A rule for reconstruction
I recently wrote an article for a little Canadian gem called Christian Courier, a small Christian publication "seeking a faithful intersection of Christian testimony and cultural engagement."Do check out the good work they're doing over there.
My article is about a project I've been thinking and writing about for over 15 years but which has become so very timely at this moment. The project is now taking shape in the Habitus Community - a dispersed community across North America in which we live out together a shared rule of life.
You can find the article here at its online home, but I've been given permission to repost it below. I would love to hear your responses - is this something you see as needed in your life? In the church? Would you ever consider this?
A Rule for Reconstructing
How to not abandon your faith, one day at a time.
We live in a moment when many Christians are deconstructing forms of faith that don’t ring true to Jesus. A renewed faith fit for life in today’s world often involves sifting out the rot and keeping what is most precious. But if all you end up with is a scrapyard of dismantled pieces, what good is that? Deconstructing with no way to reconstruct a life of devotion and obedience to Jesus is empty. We all need a structure to help us live well and enjoy God.
Over the past four years, originating in Toronto, I’ve been leading a dispersed community of Christians who seek out a living faith through commitment to a pattern of faith practices. We call it the Habitus Community. Together, we follow a rule of life – essentially a set of faith habits and Christian practices that cultivate a distinct way of living – a habitus of love for God and neighbour. Following a rule of life means we intentionally organise our lives around rhythms that put God at the centre of everything we do.
An architecture of faith
In the Habitus Community, we are retrieving an ancient Christian tool that provides timely help for faithful living in a deconstructing age. Throughout church history, it was at precisely moments like this – as society turned chaotic and the church went off the rails – that monastic communities emerged, offering a safe and ordered way of life. They provided places of life-giving, faith-nurturing structure in a chaotic, shape-shifting culture.
“In the case of deconstruction, practising a shared rule of life helps to mend the wounds of hypocrisy as you draw together in community, witness the earnest desire of others to be more like Christ, and seek through God's help to become the body of Christ, not just go to church on Sunday,” explains Lacey Mason. Mason is connected to the Habitus Community and also a part of the leadership team of a church plant in Los Angeles.
In times of doubt and confusion, Mason finds that people use a rule of life as a guide “toward habits and practices where they can draw near to God and experience God's grace.”
Room to run wild
Many people, however, only catch overtones of stifling legalism when they hear that we adhere to a specific set of spiritual disciplines. It’s a common misconception.
“Following a rule of life is about how my day and week is structured so that there is room for experiencing God's presence; it’s not about a legalistic checking of boxes but about being open to the promptings of the Spirit in my day,” shares Heather Van Laare. She and her husband Darrell belong to the ClearView CRC branch of the Habitus Community in Oakville, Ontario.
Van Laare echoes G.K. Chesterton when he says that the structure and order in Christianity was never meant to stifle joy or squelch life but rather “to give room for good things to run wild.” Human life flourishes within limits. It’s simply how we are created and it’s important to remember that the obedient and holy life is always a response to grace. When we live by intentional faith practices, the Holy Spirit graciously meets us and forms us as participants in God’s good flourishing.
Mason says, “it's important to properly frame from the onset what a rule of life is and what it is for in order to protect against legalism. We think of our rule as a guiding structure – something around which we can orient and organise our lives because we have all experienced how easy it is for us to lose sight of God in the discord of daily life.” Many participants, according to Mason, are refugees from legalistic traditions and have wounds that are still healing.
The communion of saints
While it’s easier than ever to give up on church communities, those who take up a rule of life while in the midst of faith reconstruction are reminded that spiritual formation is never a solo project. These Christians are tired of the individualism of our world and know that we need one another to be formed into the likeness of Jesus.
“Saints cannot exist without a community,” theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes. “They require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”
Corey Parish, a millennial pastor and Habitus Community member from Ontario, echoes these sentiments. “I need more than just disciplines in my life,” he admits. “I need people who will open their ears and mouths and arms to share the Christian life with me.”
A shared life
So how do you re-make a saint while the church itself is looking thin and worn? Many of us are wondering if there is anything we can do about the collapse of Christian belief in our communities. Why does the church seem to be struggling at its primary task – forming a holy people possessing the wisdom, courage and compassion to live the love, mercy and justice of the triune God in their homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces?
Clearly the problem is not a lack of material or a dearth of information (never before has the Church had more Christian resources available to it). What is missing is a form and community for everyday faithfulness, a regular pattern of formation and the consistent relationships needed to sustain and nourish a growing faith.
We can’t only think our way to following Jesus; we need to practise the way of Jesus in community. “Bottom line,” writes Marian Ma, a rural family doctor from Cranbrook, B.C., “every Christian needs this – and the earlier the better. These practices are foundational to faith.”
What is Habitus?
The Habitus Community is a dispersed community of Christians who commit themselves to daily, weekly and monthly practices that give shape to the way of Jesus in daily life. These practices include sabbath, silence, community, digital disengagement, fasting, hospitality, daily prayer and engagement with scripture. Visit habituscommunity.org for an overview of how these disciplines work in practice.
A millennial mom of young children in the Habitus Community was initially sceptical of the digital disengagement practices, but after a few months, she found it freeing. She reports, "I was grateful for the permission it gave me to ignore my phone. I hadn't realised how tied I was to my phone and media feeds." Habitus community members commit to one hour of screen-free time every day so they can be more present to the physical world around them.
“The first hour of my day has become much more focused than before, more conversational with God, more predictable, more welcoming, less melancholic,” shares Don Hekman, a septuagenarian member of the Habitus Community from Kemptville, Ontario when asked about the impacts of his daily fast from electronics. “This pattern has become habit. I don't need to decide what to do next and I welcome the first hour of the morning in ways I never did before.”
Technology is designed to be easy, and spiritual disciplines – well, they’re not. But Darrell Van Laare from Oakville, Ontario says following a rule of life that includes boundaries for digital spaces is already bearing good fruit in his life. “Saying ‘no’ to things has been beneficial in taking back a measure of control in my life. [I’m] learning how to not give myself over to the ease of technology.”
* Photo by Milivoj Kuhar on Unsplash