I’ve been following some of the renewal movements that have been happening with American Christianity these days. The two that have piqued my interest the most are the Emergent Church and New Monasticism. Both of them are quite interesting and fascinating, especially in their connections to Anabaptism. One interesting commonality between these two movements is the fact that they are centered around cities. That’s all fine and good except for a couple of things. There are two phrases that seem to keep coming up in their discussions. First is the phrase “organic”. Everyone wants to be organic. Now, I’m not really talking about organic food but rather about community, leadership, and structures being organic and coming together from the ground up.
The problem with this is that if you’re going to adopt this language, and you live in the city, then you had better be pretty intentional about getting out into the countryside and getting to know some people who know what the heck it really means to grow things from the ground up, literally. I don’t care what you say, a flower box and a community garden only begin to get at an understanding of what it means to be connected to the cycle of life. The language of “organic” might be all inspiring to those in the city, but for those of us in the country, we know that it is neither easy, consistent, or always healthy to be organic. Poison Ivy is still “natural” and “organic” but not exactly healthy for us to be involved with.
The other phrase that is specifically tied with New Monasticism that I find interesting is the idea of intentionally inhabitating places abandoned by empire. Quite narrowly this means industrialized parts of the city that have been destroyed by various industries. While I do admire this commitment and I fully support it, there is also a case to be made that rural areas are just as abandoned by empire as the industrialized parts of our cities. Farming over the last 100 years has turned into just as big of an industry as making cars, airplanes or any other manufacturing system. Anyone who has ever been to a feedlot in western, Ks will attest to this. As the farming industry has risen up over time, we have seen the demise of small family farms that once defined the midwest, both in economy and in culture. As a result, there have been entire towns that have dried up and disappeared. I know people who weren’t able to sell a house for 10 years because no one was moving to that town. The town I currently live in once had a thriving downtown complete with hotels, banks, and (of all things) an oyster bar. So while I admire and sympathize with the idea that we are to reclaim and re-inhabit abandoned places, one who is living in the city might do well to spend some time in the parts of the country that really have been abandoned.