Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
In August, “Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three in His Name” by Leah Libresco was released by Ignatius Press. In 163 pages, Libresco takes the reader through her vision, experience and practical tips for making the Benedict Option within reach. The concept, first coined by Rod Dreher, is that society presents significant obstacles to forming healthy communities. In order to have the relationships we need, we have to make a choice to go deeper wherever we are.
The book is written by a Catholic for Catholics wondering what to do in a modern world. Laying the Catholic details aside, let me share with you the reason I why I think this book matters regardless of religious tradition. Just about every time I interview someone in town, they say they love this community. The author, Leah Libresco shares her secrets for building deeper, stronger communities.
I have written before about the loss of third places. She appeals for the use of the home…through parties.
For gatherings, Lebresco gives her shortcuts. She advocates you use your gift the way you have them and take the easy road, no shame because the goal is not to grow in the virtue of vacuuming, dusting and culinary skills, but rather to gather people together.
She began to this for herself inspired by Dreher’s ideas. They are parties with a purpose. How do you find the purpose or focus for a party? She recommends starting with yourself. Ask yourself, what do I need in my life right now?
Is it a safe place for your kids to gather and get a sugar high on Halloween? Begin a Trunk or Treat.
Are you tired of waiting in line at Bass Pro to see Santa? Organize a cookie party and bring the jolly ol’ fellow to your house.
Libresco walks us through the maze of the problem solving she undertook to improve her gatherings. She wanted to pray a traditional Christian prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, with other Christians.
What do you want from your community? Maybe new mom support. Maybe support for a troubled marriage. Maybe proof-reading cover letters and resumes.
Her beginning steps are simple. Think of those who might need it. Pin down everyone’s availability using Doodle.com, which allows guests to mark the times they are available, rather than emailing back and forth for days. With a date and time in mind, invite them for dinner. After dinner, hold the activity. Facebook events make invitations and tracking RSVP’s easy, allowing also for comments, questions and easy sharing (in case Joe out of a job knows Charlie is also out of a job).
For dinner, go the easy route (the route that is easiest for you). Libresco admits she likes control and potluck requires a certain lack of control, so she does hold potlucks. If guests want to bring food, she requests fruit and uses it as an appetizer. Then she cooks a meal, a meal she herself would enjoy, not the latest festive recipe. She avoids demanding recipes that double the work when you double the portion. She offers maple party spaces in her little New York apartment to accommodate introverts and nursing moms.
Early in the evening, let everyone introduce themselves and answer a thoughtful but not too vulnerable question like, “what something interesting you’ve read lately?” It is surprising how many normal questions can be loaded when you’re un- or under-employed or lost a child through miscarriage.
Libresco even recommends name tags. Anything to make the evening easier.
After dinner, begin the activity. It might be a poetry recitation, Shakespeare reading, hymn sing, karaoke, board games, book study, sharing about marriages or children. Whatever your need is, there is probably someone else with that need.
In these difficult days with big, national problems, looking local and looking out for each other are keys to keeping our culture going. This is how we go deeper. In the absence of third places (places outside of work and home) where we can run regularly into other people, we sometimes have to make it happen ourselves. For that, we have the Benedict Option.