As I write this, I’m on my way back to Baton Rouge from a couple of great days in western Tennessee. I spoke at UT-Martin on Wednesday about Dante, and spent yesterday at Union University in Jackson talking about The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Dante, and the Benedict Option — a Dreher trifecta, for sure.
In the 1998 Robert Duvall film The Apostle, there’s a great scene in which Duvall, playing a Pentecostal preacher named Sonny, watches a Catholic priest blessing the shrimp fleet. Here’s Duvall, from an interview, talking about that scene:
Another thing I want to emphasize is the cultural contrast I saw between religions. By the time we were finished cutting, that was not obvious. Like Catholics have a lot of mediators, going through saints and Mary or whatever. But I love the directness of these people. They relate directly with God, not going through anything.
Protestants in general, but especially these people, say things to God directly, like I do in the film: ‘I always call you “Jesus”; you always call me “Sonny”.’ ‘I’m on the devil’s hit-list; I’m gonna get on Jesus’ mailing-list!’ ‘Holy Ghost explosion,’ ‘Short-circuit the devil!’ ‘I’m a genuine Holy Ghost Jesus-filled preaching machine here this morning!’ I use those phrases in the film. I heard them from the preachers and from the people. These were their terms. God is immediate to their lives.’
Sonny sees a Catholic priest blessing fishing boats as they leave the harbor. He says, ‘You do it your way, and we do it mine. But we get it done, don’t we.’ That’s the tension between religions. There are different forms and prejudices, but I wanted Sonny to show an acceptance of another religion because both were trying to achieve the same end.
That’s the feeling I had after my time at Union, talking with Evangelical professors and others about the Benedict Option. It’s astonishing to me how interested folks are in the Benedict Option. It’s really exploding. Yesterday I received an e-mail from an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, saying he had read about it, is excited about it, and would love to talk with me about what small-o orthodox Christians can learn from the Orthodox Jewish community about how to live faithfully, in community, in a culture that is alien to one’s religious values. I think this is fantastic.
Evangelicals, of course, have somewhat different concerns about the Ben Op than Catholics or Orthodox Christians would, and I learn so much from engaging with them, and thinking through these challenges. The big takeaway at this point is the strong sense I’m picking up among culturally aware orthodox Christians is that something big is happening, and we Christians cannot live as if these were normal times. I’m not talking about apocalypticism, but a sense that we really are in a profoundly post-Christian era, and the churches have to re-orient ourselves toward intense discipleship to endure in the long run — and not only to endure, but to thrive not in fear and rigidity, but in authentic Christian joy and liberty.
Hence the Benedict Option, which is going to be worked out in 10,000 conversations among Christians who can read the signs of the times, and who want to prepare themselves, their families, and their communities.
It’s so great to spend time among a community of Christians who are not my people in one way, but who in a more profound way, absolutely are. You do it your way and we do it mine, Evangelical friends, but we get it done, don’t we? We are going to get it done. St. Benedict belongs to all of us.
UPDATE: Hey Protestant readers, you might want to check out a good book I’m reading, on the recommendation of one of you. It’s called Monk Habits For Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, by Dennis Okholm. It’s giving me good insights into how to translate Benedictine concepts into Protestant devotional and spiritual language.