The Happy Are You Poor Blog and Podcast has now been running for over a year. In this episode, I get together with Jason and Peter to discuss the past year and possible directions going forward. We also wanted to express our gratitude to all those who have helped the project to develop and grow, particularly the many guests who have shared their stories with us.
Episodes in a Nutshell
During the episode, we discussed our favorite moments from the podcast. Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to cover everything. In particular, we discussed the many interviews with community members. In chronological order, the project has included interviews with the following:
- Aaron Pott from Casa Karibu Sze-Ming
- Jacke Sharpe from the Bethlehem Community
- Tim Keller from the City of the Lord Community (parts one and two)
- Charles Moore and Rick Burke from a Bruderhof community
- Dan Almeter from the Alleluia Community
- Augustine Tardiff from Madonna House
- Sean Domencic from Holy Family House
- Gerry Martins from Family Missions Company
- Tyler Hambley from the Maurin House
We have also interviewed three authors. We spoke with:
- Dr. Terrence Wright on Dorothy Day
- Professor William T. Cavanaugh on Christian economics
- Dr. Cameron Thompson on the Benedict Option and Catholic Culture
There are a variety of themes that have come up over and over again during the course of the project. We discussed some of these during the episode.
Life in community is not perfect. In fact, if a community bills itself as a perfect place where the members can escape the sin and struggle of the outside world, it is probably a cult rather than an authentic community. In a true community, one experiences a “sand-paper effect” of rubbing up against many different people with different personalities and ideas.
This close proximity can bring out the best in people, but it can also make apparent their flaws and weaknesses. For the individual, this can actually be a good thing. We tend to wear a “mask” in public, presenting ourselves as better than we really are. In community, we don’t have this option. This gives us a chance to grow in humility and to become more authentic in our spiritual life.
Closely connected with this concept of honesty is the the concept of being normal and ordinary. Too often, community is seen as something special or extraordinary. Those in community can be seen and come to see themselves as Christian “super-heroes”. In reality, community is a normal and essential part of the Christian life. As William Cavanaugh explained, community is inherent in the Eucharistic structure of the Christian Faith.
Every community has its own charism, just as individual people do. While we can learn from the experiences of different communities, communities shouldn’t be replicated.
The Danger of Stability
We discussed the fact that community is generally seen as something static and stable. This can be a danger, however. Communities can become stagnant and closed to the Holy Spirit. They can find too much comfort in their normal routines and practices. And so in building community, we need to strive to remain open to others and to outside perspectives.
The Catholic Worker communities are a really good example of this. Their focus on aiding the marginalized in a personal way creates a diverse community. Similarly, their round table discussions promote the participation of those with differing points of view.
Intentional Community: a Contradiction in Terms?
Most of the communities we’ve discussed have been very intentional and structured. They have probation periods for new members, vows or commitments, and a formal identity. In a sense, many of them are rather like lay monasteries. They’re very inspiring, but probably not for everyone. Most people are called to build community in a more informal way. We hope that we can draw lessons from these communities that will help people to build more organic, informal community.
There is a certain tension between highly intentional community and the Christian life. For a Christian, all other Christians should be part of their community. Catholics in particular need to remain within the parish structure; if they pull away from it trouble may result.
This can be difficult, since in the United States most parishes lack a community spirit. They have become “Mass Stops” where people go to “get the sacraments”. This ignores the very purpose of the sacraments, which are intended to bind individuals into the community of the mystical body of Christ.
Further, as Jason pointed out, we should really include everyone in a given area, Christian or not, in our community. We need to be an open, outgoing community rather than one that has inward focus. This is a major theme in the pontificate of Pope Francis.
Despite the “deadness” of so many parishes, a new interest in community is emerging. Peter remarked on the number of people he’s met who are looking for something more, a deeper experience of the Faith that can only be found in Community. Similarly, people don’t need to start out with the vision of communal life. Part of our mission is to present the vision of community life in such a way that others can embrace it.
A start can be made, as so many of our guests have pointed out, by just gathering with a few other people who share the vision of community. Such gathering can be risky if it stops there. It can form a clique, rather than a community. But if such a group is intentionally open to others, it can act as a catalyst for a more communal way of life.
The ideal is probably a network of interacting communities in a local area. This would provide the flexibility needed to accommodate differing charisms and ways of life while still providing the structure and support that community can bring.
Community members need to live life with one another. Economics has to be part of such a shared life. Today, our economic life and our built environment tear down community life rather than building it up. If communal life is ever to become the norm again for Christians, we need to build a different and more supportive economy. At least on a local level, shared work is essential to community development. Such shared work can provide the disparate individuals of a community with a shared interest and a sense of common purpose.
Plans for the Year Ahead
In the upcoming year, we hope to focus more on these questions of organic community development and communal economics. If you’ve got ideas for podcast topics or guests, or about the podcast in general, please contact us!