The Beloved Community vs. the Beloved Economy
You know how synchronicities happen. It's not just the song you're listening to or the book you're reading, but what you're eating or who you're with or where you are when you do so.
So I was re-reading Adam Hamilton's Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity recently, "synchronicitously" with a mistake and a holiday.
The mistake had to do with some yearend giving back in December. We make it our practice to give away a minimum of a certain percent of our annual gross income each year, and so before December 31 we made sure to write several checks to some charitable organizations we care about, proportional to our estimated annual income. Last Friday, my wife realized she had overestimated my income by quite a bit, which meant we had given away "too much" money.
We had a big laugh about that. We both felt happy that our mistake erred in the direction of "excessive" generosity.
Then came the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
Over the weekend, I was reading Adam Hamilton's book, and I couldn't help but notice what he said about there being two versions of the American Dream. One, of course, was Dr. King's dream of beloved community, of racial equality, of justice and peace and character and solidarity. It was a dream about a quality of life.
The other was what we might call the Wall Street version, the dream of getting more and more stuff, faster and faster, with less and less effort—what we might call a style of life. Adam Hamilton quotes Alexis de Tocqueville's analysis of early American culture, one that fits today as well as it ever has:
[Americans] are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material possessions and are always discontented with the position that they occupy... They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it. For people in this frame of mind every new way of getting wealth more quickly, every machine which lessens work, every means of diminishing the cost of production, every invention which makes pleasures easier or greater, seems the most magnificent accomplishment of the human mind... One usually finds that the love of money is either the chief or a secondary motive at the bottom of everything Americans do. This gives a family likeness to all their passions and soon makes them wearisome to contemplate.
So, here we are as a nation, caught between two American Dreams: Beloved Community and Beloved Economy. Here we are, torn between two pursuits—a spiritual quality of life and a materialistic style of life.
If I hadn't "mistakenly" given away some extra money in December, and if it hadn't been Dr. King's birthday weekend, I don't think the irreconcilability of those two dreams would have hit me so strongly.
But it did. I keep thinking of Jesus' words about not being able to serve two masters, about the inevitability of hating one and loving the other. I keep thinking about how this election year, this year of ongoing economic "recovery," this year of ongoing economic stress and social unrest, will move us more toward loving community over economy or loving economy over community.
At the end of Adam Hamilton's practical, wise, and challenging book, he talks about how the Great Recession presents us, along with some real difficulties, some great opportunities as well, among them, the potential gift of rediscovering joy, simplicity, and generosity. He ends the book with the words of the old Shaker hymn:
When simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
Till by turning, turning, we come out right.
The tune has been ringing in my head all weekend, and I keep thinking that our little accounting "mistake" will play a part in helping me turn out right.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more on Adam Hamilton's new book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.