This January I’m reflecting on the principle of shared economics (for those of you who are just joining us, check out my post on why I’m doing this Monastic Value of the Month Club). As Common Prayer says, shared economics means choosing to pursue “a vision of an economy different than the empire’s economy.” As the Church, we are called to “bear each other’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ.” A striking characteristic of the early Church was that there were no poor people in it. Those who were rich gave all they could to the community, even selling their greatest assets, so those who were poor could be cared for, uplifted, embraced.
What would that even be like in our own time? What would it be like to have a church that truly took care of people’s economic burdens and gave all it could to eliminate poverty? What if people could come to the Church and find a haven from the dog-eat-dog world of the American empire? What if we could lay down our addictions to work and shopping and entertainment because we were part of a community that would care for all our true needs?
The Church would be a lot more popular, I’m pretty sure, if those things were what we were known for.
Unfortunately, we pretty much suck at sharing these days. Although there are definitely parts of the Church that care for the poor and fight the systems that perpetuate poverty, most Christian individuals and communities have very little imagination when it comes to economic matters. We don’t know how to truly care for others. We don’t trust them enough. We’d rather hold the poor at arm’s length and show them charity than get involved in their lives and truly take up their burdens.
I am very much guilty of this. I know that compared to many, I’m rich. On the other hand, when I budget my money and my time, I tend to think of myself and my family first. My burdens, such as they are, feel heavy enough without picking up someone else’s. And the thought of surrendering more resources to the Church and trusting God to take care of me via my fellow Christians? I don’t know, it feels so risky.
The more I reflect on this, the more I conclude that the key word here is shared. In our individualistic society which praises self-sufficiency so much, it feels crazy to carry another person’s burdens. We don’t trust that it will be reciprocated. We fear burnout or bankruptcy. We need the support of community, a culture of shared burdens, to set us free from our programming. That’s one advantage the Church already has: we already share a part of our lives, and together we can grow to share more.
So let’s join together, young and old. Let’s dream dreams and see visions of a world in which poverty does not exist, a Church where people who are hungry can be fed and people who carry around too much stuff can lay it down. Let us pray and work for a world in which we can all feel safe laying our burdens down.
What dreams do you dream about shared economics? What would a Church and/or world without poverty be like, and what can we do today to help create it?