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What’s Next? > Monasticism 2.0 > Local, shared economy

July 11, 2011

The second mark of the new monasticism is…

2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us

There was a time starting in 1995 when many of us shared a common purse. What started as a free internship in urban ministry ended up being over 40 people spread over 4 distinct households, all sharing one bank account. If we needed shoes, or a birthday party for one of the kids or even a vacation members would submit a request in writing for what was needed and smaller team (the finance team) would review the requests each week and determine what we could afford and the money would be distributed as anyone had need. In order for this to work we had to start small businesses to support ourselves. So we started a small contracting business, a painting business and a cleaning business. We also had the small salaries from some members who were on staff at the local church we served, Vineyard Central. And then there was the $15/ week stipend for every member. That was our fun money to do with as we pleased. For me most weeks that was a movie and a Frappachino.

We learned a lot from Jesus People USA and the Bruderhof and Reba Place Fellowship. All of which have sustained some form of a common purse for decades.

But it came to an end after about 5 or 6 years. We dismantled the common purse. I took a job in the family business (a body shop my dad had started 30+ years prior) and eventually opened up my own shop a few blocks from home. Somehow the community and many of the relationships survived. We didn’t move. We still have people living in our home. We still share our space and our stuff and hold our possessions loosely though admittedly we have a lot more “things” to share now. And I see that as a good thing and a dangerous thing.

So how is it a good thing? The common purse trained me to live on very little. It freed me from the need to have lots of things and taught me to be content with little. One of the things I lamented the most, however, while on the common purse was the lack of resources we had to meet needs on our neighborhood and among our friends. We always had ‘just enough’ but we were collectively living below the poverty line. Which, it turns out, has some pretty great tax advantages! i was happy to not pay taxes and support the wars of our government! However, I also lacked the ability to be generous even though I felt like that was one of the callings and gifts that God had given me. So I personally went through years of seeing needs and knowing what a few hundred dollars here and there could accomplish but having no ability to reach out and just give it.

And the dangerous part? Scripture no where says it is a sin to be wealthy. But it is very clear that it is a dangerous thing and needs to be handled with wisdom. The Psalmist says, “As wealth increases, do not set your heart on it.” And Jesus gave many warnings about how deceptive and alluring riches could be. Paul told Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil and to warn the rich to make sure they were rich toward God (Jesus version was to “store up wealth in the heavens”) via good deeds and generosity. (See 1 Timothy 6) So now we are wealthy. And most likely if you’re reading this you are too! I read somewhere recently that if you earn over $40,000 a year that puts you in the top 1% of the world’s population in terms of wealth. (Does anyone know where I might have read that?) And with wealth comes great responsibility and danger. Money constantly tries to demand our allegiance and become an idol in our lives.

For me, living in poverty and on a common purse was much simpler but did not allow for generosity and spontaneous sharing… it was more of an organized sharing that felt radical yet constrictive. 

Theologically the common purse was coming out of a “looking back” to the earliest Christians in Acts 2 and 4 as well as throughout church history to ‘radical’ groups of monks, nuns, friars, Moravians, Anabaptists etc who modeled a deep, shared economic life. And while I don’t feel that Scripture is ever prescriptive about sharing a common purse it was the way Jesus handled money with his little band of 12 and undoubtedly the early church and many radical groups since have organized their finances in similar ways.

So this is a topic that is very much in process for me. I just finished reading God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Now I’m reading Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. I hope to have more to say about economics in the near future but I’m confident that the experiments of my past, the wealth of my present, the reading of these books and a deep desire to live generously will somehow come to bear on a new arrangement that will bless my neighbors in my faith community and my neighborhood.

+++ Lord, let it be so! +++

Next stop: Hospitality, welcoming the stranger…


4 Comments leave one →
  1. D.G. Hollums permalink
    July 11, 2011 11:27 am

    I’m finishing reading “Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood” by Alan Roxburgh. And I’m being more and more intrigued by the sending of the Seventy-two in Luke. Alan states that when we live missional we become dependent on the care of those in the works to care for us! And in return we care for them. This is probably more of a topic for hospitality and next post, but I’m wondering the connection here as well. My wife and I made a difficult decision to not take an offered appointment in the UMC and we are trully feeling the financial consequences of our following God. He has shown us the chains money had upon our lives and we are much more free to the slavery of finances, but we are working towards our last resources and just the other day 2 co-workers who are not followers of Christ offered to help us financially.they experience Christ through my friendship with them and Christ is working in both of our hearts to create family! Amazing!… Just had to share this somewhere and love this electronic thin space!

    • July 13, 2011 10:25 am

      Had not heard of that book…. sounds like a good read. Thanks for being faithful to your call even when your tribe struggles to understand and support it! You are loved… and if you ever need anything I’m here for you as you have been for me and my fam on so many occasions!! Much love you big geek!

  2. Larry Bourgeois permalink
    July 12, 2011 4:35 pm

    Kevin. Your story is full of good wisdom, thanks for sharing it. I think when we are called to love God with all our hearts : minds : souls: and strength… the strength part certainly has to include whatever we can utilize to transform life and do kingdom-ish acts of grace. If God allows us financial capital to create places or services of Christian goodwill that can feed our minds, strengthen our hearts with courage and help others to do the same, I would call that a “graced good…” and redeemed capital(?). If God allows you/us time, space and place to reflect on things spiritual and theological (and of course good books…) that is another good – that is much harder to realize in poverty. You have helped create place for others to grow in mind heart and soul, and to create some jobs for others to become more self sustainable, and you have been generous in lots of graced ways. So let’s just say you have not yet become a wicked capitalist, but there is still time perhaps.

    I think you are fortunate to be surrounded by people who struggle with you to find the cost/benefit via media that you are speaking of, and it will likely be a lifelong challenge… so God speed friend.

    • July 13, 2011 10:20 am

      Thanks Larry! much love and grace to you in your new role(s)… I hear good things are afoot for you… I just did a post on hospitality and thought of you re: third places… would love to point people to any writing you’ve done on that… is there anything online? Let’s stay connected digitally and otherwise!!

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