Thursday, May 03, 2012

Widening the Circle - 1

The Adult Education Committee at the Ottawa Mennonite Church is studying with the class the book "Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship", edited by Joanna Shenk.
  The book writes about a variety of stories of Anabaptist 'intentional communities' primarily in the United States from the 1950s until today.
  I decided to publish the notes that I brought to the group in the first class.
  I made an intro saying that the book has mainly stores of these 'intentional communities'. They are individual and collective stories.
  The circle to me speaks about borders of identities. Considering primarily the circle of 'institutional church', one could say that the book speaks of communities on the 'edge' of the circle. That is, these intentional communities at times have a continuos relationship with institutional churches, and at other times they have a break/disruption in the relationship.
  I would go one step further and say that to me the circle itself is problematic, in the sense that in the moment the circle  is defined it excludes. The circle defines who is in and who is out. The only way around it is to constantly question the circle, living 'inside' and 'outside' (that is, if the circle in fact exists).
  We can list a number of criteria for defining circles. Here is a list of characteristics to look at when reading the history of these communities:
 - The Circle: who's in and who's out? Who is in the communities and who's out of the communities?
 - Is the community aware of the circle? That is, are they aware of exclusions?
 - The historical context:
     - Relation of the community to 'social movements'
     - Bridges outside of the religious domain
     - How much is the community a cause and a consequence of the events in History?
  - Signs of dis/continuity
     - History of breaking / uniting. Breaking with idea, institution, traditions.
  - Denominational labels (specially Anabaptists)
  - Ecumenism
  - Relation to charismatics or 'spiritual practices'
  - Culture, race and ethnicity
    - How far do concerns go geographically? Are they concerned with the neighbourhood? Are they involved with issues in countries far away?
    - Ethnic Mennonites versus Mennonites ?
  - Raison d'être, Ethos
  - Size and variations of size through time (does it matter? )
  - Gender
  - Leadership | power distribution and relations
  - Politics
    - Identification of the political actors (visible and invisible) and their relations: institutions, parties, local neighbourhoods, 'movements', causes, macro politics
 - Economics and financials
    - Shared resources
    - Diversity of income and classes
    - 'Viability': can the community survive and maintain itself?
 - Overall diversity
 - Historical legacy

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