I read the introduction for the Month of October in Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals this morning, and I had some reflections I thought I’d share.
(Scroll down if you wish to skip the excerpt)
Formation in the Way of Christ
For many of us, the judgmental, arrogant, legalistic Christianity we knew growing up has created a suspicion of discipline and order that can lead to a pretty sloppy spirituality. Reacting against the institution’s sickness, we easily find ourselves with little to help us heal from our own wounds, create new disciplines, and carve out a space where goodness triumphs. People who are afraid of spiritual discipline will not produce very good disciples.
Community is pretty hip these days. The longing for community is in all of us. We long to love and be loved. But if community doesn’t exist for something beyond us, it will atrophy, suffocate, die. Discipline and disciple share the same roots, and without discipline, we become little more than hippie communes or frat houses. We easily fall short of God’s dream to form a new humanity with distinct practices that offer hope and good news to the world. Like any culture, we who follow the way of Jesus have distinct ways of eating and partying, different from the culture of consumption, homogeneity, and hedonism. Our homes, our living rooms, even our parties can become places of solace and hospitality for those with addictions and struggles. But it doesn’t happen without intentionality. Dorothy Day said, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good.”
Suggested Reading for the Month:
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola
The Rule of St. Benedict
St. Francis of Assisi is a model for us not only of what it looks like to follow hard after Jesus but also how we can celebrate the disciplines that have been passed down to us and become the church that we long for, even among people who’ve given up on “church.” Our communities should be places where people can detox, where that be from alcohol, tobacco, gluttony, shopping, or gossip. We long for a space that tips us toward goodness rather than away from it, where we can pick up new habits – holy habits – as we are formed into a new creation, transformed by God.
It was the line, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good,” that reminded me of what I’ve heard from friends and their experiences at Christian camps. Camp Crossroads is a place I’ve spent many summers attending as a camper and subsequent summers volunteering and working as staff. In both situations, friends were aware that this was a good place, and that it was easy to be a good person (or Christian) at camp.
Camp Crossroads is to be commended for this. The Christian community that it is, built by many people who have worked long and laborious hours over many years, alongside much prayer, has continued to flourish since its inception in the early 1980s.
Campers and staff have daily disciplines: meals together (with very delicious food), morning exercises, breakfast devotions (“Wheaties from the Word” though I think it’s called something else now), staff prayer, PQT (personal quiet time), morning chapel, “lets talk time” (group discussion on chapel), evening chapel, and every activity under the sun (and moon) filled with fun, laughter, and skills building together.
Teenage campers, particularly those from non-churched homes, can more clearly see a dichotomy between the “world of fun” at camp and outside camp. Younger staff, myself included, have expressed that they feel this difference too.
Friends often lament that they will leave, afraid that their lives will fall back to patterns that they would rather not follow. They recognize that there is a better way to live, that Jesus really is an important guy (i.e. God), that He really did show us a better way to live, and that another world is possible (i.e. the Kingdom of God).
The difficulty here is that camp is a short-term, intense, 1 week experience at camp. Patterns, relationships, and disciplines are quickly formed by the community. Leaving camp usually entails a descent from a “spiritual high”.
There are many reasons for this; two obvious ones: they cease following patterns (disciplines) that were making them into better disciples,s and they leave the community that helped them become better disciples.
Enter the local church. Churches often have Sunday Services, Small Groups/Bible study meetings once weekly, Youth group meetings once a week. Some churches are successful with creating a space for youths to enter into disciplines and patterns that help form them as people in the Christian community.
But for the Church overall (this would include Christian camps): people, Christian or not, recognize that their lives could be better and, indeed, that the world could be better. Toward the end of the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, the dichotomy I mentioned earlier is made quite plain – though it sounds somewhat awkward for our ‘modern’ ears.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:17-32 ESV)
When we participate in the body of Christ, joining communities that follow in the way of Jesus, offering hospitality, healing, and hope to the world, while participating in the disciplines, practices, and hard work that holy habits take, we open ourselves to be formed into new creations. We also open our lives to taste the Kingdom of God.
I want to encourage those who have experienced the goodness of the life that Christ offers and have left Christian communities to find them again, to again form holy habits and disciplines. I want to encourage churches and places like Camp Crossroads to continue to do the work they do. That they may work harder and harder to do their best to practice the disciplines that make their communities easy places to be good, offering hope and good news to the world, where they may be continually transformed by God, helping others be transformed by God.