The Oldest Daydream: A Review of The Benedict Option

One of my oldest daydreams is gathering up the people I love best, moving far-far-away from the rat race, and starting a community of our own.

When I was in high school, having been exposed to too much Heinlein at an impressionable age, I wanted to start a commune.   Starting around the turn of the millennium, my focus was just going back to the land.  And for years, my husband has called the dream of getting a big piece of property with several buildings on it, and importing our besties to come live with us, the “when I win the lottery” daydream.  (This being my husband’s daydream, there’s a forge and not so many hedges).

I’m not alone in this kind of daydream – I know at least two online friends who have the same hankering.  One of them is actively working on it, much to my envy.   I even have a couple online buds living on farms… I suspect it might be a GenX thing.

So, when I heard about The Benedict Option, I was intrigued.  Many of my online buds have already checked Dreher’s blog out, and were familiar (and somewhat annoyed by) the concept.  I hadn’t, haven’t checked it out yet, though I will.

Quick and Dirty:  I liked the book, didn’t agree with all of it, and think Dreher is a bit misaligned in his priorities, but overall I thought there were some great points for every Christian.   I am not an Orthodox Christian or Catholic, but Dreher had nice things to say about crazy evangelicals too.  As I mentioned in my blog about Christian Unity, when your back is against the wall, what matters is your commitment to Christ Jesus, not whether or not you use incense in your church services.  Our backs are moving rapidly towards the wall – and Dreher sees this, it’s the basis for his book.

What I loved:  I loved the description of living within the natural world – I hadn’t realized that the enlightenment church had intellectualized the faith so much.  I find that odd, since Creation is supposed to witness to the Creator.   And of course the idea of living simply, working shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers is the epitome of my Oldest Daydream… 🙂  I got quite a lot of sympathy for the Orthodox and Catholic churches (even though I am still firmly Sola Scriptura/Gracia/Fide) from this reading.  The schism came at a cost, and there were things lost.

What I found convicting:  That we return to/develop the communities of our youth, and deepen our connections there, rather than gallivanting off to where-ever we might want to go.  OUCH.  See, I live in SoCal, but unlike most folks here, I am a native.  A second-generation native, which practically makes me an elder stateswoman.  I would rather live in a forest somewhere, but y’all know the beach is in my bones.  If you don’t know that, come watch my face when I’m near the sea.

But maybe I should be working more on strengthening the connections on my block, in my neighborhood, in my church… and less time daydreaming about a swiftly moving stream and nodding pine trees?

This was the most unexpected part of the book – I thought Dreher was really all about going back to the woods, or at least back to small towns.  Instead, he talked about blooming where you were planted, and how one might make that work in different situations.

What I found helpful:  The suggestion to think outside the box and start actively preparing ourselves and our children for the approaching time of persecution.  I have teenagers, and suggesting to them that they might want to think creatively about their professional futures rather than just hitting the college/career track is useful.  (So much dovetails now with what we’ve been talking about as a community about the skilled professions being a wiser choice than college, the Mike Rowe scholarships, now this… of course I am not the one making the choice).

My church has been preparing the youth for home churching and studying the Word in small groups for years now – so that bit of prep is something that Crazy Evangelicals can do, and groups that are dependent on a priest (Orthodox, Catholics) cannot.  (I think, I could be wrong and feel free to correct me – can laypersons prepare Communion in those traditions?)

What I found meh:  Dreher really pounded the idea that we should be working on getting religious freedom laws saved.  It seems to go against his general thesis, that the World is going to largely throw against us.  Dreher also emphasized Christian education to a fault – not that I have an objection, but it seemed to be a bit more intense than I’d have chosen.  Of course my kids only have a few more years before college (if) so… YMMV.  But even since the very recent publication of his book, the few delicate religious freedom laws have gotten overturned.   Put not your faith in princes, dude.  If you’re going to posit a return to small community based church, don’t waver.

The end of the matter?  I thought the book was pretty good, especially the first half, and there were several things I found convicting.   It’s worth a read.  Get it from the library and have a think.

Unity in Christ

John 17: 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

I was listening to a Francis Chan sermon today as I was doing kitchen work, and he was speaking on this verse.  Perfected in unity… so that we can be a witness that God sent Jesus, and that He loves us.

Are we unified?  No, not really.

But then again, there’s a tie – a tie that CS Lewis spoke of in Mere Christianity.   When I get together with Scott, or Chris, or Elspeth or Cassie or Fiberaddict – I know they love Jesus.  We have theological differences, some of which are pretty big.  But they’ll go to the wall for our King.

Stuff’s about to go down.  I don’t know when, I don’t know how, I don’t even know if we’ll still be here or get airlifted out first.   But the signs of soon-persecution for the Church are there for anyone to see.   If you’ve ever opened a history book, and then open a newspaper…

Chan was asking what it would take to get us unified, what it would take for God to answer Jesus’ prayer… I’m afraid I know all too well.  Exactly the same thing that it took in the early days of the Church.

But what about the meantime?

In the meantime… as far as I’m concerned, we’re all on the same team.  We might quarrel and debate – but we’re family.   Sometimes maybe we need someone to remind us of that, to not pull sister’s hair too hard or put ipecac in brother’s gatorade.

There are a lot of liberal Christians, people who say they love Jesus and don’t walk the walk.  Who, put to the test, don’t really believe Bible, they’d rather follow the World.   I keep hoping those distant cousins will step up and come to the truth of our faith – there’s room at the table.  But I figure Dr. McGee was right – no one hates more bitterly than someone who’s turned their face from what’s right and has a reminder of what they’ve lost in consequence.

Truth will out.

And in the meantime – hey guys, remember that we’re all part of the body of Christ, and that He has stated that He wants us to be in unity, unity that might bring more folks into the fold and save them from hellfire.

Isn’t that why we’re still here?

In and out of the Holy Spirit

My church (Calvary Chapel) is “charismatic with a seatbelt” – which means we’ll ask for miracles, but don’t get too attached to getting.   It’s a big, highly varied church – so some of the folks are pretty charismatic, some folks are more seatbelt.   The church of my youth (Baptists) were on the side of “gifts are for yesterday, not today” – so very seatbelt.  And I hang out with at least one lady who is very charismatic.   I find her faith inspirational.

I’ve been thinking about this, and trying to figure it out, if not in words, at least in my heart.  It’s part of my faith walk, and this is a season where faith is something on which I’m concentrating.

Something came to me as I was driving around this morning… how is prayer different from any other spiritual gift/discipline?  We are enjoined to pray without ceasing, to pray for our sick, to pray for our daily bread, to thank God in everything… so there is a very solid  place for habits of obedience – in this flesh.  I will pray for you if you ask me to, I believe that this is an obligation of every member of the family of Christ.  (And I will, likewise, show very little hesitation in asking you to pray for me if I need it).

But sometimes the prayer becomes something more, and while I know that the Spirit is always with me, and prays for me/through me (Rom 8:26), but sometimes there is more.  Sometimes the power of God moves, and I pray with greater boldness than I would normally.  And on those occasions, I often feel the peace of God which passes all understanding – after all, we know that we receive what we ask, so long as it is within God’s will.  (It isn’t always here yet.  Like a giant dry-cleaner with clothes on the racks, your suit is clean… but it might take a minute for it to make it ’round to you).

Romans 8:26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Does that mean that all of my prayer, including prayer that I believe *should* be in God’s will gets answered with peace like that?  Extremely nope.  Does that mean that I always pray like that?  Also nope.  (Ah, if only).

I’m not the one in control.

Sometimes I think my Charismatic and Pentecostal brethren mistake the obedience and faith that drives us to our knees with the power that comes at God’s discretion or not at all.

Likewise, I have certain spiritual gifts, and most of those mesh nicely with the person that I am.  But when things become more, when God speaks through me… that’s not my choice.  I showed up, I was willing to serve, and then God did what He would do, when it suited Him – and no, again – not that often.   I’m not in control of those gifts!

So, I’ll ask.  But whether or not I get is up to God.   I do find that the more I offer myself up to serve and obey, the more I am used – and the more unexpectedly.   That’s my bit – the obedience bit.  God’s bit is… everything else!

And that’s just fine with me.

So, you ask about my faith – my faith in God is unassailable, my faith that the prayers I know He’s answered but haven’t shown up yet is growing every day, and my faith in my own efforts is very small indeed.

Shame

There is an instinctive push away from even the word, “shame”.  Shame is bad.  Shaming is bad.  Or is it?  What is shame, how does it function, and why is it broken?

Shame is the feeling you get when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing – and you’re embarrassed about it.   Shaming is the action of pointing out that another person is not doing what they ought to be doing.  But shame and shaming are a soft form of enforcement… the entire experience can be nonverbal, and shame carries no judicial consequences.

Shame requires a common idea about behaviors that one should and should not display.   In the year of our Lord 2017, ones mind immediately goes to sex or body issues – we ‘fat shame’ and ‘slut shame’.   And our society (the World) has decided that shaming people for their sex lives or their waistlines is bad.  But our society does continue to shame people into behaving as it wishes they would…

  • What do you say of someone who lets their dog run loose, habitually?
  • How about litterbugs?
  • People who behave disrespectfully to others (and there’s a whole ‘nother conversation)?
  • People who tailgate, or drive slowly in the fast lane?

I’m sure the reader can continue to think of a long list of things that we shame ourselves or others for…

We pre-shame others by our common talk, the way we tell our stories.  “Well that man just put a penny down for the waitress… and here she was working so hard!”  This kind of speech develops common expectations of “decent behavior” – it’s how we as a group know what decent behavior *is*.

So, shame has a function.  Without involving the authorities, we have a soft system of policing behavior.

Why is it broken?

  1. Because it can easily be overused and misused.  Shame can be used as a weapon not just against those who misbehave, but against those who are simply unlike us, who don’t know the unspoken rules yet, or can’t abide by them.
  2. Because we no longer have a common system of agreed-upon values.  “Don’t you speak that into my life, you don’t know where I’ve been!”  “I’m a proud —”  We are a society of microcultures, and our society has very little that it agrees as universal values.  (That said, holding one standard for your microgroup and another for the surrounding society is a polite way of saying that surrounding society is too weak to live up to your standards).
  3. Shame IS a weapon, and can result in those who shame themselves or have been shamed in taking extreme measures – cutting, eating disorders, festering piles of secrets, suicide – to deal with their hurt.  It is difficult to gauge how much one is shaming someone, and nearly impossible to gauge how they’ll take the reprimand.

Shame is best used as the stick to the carrot of compassion, and it is best used within a community.  You have to want to live up to certain values for your failure to do so to matter, you have to want someone’s good opinion (you have to respect that person) in order to make their condescension upsetting.   Respect is a requirement of shame – if I don’t respect your opinion, I’m not going to care if you don’t like what I’m doing.

But our society is, again, a society of microcultures.  If my behavior doesn’t please you – I can find someone whom it does please.  I don’t have to allow myself to feel ashamed of my actions, I can defy that group and find people for whom my behavior is normal.  I can scream and reverse-shame, publicly calling for the repentance of the person who dared to raise an eyebrow at my choices.

Just to sum up:  Yes, shame has a function.  Yes, our society still uses shame, even though the word itself is in disrepute.  Yes, you have to keep up with what the World considers shameable offenses, because otherwise your attempts at soft-policing others will fail, spectacularly.

And a last word:  Shame used to be a primary weapon in the quiver of Respectable Matrons (of which I am one).  Respectable Matrons aren’t, however, given all that much respect anymore, so although traditionally I ought to be able to shame someone with a raised eyebrow, it doesn’t work that way in practice.   Again, this requires common values – and we don’t have a lot of those these days.

This was just something I was thinking about, that came up in conversation with a friend the other day, I wanted to write it out.  Hope it helps you think about where we are, and why things that ‘should work’ don’t.

Unstuffing the couch cushions

A quick lesson on the whole “being honest”… one of the things that this month has afforded me is a good look at my weaknesses and fears.

And *that* is an excellent thing.

  1. I can’t pray over something if I don’t know it’s a problem.
  2. I can’t confess a sin I’m pretending not to know about.
  3. Humility lives in understanding my inability to cope with life without Jesus, not in my taking care of things so that He doesn’t have to.

In other words, if my desire to be perfect impells me to stuff the sofa cushions with all my problems, so that even I don’t have to look at them… how can I surrender them to Jesus?

Inside the cup, outside the cup

Matthew 23: 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

There is a temptation to those of us who grew up in the Church, a profound temptation – it is the temptation to whitewash our tombs, to clean the outsides of our cups, to make everything in our lives look pretty, to look “Christian” – even when the insides aren’t.

If you knew how easy it would be for me to pretend …   But it would be SO easy.  I know all the right answers.  I know the right things to say, the right ways to say them.  I’ve got this.  But I want to be real.  I don’t think it helps to be fake, and quite frankly I think it’s living a lie and perpetuating hypocrisy, which has driven so many from the Church.

So I’m dealing with a little anger right now.  And that’s because I feel like I should talk about one part of my current experience and not talk about the rest of it.

Situation:  Husband has been battling digestive issues and ill-health for quite a while.  Took out gallbladder.  Found out today it was necrotizing.  So, yeah – he’s been off.  Somehow, dying bits of your organs will do that to you.   I have a lot of emotion surrounding the whole experience.  I have a lot of emotion just today!

What I should say:  “I know my husband will be healed completely!”  “I am looking forward to God’s use of this time of trial in both our lives!”  “I can’t wait to see how God will use this experience!”  “God’s grace is sufficient for me”.

ALL OF THAT IS TOTALLY TRUE.

What is also true is that my husband has been off for a long time and I *knew* something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong, and it was stressing me out.  “Have faith”.  Yes, good.  I have faith that God will use all things for good.  I don’t have faith that life will be lived on a bed of roses.  Do I have to lie about how I’m feeling?   I can cheerfully consent to God’s will in my life ***without*** saying, “and I know every minute will be happiness”.  No.  Every minute might be joy – because that’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.  But not every minute is happiness.  Does it have to be, for me to be a spiritually mature Christian?

Waiting for my husband’s surgery day was agony – for him, in the flesh, and me, emotionally.  There turned out to be good reason why he had to wait.  The day of his surgery much was arranged just perfectly… and I am grateful.  But the extra hours in the hospital still sucked.  Tensing for the blow that didn’t come … still sucked.

God uses awful things for good every day.  Why should I be so special that something bad wouldn’t come into *my* life?

Do you think I haven’t been on my knees asking if there is something in my life that is out of order, some sin I need to renounce?  I have a good pastor who teaches that we should ask, “what lesson do I need to learn from this trial?”.   Do you think I haven’t been asking what the lesson is?   Of course I’ve been doing that stuff.  This ain’t my first rodeo, folks.  But I don’t have the answers to those questions, at least not today.

Christian living is supposed to be about faith.  If someone asked you to exchange your pain for someone else’s solace, your tears for someone else’s salvation – you’d say yes.  But then it becomes something that YOU control.  Something for which you take credit, not something for which you are given a crown.   It loses the faith *in Christ*and replaces it with faith in your own ability to stick out a bad time.  It changes your focus to yourself.

And so, I get grumpy.   I know that all of this is for good, and that He will be glorified – but sometimes, things just suck.  And sometimes I get stressed out.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t know in my bones that God will provide, it means that my flesh can’t see how, and my flesh is freaking out.

If I try to say that I don’t have flesh, that I’m not in process, that being refined isn’t always fun… then I have to lie to you, and to me.

I won’t do it.  I won’t lie to make you think that I’m something that I’m not.  I won’t lie because I know what I “should” say.  I want to tell the truth.

And the truth is – I trust God with everything, but sometimes life isn’t fun.

Magic Pill vs. the Fruit of Wisdom

Our society is set up to believe in magic pills.

I think that’s because we don’t have very much wisdom operating, and because we just can’t handle the whims of fate.

Wisdom will tell you that fresh air, exercise, and a sensible diet are healthful.  Logic will tell you that if you make healthful choices, you are more likely to be healthy.  An understanding of life and fate will tell you that you can’t offset everything.

Magic Pill thinking says that there is one absolutely perfect diet, and that if you find the absolutely perfect diet, all of your aches and pains will go away, you’ll be transported on clouds of ease to your perfect weight and muscle tone, and you’ll never know a day’s illness.

Because we have so many fools in our society, who have no interest in wise living, when one of those fools starts eating well, the change can be almost magical.  I have a friend like this – every time she stopped drinking soda,she’d lose gobs of weight, nearly overnight.  Then she’d start drinking soda again… well, that’s on her.  But I haven’t had a soda in over a decade, and I haven’t been a regular drinker ever.  Why do I struggle with weight? If I surrender to Magic Pill thinking, I’ll get mad and depressed.  “It didn’t work for me!”

We do this with pregnancy.  We do it with child raising.  We do it with where in the country you should live.  We do it with the details of family life.  We do it with marketing your business.  We do it with the mating dance.  And on.  And on. And on.

Magic Pill thinking is destructive, because although wise choices bring better results than foolish choices, they’re not magical.  Wise choices aren’t a guarantee.  But our society has lost nearly all of its ability to differentiate.

We see the foolish people, we see the wise people, and we want what the latter has… and we don’t want to wait for the fruit of wisdom, we don’t understand that fate has its hand in the mix, and we want a simple solution to complex problems.  And most of all, we want to put our faith in something of the flesh, something much easier than, “Thy will be done, Lord.  I’m going to get in the game, I’m going to do things as well as I can, and then the results are up to You”.

Magic Pills don’t exist.  God does.