I will be teaching the Netzer Co-op May 17th on “Relocation to Abandoned Places of Empire.” This is the last installment thinking through what this might mean.
The mark of relocation for new monastics has most often involved downward mobility to urban places that are the places most people least want to visit let alone live. I respect and admire many of these people for their willingness to abandon the excesses and comfort of Empire for the challenge of living with the poor. They are on to something important about geography and place. They commit themselves to a particular place and particular people where they attempt to incarnate the universal gospel. This is absolutely essential to our practice of Christianity.
However, whenever we take a particular way or model of living out the gospel as the only way, we tend to miss the point. For example, what if all faithful Christians decided that this mark was consistent with the gospel and should be followed? There would be a reverse “white flight” of suburban soccer moms to the inner cities. The intruding hordes of guilty middle class families would simply overwhelm these poor neighborhoods and most likely do more damage than good. It would be gentrification with the best intentions. Is this the vision of new monastics or the kingdom? No.
New monastics, as I see it, are living out the gospel in a radical way in order to 1) shed light on the inadequacy of the way we currently practice Christianity and 2) to invite us into a different way of being the church in the world. This is what monastics have always done when the church goes astray. So, not everyone should relocate to the inner city, but the witness of these monastics points us to something important.
I would like to suggest that the mark of relocation really gets at is a reorientation of our lives toward the marginalized and oppressed. When the kingdom of God begins to inform and permeate our lives and perspectives, we are reoriented towards those that society forgets and marginalizes. This does not necessarily involve physically relocating our lives, work and families to a new geographic location. It does mean that we can no longer see our current context in the same way.
As I pointed out in the previous post on abandoned places, everything that Empire (that dominating system that has captured our imaginations) touches becomes an abandoned place. Consumerism leaves us all an empty shell, void of meaning or substance. To take it another step, our suburban lives, while far physically from the poor are as close as a trip to your local grocery store or big box chain to be instantly connected to people in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the thousands of other places where the things we consume are produced. We don’t have to relocate to take action about the effects of Empire in our midst, but we do have to reorient our lives around the marginalized and oppressed so the veil can be lifted.