For the past three days about 1,000 young people mostly in their twenties have been camping in a cornfield a little south of Chicago. P.A.P.A. stands for people against poverty and apathy. Their purpose - to respond to the question: " How then shall we live?" They came from all over the country especially the east coast and middle states. These are the new Christians who share an urgent concern for the environment and living together in a way that sustains all life . Their politics is radical and their theology is traditional. Many of them come from intentional Christian communities and others are interested in joining or forming such demonstrations of living well. Many call themselves " emerging Christians" and seek to enter into dialogue rather than debate doctrine. They are non-violent but not passive. They seek to make a difference through deeds of justice and non-violent resistence based on intelligent critique of the political system. They seem to be primarily lay led rather than depending upon clergy and they move forward through consensus rather than hierarchy. Their resources go into the real needs of the community and not into expensive buildings and paid clergy. Therefore , in many cases they have money for those who are in dire need - the poor. In one case I heard about a man who lives in a community where people do not have health insurance but instead people in the community provide for each other and a network of 10,000 people - a community of communities - contribute to each other's well being in the case of emergencies.
One particular aspect of this gathering is called the New Monasticism. Basically it is the grafting of certain key monastic principles and practices into the life of a community. It is believed that 1500 years of monastic practice might just have something to say to our post-modern world. So, for many of these communities morning and evening prayer, silence, communal work and certain common disciplines shape their daily life .
Can this be the future of the Christian church? As the American Empire seems to be crumbling from within is this a new and hopeful direction for people of faith? Is the growing economic crisis in the United States actually helping to convince people to give intentional community a try?
Three days with these young people was inspiring and challenging, not to mention exhausting!
There is indeed new growth on the forest floor of Christianity and it would do all of us good to be aware of it and encourage this new life in every way.
For those of us well over thirty we need the passion and perspectives of the young and they in turn seek our experience and wisdom. It's a good match! It always has been...
From a Hopeful Field Outside of Chicago.