This season as the leaves fall and reveal the beauty of the bare branch it seems a good time to talk about stripping away non essentials. The lectionary points us to a passage in Mark 10:17-31 where Jesus directs a wealthy questioner to sell everything, (everything!), give the money to the poor, and travel with the movement.
This story has a hold on me. Often I long for the simplicity of the monastic lifestyle where one can do work in community, pray, eat, sleep, care for others and not have to make hard decisions about money (because everything is held in a common purse). But this is not the life that I have chosen. So instead I wrestle, like many of us, with complex value judgments about cash, where and how to spend it and how my choices jive, or don’t, with my path as a disciple of Jesus.
While living in Boston I had the opportunity to learn from a network of Christians who are living these questions. The Boston Faith & Justice Network is committed to alleviating poverty and promoting just stewardship. They believe that over-consumption and unjust consumption may just be emptying our bank accounts, exhausting the world’s dearest resources, and fueling the exploitation of the most vulnerable. Something must change inside our souls and in our communities to set things right. So, together, they are taking these steps.
1. Live Gratefully. Many of us have lost track of how much is actually enough. We make promises to buy less, but these promises are hard to keep. The BFJN organizes small groups that support each other in spending less, buying justly, and giving collectively. It all begins with giving thanks.
2. Change our Community. All around us, advertising urges “buy more!” What if our community reflected a different set of values: respect and dignity for people and creation. The BFJN is seeking to make ours a more just community, starting by increasing Fair Trade in neighborhoods throughout Boston and beyond.
3. Advocate. Good policies enable people to steward and enjoy God’s blessings together. Good policies include the interests of those who are the poor at the highest levels of decision-making – not just those who are rich and powerful. The BFJN partners with organizations like the Micah Challenge to advocate for policies we believe will make a difference in the lives of those who are poor.”
I appreciate that step one is gratitude. And that step two is linked to small daily choices, like buying fair trade coffee. So how does this connect with our scripture verse for the day? The short answer is I don’t know. In fact, not only do I not know, I think I am actively confused. Because on the one hand, maybe this is a scripture worthy of a literal interpretation. Maybe more of us should give all, or almost all, of our money away. (Check out Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s article on just this-an “alternate investment plan” in which folks give money away and rely on God’s abundance in very concrete ways.) But on the other hand, I’m not sure all of us are called to these extremes. Rather, some of us may be called to the messy work of trying to live faithfully in a consumer-driven world. This involves recognizing and trying to limit our participation in a broken model and seeking out and supporting better alternatives like fair trade certification and working to make them accessible to more of our peers.
At any rate, I am so thankful for this community as a space to continue to live these questions. Join me tonight and Sunday for what I am sure will be a lively conversation.
Peace to you