Monastic Vows: Dodge or Deal?
At Peace by Piece this past weekend I was lucky enough to see a host of speakers that I would not normally have had the chance to (mostly because until this weekend I wasn’t sure where to look). But I was blessed to be among a host of people who have a heart for community and people.
One of the more interesting conversations that Logan and I attended was Karen Sloan’s class “Sex, Money and Power.” These three issues, she said, are the major issues that arise in any monastic community from today all the way back to the first communities to form. She talked about how some of today’s communities were struggling to balance these things. Some have an eldership system for power, some have buy-ins where you share a certain percentage of your income with the community, and sex is dealt with in different ways as well.
I asked a question that was really just me thinking out loud, but I feel is based in some sort of reality. My question was something to the effect of:
Monastic orders used to take vows of poverty and vows of celibacy, however today, you often find monastic movements trying to find new balances for money and sex. Do you feel that those earlier stricter vows were ways of not dealing with the issue at all?
We can all agree that those three things, sex, money and power, are the sticking points and difficult things to deal with in a close-knit interdependent community. They were one-thousand years ago and they still are today. I find it interesting however how different groups have dealt with these issues.
The way that many orders like the Benedictine and Franciscan monks dealt with the issues of sex and poverty were to not deal with them at all with vows of celibacy and poverty. This, I feel is a way of not dealing with the issue at all. It’s like saying “Rather than have the children fight over what to watch on TV, we just won’t own a television.”
However, most modern monastic movements are saying, “That might have been a little overboard, we should instead find some sort of balance for our television watching.” So they are experimenting with portion sharing, single and married communities, etc.
Perhaps my thinking is a little backwards on this though. Maybe rather than not dealing with it, early monastics were dealing with it, just in the way they saw modeled in Christ – abstinence from sex and wealth. Perhaps they weren’t dodging the issues at all, they were stepping right in line with Christ. Perhaps todays monastic movements are the ones who aren’t dealing with the standards established by Christ and are instead dodging those by creating standards of their own.
This is all very complicated and a bit loaded no matter what side you choose. And there is no doubt that I am probably over-simplifying this issue.
My room-mate explained it this way: “It’s like chocolate and each community has to ask themself, ‘How much chocolate can I eat and still be healthy?’ Some communities will say, ‘To be safe we will not eat any chocolate.’ Other communities will say, ‘We can be healthy and eat ten pieces of chocolate.’ But the safest bet is probably none.”
I am not sure how I feel about the issue. I will have a bit more research to do before I come to a deep conclusion about it.