loren Eric Swanson: Trent to Rome--Day 4

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 4

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Today was a full day in Loppiano where we heard and saw more about the Focolare movement. The big question, one says, is “How to bring the values of the gospel to the world.” The one “rule” they have (I think of this as a “guiding principle”) is the rule of gospel love found in John 13:35—“By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The movement is very exclusive, involving people from other denominations and even religions. “Buddhists and Muslims share the Golden Rule,” we are reminded. “We are asked to give everything of ourselves but we receive even more in return. We want to give you as much of our lives as possible today.” They talk about “dialogue with modern culture” as opposed to theoretical teaching to be an expression of a new type of society reflecting “fraternity, peace and reciprocity in living the gospel.” The final goal of Jesus is “unity of the human family.” We are giving more statistical information about Focolare, much of which I included in yesterday’s posting.

After these opening remarks we hear a number of testimonials on how their lives were changed by the gospel. I observe strong guiding biblical principles at work and try to scribble them down in my composition book—“Give and it shall be given unto you…” “Truth is found when we love Jesus in them.” These folks are deeply impacted by the Scriptures and also by the life of Chiara Lubich. “Chiara says ‘Tell real stories—not just what you believe but stories of how life is to be lived.’” Loppiano is a model—a laboratory where people can validate the gospel for themselves. The church is any place two or more gather in his name and love and love brings the presence of Jesus. And where there is Jesus there is revelation. In unity we see the Trinity and the wealth that comes from loving one another. “We don’t push with words. We don’t remove the truth but propose not to impose truth. Instead we propose reciprocal love and that is something that can be accepted by all. We tell stories and let people draw their own conclusions.” “Jesus offers his life delicately. John 10:10 says, ‘I came that you might have life…’” “Our final judgment is found in Matthew 25—how we treated the least of these.” When they live this radical lifestyle of love, they are asked, “What makes you love this way? What animates you?” And then of course, they have a ready answer. So they lead with grace followed by truth. “There are many ways to love and listen, but if there is not love we have nothing to say. God finds new pathways when there is love.”

Over lunch I sit with Ray and around the table where there is animated conversation about what we have seen and heard this morning. Folks in our class are getting bothered and disturbed that there is fruit but “what about belief?”

After lunch Ray gives us a bit of context about what we are seeing and hearing here at Loppiano by giving a cursory overview of other believers who lived in community.
Puritan John Cotton fled the Church of England and sailed to Massachusetts Bay where he helped found the city of Boston, with the hope that it would become “a city on a hill.”
· Koinonia Farms was started in 1942 by two couples in the rural south community as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” In 1969 Koinonia gave birth to the better known Habitat for Humanity.
· Jesus People USA is a Christian community in Chicago.
· Jane Addams began living in intentional community with the immigrants in Chicago
· George Pullman is mentioned by Ray but further research leads me to conclude his was a different model—“When the fortunes of the company declined in 1894, Pullman slashed wages by 25 percent. However, he neglected to lower the rents or cost of groceries in the company town. A delegation of workers went to meet with Pullman and ask him to reduce these costs - the next day, these men were fired.”
The discovery of Focolare is they could live the gospel in every-day life. “When the Communists in Italy came to Chiara and asked her for her ‘secret,’ she answered, ‘Jesus—crucified and forsaken.’”

We hear about Focolare’s aggressive growth and expansion and more recently about their business development, where shareholders buy shares of Focolare based companies where 35% of the profits are given to the poor. So far, 12,000 families have been helped by their “economy of community” way of doing business. Silvano, one of the presenters, shows us a scale model of what their manufacturing center will look like at Loppiano. It’s a beautiful structure full of light and life. When questioned about the cost of building such a beautiful structure as opposed to a low-cost box. The answer is interesting and reflects a developed anthropology. “If what is important is man then we must revolutionize how we think. Man is created for beauty. The home and workplace must be beautiful. To live in ugliness is to sadden a man.” “The poor need beauty as much as they need bread.”

After lunch we have couple of hours of free time. Some take a walk others take a nap. I take a nap on an obscure part of the auditorium floor. When I awake I see an array of bodies all around me, sleeping soundly and snoring.

After our break, we bus over to the recently-built church on the Loppiano property. Not impressive from the outside, it is gorgeous on the inside. Robert Calvert leads us in a brief worship service. It’s what we need right now. After worship a women from the church explains to us the history and design of the church. It was designed, built and financed by the Loppiano community. Everything is done with intentionality--from the design and color of the roof to the pulpit carved out of stone. The stained-glass to our left follows the life and ministry of Jesus. The stained glass on our right follows the life of Mary. Ray remarks how this looks much like a Protestant church. We then break into smaller groups. Ray takes the Bakke students aside and we debrief on what we are experiencing. After a 7:30 dinner at Loppiano we drive back to Mariopolis and go to the Lamb’s room for debriefing and a time of prayer. It’s been a good day.

My good friend, John Lamb, sums up most of our thinking: “I have no categories for this.” If I were to make a brief comparison between evangelical thinking and what we are seeing here I say that we have different starting points. We, as evangelicals, are committed to the assumption that “behavior follows belief.” So we begin with propositional truth to be digested and believed. Truth is something that is to be grasped with the mind. Christian behavior follows Christian belief. Well, in theory I suppose. We believe, belong and behave. By contrast the starting point of those in Focolare is belonging and behavior which leads to belief. What we are seeing is people, who in one way or another are saying, “And I found myself believing.” We think truth is proclaimed. They say truth is where Jesus is present. For us becoming a Christian is a transactional procedure. For them Christianity is a transformational process. For us it is believing the gospel. For them it is “living the gospel.” For us it is very linear. For them, it is very global—the starting point is love. To us, it is about loving our own—being united with different denominations. For them it is more inclusive—loving and experiencing unity with those outside the family of faith. For us the Great Commission is about “teaching them…everything I have commanded you.” For them, it is “teaching them to observe…” beginning with radical love and unity. We say “Works without faith is dead.” They say, “Faith without works is dead.”

Wesley seems to have experienced this shift of thinking by his contact with the biography of Catholic nobleman Monr. de Renty (1611-1649). “Throughout his life, Wesley continued to refer to de Renty as the epitome of Christian holiness coupled with concern for the poor and effective methodology.”[1] De Renty’s small groups formed the model for Wesley’s class meetings. More importantly de Renty helped shaped Wesley’s spiritual growth model.
The focus on the Anglican groups was personal growth through careful attention to themselves; de Renty concentrated on personal growth by ministering to the needs of others. The Anglicans hoped that Christian service would be the eventual outcome of their quest for personal holiness; de Renty viewed Christian service as the context in which personal holiness developed…. [F]or Wesley, de Renty’s model of growth-through-service enabled him to steer his groups around the dangers of morbid introspection and mysticism.[2]

I feel like for the longest time I’ve been looking at the gospel and the Christian life through one facet of a diamond. These past couple of days we are seeing the gospel completely differently because we are looking through a different lens. In all the conferences I’ve been to I’ve never heard what I heard this morning--“We want to give you as much of ourselves as possible today.” The challenge to live the gospel is huge. Yesterday (July 7) I was talking with a friend about what I hope to learn from the Focolare experience. What we saw is very radical but very compelling. There is a peace and joy that radiates through these lives. There is no pretension or nothing to be pretentious about. There is no posturing. All is surrendered to love.

I work with a lot of churches that are seeking to be more externally focused and churches that want to be tranformers of community. What I’m seeing here is invaluable. It is a model that has endured. We are hearing from people who have been in the movement for 40 or 50 years and it just gets sweeter.

[1] Henderson, Michael D. John Wesley’s Class Meetings, p. 48
[2] Ibid P. 50


At Saturday, July 08, 2006 5:58:00 PM, Blogger jerry said...


enjoying your postings on the Rome class. i'm looking forward to your conclusions and where it might take you. Any interesting books from this class you recommend?


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