A meditation for Beloved community
All who believed were there together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and good and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Sweet Cream Caramel
Did you notice the fog over Denver on Wednesday?
It was a crystal clear, blue sky, classic Colorado day,
and there was a deep fog over the city.
I stumbled into work that morning,
and counted down the mili-seconds until I could go home.
I felt so out of touch with reality Tuesday-night into Wednesday.
I thought there was no way that the inherent goodness in people
could so readily deny itself and attach itself to hatred.
I was wrong. I was angry. I was confused. I was deeply saddened.
And by the grace of God, Kaylanne and I had dinner and caramel making scheduled for that evening with Al Zook. I emailed Al earlier in the day to let him know what time we would be arriving, and how desperately we were looking forward to his sanity and perspective.
“It is not the end of the world it just feels like it.
It just means that some of us may end up behind bars,
speaking truth to government.
We must remember that our forefathers were there
and many were killed for speaking truth.
Look forward to seeing you tonight.”
Al welcomed us into his apartment on Wednesday night. We shared a meal together, and then we put 2 pounds of sugar, 1.5 pounds of kairo, and a pint of heavy cream on the stove, lit the gas, and started to stir.
We stirred for an hour, as Al told us stories about the community that he grew up in where five different families offered to pay his way through college.
We poured in another pint of heavy cream, and stirred for another hour as Al told us stories about Reba place fellowship in Chicago, and heroes like Dorothy Day, Dan Berrigan, and Vincent Harding that Al has worked alongside of for justice throughout his life.
We poured in another pint of heavy cream, and stirred for yet another hour as Al pulled out his volumes of books from Clarence Jordan and told us stories about the days running the farming operation at Koinonia Farm.
We stirred in those stories along with our sorrow, and over time, the white sugar, kairo and cream, turned into a deep caramel and we poured it out into the pan and all three of us licked the spoons.
On, Thursday evening, Kaylanne, Vern, and I gathered together with Will Dickerson and other faith leaders with Together Colorado to begin planning an action around police accountability. We shared stories of our own experiences with the police, and listened to the stories of others. We talked about the world as it is, and the world as we’d like it to be, and before long, we were all standing up singing,
“Oh Freedom, oh, freedom
Oh, freedom, over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.”
On a week when I felt disembodied, dejected, and depressed,
I was graced by God, with sweet cream caramel to make,
and whole hearted community to step into. (Which was truly just what I needed, I needed something to put all of this energy into.)
For a few weeks now, I’ve had this Sunday circled as a Sunday to talk about finances. I wanted to make space for us to wrestle together with our own individual finances, or lack thereof. As this week unfolded I thought to myself, “Oh great, just what we need at the end of a long week… a conversation about money.”
But in so much as this is a conversation… and in so much as it is really a conversation about investing in community… about taking the energy of this week and putting it into something. Stirring in stories-about the way the world is, and the way we’d like it to be – like sugar, kairo, and heavy cream until it caramelizes and we can all lick the spoon… in so much as this is a conversation about leaning in and stepping towards one another in love in unpredictable times like these… maybe it’s just the sort of conversation that wants to be had.
Economic tension: individualism and community
Allow me to frame this conversation by saying that I’m 28 years old and I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their economic life. In fact, I’m trying to evoke some real mutuality here. I desire your wisdom. I desire to think creatively alongside of you all, therefore I want us to begin to talk about such things, with openness and vulnerability.
In that spirit, I confess that I find my own economic life to be constantly in tension between a standard American version of an individualized economy and a biblical version of what I want to call a communal economy.
The individualized economy, is the one that we know well as citizens of the American empire. It’s an economy of scarcity that relies upon a belief system that suggests that each individual needs more than what they presently have to be happy. The best way to do that, of course, is to earn a larger income, own private property, and invest in “too big to fail institutions” that will produce the life that you want in the future. A life that you, your spouse, and perhaps some of your immediate family can enjoy when you die.
The communal economy, is the one that the biblical narrative points to all the way through – not just in Acts 2 – but all the way through from the economy of the garden in Genesis to the economy of the city in Revelation. It’s an economy that relies upon a belief system that would suggest that we have already been given an abundance of resources. That as a community we have enough at our fingertips and our biggest questions consist of how to redistribute those resources and how to invest those resources creatively in order to bring about a better world for everyone to live in.
I find that in my life, in spite of my reluctance to admit it, that both the individualized economy and the communal economy are compelling. I would like to simply critique the individualized economy as being uncreative and suggest that I am not drawn towards it, but that’s simply not true. At different points in my young life, I have already been fully engaged with both in something of a circuitous fashion – from the individualized economy to the communal economy and back again.
I suppose that I started my young adult life right on track to embrace the benefits of the individualized economy. I earned an above average GPA in high school, assumed leadership responsibilities in extra curricular activities, didn’t get anyone pregnant, made an above average score on my college entrance exams, and wound up at a decent university.
In college, I responded to what came to me as a call from God to, “Feed my sheep.” I decided at that point in time that my life’s purpose and direction wasn’t going to be about making a lot of money, but about loving and being with the most vulnerable members of our society.
In seminary, I started a community house where we shared 80% of our monthly incomes in common, offered hospitality out of a spare bedroom and helped one another move on from that community towards our next steps in the world.
Kaylanne and I spent the first year of our marriage living fairly simply, paying down some student debt, and saving for the sake of saving. By the time I graduated from seminary, I was offered the opportunity to expand my role at the church where I worked and receive a fairly sizable raise… an offer we originally agreed to until the offer to move into a single bedroom at the Catholic Worker House in Denver where we would earn no salary and rely on our savings for a while emerged and we stepped into it.
Before long, the itch to earn some money and have some space of our own came back around. So we got an apartment, and both had full time jobs for the first time in our marriage. We paid down some more debt, saved a little more money, started a retirement account for Kaylanne, and with the help of a family loan, we were able to buy a house.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve only ever lived in our house by ourselves for two weeks… but there are plenty of days that we wish that weren’t the case, and who knows, someday maybe it won’t be?
Over the past couple months two financial planners have walked into our lives unannounced, which has made time for us to think together about our financial picture as it looks now, and as it might look down the road. I have days that I find myself thinking that it would be nice to make more money, and then other days when I am more content with what I have and possibly willing to imagine earning less. There are days when I find myself thinking that a second home on the Arkansas River, or a nice quaint retirement on a vineyard outside Palisade might not be such a bad thing, and then there are days when I find myself imagining my future children being raised in a community house and being formed and loved by people that don’t look or smell like them.
All of that is to say that in some way or another, I find both of these economies and the world that they construct to be compelling. I want to have a place on earth to dig my hands into the soil, and paint audacious murals on the wall. In spite of my sensibilities about the way in which retirement investing earns money in ways contrary to those that I am working in the world – I want to have enough money in retirement to do whatever it is that people do in retirement.
Although I am highly critical of the logic of the individualized economy, I am not outside of its practices. As the words from our Eucharist liturgy say, “I benefit from a system that would oppress others and oppress my very self.” And as that same liturgy says, “I long for more,” somewhere deep within, I long for more than the world that the individualized economy has to offer.
Investing in loving community
The post-Pentecostal community in Luke’s novel about the early church suggests a similar longing for more.
The text from Acts 2 describes a people that were living life together- praying in the temple daily and feasting together in one another’s homes. Imagine all that came in between those practices of prayer and table.
Gathering water, cleaning houses, and stables…
Stoking fires, baking bread…
celebrating birthdays, weddings, and funerals…
raising children, and caring for the sick…
drinking too much, playing music, and telling stories…
on and on…
these people had joined their lives together, and we’re finding great joy in that process each day.
Perhaps they weren’t raised in a culture that was so individualistic, success, and wealth oriented as ours… but in some way or another, their lives had previously left them longing for more as well, and they had come to join their lives together in this daily embrace of common life.
Through this embrace, they came to love one another, care for one another, and enjoy one another. They came to a greater awareness of the needs around them, the needs outside of themselves, and eventually that led them to make the difficult decision to share both their wealth and poverty with one another.
As Shane Claiborne commented on this text, “The author of Acts did not say, ‘They were of one heart and mind because the sold everything.’ Instead, they held all in common precisely because they were of one heart and mind, as rich and poor found themselves born again into a family where some had extra and others were desperately in need.”
“They held all in common precisely because they were of one heart and mind.”
As this early community formed, and as its members fell in love with one another, they began to reimagine the world that they would create together, the world that they would come to live in together, and that reimagining resulted in a radical sharing of resources, and a redistribution of wealth.
I’m sure that the tension between the individualized economy and the communal economy was still there… but they chose to lean in and embrace that tension together. They made room for that tension in their midst, just as they made room for so much else. More than anything it was their love, enjoyment, and care for one another that over time enabled them to imagine embracing the practice of the communal economy.
Made by our Decisions
When Kaylanne and I were young, we thought that we made decisions. We thought that we decided to get married to one another… to move to Denver…. to move into the Catholic Worker House… to move out of the Catholic Worker House, etc.
Now that we’re old, we realize that we don’t make decisions as much as our decisions make us. We were made into the people that we are by the decision to marry one another… to move to Denver… to move in and out of the Catholic Worker House. For better or for worse, those decisions have made us who we are.
And this is part of my struggle between these two economies. In the same ways that I have been made by the decision to opt in to the communal economy, I have also been made by the decision to opt in to the individualized economy.
My life is different because we decided to take on a mortgage, my life will be different because we decide to opt in to retirement savings, my life would be different if we decided to buy life insurance, or pay for childcare, or save for college, etc.
There is a powerful struggle, a powerful tension here for me in the way that I think about money, and everything in me wants it to resolve… so I’ll step one direction, or I’ll step the other… but I think that the most powerful thing that we could choose to do together as a community would simply be to hold it open.
To hold this tension that probably a lot of us feel around money – about how much we ought to be earning, and how much we ought to be saving, and how much we want to be investing in this beautiful community– wide open. To struggle with it, question it, and wrestle with it together.
I think that’s where the community in Acts began. They didn’t just throw all their money in from the beginning – they began by leaning in and stepping towards one another, weaving their lives together through daily practices and with much joy. My guess is that they had no idea where that would lead them, and what kinds of decisions they might be making together down the road.
So we lean in as well…
and it’s hard…
it’s scary… but it’s good.
And in weeks like these, it’s exactly what we need.
It’s exactly what we want.
So we lean in, and we embrace these practices of Tuesday and Thursday Circles,
of blues, hymns, silence, Eucharist, and soup on Sundays…
we brew beer and make wine…
we celebrate Halloween parties and 50th wedding anniversaries…
we invite strangers and their smell into our homes…
we watch terrible election results and scream at the TV together…
we stir sugar and cream on the stove for hours until it comes together as sweet cream caramel…
we talk about systems of oppression and our love and care for our sisters and brothers, and we sing “Oh, Freedom!”
In short, we invite one another near – in love – to share life, to embrace joy, and to hold powerful tensions around all of life’s most difficult questions… especially these time-honored questions about money.
The individualized economy? The communal economy? I don’t know.
All I know is that I’m willing to step towards you all in love,
and see where we might wind up.
Who knows what creativity lies ahead of us? Who knows what possibilities for infrastructure are ahead… what possibilities for living together and sharing our resources… for raising children together, and caring for one another’s parents? I don’t know, but in strange weeks like these, I’m here saying that I want to be a part of this, I want to lean in, and be with you all in love. Amen.