• Cacti in Arizona

    Interview with Tim Keller Part 1:

    City of the Lord

    In this episode, Malcolm interviews Tim Keller about his experience in community. Tim discusses the importance of community life and describes the spirituality and activities of the City of the Lord, a Charismatic covenant community which he has been part of for 40 years.

    We all have a covenant

    Tim explains that, far from being esoteric or unusual, covenant community is fundamental to the Christian life. Every Christian is part of a covenant relationship with the Lord and with other Christians, simply by virtue of baptism. For Catholics, this is reinforced by the Eucharist, the Sacrament of unity.

    Community as an “altar call”

    Building a community is a way to reinforce and claim the covenant we have already entered into with the Lord. This covenant gives us rights and responsibilities that are difficult to live out alone. The community helps individuals to affirm and ratify their commitment.

    God’s face to the world

    We discussed the amazing reality of our Christian mission. As members of the Mystical Body, we have to show Christ’s love to the world. The love in a community is the best way to show others the love of Christ.

    Commitment to one another

    Tim discussed a fundamental shortcoming that limits the effectiveness of many Catholic programs, from men’s groups to youth outreach: those in the groups are not actually sharing the whole of life together. If the men in a small group, for instance, were actually sharing the whole of life and knew one another’s families, they would be more effective at offering support and guidance. (See our blog post on supporting one another in community here.)

    “The poverty of riches”

    In the past, community was natural; people needed one another. Tim pointed out that today, our wealth has created a certain kind of relational poverty. We need to rebuild the kind of caring community that once existed.

    The City of the Lord Community

    For 40 years, Tim Keller has been a member of the City of the Lord community, which is based in four cities in Arizona and southern California. It is a Charismatic Covenant Community in which groups of families come together to share life in Christ with one another. Tim described the activities of the community, ranging from block parties to healing ministries, and the many small groups that met under the umbrella of the wider group. For several years, he was also part of their Brotherhood, a group of single men in the community who lived a monastic-style life together.

    Geographic Relocation

    Over time, many of the families that made up the community relocated to live near one another in an urban neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona. This made it easier for the community members to maintain an informal social life with one another in addition to more formal planned events.

    Outreach

    The community of believers is for a mission, to show the world the love of Christ. Tim Keller described the many ways the City of the Lord reached out to the wider world. Just by living in community, the members were able to provide an attractive witness to others.

    The Next Episode

    This is the first of a two-part interview with Tim Keller. In the next episode, Tim will talk about the mistakes that can be made while building community, the Sursum Cordia community he is helping to form in New Mexico, practical steps for community building, and the four pillars of community life.

    More Information

    • You can find the City of the Lord website here.
    • You can find the website of Tim’s community, Sursum Corda, here.
    • Tim mentioned John Paul II’s letter Christifideles Laici, which can be found here.

    Cover image: Arizona desert. CC BY 2.0: Kevin Dooley

  • Bethlehem Books image

    An Interview with Jack Sharpe from the Bethlehem Community

    Podcast Episode 10

    An interview with Jack Sharpe from the Bethlehem Community of Bathgate, ND. The Bethlehem Community publishes children’s literature as Bethlehem Books.

    The History of the Bethlehem Community

    The Beginnings in Portland

    Jack tells the fascinating story of the Bethlehem community’s development over time. It started as a Charismatic young adult ministry associated with a Baptist church in Portland Oregon; at one point over 80 young adults lived in the 15 houses associated with the group. Over time, the commitment of the members to community life deepened, and they became an independent community, with the members living together and holding all property in common. They gave up their individual jobs and opened a bakery to support the community.

    Joining the Catholic Church

    As time went on, they felt the need to belong to something bigger than themselves; they studied the Early Church and monastic traditions. Eventually, this led the community to enter the Catholic Church in 1993.

    At the same time, the bakery wasn’t working out for the community. They took a leap of faith by starting a publishing house, Bethlehem Books, dedicated to Christian children’s literature, even though they had no experience with this kind of work. To finance their first print run, they sold the bakery and apartment building. Then they waited for God to provide.

    Publishing Books and Answering Phones as Benedictines

    God provided through Fr. Fessio, who hired the community to answer the 800 number for Ignatius Press. This income gave them the freedom to run Bethlehem Books without worrying about turning a profit.

    Through mutual friends, they found a permanent home at a former state school for the blind in Bathgate ND. They also found a permanent spiritual home as Benedictine Oblates; this allowed them to connect to a spirituality and way of life larger and older than their community.

    Experience of Community Life

    50 years of community experience has given Jack Sharpe a lot of wisdom about living with others. After he outlined the history of his community, we had a fascinating discussion of these more theoretic topics.

    Authority

    He outlined the proper relationship to authority, which is crucial to any successful community. Dysfunctional communities have a fearful relationship with authorities inside and outside the community, which manifests as abject submission to community leaders and total rejection of authorities outside the community.

    Community not Clique

    Communities can not be made up of people who are all alike. If that is what brings people together, the result will be a clique, not a community. The Grace of Christ working through the mystical body can bind together diverse human beings in love.

    “The Humble Hear and are Glad”

    We also discussed the importance of humility in community formation and communal life. Starting out with utopian ideals of perfection is unlikely to get a group very far. Even more importantly, the community has to make sure that the weaker members are able to “stay the pace.” Jack quoted psalm 34: the humble will hear and be glad. Is the message of a community making the humble and weak glad?

    A Foundation of Love

    We concluded by talking about the love of Christ and neighbor as the only true foundation for community life.

    Listen to the episode to learn more about this fascinating community!

    Header image: Casa Maria and “Rolf and the Viking Bow”, courtesy of Bethlehem Books

  • Dorothy Day: Radical Dissident or Faithful Catholic? Podcast Episode 9

    Malcolm interviews Dr. Terrence Wright, who is an associate professor of philosophy at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Dr. Wright is also the author of “Dorothy Day, An Introduction to her Life and Thought,” published by Ignatius Press.

    Dorothy Day spent her life working for the promotion and implementation of Catholic Social Teaching. She is the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and the author of numerous books and articles. Her cause for canonization has been opened by the Catholic Church.

    Controversy

    Dorothy Day is a controversial figure; many on the right and left see her as a dissident Catholic. Conservatives reject her due to this perceived dissent, while liberals applaud her for it.

    Professor Wright explains that both perspectives are mistaken. Rather than a dissident Catholic, she is better seen as a loyal, if challenging, daughter of the Church; a prophetic figure who calls us to fully live out the message of the Gospel. She was ardently pro-life, but she championed a consistent ethic of life, refusing to pit the defense of the unborn against the defense of the born.

    We discussed how dissent from Church teaching and criticism of Church leaders who fail to live up to those teachings are very different. To illustrate this we discussed the familiar story of St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Paul enthusiastically supported St. Peter’s teaching on the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church but called Peter out for hypocrisy when he failed to live up to that teaching.

    The Social Teachings

    Dorothy Day’s work was bound up with the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church. Professor Wright talked briefly about the four major points of this teaching, which are: the dignity of the human person; the importance of the common good; subsidiarity, which entails the rejection of undue interference by higher levels of society with lower levels; and solidarity, the principle of universal human fraternity.

    Saintly Role Models

    Many Saints influenced Dorothy Day’s outlook and mission, and we mentioned three of them. Day was a Benedictine Oblate, and St. Benedict inspired her vision of hospitality. Her emphasis on the connection between work and prayer is also rooted in Benedictine Spirituality. Another influence was St. Francis of Assisi. Day’s pacifism and voluntary poverty are very Franciscan, and she stressed that St. Francis was a radical, not just a lover of animals. Yet another Saint Day admired was St. Therese of Lisieux. Initially, she thought Therese was overly pious and disliked her style. But over time, she came to realize the importance of the Little Way, of doing everyday actions with great love. For example, Dorothy Day was frustrated by those who talked a lot about high ideals but refused to chop vegetables for the soup line.

    The Catholic Worker and the Works of Mercy

    The Catholic Worker’s mission was centered on the works of mercy. In this mission, Dorothy Day realized that one can’t separate the spiritual and corporal aspects. On the one hand, the poor could be fed or clothed in a cold, mechanical way that would demean them. (Famously, Dorothy Day said that “our love will make the poor forgive us for the bread we give them.”) On the other hand, we might say we love the poor, but not actually aid them. As St. James tells us, this is not the Christian way. Consequently, the Catholic Worker strives to create a warm, personal environment when sheltering or feeding the poor.

    The Challenge of Peace

    In one area, Dorothy Day does seem to challenge Church teaching. Just War Theory is the Church’s response to the problem of conflict. It lays out principles that constrain the use and the violence of war, but still allows for the waging of war to protect the innocent. Dorothy Day was a committed pacifist, opposed to all wars and violence, even in self-defense.

    Although the Church does not require this level of pacifism of us, we can still find inspiration in it. Just as monastic celibacy provides a profound witness of Christian totality even to those who are married, the pacifism of figures such as Dorothy Day can help us to remember that we are all called to be “peacemakers.”

    All transcripts are edited for clarity and readability.

    Header image: Book cover: https://www.ignatius.com/

  • A plan drawing of Port Royal convent, the center of the Jansenist movement in France.

    Faithful Community or Cult Enclave? Episode 8

    Cult dynamics may be more common than you think.

    It might seem that most normal people don’t have to worry about cults. The reality, however, is that cults are merely dysfunctional communities, and their obvious flaws are merely an exaggerated version of common social problems.

    There is a strongly felt lack of community in the modern world. This lack produces both a desire for community and a level of inexperience which can make negative dynamics more likely.

    In this episode, Malcolm Schluenderfritz and Peter DeGoede discuss a few of these negative dynamics. They try to show the ways that these dynamics can crop up in everyday life, and examine some of the underlying problems.

    Some Problematic attitudes

    Dishonesty

    They discuss how cults are marked by dishonesty, both to members and to the wider world, and by a lack of openness to the truth. This type of mentality can afflict any group with divides the world into insiders and outsiders. Group members can become OK with not knowing the truth.

    Fear

    Cults are usually based on fear, but many seemingly harmless communities are also based on fear of the outside world. In particular, parents are afraid that the world will corrupt their children. That’s not a groundless fear but if it is the basis for community formation, everyone will suffer.

    Selfishness

    An obsessive focus on the nuclear family can actually become selfish and unchristian. Families may do well to avoid the more problematic aspects of our culture. On the other hand, if a focus remains on the negative, it can lead to greater evil. Christ illustrates this point with the Gospel parable of the man who swept his house of a demon, only for seven demons to return.

    Focus on the Negative

    A focus on the negative can also blind individuals and groups to the evil that is found inside, in individual souls or in a group. We’re all sinners, and we should ground our spirituality in humility. Christ comes to be with us in our weakness and failures. We shouldn’t try to find perfection, which can lead us to gloss over problems.

    Unnecessary Division

    Any attempt to follow Christ will create a certain amount of division. We have to make choices that will possibly alienate us from those around us. At the same time, such division can lead to cult mentalities by dividing the world between insiders and outsiders. Catholics should not make choices which turn fellow Catholics into outsiders. We have to remain united to the body of Christ, even if this can be a source of pain or frustration at times. In doing so we will be imitating the Saints, who preached a radical message which could be divisive at times, but who nevertheless remained faithful to the unity of the Church.

    Other Topics

    Along the way, a number of other topics are discussed, including the opposition between choice and culture, “family envy”, the difference between natural virtue and Christianity, liturgy as chosen, and the felt lack of control in the modern world despite our technological abilities.

    Header image: a plan drawing of Port Royal convent, the center of the Jansenist movement in France.

  • Podcast 7: Casa Karibu Sze-Ming

    An interview with Aaron Pott from Denver’s “House of Welcome and Mission.”

    Malcolm Schluenderfritz and Peter Land interview Aaron Pott, who lives in a small Denver-area Christian intentional community, Casa Karibu Sze-Ming. Aaron talks about the origin, history, mission, spirituality, and structure of his community; the “home liturgies” that help glue the community together; the ups and downs of community life; raising children in a community setting; sharing burdens with others; the financial benefits of community; ecumenism; the other communities he has experienced; the balance between consensus and leadership; the dangers of idealism and overly-high expectations; not expecting a community to meet all of one’s needs; staying connected to a wider community; and the importance of hospitality. Peter Land is able to talk about his experience staying at Casa Karibu as a pilgrim traveling through Denver.

    (Image shows some of the CKS members in 2019. Courtesy of Aaron Pott)

  • Podcast 6: Consoling the Heart of Jesus

    A Spirituality of Trust

    In podcast 6, Peter Land and Malcolm Schluenderfritz discuss the Fr. Gaitley’s book Consoling the Heart of Jesus and the spirituality that underlies it: the great love that Jesus has for each of us, despite our sins and failings, and the great importance of absolute trust in his mercy. We also discuss The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux and Pope Francis’ call to go to the peripheries. Other topics mentioned include: scrupulosity; an outward focus; pride; “performance orientation;” Pelagianism; the Good Thief; St. Paul; attachments and addictions; the danger of self-sufficiency; the danger of agendas; the Prodigal Son; C. S. Lewis; detachment; A.A.; St. Faustina; St. Margaret Mary; Eucharistic Adoration; Pharisees; Jansenism; and St. Benedict Joseph Labre.

    (All transcripts edited for clarity and readability.)

  • Podcast 5: A Debate on Socialism

    Malcolm Schluenderfritz and Philip debate socialism. In our last episode, number 4, we discussed the moral problems in our current economic order. (Listen to episode 4 first if you haven’t done so.) In this episode, we discuss whether socialism could provide an alternative. Listeners are reminded of the caveat from our last episode; economics and politics are contentious topics. If you disagree with one or both of us in this debate, please let us know!

    Topics covered include: Socialism; Capitalism; Distributism; third ways; the problem of words used as slogans; profit; workers; ownership of the means of producing wealth; economic classes; Benedict XVI; First Things; Democratic vs Totalitarian Socialism; “Europe and it’s Discontents”; Socialism from Above vs Socialism from Below; John Paul I; Co-ops; personal responsibility; Peter Maurin; “the determining number”; community; monasteries; love as a motivator; Tanzania; individualism; governments; “the vegetable garden political party”; culture wars; non-political solutions; Aristotle; material goods; Pacem in Terris; St. John XXIII; Marx; Civil Rights; William Wilberforce; systems; prudence; solidarity; earthly power; Racism; virtues; practice; false resignation; Thomas Aquinas; multi-purpose solutions; St. Francis of Assisi; Franciscan Third Order; Alasdair MacIntyre; Trotsky; Base Ecclesial Communities; international solidarity; Pope Francis; evangelizing; and The One Thing is Three.

    (All transcripts edited for clarity and readability.)

  • Podcast 4: Is Our Economic System Anti-Christian?

    Peter Land, Malcolm Schluenderfritz, and Philip discuss the problems with our current economy from the perspective of living an authentically Christian life. Topics covered include: the meaning of “economics;” the importance of economics; the “discipling” ability of our economic activity; the danger of commodification; virtualization; consumerism; the connection between politics and economics; human solidarity; the novel and contingent nature of our current system; what “capital” is; what the “means of production” are; wage-slavery; the relationship culture and politics; the disconnect between a competitive economy and the Mystical Body; remote co-operation with evil; exploitation; sweatshop labor; and the importance of limits.

    All transcripts are edited for clarity and readability.

  • Podcast 3: Voluntary Poverty

    Peter Land and Malcolm Schluenderfritz are joined by Jason Wilde, a lay missionary with the Catholic Family Missions Company. They discuss voluntary Gospel poverty, and in particular the role of voluntary poverty in our relationships with God and neighbor. Topics covered include: the nature of voluntary poverty; the difference between poverty and destitution; the individual, personal nature of a call to embrace a simpler lifestyle; Fr. Dubay’s Happy are You Poor; the need for individual discernment in responding to this call; the experience of the podcast participants with poverty; the many different types of poverty in the world today; Fratelli Tutti; finding pleasure in the simple things; finding happiness in Divine and human relationships; the importance of serving the poor; the importance of solidarity with the poor; Christ’s “solidarity” with humanity; the Mystical Body; the recurrent danger in the life of the Church of rejecting either the Humanity or the Divinity of Christ; the lack of security, both physical and spiritual, in today’s world; the difference between individual security and communal security from the perspective of the Gospel; and the relative affluence of most Americans when measured against other times and places.

    (All transcripts edited for clarity and readability.)

  • Podcast 2: Organic Development of Community

    Peter Land and Malcolm Schluenderfritz discuss community development. Topics include: the purpose of this website, the importance of organic development, the tension between intentionality and organic development, the primacy of friendship, core groups, the role of time and spatial relationships in building community spirit, community as an internal attitude or virtue that needs to be developed, an integrated life, the preferential option for the poor, poverty and community spirit, prepping, security in community, individualism, isolation, and the unexamined life.

    (All transcripts edited for clarity and readability.)