By: Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830836352
It’s hard for me to determine where to start with my review of The Cost of Community. I’ve been “living” with the book now for several weeks. It isn’t a slow or difficult read, but it has been extremely stirring for me; it has been personal, inspiring, convicting, challenging, and prophetic. Yes, I have been stirred and in a good way. I suppose I should start with some of the basic book review details and then proceed from there.
Summary: Written by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, C.J., The Cost of Community is about realizing, believing, interpreting, and putting into practice Jesus’ great message from the Sermon on the Mount. Jaime, who is part of an Anglican lay order in the Franciscan tradition, calls back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi who heard the message of Christ’s Sermon and challenged the church and culture of his day by embracing the spirit of Jesus’ words and structuring his life around them. Francis truly believed he was to “give up all things” so he might find his life in the full in the crucified Christ. Fast forward to today and Jaime Arpin-Ricci with friends, neighbors, and the family of Little Flowers Community in urban Winnipeg also hear the call of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, ordering their lives after this model of God’s Kingdom on earth. This book offers insights and experience about life together in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching; what it offers us, and what it demands of us.
And, so it begins. In a nutshell, the book is about the reality of living the Sermon on the Mount …today—really. This is what makes the book more than just an exposition or commentary on the Sermon, and in my opinion, so much more believable and “gripping.” I identify with and appreciate the words of Sean Gladding who wrote; “Jamie Arpin-Ricci holds our feet to the fire with the humility of one who himself continues to wrestle with the implications of taking Jesus at his word.” This is the Sermon on the Mount come alive.
The introduction and first chapter are important pieces for the remainder of the book; these introductory pieces help the reader to understand the position from which the rest of the book will be filtered and examined. The premise is that Jesus meant for us to do what he taught us, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. This premise might be somewhat polarizing considering there are a great many Christians who idealize the Sermon on the Mount and consider its call beyond the reach or attainment of mortal humans. Arpin-Ricci brings some of these arguments to bear in his introductory statements citing a number of sources, including a particularly acerbic statement from G. K. Chesterton who is quoted saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
The next several chapters are spent in reflection on the Blessings of the Beatitudes. Jamie artfully weaves historical accounts from the life of St. Francis and personal experiences from the Little Flowers Community into the reflections on the “Blessings.” Assuring us these blessings are not just lofty-heavenly ideals, but earthy and gritty invitations to partake in the Kingdom of God now, the stories of Francis and Little Flowers help the reader to embrace the blessings in their own context of life…it did for me.
Chapters six through ten move into the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While the opening chapters invite us to enter into the blessings of the Kingdom of God on earth, gritty as it may be, chapters six through ten share how the kingdom looks and operates in a world that pushes opposite the Kingdom of God. This entire section was riveting for me; challenging and convicting me through each chapter and sub-heading. I was especially touched by sections discussing “Love your enemies” (pp. 122-125), “Hiding in Plain Sight” (chapter 8), and some beautiful stories about “Francis” and “Jimmy” from the chapter “The Disciple’s Prayer” (chapter 9).
Jamie’s exposition, experiences, and personal reflection on Jesus’ words from Matthew chapter seven (chapters 11-12) are probably the most poignant and challenging for me in the entire book. It is here he discusses the concepts of humility, surrender, mutual submission to one another as the heart of what Jesus’ invitation to us is all about; “Come, follow me” (come and die, so you might experience resurrection life). There is nothing in this call that is ethereal and idealistic. It (The Call of Christ) is the “gritty” and the real, the absolute and total surrender of all today for the promise of all tomorrow, and the realization that without the “grace of the God who invites” there is no way in heaven or earth that we can follow.
Some ten years ago I was in a lengthy study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I had been a big fan of the works of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and decided to purchase his work, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. This was the beginning of the end for me. I have been and continue to be forever broken by the Sermon on the Mount. I mention this resource in passing to point out the wonderful resources that are included at the close of the book. Jaime has provided a very generous list of recommended reading covering the Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes, The Lord’s Prayer, and St. Francis and the Franciscans. While reading lists can be subjective, I was encouraged and affirmed by the realization that I too have been impacted in a very positive way by many of the same books. I heartily endorse his list and to it I would add Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and Oswald Chambers’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.
I mentioned earlier that this book would likely polarize people and I think by the end of the book that is what the outcome will be. There will be some who will shrug and think “that’s a nice idea, but I don’t think that’s very realistic” and there will be others who will be broken, as I am… who think, “I know and in my deepest heart have known this is the life Christ has called me to live” and as Francis did so many years ago, determine to abandon all so that they may follow Christ to the full. I am hopeful you enjoy and are challenged as much as I have been by this book.