We do not live by building ever more secure fences of possessions around ourselves, but by giving to others space to live. This is to give life to others. The human animal, human society, flourishes, not to the extent that it possesses riches, but to the extent that we give life to each other, to the extent that we imitate the creativity of God. Of course, as creatures we can only imitate it from a distance, We cannot act, as God does, for no benefit to ourselves. But we can live (either more or less) by the free gift we make to others. It is a question of which direction we are aiming for.
All this is just the platitude that the human animal lives by friendship and that human society perishes without it. But to aim at riches is to go away sorrowful because they are, in the end, corrosive of friendship. To aim at poverty, on the other hand, is to build friendship. And to aim at poverty, to grow up by living in friendship, is to imitate the life-giving poverty of God, to be godlike. The gospel does not tell us to have no possessions. It tells us to aim at poverty, to move towards it, and certainly not to aim at riches. We cannot serve both God and riches. There is something bizarre about the present popularity of the word ‘market’ as a metaphor for human society. Markets are surely a good and necessary part of living together, as are law courts and lavatories. But not of these are a useful model for what human society essentially is. Personal friendship is such a model. I am not saying that society should consist of nothing but personal friendships, for this is a greater friendship that belongs to our community in Christ. But personal friendship is an illuminating image or metaphor for a human living which would be an imitation or reflection of God’s creative poverty. The cares and insecurity of Mark’s rich man sent him away in sorrow. By contrast, to aim at poverty is to be given the joy by which we live in the Spirit – not only in this life but in eternity.
-Herbert McCabe in a sermon titled “Poverty and God,” collected in God, Christ and Us (2003). It might seem that McCabe is glorifying poverty but he dispels this earlier in the sermon. I’m interested in how he connects the aim toward poverty (in the pattern of Christ) with the priority of personal friendships for Christian people. I hope to preach a short series about friendship – a topic we Protestant people seem to neglect – and McCabe has been helpful a couple of times as I begin preparing.
Each month I drive south and west to meet with a few other pastors from my denomination. After some brief pleasantries we turn to the book we’re reading through together. On Wednesday we’ll begin talking about The Unnecessary Pastor by Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson. You already know of my abiding appreciation for Peterson- I’ve mentioned him and his many books on this blog too many times to count. Dawn is an author I’ve meant to get to ever since gradate school, when I had the chance to meet her at a conference. I’ve just read the introduction and the first chapter and it is, of course, excellent.
Last weekend we went camping with some friends at Starved Rock State Park (a beautiful spot if you’re in Chicagoland). On Sunday morning – Father’s Day – Maggie “made” me sit by the campfire while she made a delicious breakfast. I sat and finished Alister McGrath’s excellent biography about C.S. Lewis before picking up God, Christ and Us by the Catholic preacher, Herbert McCabe. As sometimes happens, I stumbled onto McCabe through a review in Books and Culture where he was quoted approvingly by Eugene McCarraher.
I continue to slowly make my way through Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve found F.J. Sheed’s translation to be lyrical and very readable. In conversation with Augustine on my actual nightstand is Studs Terkel’s And They All Sang. (I imagine Studs winking at Augustine as he says, “Lighten up!”) This may be my submission for the perfect bedside book. I can leave it alone for weeks and then dip back into one of Studs’enthralling interviews with some interesting musician or singer from a bygone era; last night it was Dizzy Gillespie reminiscing on jazz and the rhythms of latin music. Wonderful stuff.
Having anticipated it for a few months, I’m now reading James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom with three church friends. We’ve traded some emails as we read and will find time to discuss Smith’s perspective on worship, cultural anthropology, liturgy over dessert later this summer. Smith’s first book in this series, Desiring the Kingdom, was incredibly helpful to me and this one looks to be equally a gift to the church.
Finally, I just received in the mail Educating all God’s Children: What Christians Can – and Should – Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids. I’ll be reviewing this for Englewood Review of Books and am hopeful that it will add to my own education on a topic that is incredibly relevant to our neighborhood and church.
So that’s what’s on my night stand. How about you? Read anything lately that you’d recommend?