My friend Tobit is currently exploring in greater depths the values of the community we’re part of here in Exeter called ‘park life’. This is my offering to the discussion that’s emerging on the parkology facebook page.
There are two (if not many more) parts of park life – firstly, a charity that is seeking to bring together the community that lives around Heavitree Pleasure Ground; secondly an emerging small missional community based around a group of Jesus-followers trying to figure out what it looks like to be part of what God is up to in this part of the world.
It’s this latter part that we’re exploring here, based around a set of values that Tobit and I (along with the rest of the parkology pub chat group) wrote a while back that expresses what we think this might all be about.
We’re focusing on the following at the moment:
Living generously – we are all about generous living, not living beyond our means. It says that what is ours is yours, but don’t worry about feeling like you have to give back. Generosity is about trying to say yes more than we say no, about seeing the needs of those around of us and working out how we can act, with compassion to help meet those needs.
Tobit writes about the liberating power of giving up our desire to ‘own’, to instead seek ways in which we can unite our resources and thus radically transform our lives and the lives of those around us. We move from an attitude that says ‘mine’, to one which constantly communicates ‘ours’. In a sense, this is what connects us into God’s mission – which is in his world, his creation, and yet he invites us to participate in his work. We have a generous God – I hope we believe this – and therefore we must ourselves be generous.
So where does this hit the road? Does it mean thinking twice before we buy anything, thinking instead whether there is someone who is part of our community who has what we ‘need’ but no longer has any ‘need’ for it? Something like the hugely successful freecycle movement here in the UK? Instead of thinking that it’s our inalienable right to possess we move to a mindset that embraces Jesus’ teaching that there is no point of storing up wealth and possessions. They will always, always, fade away.
What this does, however, is free up our resources – so that instead of consuming we are able to share our income to make an impact in ludicrous acts of generosity to those around us. Of course, the key here is that we don’t it expecting anything back. We give, we love, because that’s who we are made to be.
If we do share our resources, that means a huge step forward in terms of trust and relationships. It means resisting the temptation to set up a grants committee that oversees donations, instead communicating that whoever is part of the community is deserving…and by community I mean literally anyone living around the Park. We give up the right to decide, to hold power. We embrace the powerless. Imagine what this communicates about who we are and what we believe in.
So – anyone who needs is given. Trust is established…and broken. Deserving actually doesn’t come into it. We are lavish because we know how lavish God’s love is. And I don’t apologise about this. This isn’t the pay off. This isn’t the evangelism bit. This is simply reality and ‘truth’. Whatever people take from this generosity is up to them.
But it’s not about generosity of resources, but generosity of time. Being open to being always open and available. I struggle with this. I like my little home and family time. I’m immensely protective of it. Giving it up really costs. But I know that sharing life means that.
So how do I open up my home, my time to the ‘whosoever’. Actually, I suppose that’s one of the reasons we moved here. We want our home to be a place where people gather – and not just our mates – anyone. We need to think about how this works, but I suppose it starts simple – knowing who we live near and being good neighbours.
Finally, this does mean being completely inclusive about everything – hence why the next value we’ll discuss is all about this:
Living inclusively – we aren’t particularly worried about what you believe, it’s about sharing life together. Living and learning how to celebrate difference of views and opinions is central to what we are. There’s no ‘membership’, just community. In fact, there’s loads of communities you can be part of…just join in and see what happens.
Living generously means living inclusively. There are no ‘them’ and ‘us’. No ‘in’ or ‘out’. No sacred, no secular. We don’t hold the answer – that’s something we’ll find as a community – which needs all kinds of voices to make it work. We don’t just give to those who agree with us, or we think we can trust. We give.
I love the idea that we get ‘evangelised’ by those we encounter through these lives of radical generosity and inclusivity. We learn more about who we are and what we believe by engagement, rather than from sitting in our church communities.
Generosity is costly and painful. But I think it’s what makes us who we are meant to be.