by Father Thomas J. Fehr

 Four days!  In four days from writing this I will have taken up residence as a Common Friar on the Good Earth Farm.  This is the bountiful harvest resulting from my discernment with the community that I spoke of in the last issue of Altar and Table.  On October 25, 2010, I accepted their invitation to become a postulant with the order.

    Much has been made by some of my downsizing from a three bedroom house to a room in our farm house.  One day each week for the past few weeks, “Frankentruck,” the name given our multicolor Dodge Ram 4 x 4 diesel duly reclaimed from a junkyard, has left my driveway in Granville with a full load headed for the farm.  It reminded me of the opening from the hit TV comedy from years ago, “The Beverly Hillbillies!”  Four days from now will be the last.  And all the Common Friars say, “Amen. Thanks be to God!”

    Even though car loads of things have left for the homes of others, and I sold a lot of furniture, including an heirloom dining room set, it still seems as if I’m moving in too much stuff. 

    I don’t feel the poorer for making this change.  I feel as if I’m gaining so much.  How then can I be said to be embracing a path that we call gospel poverty?  That I am feeling this way is precisely a sign that I’m beginning to embrace this path because with God less is more.  With less, we depend less on our own resources, which can be here today and gone tomorrow, and begin depending more on God and each other.  Certainly in these difficult economic times, many have seen employment income and retirement savings shrink, if not disappear altogether.  Many have lost homes.  In times like these, “To whom shall we go?”

   Here on the farm we rely on God and benefactors when our finances and our budget seem to have little in common.  If one of us runs out of gas, we go to their rescue.  If ones of us runs short of funds for the month, another can help cover things.  We pool what we have and share what we have in common.   If we are traveling for a conference, we don’t automatically seek out a motel for the night, we seek out the hospitality of a brother or sister. 

    Let me be clear: God does not call us to live lives of austerity and misery.  Those who are poor because they are deprived by others of the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, safety and stability and must undergo extreme hardship to obtain what they do have are not living a life of gospel poverty.  Their poverty is the result of the greed and injustice of others.  Because some hoard, waste, and squander, others do without.  Those who embrace Jesus’ call to gospel poverty are a corrective to this situation. By freely living in ways that are in dramatic contrast to the lives of the rich, we speak truth to power and serve as a witness to God’s call to repentance and amendment of life.

    Living a life of gospel poverty is a life of sharing not hoarding.  It is a life of conserving rather than wasting.  It is a life of good stewardship rather than squandering resources.  Living a life of gospel poverty is a life lived in good relationship with our fellow human beings, with the earth and all created things and with God. 

     By being poor in the manner of the gospel, we build relationships with each other and with God because we no longer make the assumption that we can be totally self-sufficient.  Independence and self-sufficiency are myths.  We are social and interdependent beings by God’s design.  When we think we don’t need others, we can quickly come to believe that we don’t need God either.  I for one am thankful that I can’t make it by my efforts alone.  What a grace it is to turn to God in every need, small or large!  What a blessing it is when we allow others to help us and when we help them!

    By being poor in the manner of the gospel, we become the beloved community God calls us to be.  The needs of others become as important as our own needs.  We begin to resource the needs of others before our own selfish desires of pleasure and excess.  We create a more egalitarian society where the divide between rich and poor narrows.

   Can forgoing air conditioning in the summer and drying clothes the old fashioned way (no, not with an old inefficient dryer, but actually hanging them out to dry) actually make a difference?  Those are relatively easy for me, but what about my expensive smart phone and the plan that goes with it?  Am I merely rationalizing the need, or are there real benefits to having such a communication tool?  The verdict is still out, but for now I’m keeping the phone!  We will all make different decisions about particular things.  In the end, what is important is the net result. 

    At the Good Earth Farm, we believe this beloved community must also reverence the earth and all its inhabitants.  We dream of ditching the tractor and having a team of draught horses.  We use recycled materials in our construction projects when possible.  We farm organically and our farming avoids machinery when possible and so is labor intensive.  In forgoing machines that can do much of the work for us, we reclaim the value of our own work as it reconnects us to each other, the food we grow and with the God we serve.  We try to work in harmony with nature rather than against it.  There is a poverty of spirit when we acknowledge that life on earth is not all about us and that we live interdependently with all living things and with the earth itself.

    This sense of poverty has not so much to do with how much one makes as it does with what one does with what one has.  In order to live a life of gospel poverty, one must be poor in spirit.  This life of gospel poverty leads us ultimately to the bounty of everlasting life.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:3 NRS)

    God, the One who with delight created all things saying, “It is good,” is the One who teaches us how to live this life of gospel poverty.  God’s love and abundance have been flowing into creation since the first command that started it all, “Let there be light: and there was light. (Gen 1:1 KJV)  God pours out from all that God is for us and the creation.  The One and Triune God who loves and shares by nature does not hoard, waste or squander, but rather freely gives to us the love that is our very life.  When we live a life of gospel poverty, we freely give in order that others may have life.

    And that we might always know that God pours out Godself for us, God sent the Son our Savior Jesus Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.  (Phi 2:1 NRS)  Here is the mark of true gospel poverty; one freely giving up one’s life not for its own sake, but for the sake of something greater.  Jesus freely gave up his life so that we might know forgiveness of our sins, abundant life on earth and eternal life in the Kingdom.

    Living lives of gospel poverty serves as a sign of Christ’s own life of poverty that reconciled us to God and all people.  In living this life of gospel poverty we experience joy and extend hospitality.  In living this life of gospel poverty, we are the richest people in the world!

 Fr. Thomas J. Fehr  joined the Common Friars as a postulant on October 25, 2010. As of February 1, he lives on the farm and commutes to Granville, where he continues to serve at St. Luke’s through June as Assistant to the Rector.

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