Drew Theological School's Tipple-Vosburgh lectures were this week. Class prevented me from attending most of the workshops and the lectures, however, I did attend one plenary and the closing worship. I really wanted to attend Fred Curtis's (an economics professor at Drew) plenary session on Monday, but it just wasn't viable. It was nice to meet Beth Quick, albeit very briefly! Despite my limited experience of the lectures, for good or for ill, I wanted to offer my reflections:
I'm just not there...and yet, I am there. Perhaps I didn't get the "so what" out of the one plenary because it wasn't geared that way (though I always think we should be asking that question, even in academics), but even the "so what" I heard out of worship didn't push me enough. "Buy clothes from ethical stores and not from WalMart!" "Give out of our excess because we have too much!" Ok...good...but not really very radical. It's not radical to me because we are still participating in this consumer economy that seeks to create our greed, drive our dissatisfaction with the world and our lives, and that still exploits and marginalizes people; we're just putting our money in a different place. It seems to me that while yes - we need things and need to shop to get them - we also need to be subverting the system. Stepping out of that consumer economy all together, if we truly want to be radical.
I think of Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. He made his own habit that he wears every day. The people of the community live together and share their possessions and live in close relationship with the poor around them. To them, poverty has a name and a face...not just a line in the checkbook for donations, or a bag in the hall for stuff to donate.
I struggle with this...a lot. I struggle because I wonder what living like this - in relationship with the poor, living with the basics, sharing our possessions - will look like as there are those of us here at Drew who feel called to a similar lifestyle. So while I'm so far from selling what I have to give to the poor, I do know that there has to be more than just living ethically and responsibly within the system. Ethical and responsible living is a good witness...but doesn't fundamentally change the system. And I'm not sure that Jesus said "live ethically" to the ruler, but told him that he lacked one thing: to go sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus.
So while this message was something that perhaps some needed to hear, I wanted something more. I wanted to be challenged to seriously consider this radical call to discipleship. I wanted to hear something about being in relationship with the poor, not just being their financial liberators or benefactors. I wanted to hear Jesus.