The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

October 31, 2011

There Is Another Way to Live

By: 
Mark Scandrette

A number of years ago, I invited a group of friends into an audacious experiment in which each of us would sell or give away half of our possessions and donate the profits to global poverty relief. We were inspired by what Jesus taught about true security and abundance (“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Luke 12:33).  We called our experiment Have2Give1.

To our surprise over 30 people signed up to participate. We spent the next eight weeks systematically divesting of our stuff—each week collecting different items to sell, donate or recycle. While selling our cars, antiques and bicycles, we discovered that many of the items we thought were so precious and valuable were actually nearly worthless. Some of us wondered why we kept buying things we didn’t need or use, like sales-rack clothes with price tags still attached after years in the closet. One Saturday we held a garage sale and put out a sign saying all proceeds would go toward tsunami relief in Indonesia. We donated the rest to a local thrift store.

This flurry of activity led us to ask deeper questions about our heart posture towards money, possessions, and consumption.  We  investigated further what Jesus taught about God’s abundance and wrestled with how his teachings offer a subversive critique of many of our commonly held beliefs and practices. We made a public statement about what we were learning by printing a postcard with the following written on it:

A new way is possible

Sell your possessions and give to the poor

For where your treasure is there your heart will be also

Ask and you will receive

Seek and you will find

The secret of contentment

On the other side of the postcard was a photograph of a hand holding a coin. We glued three thousand nickels to those cards and on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, we handed them out to passersby at Union Square, a popular shopping district in San Francisco. In the midst of people scurrying to buy gifts and the homeless begging for change, we shouted, “Spare change, we’ve got some spare change. Please have some spare change!” Busy shoppers brushed past, some refusing while others asked why we were giving away money. “Because we think there is another way to live—open-handed, trusting, and generous,” we said.

Through Have2Give1, thousands of dollars were redistributed and we discovered more simplicity and the benefits of less physical clutter. We were surprised at the depth of connection we felt with a diverse group of people we barely knew when the experiment started. Rather than merely trafficking in ideas or rituals, we now had a common story to tell. For many of us, these experiments set a chain of events in motion that continue to shape the direction of our lives. Some of us quit jobs or relocated to impoverished communities. Others have gotten out of debt, reconciled with their families, overcome addictions, or discovered significant inner healing.

Often our first impulse in discipleship is to seek further knowledge through study. Yet there are many aspects of life in God’s kingdom that can only be understood through experience—by taking steps of tangible obedience. The teachings of Jesus about life in the kingdom are full of practical instructions: “Love your enemies.” “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “Forgive.” “Welcome children in my name.” What if instead of just talking about these instructions, we actually tried them out together?

The space needed for this kind of holistic discipleship looks more like a karate studio than a college lecture hall. I’ve come to describe this space as a Jesus Dojo—experimental contexts where we challenge and support each other to take new risks to practice the teachings of Jesus. This action and reflection approach is the way that apprentices to Jesus have been formed since Jesus called his first disciples. I believe this generation yearns for and is eager to embrace an active and embodied path for discipleship.

My new book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, is based on 10 years of successes and failures leading groups to experiment with the teachings of Jesus. I’m excited that telling about our learning has already sparked new projects and communities of practice in various cities across the U.S. and Europe. Over the next year I hope to visit as many InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapters across the country as I can, sharing stories and offering training to staff and student leaders. My hope is that students can be equipped with the tools necessary to experience the transformational potency of the gospel in ways that change their lives and our world.

In what ways are you and your community taking tangible steps to follow Jesus together? Leave a comment and your name below. At the end of the week, a randomly selected commenter will receive a FREE copy of Practicing the Way of Jesus. On Monday check back here for the winner!

Mark Scandrette is the author of Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love (IVP 2011) and Soul Graffiti (Jossey-Bass 2007) He is founding director of ReIMAGINE a center for spiritual formation located in San Francisco. Check out www.jesusdojo.com. To book a FREE campus visit from Mark, contact Kelley Erickson at Compassion international: KErickson@us.ci.org

Comments

Thanks for all of your work on this web page. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.
Totally challenged by this! We are leading a small group right now that is just starting to come to some of these conclusions that it is more about living out God's love to those around us than sitting around talking about it. We've just started trying to brainstorm ideas of how to live that out in our community including holding a "free sale" to sort through all our excess and hold a "free sale" to give it away to whoever may have needs in this area. Wheels are turning... Thanks for the inspiration!
Thanks Mark! I love your thought: "I believe this generation yearns for and is eager to embrace an active and embodied path for discipleship." You are so right. This generation is unique! We are searching for something more authentic than the greed-driven ideologies we were born into, and we're finding that in the love of God. I think God's heart for justice is one of the most relevant messages you can bring to seeking students today, because so many are already passionate about working for peace and human dignity, but just not realizing that their passions align with the heart of God! Right now my chapter's Large Group is doing a series based on this idea. We're engaging the campus with the idea that Jesus has provided the ultimate sacrifice for reconciliation and restoration and gives us a model for how to serve the poor in our local and global community. I'm excited to read your book, which seems like the perfect next step, and to pass it along to my non-Christians friends who care for the poor and strive for simplicity. - Kate McGuire
I am excited about the growing influence of Mark's life work among faith communities in the West. My own faith journey has led me from professional Christian to professing Disciple of Jesus. Where I used to plan events and prepare talks for groups, I am now practicing awareness of the Holy Spirit and endeavoring to live into his kingdom in the most mundane ways - through manual labor and helping with homework; through washing dishes and becoming a good neighbor. We hope to move into a house that can strategically infuse our community with the Way of Jesus through our prayerful hospitality and intentional participation in the lives of people around us.
Awesome! What a rewarding challenge! Taking Christ's words seriously and putting them into practice! You're absolutely right, there are wonders and mysteries that we can only learn by experience (:
Really looking forward to reading this and using it in discipleship! Thanks for sharing about it.
Great ideas. Perhaps we can catch up with the Roman Catholic clergy who have taken a vow of poverty.
Excellent! Thank you for sharing this! So timely.
What a great thought-provoking post. I am going to share this with my small group.

You've won the giveaway. I'll shoot you an email. Thanks to all who shared their thoughts.

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