I have been participating a loosely connected intentional community with several other Christians. One of the practices that we talked about using was sharing resources. With my anti-consumerist leanings, the idea of using products people owned instead of buying additional products sounded very practical and beneficial, and I didn’t see it as a spiritual discipine at all. My wife and I have many of those little things that people only occasionally need: sewing machine, an extra 100 feet of hose (got it out of the trash), some camping gear, etc. We love being able to share our things. It just made sense, but didn’t look like a spiritual practice to me.
That was until some one else had something I wanted. I have just recently taken to bike camping – where you get to the campsite on a bike, and strap everything you need right on the bike. So one family in our intentional community has a wonderful, light, and tiny tent. I used it for my first trip this year and it worked great! The consumer/independent person in me says that I should get one of my own. But they tell me that I am welcome to use it any time (and I am positive that they mean that). The chances that we would both be camping the same weekend is relatively low, but for some reason I can’t help but look at similar tents in my spare time and then look for deals on Craig’s List.
Now that I have wanted to use it for a third time, I realized that I really hate having to ask to borrow things. It is not like they give me a guilt trip, or that I don’t like loaning our things out to other people. There is something oddly humbling about borrowing other peoples’ things. Through this experience, I can see sharing very clearly as a spiritual practice/discipline.
There is a huge difference between loaning out my stuff, and asking some one else for theirs. When you are the loaner, you are the one in some way with the power. We also get to be the “generous” person and not the needy one. When we loan other people our stuff we can kid ourselves and tell ourselves that we are not an obligation, but that is not the case. Children are an obligation to their parents, parents become an obligation to their children, husbands to wives and the body of the church to God.
There are two specific thoughts I have around this whole thing:
1. There are some monastic communities who obtain their food by begging.
2. When we visited Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston Illinois (a Mennonite Intentional Community) we learned a lot about sharing. This community has many members who share a common purse. Their paychecks go directly to the community and they are given stipends. The individuals don’t technically own anything – the community does. As we were talking about the challenging nature of this with members of the community David Janzen said something like “It is easier to let Jesus be Lord over the things that you hold in common.” I don’t want Jesus to be Lord over the tent. I want to be Lord over the tent.