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Art of Neighborliness

written by Bryan Gower

Advent

Advent

The season of Advent is upon us once again. For those from the Christian tradition, this is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah – a deliverer, who would fulfill the long awaited promise to make all things new. We celebrate the coming of Christ in our retelling of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace who brings good news for all people of the world that the Kingdom of God is with us. For the Christian, practicing steadfast love, justice and righteousness as Christ did, gives life.

As I think about this season of Advent, in what strikes me as a particularly troubled year marked by a growing economic isolation, increased reports of violence and political divisiveness, I wonder, ‘where are the signs that the Kingdom of God is with us?’ As a suburb dweller, it would be easy to allow the season to be nothing more than a tightrope walk between an obligatory religious observance and an opportunity to acquire more stuff because building community is time consuming. I am busy with My family, My work, My entertainment , My life – distractions from the problems in the world I cannot control. We risk becoming the Rich Young Rulers of our age, becoming ever more lonely and dissatisfied the more unwilling we are to care for our neighbor – the oppressed, the poor and the marginalized.

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There Is Enough

ccchairsConsider the miraculous feeding of the thousands we find in the Christian Scriptures.  The conversation goes something like this.  The disciples are concerned that the people are hungry and approach Jesus.  Jesus’s response is brilliant: “Well, give them something to eat!”  The disciples are still thinking with the mind of the market economy and cannot possibly conceive of how to hit up the local Walmart and feed all these people… “That would take eight month’s wages!”  How in the world could they possibly afford to feed these people?  Jesus’s response (again, characteristically brilliant)… he asks them: “What do you have?”  All they have is a meager offering of a little kids sack lunch – some fish and chips.  But he is willing to give everything he has.  So Jesus takes it  and adds a little Godstuff.

And he proceeds to take the meager offerings of a little kid’s lunch to feed the entire crowd of thousands… and, when it’s all said and done, there are  leftovers. The unmistakable lesson is that God will take whatever we have if we offer it with open hands and a willing heart – and God will use it to work miracles, feed thousands, change the world.

We are the ones God is waiting on. When we throw our hands up at God and inquire “why do you allow this injustice!?”… we have to be ready for God to toss the same question back to us. We have a God that chooses to need us. We have a God who doesn’t want to change the world without us.

Walls and Gates

ccwallWe think that in building a wall or gate around our home or country to lock others out we are protecting ourselves from others, but too often we find that we are locking ourselves into a world of fear and loneliness.  The exclusive resort or gated neighborhood become the most dangerous places to live because we are separated from the suffering of others and from the God of compassion.  But the promise of Scripture is that the “gates will not prevail” as Jesus tells Peter.  We hold the keys to open them up and open our lives and dinner tables to those who are just outside our gates longing for food and love.

Real Story on Receiving a Gift from Common Change

flowerccThis year, our family has experienced deep disruption as we’ve had to move out of our home and part with most of our possessions due to mold. It is only through the grace of friends and family who have come alongside us that we’ve been able to make a new start. So much of the loss and grief has been balanced by the love we’ve felt from those who have cared for us, and I’m grateful that my children have been able to experience this firsthand.

One of the unique blessings of this has been the way people we don’t even know have come alongside us. We received a gift through Common Change simply because someone advocated for our need, and others chose to share in that. The generosity of total strangers stirs a depth of gratitude and joy unlike anything else we’ve experienced.

An Open Letter To President-Elect Donald Trump

Greetings President-Elect Donald Trump

My desire in writing this note seeks to communicate 3 things: 1) introduce our work at Common Change, 2) share a commitment that people within Common Change have made, and 3) encourage the continuation of meaningful and generative dialogue at a time when much of the world seems to be talking over one another.

Over 12 years ago I had the distinct honor and privilege to be part of a small group of people who believed (and continue to) that we could mend brokenness, repair relationships, rebuild our communities, find ways to be more fully human with one another, and quite audaciously change the world.

It started with a simple covenant that a handful of us made – that I, my family, and many others are committed to until this day: Read more

Why I Volunteer With Common Change

fullsizerenderwritten by Wilmina Taghap

I  recently read this idea of being a “faithful companion and diligent servant,” prompting me to take inventory of my present life. How am I a faithful companion in this life journey? Am I a diligent servant? And as other questions brew in my heart and mind, Common Change keeps coming up as one of the answers.

Reconnecting with Common Change as a volunteer is probably the reason why that is in the forefront of my mind.  You see, I initially volunteered with Common Change a little over three years ago right after I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Eastern Caribbean. I did meaningful work from connecting with those that were ‘cared for’ and those who were ‘caring for their neighbors.’ I was even given the official title of ‘Generosity Liaison,” sounds so fancy to me (:

Now that I am back living in the Eastern Caribbean and settled in, I longed to do more meaningful work and Common Change gave me that avenue.  I am now helping groups take new steps; from starting up to getting into rhythms of collaborative giving.

I am super excited to see the stories that will unfold as I walk with Common Change groups, while striving to be a faithful companion and diligent servant.

This Changes The Collective Us

Somewhere in your (and in my) corner of the world, someone might need help.  The need maybe visible or invisible, but is nonetheless real.  Because of you – because you are the ears, the heart, the wallet, truly the best part of Common Change, help is available.

This changes the collective us. It restores hope in humanity.

The Genesis of Common Change

There was a delay at the airport (a familiar thing at Philly International).  A friend and I were in the clunky old van circling the terminals, pulling off here and there until we were moved on by the airport police (incidentally, not the best welcome committee for folks coming to visit the “City of Brotherly Love”).  I can’t remember who we were picking up or if they ever even made it, but what I can remember is the conversation that sparked as we drove in circles.  We started dreaming and scheming – “plotting goodness” as we like to say.  We began talking about all the good that could be done if the “Church” were a little more organized and deliberate with our finances… dangerous words for types like ourselves, with a health suspicion of structure.  But we talked about how there is order in creation that goes all the way back to the beginning of time – Sabbath, gleaning laws, tithing, Jubilee… all of these were a part of the divine order of things, and were set in place by God to hold the world together.  With a question, a conversation, and an imagination this was the genesis of Common Change.

May we never stop asking the questions, engaging in the conversations, and imagining a better neighborhood and world as this is the fuel that drives our collective work.

Integrating your spirituality with your economics

churchWritten by Dustin Hite, reflecting on collaborative giving from his vantage point of being a pastor of a large congregation in Indiana.

If you want real evidence that we read scripture with thoroughly Western eyes, then you should examine one small word, “you.”  Throughout the New Testament, many of us come across this one little word and we read it as a personal address, a note meant just for us.  However, ask any Greek professor and they will tell you what so many of us often overlook–in the original Greek, the word that is translated as “you” is usually plural.  When we read it in any other way than this, we impoverish its meaning, for scripture, if it is nothing else, is the story of community formation, of the gathering of people around a common belief, cause, Savior.

This struggle to read with our eyes clearly affixed to community is no clearer than when we look to the economic issues and struggles of those around us.  In challenging us that “whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11), the gospel writer betrays a common truth–to share out of our abundance presumes a relationship.  This challenge emerges from a worldview that understood the bond of community is more important than individual flourishing.  In this context, to have one among you who was in need served as an indictment on the entire community and threatened is social/relational stability.  Giving was not just a means to address economic deficit, but, more importantly, relational deficits.

There exists, today, a very big challenge when it comes to relational redistribution.  That challenge is our ever-present belief that there are much better uses of our resources than giving them to our neighbor.  Yet, if we give in to this line of thinking, then we give short shrift to how our giving can be a means for relationship–in fact, it might be the paramount reason to give.  However, we fail to see this so often because we’re locked up in our thinking, held captive by our Westernized (READ:  capitalistic) thinking that can only see poverty, lack of resources, and struggles as problems to be solved rather than avenues for connection.

It seems odd to state it like this, but after thirteen plus years in ministry, I have come to believe that economics is deeply spiritual.  Whether it is the strain on the collective life of a family struggling under the weight of consumer debt or the single mom fighting to keep a roof over her kids’ heads, economics are both a physical and a spiritual concern.  And yet, it is also a relational issue, as it rises and falls, in many cases, in direct correlation to the depth and breadth of relationships.  Too often, though, our “solutions” to the financial challenges of those among us is all too economic.

Having spent many years considering alternatives, I think there is no other option than one that begins and ends in relationships.  In the Church, we have tried to address these struggles–both for those within our communities and those without–as if the only issue was a dearth of currency.  Then, we wonder why nothing ever changes…

My hope and prayer–as a pastor, a Christian, a human being–is that both individual Christians and their communities of faith will not be held hostage to the kind of thinking that perverts the biblical message.  But, that we will believe, with all our heart, that the opportunity to give what we have decided in our hearts to give (2 Corinthians 9:7) is not just a call to economic redistribution, but relational reconnection too.