Roman and Anglo Catholic churches generally use what is called a lectionary to program readings for mass each Sunday. The lectionary sets the readings for the liturgical year, including the Gospel, a selection from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. This last Sunday we landed on Mark 10:17-31, the “eye of the needle” Gospel.
And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
There are a lot of different ways to go with this Gospel for a preacher ranging from smiling and moving on to hectoring the gathered assembly about their obvious wealth.
The Reverend Stephen Crippen of Saint Mark’s Cathedral struck a resonant note with me in his sermon on Sunday that I think links back my Where Would Jesus Live post. He spoke about the passage’s implications for us today and chose an example from urban life, a family living in the city. They have four reasons for choosing to live small:
Here’s a story of another friend of mine who I think is alive to this calling, responsive to the kind of ‘kenosis’ or self-emptying that Jesus was talking about. She has not forsaken her whole life to follow Jesus: no, like you and me, and unlike Mark’s community, that is not our way to follow the Way of the Cross. But she has listened, she has discerned, she has shifted her own assumptions and expectations to live in a radically new way.
Here’s how: she, her husband, their two children, and their cat live comfortably and happily in a 730-square-foot condo. They deliberately chose to live in a very small—very small—home.
With me so far? It’s not so radical, this choice: to live with less, to downsize, to cleverly and creatively maximize the functions and design of each room. They built a Murphy bed, and a little loft/bathroom room called The Cave. They worked on sleep-training with their daughters and conditioned them surprisingly early to share a room. They experimented with storage—and became Ikea’s best customers—to create a tiny home that expanded more and more on the inside, offering multiple corners and surfaces for work, play, and rest. Why did they do this? And what does it have to do with following Jesus?
Here are my friend’s four reasons: First, the family must minimize “unused stuff.” They freed themselves of most of the “stuff” we all accumulate in our basements and storage rooms, because, well, they have no basements or storage rooms. Second, my friend says it this way: “It is good for family to share.” No one in the family can claim any room solely as their own, and with the possible exception of the cat, this works well for them, and teaches their daughters an ethic of sharing. Third, she writes, “Immediate family aren’t the only people we live with.” My friends have consciously cultivated an extended family of friends and neighbors, and some days—particularly in the summer, when there’s good cookout weather—practically the whole condo building is a larger home for this young family. Finally, for my friend, “Where we live matters.” Staying in this little condo means they can stay in the neighborhood they love, the best neighborhood for their kids, their routines, their intentional lives of work and study and recreation.
Like my friend the lawyer, who turned from her life to work for a righteous cause, my friends in their small condo consciously turned from a life of abundant living space not only out of necessity, but also to live more fully an ethic of sharing and community that reminds them who they are, and who they follow. It is part of their Rule of Life. They make their life smaller, so that God can expand it ever larger with grace.
I have many possessions. So do you. Together we are about to share in the Body of Christ. We are about to become what we receive. I love you! Now, I ask you, from what, in your life, are you being called to turn?
The family mentioned in the sermon have chosen a life that isn’t just better for the planet, or that is some kind of moral beacon; it also works better for them and meets their needs.
Jesus might have lived in an apodment but he would probably be considered homeless. I don’t think everything has to pass a “what-would-Jesus-do” litmus test, but as I pointed out in my earlier post, we can’t deny the moral implications of where we choose to live. Will everyone who lives in a single-family home in the burbs or Maple Valley roast in hell? Of course not!
But this family’s choice reflects the possibilities of making different choices for important reasons. Values are as important as charts and graphs in the density debate. The Don’t Fence Me In ethic of the last 60 years has to give way to something different. As I pointed out in the Urbanist Creed, those of us who support density need to rely on more than just the fact that density is better for the planet, it’s better for people too.