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.