If you read The Benedict Option, you’ll have met Leah Libresco, someone I’ve called the Den Mother of the Benedict Option, which doesn’t quite fit, inasmuch as technically she’s young enough to be my daughter. There is nothing Leah touches that is not made better by her intelligent, big-hearted attention — and that includes my Ben Op idea, which she expands on in her wonderful, entirely practical book Building The Benedict Option: A Guide To Gathering Two Or Three Together In His Name.
On Mere Orthodoxy today, Jake Meador has a really thoughtful review of Leah’s book. Excerpt:
One of the biggest problems affecting the BenOp discussion is that too much of it was centered around Rod’s rhetorical style and not nearly enough was focused on the meat of the book. (Andy Crouch made the point in a memorable way when Rod’s book first released.)
This was a point we made at the time, noting that much of what Rod was saying was less over-the-top “alarmism” and more an updated version of what other smart Christians have been saying for nearly a hundred years about the baseline incoherence of our current social order. Rod’s proposals of how to respond were also as common as his critique—rebuilding solidarity amongst Christians in tangible ways, taking catechesis and Bible study more seriously, and so on. In all of this, Rod’s book is simply rehashing what Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Dawson, and a host of others before him had been saying for a hundred years. The liberal social order is hostile to Christianity but also, necessarily, hostile to the good life. And that is something that should alarm us and move us to action.
Leah covers all of this ground in her book, but positions it in a different way. She begins with a reflection on what she calls ‘accidental stylites,’ which is an updated version of what she wrote a number of years ago for First Things about ‘sad secular monks.’ She begins the book by noting not only that many Americans are deeply lonely but, crucially, anchoring that loneliness in the physical structures of daily life. So the answer can’t simply be resolved by thinking better thoughts or believing truer things. Material action must accompany this change in thinking.
By pressing the point about loneliness in the book’s opening pages, Leah reframes the entire BenOp discussion in a way that feels fresh and also helps cut to the core questions behind the entire discussion which are less concerned with segregated faith communities and far more to do with how we sustain a culture of life while living in a culture of death.
Leah’s book is exactly what I was hoping my own book to inspire — and I hope it inspires more. As Jake understands, my gifts are particular and limited. I’m good at big-picture and exhortation, and it’s certainly the case that I shouted in the book for the purpose of waking my own tribe out of its slumber. But the Ben Op needs a lot more than what I can bring to it, with my own limitations. Leah, though, is supremely gifted with the charism of hospitality. She’s super-smart, but unlike a lot of intellectuals, has the ability to make everyone she meets feel loved and important. Jake concludes:
Leah’s book is intended to do a very specific thing: offer a basically hopeful perspective on the possibility of Christian community in today’s western world and to give us some practical ideas on how to realize that life. And by that standard the book is a great success.
I hope you’ll read Building The Benedict Option. Because its aims are different (though complementary), it’s written in a very different rhetorical mode than my own book — and thank God for that! Check out more at LeahLibresco.com.
Incidentally, tomorrow morning I’m having a conversation with a potential donor who is thinking of giving us the resources to build a Benedict Option website — one to serve as a central hub of information and networking for people interested in the idea, and eager to connect with like-minded folks. I’ll keep you updated. If you have any suggestions for what you’d like to see in such a site — that is, what would make it useful to you — please, let’s hear them.