift our position.
What we are dealing with is not who has the tighter truth claims. We are dealing, fundamentally, explicitly, thoroughly, heavy words, with the serious gravity of fun. Who has more fun? Young Christians leave the church, not because they are bothered by the hypocrisy (that is a ruse), but because youth groups, worship services, and their god was no fun. We had birthday hats – sure – but where was the triple-chocolate cake? WHERE? My youth group leader kept a basket of vegetable chips on his desk for anyone who could recite their short-term memory verse. No one bothered. He would get real with us, by which I mean he would sit backwards on his chair, ask us about our favorite food (pizza! Pepperoni pizza!), and then segue nicely into a thirty second discussion about lust – and onto questions, yes, Johnny, Catholics are saved, some at least, hey that question about the problem of evil, to be honest Johnny, I don’t know myself, but read your Bible, maybe it has something to say about it, read an Epistle, because the Old Testament is depressing and has nothing to say about those sorts of New Testament matters. That was exhibit A. Here we have Exhibit B: alright, you guys are high school students, you can handle provocation; how many of you have studied the Ancient Near East? The idols? Did you know that transubstantiation is not that crazy and annihilationism, I mean I don’t believe in it, but I’m not going to take a stand, I am only going to present these heresies to you, at a time when everything is interesting for you, sit back, and let you pick which one tickles your brain more (talk to your parents first, of course; high school kids just naturally talk to their parents about what’s on their minds; “Johnny! Where did you get these crazy ideas about Hinduism!” estrangement: now when you wonder who plants the seeds, just ask your son’s role model, brave, brash, reckless, but Johnny insists these crazy and very dead ideas are his own).
Either we bore them to death or we tempt them with intellectual high-stupidity. Think powdered wigs. High class silliness. I always pictured the millstone around a liar’s neck as a ruff.
I’m going to eat an apple now and read this article.
Hi, Mom. Throughout my nonexistent, but smashingly successful, writing career, I have figured out whose opinions I value the most. These are the people I try to have in front of me when I write anything:
God and I
You and Dad
Michael and Matt
Brianna, Joy, and Moses
David and Fionn
Even if you never read the things I write, I think of all of you when I write. Will you understand what I am saying? Will you like it? Will you hate it? What? I can be pretty liberal with my writing, opinions, ideas, grammar, spilling. If it were not for all of you, it is not that I would stop writing, but I would certainly write more “for myself.” A recent book on writing convicted me that writing for yourself is selfish and silly. I agree. Writing is communication.
First and foremost is my relationship with God and myself. I care the most about what he will think about my writing. He knows my intentions, my weaknesses, my strengths better than anyone else. I am right behind him in this – and I really am lagging behind. We talk a lot, but it is always me asking him to make me more like him. I never talk to God, telling him what is what, or agreeing with everything he says. He has a lot to say that I do not like hearing. I am always asking him questions and he is always asking me questions.
You and Dad, I try to keep from shocking. Sometimes, I shock both of you when really I am just speaking my mind. Sometimes, I shock you because a shocking idea infested me. Both of you approve (I think) of me writing at all, but still, both of you are certainly the most skeptical of my writing, my intentions, and of me. I appreciate this a lot; more than I know. I can get carried away. I can get intoxicated with ideas or observations – not always a bad thing, but from what I remember of the Epistles, drunkenness is a sin. Neither of you are sure where I am going – and, to be honest, neither am I. I am in for the ride and because we all love each other, I think we are in the roller coaster cart together.
Mrs. Daniel convicted me about using contractions ‘n’ ending sentences with prepositions I used to fill my writing with. Now, I think whenever I use a contraction or have a sentence with which I end in a preposition. I am grateful to her for her years, her ability to listen, her occasionally different perspectives, and her wisdom. She is the only person in my life I sometimes wish never asked me questions, but just kept telling me things. Unfortunately, she is too considerate not to ask questions.
Michael and Matt are my audience for metaphysical ideas. I always try to make the package crisp and the content lively, so they can tell me whether or not what I am saying is understandable and beneficial. They call me out when I am weak-sauce.
Jonte takes no “crap” – as they say. She has a long list of strong opinions in her pocket right next to her heart. Most people with long lists of strong opinions keep them in their sleeves and take them out to smack people. She does not. I always want to know what she thinks.
Brianna, Joy, and Moses are the choir, but they do not like being preached to. They will shut me down – and rightly so – if I am being too arrogant, too proud, too humble, too extreme, too deficient. They have very sensitive feelers for anything sappy or cliche, like antennae tickling the sand of my heart.
David and Fionn are my secret audience, the one I do not often talk to, but the one always on my mind. I don’t know if they read what I write, but whether they do or not, they are always in front of me.
This is my audience.
I have been on a diet of two poems a day. Nothing good yet.
Three weeks later, Joseph stayed over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house while Susan and Elijah went on their anniversary vacation. He had a good time there and he spent most of the time looking at his pocket knife. When he and Grandma baked cookies and Grandpa sat at the table reading the Bible, he tried using the pocket knife to cut the dough. Grandma didn’t let him, but she told him that he could use it to do a special chore out in her garden. After they were done baking cookies, Grandpa closed the Bible, got up from his chair, and opened the sliding door to the backyard. He showed Joseph where the chicken wire in Grandma’s garden had to be cut, but that he had to be very careful not to cut himself. Are you old enough, you think, Grandpa said, not to cut yourself? Of course, Joseph said, almost offended. Of course I can do it without cutting myself.
Grandpa said, alright then, and went back inside. Joseph cut the chicken wire and looked up at the sky and felt an odd vibration in his chest. He didn’t know how to describe it. The clouds rolled in the pink sky like dough rolling in flour and the trees breathed a warm wind on the back of his neck. He looked back at the back door to see if he was still not alone. Grandpa was sitting at the kitchen table and Grandma was standing at the island. Joseph wondered if there was going to be a storm, or maybe even a tornado. He worked faster, so that he could get inside quickly.
But there was no storm and not even a tornado. He finished the work, which was an odd job, he thought, and went inside. Grandma was very pleased with him and she gave him the first cookie. Grandpa asked him to sit on his lap and he did it. He fell asleep in Grandpa’s lap. The last thing he saw was his pocket knife on the table under the light.
He didn’t understand entirely what happened the last day. Grandpa was taking a nap and Grandma told Joseph to go wake him up. He knocked on the door, but Grandpa didn’t answer. So he opened the door a little bit and asked, Grandpa? but Grandpa stayed in bed looking up at the ceiling.
Joseph came back in the kitchen, feeling an odd vibration in his chest, and with an unsteady voice, as if he was not allowed to say it, “Grandpa’s sleeping.”
They are all led to a white table cloth and Joseph finds Mom’s arm, but not for long, because Mom tells him to sit next to Dad and she tells Grandpa where to sit. Joseph sits next to Grandpa, who is sitting at the end of the white table cloth. Men in white and black suits push their chairs in and Grandma, who is sitting across from Joseph, likes this, but he does not. Mom is sitting next to Grandma and Dad sits next to Joseph. The table cloth they sit at is in the middle of the restaurant, which is really just one large room with high ceilings with high chandeliers. Everyone begins asking questions to each other, except for him. He just plays with the edge of the table cloth.
After a man comes by to ask them what drinks they want, he is just good with water, they keep asking questions. Dad says this place reminds him of the one place Grandma took us before she died.
When did she die, Mom asks.
Oh, I don’t know, Dad says, looking over at Grandma, like three or so years before we met? Grandma nods and so does Grandpa.
Whose mother was it, if you don’t mind…
It was mine, Grandpa says, with his elbows on the table and his old hands folded in front of his mouth. He sort of nods his head and Mom says, oh, I’m sorry. What was her name, if you don’t mind…
Her name was Rudy. She was one tough lady, I tell you, Grandpa says.
Yeah, Dad says, she was physically capable and just mentally strong until the very end. She refused help most of the time. We would go over to check up on her and she would say, yes I’m fine, now go on home.
I can’t believe I have never asked this or don’t know this, Mom says, but how did she die, if you don’t…
Brain hemorrhage took her in her sleep, Grandma says. The words are surprising to hear from her mouth. I did not expect Grandma to talk. I look at her and she has her reading glasses on so she can read the menu, her eyes are just reflections.
Grandpa is silent but then he just says yep, good lady. There is silence, but then Dad touches Joseph’s shoulder and says, I remember when I was your age, I would stay at her house when my mom visited friends and Grandpa was on business trips. She would take me to her church and they had this kid’s church that I absolutely loved. They would ask us a lot of questions and give us candy when we answered. One day, then Dad looks at Mom, I figured out a way to work the system. I would ask the youth pastor questions back, you know, just trying to get him to ask me more questions, and eventually I had so much candy, I would eat it all and get sick when I got back to Grandma’s house.
What was she like, Mom asks Dad, looking at me and smiling.
Oh, Dad says, looking at Grandma and Grandpa, she was like Grandpa said, one tough lady and good too, but she was also full of stories. She had been through so much in her life, but she was still willing to give herself and always give herself. Dad, you would know more about this, how would you describe your mom?
Grandpa is looking at the bread basket that a man sets in front of him. He takes a roll and bites it. And he takes awhile to respond, but everyone waits for him. He takes a sip of water then says, Oh, Mom was an angel. I really believe she was actually an angel. Not much else to say. They say angels take the form of humans. Mom was, was an angel.
Everyone, except for Joseph who is looking up at Grandpa, is looking down.
She was ready to go when she did and I am glad she went in her sleep. She is with the Lord now, I know that, Grandpa says. I see Dad bite down hard on a roll of bread. Grandma nods her head. Grandpa says, And after all the surprises in my life, I think I’m ready to go be with them, too.
Um, Mom says quickly, interrupting Dad, well what about your dad?
Mom’s face turns red and takes a drink of water.
My dad, Grandpa says, Oh, only God knows about him.
I mean, Mom asks, clearing her throat, what was he like?
Oh, what was he like? Grandpa says, God, my dad was a hard hard man. He died before Elijah was born. He died even before I met Lucy. He was a depressed alcoholic and an abuser and an adulterer. He took his own life.
Mom knows this and so does Joseph and they both look down. Dad does not like when conversations are negative and Joseph can feel that he is trying to avoid a negative conversation.
Are you ready to order, asks a tall man in a black and white suit. He stands in between Grandma and Grandpa.
Yes, I think we are, Dad says.
No one is ready to order. Everyone asks what the specialties are for today. There is some sort of steak sandwich and Mom and Grandpa get that, but Grandma and Dad get the wedge salad. Joseph has his dad ask the man if they have macaroni and cheese, which they do. The man goes away and says that he will be back to refill their glasses.
Grandma takes a sip of her wine. Mom leans forward with one elbow on the table cloth in the direction of Grandpa.
So, when you say that you have gone through surprises, Mom asks Grandpa, what kind of surprises do you mean?
Oh, the kinds that most people don’t know about, Susan, the kinds of things that people don’t like to think about.
Like, what do you mean, Susan asks.
Dad takes his phone out and looks at his phone under the table. Grandma sips her wine, leaning back.
I have seen things, Grandpa says, things I don’t like to think about anymore.
I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’m sorry I brought it up.
No, no, it’s fine. As a Christian, I believe those forces don’t hold power over me anymore. I believe Christ reigns in me and because he reigns in me, I now reign over the forces that once had me.
Mom leans back in her chair. I’m sorry to have brought it up, Mom says.
Dad puts his phone away and I hear it click. Dad believes he was possessed by a demon, Dad says.
I, I didn’t know. You never told me, Mom says. And that surprises me, I don’t know, just because I ask a lot of questions about you guys and about what your lives were like. I like to know what happened to people and how it makes them who they are. But this never came up?
Mom is always asking people about themselves. She almost only asks questions. She says she likes to know about people, because the more you know about their past, the more you can guess about their future.
That’s because it never happened, Dad says.
Grandpa still has his elbows on the table. Elijah, he says, I am not the only one. We are all possessed, I believe. I know. I saw my own demon with my own eyes and I touched him.
Grandma sips her wine. Her glasses are big reflections and she is smiling.
Well, that’s just great, Dad says.
There is silence, except for the tables around them.
Dad, anyway, we are here for your birthday, Dad says, and I brought a gift for you.
Dad sets a wrapped box on the table.
Oh, thank you Eli, Grandpa says. Dad hands him the gift over the flower vase in the middle of the table and he takes it and sets it next to his chair. Can I open it after dessert, Grandpa asks.
“So, Joseph,” Grandpa asks, “How was your school year?”
“It was good.”
“Yeah? What was your favorite class?”
“I think I like Spanish the most.”
“Spanish! Why Spanish? I was never a language man myself.”
“Well,” Joseph says, “I like the teacher. Her name is Mrs. Ramirez. She is really nice.”
“What makes her so nice, do you think?”
“I don’t know. I think she has a lot of kids in her classes.”
Grandpa nods his head.
“That can help,” he says, “especially if the kids like her and don’t disobey.” Joseph nods.
“Well, Joseph, I know you’re here to celebrate my birthday. And I appreciate that,” Grandpa says, “but I brought something for you.”
Grandpa takes a pocket knife out of his pocket. It has a blue ribbon wrapped around it.
“I was just cleaning through my old things in the attic and I found this. I used it all the time for work. It’s a handy tool.”
Joseph takes it from him and immediately pulls it out of its sleeve and seeing the different knives and tools.
“I remember you telling me that you wished you had your own pocket knife, so I thought I would give you this one,” Grandpa says.
Joseph smiles and gets up from his chair and hugs Grandpa. He kisses Joseph on his messy black hair and rubs his old hand through his hair. “I love you, buddy,” he says, “you’re my little bud, aren’t you?”
Wicked hearts! We swing our arms like rows as we wade into the sunken temples of our future selves, the stones our hands carved out from the mountains we saw as children, that land now a deep and walled ditch in the ground filled with a lake of memories and the wailing faces of friends who wanted us to stay, but refused to go with us, and now we wait someday for the drop-off as we push our bodies forward, when our feet will lose the bottom and our hands will wave above us like slow sinking sails, because we told ourselves we had to keep going, but all we ever do is fall back into what we left behind.
Samuel slept in Dad’s green lawn chair,
while fragments of light in the mason jars
on the fence flickered with the moving shade of the trees
like anxious lanterns at night. He put them in his will,
not the dress shirt draped over Sam like a blanket,
when a cloud put its hand over
Dad’s backyard, the pale empty jars,
and a framed picture in the grass of Dad
smiling, two ballpoint pens in his pocket protector,
sitting on the edge of his university desk, hands clasped,
as if waiting for the cool breeze that a silent cloud