Life Together?

Despite good intentions, the five friends who sought to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by forming an extended Christian family last year were ill-prepared for the realities of living closely in community.

Two married couples, with five young children between them, moved with a like-minded bachelor into a dilapidated house in Billings, Montana, determined to live a life of simplicity and charity, cutting their living expenses to the bone so they could give generously to the needy and love their neighbors and one another unconditionally.

They were inspired by the early Christians in Jerusalem, who sold all they owned and shared everything, “with one accord…with gladness and singleness of heart.”

“Our focus has to be on God and the way of life he has set out for us, as opposed to the way we want to live, which is very selfish,” said one of the Billings husbands. “Church is not something we attend. It’s something we are,” added the bachelor.

Ironically, after four months together they had not as yet met a single neighbor nor given aid. According to Stephanie Simon, writing in the Los Angeles Times, “When it came to food, clothing, and entertainment, they had not been able to agree on ground rules, beyond a vague vow ‘to live a continually more modest lifestyle.'”

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life

10 comments on “Life Together?

  1. SaintCyprian says:

    kiwi fruit? Cheese snacks? MINT CHIP ICE CREAM??!!?!?

    Vanity of vanities, will the over-indulgence never cease?

  2. libraryjim says:

    I would recommend anyone who wants to live in community pay a visit to an existing servant community such as [url=]Community of Celebration[/url] in Pennsylvania or [url=]Jesus People, USA[/url] in Chicago. There are others, of course, but these have been around for some time, and can offer good tips on how to live [i]effectively[/i] in a community.

  3. vulcanhammer says:

    If you look on a website like [url=]The Ancient Star-Song[/url], you will see a large number of communities in the 1970’s which disappeared with only the small issue album left as a legacy. That era spawned a large number of communities–covenant communities, true communal efforts and the like–whose failure should serve as a caution to the efforts underway such as those described in the article.

  4. nwlayman says:

    I’ve never looked, but it would be fun to see if anyone has done serious research into how long that Book of Acts idyll lasted. Might I guess 45 minutes, maybe 2 hours? Things like this make it clear why some good sounding ideas get dropped for very good reasons over the years. If you want to see why earlier Christians dropped the Peace from the eucharist, just look at churches who do it now. No explanation is likely needed. Sometimes the Church just says “That was a good idea, but we can see it didn’t pan out”. The only places I know where Christians really own everything/nothing as a community are called monasteries. They swear to obey completely the will of an Abbott or Abbess. They dress funny, live in enclosed walled off buildings. It’s a strange environment and even then it often fails.

  5. Larry Morse says:

    So much for the Brook Farm Experiment. What the countryside needs is more pio-hippies. Perhaps is they smoked less of the wicked weed? The Puritans at Plymouth sought to establish a common -unity and look how long that lasted, and they had rules galore! Larry

  6. Words Matter says:

    I commented on this story over at GetReligion a week or two ago, to the effect that some historical context would have been helpful. I was thinking then of the 70s communities (I was part of one), some of which continue today. The problem with this small group, or at least the problem in the telling, is a lack of connectedness to an larger group – a congregation, parish, or even another, more experienced group. They would have learned much from more study of the history of Christian communal living.

    From the get-go, there were groups within the Church that sought a more intense community life. Initially, as in Acts, these were within the life of the local church, but not the whole of it. Remember that Peter told Ananias and Sapphira that entering into the communal life was not a requirement: ownership of private property was never forbidden, only lying about it. My own belief is that groups like this never did die out, though I can’t find the reference for that right now. We know that throughout the history of the Church small bands of men and women have sought a more intense life together, in monasteries, mendicant orders, canons regular, and hundreds of missionary orders founded by men and women with a zeal for Christ and His Church. Communal groups are a constant in the history of the Church, though not, obviously, the majority of Christians.

    As to monastics: I’ve known a lot of monks, and spent some time in monasteries. Walled-off they may be, but, with the exceptions of the Carthusians, they have guesthouses that minister to more strangers than many (most?) parish churches over the course of a year. Of course, the Benedictines aren’t generally cloistered, but engage in parish work, running schools, and doing various missionary tasks. The Strict Observance Cistercians (“Trappists”) are more enclosed, but one house I knew ran the local food bank out of their gate house. For a thrill, watch a 70 year old man sling 100 pound sacks of potatoes. I was put to shame at the vigor and strength of this monk.

    Overall, monks are the most “normal” people I have ever known, which is to say they are, on the whole, happy, prayerful, engaged, and concerned to do the will of God. Of course, there are flakes in the mix, but welcome to reality? I suppose if you think stressful, hectic, and wondering how to pay the bills is normal, then you would find the monks odd.

  7. Ed the Roman says:

    Father Bryce Sibley, of the late A Saintly Salmagundi, wrote of some Carthusians he encountered that they were the happiest and holiest men he had ever met.

    Naturally, they have no worldly apostolate at all, so hardly anyone ever meets a Carthusian.

  8. nwlayman says:

    #6 : I agree that monastics can be pretty sane. I was lucky to visit several monasteries on Mt. Athos some years ago. A very nice experience. Their life certainly depends on being able to be somewhat remote from the world. It’s not the type of monasticism usually seen in the west. All I was pointing out is the great difficulty of a communal life without structured rule over all of it. Platoons need sergeants. Most of the people who *think* they want communal life think they can do without authority and, well, they’re gone in no time.

  9. Words Matter says:

    I misread you, nwlayman. My apologies.

    Eastern and western monasticism are very different and I don’t know a lot about the former, except what I read in Fr. Basil Pennington’s [i]O Holy Mountain[/i].

    Of course, the role of an abbot is supposed to be “father”, rather than “sergeant”. Unfortunately, they are now elected to terms (generally 6 years), although in some cases, the re-election is a formality. In the old days, you were abbot for life. When Dom James Fox, of Gethsemani, resigned the abbacy to follow Thomas Merton into the hermit’s life, it was something of a scandal, so I’m told.

  10. libraryjim says:

    Michael Card has a good devotional entry on community in this weeks e-mailing:

    Walls of Protection
    “And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,” declares the Lord, “and I will be its glory within.”

    || Zechariah 2:5 || NLT ||

    We talk about breaking down walls between races, between sexes and so on. We don’t talk enough about building walls to protect our brothers and sisters, walls to redemptively keep out negative aspects of the world. We need protective wall, which is to say we need community, which is to say (according to Zechariah) that we need God.

    Jesus created at least three communities. First there were the twelve disciples, who were given authority to spread the good news. A second, more intimate level of community existed between Jesus and the three closest to him: Peter, James and John. A third level of community was the little-mentioned “seventy”. This larger group of disciples was responsible for paving the way before Jesus arrived into a given area.

    Community was a sustaining force to Jesus’ person and ministry. And it provided the foundation for the church universal that he would build.

    JOURNAL: To what communities do you belong, either formally or informally? How does each one aid your spiritual growth?