Fammunity, Part 1 – Introduction

Posted in: history,Spirituality by bill-o on July 10, 2010

For the last few months, I and some friends been discussing the concepts of spiritual families and spiritual communities. Combining the two words together led us to coin the new word “fammunity”.

Spiritual families are formed when a spiritual father is connected to spiritual sons. The reemphasis on spiritual families is an expression of what the book of Malachi talks about when it mentions God’s desire to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children and vice versa. Families take time to build, and spiritual families provide for intergenerational building blocks of spiritual growth.

The roots of community life in Christianity go back all the way to the book of Acts, where the first followers of Jesus lived together in Jerusalem and held all things in common with one another. Spiritual communities continued through the centuries, usually on the edges of society, first, in the lives of persecuted believers, then, in monasteries and friars and, later, in networks of rural believers like the Amish and Mennonites. “Community” is where a group of people make the choice to share their lives with one another in an organic way. This often involves living together in some type of communal setting. These spiritual communities often include service to the poor and disadvantaged in their local neighborhoods. The younger generation, those now in their 20s and early 30s, in particular, is embracing community life. Several communities together form what is called a “community of communities”.

In later posts, I’ll talk about more about spiritual families, spiritual communities, and what they have in common with one another.

Crop Mobs

Posted in: Popular Culture by bill-o on May 23, 2010

The newspaper USA Today had a good article recently about the new phenomena called “crop mobs”: “Crop Mobs Sprout up on Farms”. Wikipedia also has a short article about crop mobs.

Evidently, crop mobs are a rural version of flash mobs. With crop mobs, people from suburban or urban regions network together, usually via social networking via the Internet, to congregate at a rural farm. They then spend the day working together as a team to help the farmer do things that he would not be able to do by himself. The farms are often organic; therefore, they are more labor intensive since they can’t use pesticides. The farmer therefore gets labor that he couldn’t otherwise afford, and the crop mob gets the chance to experience rural farm work and community.

Perhaps this renewal of love for the agrarian life is a symbol of the times in the Western world. Shadows and Symbols recently made an attempt to see one of the most famous agrarian authors, Wendell Berry, speak in person, but the venue was packed full so was unable to attend. Perhaps this too is is a harbinger of a return to an appreciation for farms and the rural lifestyle.

The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #2

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on September 06, 2008

Continuing with our reflections on the 12 marks of the New Monasticism, we encounter the second mark:

“Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us”

The first mark dealt with geographical relocation, whereas the second mark deals with monetary reallocation. What some have called “commonism” (which is not the same thing as Communism, by the way) was a hallmark of the earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem. “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (The Book of Acts, chapter 2 verses 43 and 44) Such a deep commitment of communal sharing, however, lasted for decades beyond the Pentecost. As the church father Tertullian later expressed (around the year 200) about the lives of Christ-followers: “Everything is shared among us – except for our wives.” (Tertullian, Apologetics, 39:11)

Such a communal sharing takes real maturity and love. Yet the benefits are remarkable. Everyone is cared for to the best ability of the community. No one is left behind. Each person has the supply and backing of the greater community. Additionally, the leaders of the community cannot gain unfair advantages over the followers on the basis of monetary wealth. What greater statement could there be that God is no respecter of persons.

Notice carefully that there are two different groups of recipients of the common economic resources of the community of followers of Christ: the members of the community and the needy (poor). The needy mentioned here may or may not be part of the faith community. The pagan Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate (who reigned from 355 to 363), was no friend of Christians. However, he famously observed that believers in Christ not only provided for their own poor but also for other poor people, too. Jesus made it clear that he had come to preach good news to the poor, and it was mostly the poor of this world who became his followers in the decades before Christianity was made into an official religion. I, myself, have seen hearts that were hard towards Christ and his followers quickly soften when they see true works of charity given to the poorest of the world by the followers of Jesus. And if there is one thing that I have seen that separates the true spiritual seekers from the spiritual charlatans, it is that their hearts are soft and caring towards the desperately poor.

The New Testament Greek used two words for the poor: penes and ptochos. Penes referred to what we typically call the “working poor”. These were people who did not have many material possesions or property, but who were able to work as day-laborers in order to provide for themselves. Ptochos, on the other hand, were the desperately poor, the destitute ones. It is these needy ones that Jesus was talking about when he said that he was preaching good news to the poor. The poor (ptochos) widow who Jesus observed donating everything that she had to the temple was one of these very needy people. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor (ptochos). When the apostles Peter and James recognized the work and calling of the apostle Paul, they gave him only one command: that he should remember the poor (ptochos), which was something that Paul was already eager to do. Paul also said that, though he was poor (ptochos), he and his spiritual brothers, through many difficult and dangerous journeys, were making many (spiritually) rich.

It is at the very core and nature of true Christ-followers that they yearn to care for the desperately poor in their own communities and around the world. It is the rhythm, pulse, and heart-cry of Jesus and his disciples, and the sharing community provides a place of wisdom and gentleness for the redistribution of possessions to those who are truly in need.


For further reading related to this subject, I recommend the article “OK, I Admit It” at Behold: The Blog!


The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Introduction

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on August 28, 2008

Today, I’m beginning a multi-part series about the 12 marks of the New Monasticism movement. Each of these marks is presented at the following link and below in this post:


The compilation of these 12 marks of the way of life for New Monasticism took place in the summer 2004. These 12 marks point out the commonalities in a way of life for many diverse faith communities of followers of Christ. Most of these communities are located somewhere in North America.

Over time, I’ll be presenting each of these 12 marks to you here at shadowsandsymbols.org for your consideration. My aim in doing so is not so much to present an intellectual or theological analysis of each of the marks; nor is my goal to provide examples of how followers of Christ are attempting to demonstrate each one. Besides seeking to introduce more people to this increasingly important movement, my main objective here in presenting these marks to you is to provide points of meditation and reflection on the lifestyle and characteristics of followers of Christ that each one presents.

You might agree or disagree with each of the 12 marks or how each one is currently interpreted by the various communities of New Monastics. You may even disagree with the entire concept of having a list of 12 marks. Or you might be thinking that these marks are good for New Monastics but not for others. Conversely, you may be coming at this from the opposite side: You might be asking yourself, “Why aren’t Christ’s followers already doing these things?” Regardless of your initial thoughts on this subject, I think that, at the least, each one of these points is worthwhile of prayer and careful, reflective thought, and I would please invite you here to examine each of these 12 principles of faith and community.

As you reflect upon each of these marks, I’d recommend neither accepting nor rejecting each one too quickly. Rather, slowly and carefully read each one and think about what each of the 12 marks might mean to you.


The 12 Marks of the New Monasticism

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire

2.  Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us

3.  Hospitality to the stranger

4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities
combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation

5.  Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church

6.  Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate

7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community

8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life

10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies

11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18

12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life


My friend (offline and online) Peter recently wrote in his blog, slowreads.com, about wanting to become a monk. Please see:


Like myself, Peter is a low-church, Protestant Christian, who has discovered gradually over several years a spiritual connection with monastic expressions of Christianity. Unlike myself, Peter is a married man with a family who would, therefore, probably not be eligible to join most Christian monastaries. But I think what is  more important here than the technical qualifications of becoming a monk or the actual possibility of Peter taking up actual residency at a monastery is what Peter might be saying to the larger Christian community: It’s time for us to see monasticism as a spiritual signpost, a light along the dark paths of 21st-century life in the Western world: materialism, busyness, lack of community, etc.

Peter’s post is personal and reflects his own particular journey. Having known Peter for 15 years, I can attest that the course of his spiritual life as expressed in this post is genuine and real. My goal here is not to discuss what is a personal relationship between him and God. Rather, I would like to touch upon what the things that Peter is talking about might mean to the larger body of followers of Christ today.

Using Peter’s post as a launching point, I’d like here to paint a picture of where I think Christianity could be headed. Please feel free to agree or disagree. (What I want to do here is add to the conversation, not make demands upon what the future should be.)

To get the conversation started here, I would like to define monasticism in broad terms. I see it as a deliberate setting aside of significant privileges or rights, for a non-trivial period of time, that one would normally be entitled to in order to grow closer to God and to further the purposes of his kingdom in this world.

1.  Peter cannot be alone here. There must be many others with a similar yearning. I see a forthcoming restoration of the monastic calling in the lives of many in the West. This will be expressed in a revitalization of Catholic monasticism and in the birth of Protestant monasticism. We are already seeing some of that in the New Monasticism movements in urban areas of the United States. I also see a day when rural Protestant monasticism will take root. Protestant monasticism will be less formal and will overlap to one extent or another with a variety of intentional communities. Some will become friars or see themselves as “monks in the world”, but I also see these two paths as valid expressions, at least in the broadest and more informal sense, of monasticism. These new expressions of monasticism will serve as a reaction to the pervasive materialism in the West and will frequently be coupled with expressions of aid and mercy to the desperately poor.

2.  Like Peter, other married followers of Jesus will discover the value of monasticism. These believers may not be eligible for the traditional monastic life, but they will become spiritual advisors to younger, single believers who will set their hearts on this vocation early in life, with the encouragement of these precious elders in the faith. In the meantime, God does not leave us on earth as orphans and his grace is sufficient. Therefore, married believers who, like Peter, discover a yearning for the monastic will draw closer to the Lord Jesus as God multiplies the effectiveness of the time that they spend with him in the midst of their family lives and responsibilities.

3.  Likewise, these married followers of Christ will serve as a bridge between low-church (and, in some cases, high-church) Protestants and the new monastics. Since there are very few single adults in leadership positions in the low churches, it usually takes a married person to have the credibility and authority to speak substantively on important issues in these congregrations and denominations. (I’m not saying that this is right, by the way; I’m a single adult myself: I’m just saying what is today the effective, operating reality.) These married believers, some of whom will be current or former church leaders, will be uniquely positioned to translate what is happening with the new monastics to low-church Protestants.

4.  Singleness will no longer be seen solely as a transitional state of life (a temporary way-station on the road to marriage) among Protestants. Many single adult followers of Christ will remain single for long periods of time or even for a lifetime. These believers will have the greatest access to the new and renewed monasticism. Many single adults who have never been married and who have no children will at the least be recognized as “monks in the world” and will be increasingly seen as a valuable resource and repository of monastic experience to the wider community of believers.