This post is part of the 4th monthly Spirit of the Poor synchroblog. This month’s link-up can be found at
In our discussions of the Spirit of the Poor, we have stated that we believe there is a connection between economic justice and living a spiritual life. We recognize that our culture measures progress as material gain. We recognize that this culture of global capitalism has created poverty for the majority of the people in the world, and spiritual poverty for all, especially those who have benefited materially from the culture.
We also recognize the reality that this culture, this economic system, cannot continue. We have reached the limits of our natural resources and are facing increasing environmental disasters as well as political instability resulting from the growing divide between rich and poor, and the resistance to the culture of materialism which is being imposed on people of all faiths throughout the world.
What we in this synchroblog are struggling with is how we, being totally immersed in this culture, can make any changes in our lives that will be meaningful. It is an incredibly difficult task, and the word “resist” is the word we have chosen to help us in this task.
I believe the first step, one we have been taking, is coming to the realization that our culture is irresponsible, and conforming to this culture is being irresponsible. Doing the work of examining the culture from the perspective of our faith gives us the courage to name our culture as irresponsible: gives us the courage to resist cultural norms which falsely claim to be responsible action.
John Dominic Crossan has put it this way: Civilization is always defined by empires – that which threatens the empire (our culture) threatens civilization as we know it. But revelation is the radicality of God breaking the norms of civilization. We must believe in this revelation and be willing to resist civilization as we know it.
I really believe that we will only be successful in changing our lives if we do it communally. In my life I have seen many “communities” which have tried to provide a model of living intentionally outside of the norms of our culture. I have briefly been a part of such communities. Most of them start with people of the same age. They inevitably fall apart when children are born and require attention, or when people start aging and need care. I am convinced that any community, to be a viable alternative to our culture, needs to be intergenerational. The places where I have seen the beginnings of such communities are:
-neighborhoods (especially rural neighborhoods.)
My advice is start wherever you are and build community wherever you can, to the extent that you can. And be aware that you will be faced with the charge of being irresponsible. Only if you have a strong enough understanding of the irresponsibility of the dominant culture will you be able to resist this charge.
I was once in a small Sabbath Economics group from my church that looked at the biblical view of economics. After reading several books and talking about the biblical view, we shared our economic autobiographies. Then we did an exercise of listing all of the things that we needed to live a good life. After listing these things, we looked at how much money it would take to fulfill these needs. It was an astounding amount of money. It was clear that 95% of the people in our country, let alone in the rest of the world, would never have the money to fill these needs through money. Then we looked at how many of these needs could be filled by community, and how much time and effort it would take to invest in building a community which could fill these needs. It looked possible. But at that point it also looked too radical for the group to actually become that kind of community. The group was not willing to resist voices of our culture which say:
The responsible thing to do is save money for your child’s college education – to give them every opportunity to fulfil their full potential.
The responsible thing to do is to save enough money to make sure that you will have enough money to pay for a nursing home for yourself or your spouse, and not be a burden for your children.
Resisting the temptation to acquiesce to this kind of “responsibility” is what is required of us.
If you really believe that a spiritual life is more important than a life of material goods, then that is what you should strive to give your children. We need to rename concepts like “fulfilling your full potential.” It should not mean going off to the best college wherever it is and taking a job, wherever it may lead you. It should mean being part of a family and community, and giving your gifts to your community.
One of the biggest mistakes of our past generations in this country is sending our children off to colleges far away from our homes. They inevitably find friends and life partners from different parts of the country, or world, and live lives far from their parents. This requires money for childcare and elderly care. If families stay close, grandparents can do childcare and grown children can take care of their elderly parents.
RESIST this concept of “providing opportunities for your children.” Name these opportunities as opportunities for material gain. Talk with your children about a life time of family connections. Build family connections. Get involved in your children’s schooling, whether home schooling, or in an institution. Yes, even in junior high. It was the convention in my children’s school that parents shouldn’t go into the junior high classrooms. “My child won’t let me come into the classroom” the parents would say. I volunteered to work with the students in music and spent two hours every day in my daughter’s eighth grade humanities class. I got to know their friends and they got to know me. My house became a place where my daughter’s friends felt comfortable. Resist the cultural norms that separate us.
And of course, resist the cultural norms that say we need to buy things for our children so that they feel accepted by their peers. RESIST this “obligation” from our irresponsibility society. Learn to sew their cloths and teach them how to sew. The most important thing you have to offer your children is your values, and if you give in to the “cultural values” of materialism, which this culture calls being “responsible” to your children, you have lost the ability to make real change.
Resist the cultural norms, and help your family members, your church members, and your neighbors resist them as well. Resisting our culture as an individual makes no sense. It has to be as a community, and this will always bring up conflicts because the culture will tell each of you that you are being irresponsible. It is hard to find unanimity in the face of such charges.
My mother is 100 and has lost interest in life. She will probably die soon. I have cancer in my bones, but it now looks like I will outlive my mother. I will receive money from my mother’s savings. The world says I should keep that money for my wife so that she will have an easy time without me when I die. My values tell me I should give away my inheritance, and let my daughters, who live nearby take care of her. Is that being irresponsible to my family? Only if you accept the values of this irresponsible culture. Resisting our culture puts us in exactly this kind of uncomfortable position. It isn’t an easy road, but it is possible. My elder daughter once told me to give away all my money. When I asked how I would live in my old ages, she said “I’ll take care of you.” That was ten years ago. She is now married with a child and husband who also has an elderly mother. But I think the moral thing to do is to hold my daughter to her word. I know that when her husband has designed houses for their family, he has always included a place for my wife in them.
I am blessed with a family that stayed close to home. My wife and I take care of each grandchild one day each week. It was not by accident that they live nearby. It was a lifetime of resisting the culture. I think I will give away my inheritance – that would be the greatest gift I could give my family.