Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I started writing this as a comment on Micah Bales’ blog post about Occupy & Quakers, and it grew until it needs its own post. I have a vision of what living the gospel looks like in this age, which I am working towards the best I can, but I don't know if others will see it the same way. Maybe it's too obvious, or too crazy, but I have to try to write what I can see.
Being faithful as I understand it means being ready with material help, as well as a listening ear and prayers for our friends and neighbours. I understand our physical and spiritual needs as indivisible: Jesus feeds and heals as well as teaches. Plant gardens, cook the food, build a hen house, keep a goat, learn to sew and mend, or spin and knit or weave or do carpentry, learn to make shoes even. Meet people's real needs in a new way, reach right across the barriers of race and class. Create a community through sharing skills that meet desperate people's material needs, go out on to the street and ask "What does God want us to eat and to wear?" alongside your hungry and ragged neighbours, and follow the answers that you are shown, step by step. Let us be known as the early christians were known, for providing substantial material care to those in need, those who were abandoned and sick. We need a foundation from which to provide: God is showing us how to dig in, and learn to live within the earth's ecological limits, so we have food and clothes to share as well as care and prayers and discernment and thanksgiving for each other.
The way I am seeing it, being a listening christian starts to look different pretty fast. Our clothes might be few and have patches, because we are moving towards real value and a global fair share, but maybe we're getting to the point where we understand enough to throw wide the doors and invite everyone we meet inside a food system that can support human beings even now we're past the age of cheap oil. Each step leads us out of the belly of the industrial machine, so vast in this age that we need God's leadings to even find the edge. Our food might not be as tasty as some processed thing designed by committee to taste the best and satisfy the least, and with an advertizing budget of millions, but instead it builds healthy bodies and healthy soil and sound relationships and leads us that next step into the right relationship with God's body, getting off the backs of those pressed down by the industrial system: it's a new kind of economy.
The problem's too complex for us to solve with our own minds, but sinking down into the Holy Spirit's well of deep peace and compassion, I believe we are each being led into the action that is required uniquely of us. There are a thousand skills to learn, to take back the earth from the system of industrialism and global exploitation and oil, and God will tell us each which ones to study. I have a sense that the harvest is standing in the fields, and all that's wanted are the labourers to bring it in - so few of us who yet have joined in the labour. God's peace and justice can show us how to live differently in every material aspect, it's a real escape from the machine that is squeezing the life out of so many.
The more of us begin to live differently, to build up our strength and skills in this new way of living, the more we are all set free from the bad system: two or three can grow some food and share some skills, and twenty can do more, and three hundred can probably learn all the skills to run a village economy beyond oil. How can we oppose war over oil resources when we have not begun to find the ways to live without oil, in every way from our food to our buckets, our clothes, our transport? Being willing to be shown how to set an example means meeting our real basic needs in a new way, and that way has to be learned and worked at, against the grain of consumer society that tell us that work is bad and getting dirty is a sign that we have failed in the system of competitive exploitation.
Britain Yearly Meeting found a commitment last year that we as Quakers want to live as a low carbon community, to collectively find a new way to live by reducing our dependency on oil, even though we are not totally sure what it will look like. We might start on this road with protest or by convincement, but that to me is a gateway into a new kind of living. God is making a new thing, and I am learning as fast as I can, just starting on this road, and I want to encourage others to see the road as well, to learn alongside and share skills. Children who are properly fed, who have adequate clothing and shoes, good water to drink, and who are learning skills for a constructive adult part in a working human ecology - that's what I think the gospel looks like, and Quakers have some great resources in our history to draw on as we attempt to follow God’s guidance, to take part in seeing God’s order grow on earth.