Book Report 1, Part C

Almost anyone who has seen violence longs for some balm to heal the wound that it exposes. The peace of Christ has been a comfort to young men in foxholes, mothers back at home, conscientious objectors sitting in prison, and martyrs who refused to fight. Our violent world aches in anticipation of the kingdom of peace that it was made for. That Jesus came preaching peace is good news for all of us (110).

This outstanding quote by Wilson-Hartgrove addresses the importance of a non-violent, turn-the-other-cheek agenda, without demeaning those who are not pacifists. His sensitivity tempered with his call to action offers readers a challenge without invoking resentment or fear. As a member of a peace church, my church community has demonstrated well for me the benefits of peacemaking as it is at odds with "the world." Wilson-Hartgrove's addendum as he interprets it from Ephesians, that all can be reconciled back to God through the cross, which is part of the church, gives us hope and a directive to expect such reconciliation among enemies in the name of Jesus through the body of the church. What a powerful mission for the church to express and practice. But, like he points out in the example of racism in the South (112-114), the church seemingly is better at constructing walls of division and hate, rather than living in the truth that Jesus has already laid those walls to rest.

What new monastic communities have found is that when you start walking in Jesus's way of peace you inevitably get in the way of the death-dealing powers in this world. This can be frightening, since no one wants to die...It's scary to look death in the face, but it's even more frightening to imagine life outside the body where we are reconciled with God through the crucified flesh of Jesus (115).

I found this community's experiences with civil disobedience protesting the death penalty admirable, gutsy, and worth emulating.

In chapter eight, Wilson-Hartgrove raises to question our call to unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, both on an individual level, but more importantly, also on a church-to-church level. He states that the only way to Christian unity is through the grace and truth of Christ. The reality of this sentence is one, which he claims and I support, that has kept churches uninterested (120) for quite a while, arguably since her inception in the first century. The misfortune of this reality has given way to the plurality of American denominations, sects, and splits. So, I wonder then, in an effort to embrace our American, Christian pluralism but also as a means of challenging the sheer existence of it, how do we practically enact and practice the art of reconciliation, especially between rural, urban, suburban, and ex-burban ecclesial communities?

At this point, Wilson-Hartgrove offers one solution by the name of "grassroots ecumenism" (132). This is inspiring, and it seems as if it can be a reality of different-minded people coming together under the cross through acts of loving one another. For this reason, I am a huge supporter of small groups in church building their time together on service opportunities and projects rather than through shared interests. It appears from my own experience in the church that if small groups and churches are insular and concerned with being like-minded they will turn away from the needs of the world and build up another protective wall around their borders. But if individuals concentrate their energies on the "loving of God and loving one another" the need for fort defenses and border control fades into the background and enables sundry people to unite for a common purpose.

At the close of this chapter when the author is lamenting the ways in which the church fails to serve one another because we fail to know the basic needs of the other, since we fail to engage in life with the other, my heart started pounding (138-140). The reverb of this beating is the motivation for much of why I want to pastor--to help the children of God live out the hope and truth of their callings enough (to regress back to Ephesians for a moment) and to know their neighbors enough, that service does not need to happen through programming or intentionality, but that it just is, because the needs are present and known and addressed...naturally. What a beautiful picture, and I think right now it is possible because of places like the Rutba house where it is already happening. It is breaking down some of my cynicism about the shortcomings of the church and reminding me that God has not yet given up on the church.

And it doesn't make any more sense to pretend that we can take care of each other through "random acts of kindness" than it does to imagine that preachers can proclaim good news through random inspiration...When we tend to one another, God's glory is revealed. And it looks like a culture of grace where people care enough about one another to speak the truth in love (140).

Wilson-Hartgrove closes his book with a humble and profound thought: new monastics need the church because they, like all of us, are a people of God (141). And as people of God, so he says, just as we need our Father who art in heaven, we also need our mother who teaches us to confess and instructs us as to the ways of reconciliation via the roads of grace and truth (142). For this reason, I always have been and hope to always be, prochurch!--it truly is the hope of the world as she is founded on Jesus and lead forth by the Spirit.

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