27 August 2015
Greed and giving up everything for God
by Amaris Cole
Sin. It seems a bit old fashioned, doesn’t it? Miserable as. Living in. It’s not sexy. We prefer to fix rather than abstain. Photoshop for blemishes, books for self-help, the internet for quick cures. Let’s not examine the cause, it’s easier to just find a solution.
But the Bible is clear about it. And when it comes to sin in today’s society, our recent British values survey shows half of evangelicals believe greed is number one. In an age where it almost seems that sin is forgotten, greed is collecting dust with the best, or rather worst, of them. We might not like to admit it, but even we Christians can be guilty of this vice.
What a contrast then, to visit a community of Christians who live differently. I went to East Sussex to visit the Bruderhof – brothers and sisters living communally and practising radical discipleship in the spirit of the first church in Jerusalem. I went expecting to feel compelled to live a more simple life, but realised it’s the motivation behind this lifestyle that’s the inspiring thing.
“People just want things, but when they die, they can’t take anything with them,” Fiona said to me while we sat in the simple apartment that she shares with her husband. “For most people, it is about what I want, rather than what do I owe Jesus.”
“Jesus said a lot about material possessions. Maybe the Church should pay more attention to these commands.”
Fiona and David joined the community when their children were young. From their very first visit, which came about when they happened to drive past the site on a family holiday, their lives changed.
“We got home and realised everything we had was rubbish,” David said. “People often join here because they’re searching for something, but we weren’t really seeking anything. We weren’t unhappy with our lives, but we weren’t happy either. Many people’s lives are like that, and they just accept it as normal, like we did”
Each family on the site is given their own apartment. “We live here for now,” I’m told by her son, who lives a few flats down the corridor, “until we move somewhere else.”
Members take a vow when they join to go where they’re asked. With communities in America, Germany, Paraguay and Australia, families can expect to move every so often, going to share their specific skills with others – wherever in the world they’re needed.
Work is important here. “We see it as a form of worship,” I’m told while visiting the Community Playthings workshop. Each item the sophisticated factory produces is worked on until it’s perfect. Furniture, toys and nursery equipment leave the site with a 10-year warranty – I saw a 50-year-old toy truck in the showroom that could still take the weight of a grown man. This is good stuff.
Each of the men and women I pass were focussed on their task, clearly taking pride in their work, like any other craftsman. But there’s one major difference – there’s no money here. “Not even pocket money,” I’m assured. So what motivates them to work from 7.30am each day?
“Working together is how we show our love to each other and our love to Jesus,” they respond. “As a community we need to support ourselves, but no one here has to worry about putting bread on the table individually. There’s no mortgages, no bills, no debts. That stress is missing, meaning we can use our hearts and minds for more important things.” All roles – from cleaning to being the school principal – are held in equal importance, and despite preference and skills, members can be asked to do any task within the community.
Outside of this community people are seen as a commodity. We work until we can’t be of use anymore, and are then packed off to a home or left to get along by ourselves. But not here. Everyone works. Whether it’s in this workshop, the farm, the office, the kitchens or the school, everyone serves one another.
And when they can no longer serve, they’re “given better care than you’d find anywhere in the world”.
I met Ron, 87, working on the components that connect the nursery furniture together. Sat in his wheelchair at a workstation, he delighted in showing me the “game” he plays all day, rolling these joiners into the box once he’s finished making them. In any other business, I’m sure Ron would have been retired years ago, but here he does what he’s able.
I ask how Ron arrived here. After seeing a few minutes about the Bruderhof on the BBC in the 1950s, he knew he had to find out more. He later joined, and ended up running the furniture business here for many years.
Ron, Fiona and David aren’t the only people here who have given up everything to join the community. But it isn’t a sacrifice, they say, you gain a lot more than you lose. Even in community, you can be materialistic – wanting to not share the things you do have. But it’s an “attitude of the heart to make sure you share”.
The pursuit of ‘community’ has become fashionable lately – both in the Christian world, and the secular one. As we become increasingly self-sufficient and rely on technology more and human interaction less, the desire for a community to exist in has increased.
“The question for the Church is how serious it is about giving up everything to follow Jesus. If a group of believers give up everything to follow Christ, community will naturally come into being. If we try to manufacture a community, it will fall apart. Christ needs to be the centre.”
Around the site, there are many children. All bare-footed and bright-faced. With a school onsite and fields, woods and a stream within walking distance, it certainly does seem an idyllic childhood – if very different from the one experienced by their peers.
The children are brought up largely technology-free. There are no computers in the school, they don’t have phones and the majority of the games seem to either be outside or involving the wooden toys made in the workshop. The work ethic they’re taught is also clear. In fact, those children who do choose to leave when they hit 18 often go on to have successful careers
because of this.
The fact that many choose to stay, however, shows that the majority don’t feel they’ve missed out.
“The dangers of materialism is something we can teach our children very early on,” a mother told me. “People look around the community and they see the children don’t have television, computers or phones, but see that the children are happy. We are meeting more and more parents who say that: that all these things don’t make their children happy.”
“We are just 300 people who share together, following what Jesus taught: ‘Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’.”