What is a young family to do with a desire to follow Jesus more radically? This series of email exchanges I had with Paul Munn over a year ago (starting in April of 2009) attempts to explore some of that. To get caught up with the series, read question #1, response #1, question #2/response #2 (which are one post), and question #3.
Date: Fri, 1 May 2009 12:07:03 -0700
Subject: Re: work, gift, prayer
Peru, eh? A college kid from here was just down there on some sort of mission trip. He visited a number of guinea pig farmers, and even ate one (a guinea pig, not a farmer). Ever try it?
I didn’t think very hard before listing work, gift, and prayer; they’re just what came to mind. But now that I consider it some more, maybe I do think they are especially important. When people get together and live together and work together, “groupthink” is always a danger, and it’s especially dangerous when the group consensus is considered to be the truest indicator of the will of God. We need to nurture other ways of sensing and knowing God’s will, so we don’t get swept away by the group (and so we can help correct the group when it errs). Prayer is an important help here. Also scripture and the counsel of Christians outside our local group. I think God tends to speak to us through a variety of ways, harmonizing them, so we get the message.
Groups and especially institutions also tend to absorb people and want to put them to work for the purposes and goals of the group. Sometime people are drawn in for just that reason, because they want to be useful to “something greater than themselves.” But I think it’s important to have our own sense of who we are and what God has created us for, including the work(s) we are being called to. A good community of Christians can help us discern this, but I don’t think we should rely on that completely. Heather and I came to Plow Creek with a definite work that we wanted to do, that was our main purpose in coming. The community here embraced and supported that, which has been great. But there are continual (perhaps unconscious) pressures pulling us to farm, bakery, bookkeeping, hosting visitors, and other work required for the upkeep of the organization. Having a clear sense of calling helps us avoid getting too drawn into those things (which I think are much less important than the retreats, or prayer, or writing to you).
And the gift thing has been big for me. How Jesus offered his time and work as a gift to people, asking nothing in return (and then also being dependent on their gifts to sustain him). Totally revolutionary. An economy of mutual giving, prompted by God’s spirit. One of the greatest lessons for me from Jesus’ life and my experiences on the road. There’s more about it here: “work” (I see work and gift closely connected; you might also find the posts after that one interesting).
As this applies to community life, I think a big advantage of living closely with others is the many opportunities to share and give to one another. So it’s a good place to practice a gift economy. On the other hand, communal groups often give freely within their group, but much less so to those outside the group (that’s one aspect that I think falls short of Jesus’ example). If finances are shared, there may also be pressure to “pull your weight” financially. Which could push you towards a better income-producing job (I’ve seen this). So I think a strong commitment to giving freely (along with living simply so as not to be a burden on others) can also help resist the communal pressure to work for income rather than offering your work as a gift to others, including others outside the group. This may not be much different than the usual pressures within a family to pay the bills, though the bigger the group gets the harder it is to resist. Anyway, this has been an important part of following Jesus for me.
That’s probably enough, isn’t it? By the way, we’re friends with a couple at Sojourners. Dan and Katie Piche (Pishay). Great folks. And I’ve heard good things from them about their community. So, yeah, that would be a good place to visit, if for nothing more than meeting Dan and Katie. Tell them hi for us.