Interview with Jamie Arpin-Ricci Author of “The Cost of Community” – Part 4
I’ve been enjoying this series of interactions with Jamie, author of The Cost of Community. Today we are continuing the conversation to get some practical insight from Jamie as well as some behind the scenes thoughts on his writing of the book.
JR: St. Francis was an amazing example of someone who was meek as well as a peacemaker, what practices do you feel Christians can engage in to be more like Jesus and St. Francis and resist our “violent impulses for vengeance and retribution and follow the radical risky and sacredly foolish path of peace and love?”
Jamie: It starts with the simple, mundane relationships within the community of faith. So often we “keep the peace” by not addressing the problems and hurts that we experience. We even spiritualize it, suggesting that we are being gracious and loving, and thus ignoring the problem. In truth, we are avoiding the difficult conversations that community (like marriage) demands.
That is why confession is so central to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount- not the closeted secrets whispered to an unseen priest (though that has value too), but the discipline of keep short accounts, acknowledging failure, sharing openly (and appropriately) about conflict. I go into it in more detail in the book, but the point is that we have to break past the pretense and face our mutual brokenness every day.
It might be odd that I am talking about things like petty grievances when addressing peace making. After all, I live in a community that is no stranger to gang violence and public domestic abuse. These injustices need peacemakers badly and we are called to step into the line of fire at times. However, if we cannot be peace makers with our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, how can we expect to have the credibility to be peace makers in these other situations?
JR: What was the most difficult about writing this book?
Jamie: The most difficult thing about writing “The Cost of Community” was not letting it become 10 books! In many ways, I barely brushed the surface of the Sermon on the Mount. And every day that our community continues to try and live it, we learn more. Perhaps I need to do a “directors cut” version!
What was also difficult was the temptation to sanitize the stories of our experiments (much like some Franciscans tried to do with Francis’ story). Yet, I committed to sharing our failings and weaknesses as well as our strengths, for two main reasons: First, because Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount constantly reminds us of our sinfulness and need for grace. To pretend we were any different would have discredited the entire project. Second, because it reflects our commitment to experiment with living into the kingdom together. And experiments, by their nature, work on trial and error. The church needs to give itself permission to experiment- to dare to try and fail. As G.K. Chesterton put it: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”. We didn’t want to be guilty of that.
You can order a copy of Jamie’s book at Amazon, currently it is 36% off. It was one of my top five reads from last year.