Wednesday, November 29, 2006

preferential option for the poor?

Numerous friends of mine have been struggling with finances recently—actually, almost everyone I know in my age category. I too have pinched pennies almost all my life and can be very severe in my frugalness if I decide to be. My goal has been to train myself to be as Paul says in Philippians, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” So when I decided to go the Annual Meetings this year, I knew I would have to experiment with accommodations, even if only to respect the financial distress of those I live with.

My heritage taught me to do vacation differently than most—as a child my family never stayed at hotels or had vacation packages to go somewhere warm and on the ocean. Instead, we went where there were friends or family to visit. Otherwise, there was no reason to go. Realizing now, how others do vacation accommodations, I have taken the opportunity to experiment. Americans often do the hotel with a swimming pool thing. Occasionally, I’ve done that. Amish Mennonites give and receive hospitality from other Amish Mennonites. There is even this Mennonite directory out there called Mennonite Your Way which is a hospitality house list of people all across the country. In Mexico, if you are vacationing and you have a car, you sleep in your car or stay with friends. I once lived out of a VW bug with 4 other people for 3 days, as we toured Jalisco and a went to the festival of San Juan Martin, Caballero. We mingled with other travelers. And I discovered that if you don’t have a car you ride the bus and if you don’t have fare for the bus you walk. For bus riders and walkers, there are accommodations aplenty under every tree along the road or in the town square, often in the courtyard of the church. Some day, I hope to travel like this.

All this is to say that I have been considering how best and how functionally to live, when traveling and when at home. With the threat of poverty is hanging over the heads of many folks in my generational category, forcing us to rethink money expenditure and living patterns, I’ve seen many of my peers attracted to living in community, either out of need to survive financially or for expressed faith convictions. Hospitality has also become a bigger deal for them. Hospitality is a virtue amongst the poor. Hospitality is also an essential pillar in community building. (Conversely, entertainment, privacy and independence are virtues of the rich—contributing to loneliness and isolation.) Yet, one has to look at the circumstances and wonder, if we would have the financial means necessary to live alone and travel alone, would we then somehow loose the conviction to live interdependently in a community of believers. My observation has been that, largely, once one comes into a bit of financial means—enough to live alone—one then lives alone or in a circumstance of his/her individual choice. In that case, may God grant me the means to offer hospitality but also the blessing of poverty.

3 comments:

Naomi said...

Traveling light is definitely the best way to go--my dh and I did two weeks in Italy with a school-sized backpack a-piece.

As for living in community--I tried a quasi-communal arrangement once and I'm not eager to repeat that experience. There were many good times, but it didn't end well. Dependency is a tight rope.

Last year I read about an architecture/women's studies grad student who wants to develop house plans for living arrangements that offer both community and privacy. It sounds interesting, especially as a means of moral support for young mothers...and students, of course!

espíritu paz said...

I've lived in community too: all my life and in various sorts of community--family, Beachy Mennonite church community, college community, a house church community of 3 houses all in a row, and some say I live in a global community. The ending of all of the above is never happy. The ending of family is divorce. Separation from the Beachy church involves excommunication--my family has experienced that (I don’t think we ever recovered). I hate graduation because one has to leave “elders” and friends behind to go live in the “real world”. We tried to make the house church end well but it was still very difficult. The finality of my participation in the global community is death--where everyone closest to me gathers around and throws 6 feet of dirt on me.
But amongst these various forms of community, I must say, family has the best chance of survival. In fact I believe we are called to demonstrate the kingdom of God to the world through family. I used to tote the Pauline banner of couragous singlehood. Since my own exhausting community building experience, I have converted to the other side: family is a community building call that stands even closer to the soul of the individual. I used to would have hated to admit it--but my parents had it right with their brood of 10 and their tenacious faithfulness to each other.

I keep working at building community or participating in community--and it all has failed ot some degree or another. Now, I think I might actually try at getting married. Am I stupid or what? :) If you've ever seen Ice Age, it's like the abominable acorn the squirl keeps grabbing ahold of and loosing. Then he dies and goes to heaven.
...happy thoughts!? *snicker*

Anonymous said...

"[...] With the threat of poverty is hanging [...]"
vs.
"[...] but also the blessing of poverty."

I'm confused... :)

As far as living in community goes:

I still remember a piece of wisdom from an old father in highschool: "Don't turn the consequence into a goal". It's from Zen-Buddhism too. How's that coming from a Catholic priest? He used this example that made it understandable for us 14 year olds:

When you go fishing with the goal of catching fish, you will get frustrated quickly. Because you don't catch any, or not enough, or too small ones, or...

If you go fishing because you enjoy the outdoors, the relaxation, the occasional chat with a passer-by; then any fish you catch is a sort of extra. Icing on the cake, so to speak.

For someone like me who mostly thinks in terms of goals to be achieved, it's a piece of wisdom I have to continuously remind myself of. In fact, I think it's the only thing I ever learned in his class. Jewish history never interested me much.

For what it's worth.

Peter.