Recently I finished Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s The Cost of Community.
I was excited to read the book because 1) I’ve met Jamie in person and think the work he’s doing here in Winnipeg is fantastic, 2) I wanted to hear more about his community, and 3) I wanted to hear more about the application of the Sermon on the Mount, especially the Beatitudes.
Jamie’s writing is clear and powerful, and his love for both the Sermon on the Mount and St. Francis is obvious. Jamie’s attempt to bring the two together is mostly successful, with great insight both into the Sermon and Francis’ life as they intersect. For me, though, the strength of this book is in the stories and examples from his experiences in the Little Flowers Community.
One such story, found on pp. 143-144, involves a person named Jimmy who would sometimes be a part of their community. He suffered from mental illness, and this led him to a wandering and vagrant way of life. On a typically cold winter, without a place to sleep, he was riding the bus in an effort to stay warm. Sleeping in the back, he felt a presence standing over him and opened his eyes. It was Jesus, arms open looking down at him. Jimmy, half-asleep, did the first thing that came to his mind. He gave Jesus a ‘purple nurple’ – tweaking Jesus’ nipple. Alright. Interesting course of action. But the kicker of the story, the heart-warming part, is that several nights later he was again looking for a warm place to sleep and took shelter in a parking garage. It was very cold, and in his anguish said out loud “Oh, God, I could use a blanket.” Immediately he felt a warmth cover his body as if a blanket was being laid over him, and he knew that it was Jesus, because he felt a hand move down his chest and tweak his nipple.
Jamie’s emphasis on reaching out to the ‘least of these’ – those neglected by both mainstream society and the Church, is an important message for the Western Church, and the real kicker is that he is merely relating what the Scriptures already teach. It’s a reminder that many of us, including me, need to hear over and over. As he says somewhere, it’s most often that we are our own greatest hindrances to following Christ, yet “We are called to believe the gospel in our hearts and minds. We are called to proclaim the gospel in our words and deeds. We are called to live the words of Jesus at all costs and without compromise. This is what it means to seek first his kingdom and righteousness” (p. 177).
Chapter Eleven, From Judgement to Humility, was also an important chapter for me as a church worker with young adults; helping me to flesh out what it means to be a confessing community that accepts ‘outsiders’ as they are, putting the requirements on those already members instead – something we all to often reverse, expecting the outsiders to behave like we do before they’re accepted.
I’m not sure that I’d read this book front to back again, though I’ll definitely reference it in the future. I believe that it is one that church leaders, especially church planters in my opinion, regardless of where they’re aiming, should have on their required reading lists.