Shane Claiborne and the folks at Relational Tithe put together this fancy schmancy book and DVD called Economy of Love. The transcript of the video clips are in the book with commentary, discussion questions and hipster artsiness galore.
The theology and purpose of the book/DVD are solid. The calling of the church is to be the Body of Christ for the world. We have too often just assumed we knew what it meant to be the Body of Christ and focused on teaching the world what that meant. The radical call to economic sharing and community life speaks prophetically to that assumption.
However, this has often been an invitation and a prophetic call without any real flesh to show us how to live it out. There are very few practical ideas in this book/DVD. As a novice in the practice of community life with a little over a year under my belt, I can say that the real lessons have come from trying to practice these ideas. The all too common flaw is that community is done without consulting those who have gone before us. My church is part of Shalom Mission Communities, which includes Reba Place Fellowship an intentional Christian community in the United States that is over 50 years old. Their websites are pretty terrible, probably because they have spent more time learning about how to live in community than creating a hip looking website. I’ve been lucky to avoid many of the mistakes of living in community because I can ask questions of people in our community who have been practicing it for decades.
At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, I think many of us have made an idol of the interwebs. At a recent School for Conversion, hosted by Hope Fellowship, someone commented that they wanted to be “rooted in community wherever they went.” Our hyper-mobile culture (which is really only for the privileged, let’s not forget those among us who cannot move freely or cross borders because they are poor or undocumented or both) allows us to entertain the illusion that community is possible regardless of place. The call to economic sharing is essential, but I’m skeptical just how helpful it is to try and practice this online. Too many of us are not good at practicing community in real life. Trying to do it online only fosters our neglect of the practice of community in the places we live.
The most recent episode of This American Life, Family Physics, talked about someone’s realization that the mediocrity principle applied to the way they thought about places. This principle states that nowhere in the universe is more special than any other, the laws of physics apply equally everywhere. People move places like New York City thinking it is somehow it is magical and romantic, but eventually reality settles in and the grass starts looking greener elsewhere. Until we recover a theology and sense of place, we will not be able to truly practice community.
So, the Economy of Love is a good place to start if you’re just beginning to think through issues related to how the church lives life together. If you’re looking for the wisdom of experience and practical advice I would recommend attending School for Conversion or visiting communities that have tried, failed and tried again.