It all started in May, when the Episcopal Cafe linked to the article, “Ten Things Churches Can Learn from Apple Stores”. It really bugged me.
First of all, I don’t get the whole Cult of Apple. Secondly, I hate lists. Thirdly — and far more importantly — I consider Apple a huge part of what Žižek calls “cultural capitalism” in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: Apple’s all about building an empire on the good and responsible feelings you get while using their products. Apple no longer sells computers and phones, they sell experiences. As Žižek says, cultural capitalism is all about buying fulfillment. So, I get uncomfortable when we’re getting ideas from emotionally-manipulative corporations who promise pseudo-spiritual fulfillment.
But a simple Google search revealed more fun results: “Four Things Churches Can Learn From Coke”, which is admirable the sheer amount of MBA Buzzwords in it; here’s three things we can learn from Kodak; and Netlfix can also teach us things.* The interent is a plethora of lists like this, because, apparently, the Church should learn lots from emotionally-manipulative corporations promising pseduo-spiritual fulfillment.
Are we in the pseduo-spiritual fulfillment business, now, too?
Anyway, I thought I could get in on the action.
It is almost counter-intuitive to say that the Church could learn a few things from a Monastery. After all, they are Christian communities. But how many people have actually been to one? How many people know that there are Episcopal Monasteries and Convents? Since they have a much longer shelf-life than all those corporations, what can they teach us? What can they teach us about “doing” Church? I have a feeling there will be a whole lot less about buzzwords/social media/restructuring and a whole lot more ’bout obedience.
Ten Things the Church Should Learn from a Monastery:
- The day is ordered by prayer (ora): Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Morning. Noonday. Evening. Night. Basically, every three hours from when they get up, they stop and pray the Psalter. In fact, all of Monastic life revolves around this schedule. Plus, on top of these public hours of prayer, there is usually set times for private meditation and devotion. Monastics pray more, perhaps, than anything else.
- Single-minded about mission (labora): In contemplative, cloistered Monasteries, the mission is prayer. But in active communities (like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity) between all that praying, there is much work to be done among the poorest in the world. Everyone in a Monastery, whether contemplative or active, is actively engaged in being the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Check out Brother Lawrence if you want a radical redefinition of mission.
- Everything is quiter: When I went on retreat at St. Gregory’s last year, I was excited about participating with the brothers in chanting the Offices. After all, I love plainchant. When I got there, though, I was surprised that everything was chanted barely above a whisper; I was used to full-throated chanting like I was some kind of Wagnerian Tenor. The Offices were quieter and more contemplative than any service I’d ever been to. Plus, my flip-flops were the loudest thing on the property.
- Everything is slower: Since they stop every three hours to pray together, there is only so much that Monastics can get done. If Monasteries were governed by Utilitarian Capitalists, they’d see how horribly inefficient this is. But that’s the point. People of the world — like me — retreat to Monasteries to get a slower, more intentional pace of life.
- Everybody is welcome: Most Monasteries and Convents publicly post their Hours of prayer. You can show up at anytime and pray with them. If you need to talk to someone, they’d be glad to speak to you. This differs by place, but you’ll probably find that Monasteries and Convents to be quiet places of unassuming welcome. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the brothers from St. Gregory’s gave a welcoming smile to me from his stall in the Quire.
- But becoming a member is arduous: My favorite part in The Rule of St. Benedict is when someone wants to join the Monastery as a brother. They knock on the door and the door is slammed in their face. There is a tradition of rejecting prospective members, only to accept them when they reapply. Once the door is opened, so to speak, then begins the multiple year process of becoming a member. It isn’t easy to become a Brother.
- Democratic process for determining leadership: All decisions are made by the community in a daily meeting of the Chapter. This includes electing the Abbott or Abbess, the leader of the Community. If I’m recalling correctly, not even Bishops can interfere in a community’s rule and governance.
- Obedience to a rule: Everyone is bound together by obedience to the rule of life in the community. This deeply-held obedience makes community life smoother in some ways, and far more difficult in others. But every monk and nun has agreed to live this life of service and of prayer. While there is diversity of opinion about everything else, there is generally one mind about this goal.
- It’s counter-cultural: Actually, I’d go so far to say that Monasteries and Convents are the most counter-cultural organization in our world today. A group of celibate men living together and praying? A group of celibate women serving the poorest of the poor? They wake up WHEN? They have to be obedient to WHAT? In fact, it is far more counter-cultural than all those institutions of cultural capitalism pretend to be.
- It’s about Theosis: Apple and their ilk are all about selling you pseudo-spiritual fulfillment through purchasing. Sometimes, it seems like the Church promises something similar. On the other hand, the goal of life in a Monastery or a Convent is Theosis, that is, union with God. That’s why they pray so much. That’s why they serve so much. This is the goal of the order. This is the goal of their life together. Why do you think the vast majority of Mystics were Monastics? Their fulfillment is not pseudo anything — it is only purchased with a life lived in obedience in the same direction for many, many years.
*: Just for funzies, here’s “5 Things The Church Can Learn From Women’s Roller Derby”.