What if you could change the trajectory of someone’s life by giving them a huge financial gift, and it would cost you nothing?
What if you could plant a seed of economic justice and generosity right where you live, not waiting for national policy to make it happen?
What if you had the power to enrich your entire community just by sharing what you have, one person at a time?
I know what I’m talking about because it happened to me. Back in the ‘80s when we were young adults, a farmer couple invited my partner and me to live on their farm and pay no money. We lived there for 4 1/2 years, helping out around the farm, learning about gardening and land tending, and also working at jobs in town to earn money. When it was over we had enough cash to buy land ourselves, and we have been financially stable ever since.
Today, 30 years later, everything’s different. Land prices are 10 times higher and housing costs are way up there too. College tuition back then was $5000. Today the same college can cost what?—$50,000 each year? Plus books? Our inspired, clear-minded, capable young adults are crippled by this craziness. To buy our little patch of land with cash now would require fifty years of free rent.
We need economic justice on every continent, in every city large and small, every town, every rural landscape. We need it because it’s fair and right, we need it in order to save the earth, and we need it in order to unlock the gifts in each person to serve the world in the way they are called.
People hold life together in countless and largely invisible ways through everyday acts of generosity: helping family and friends, volunteering through organizations, donating to causes near and far, devoting their lives to meaningful work. This flow of giving is ancient and unstoppable, compelled by our human hearts that understand how we rise or fall together, how we are truly one family. In spite of the market economy that tries to sell everything, we still understand that most of what matters cannot and must not be counted, weighed, or sold.
Let’s wonder together, now in this time when the US seems to be going more berserk than we thought possible, how to unlock and ramp up our natural generosity. How might we uncover and unravel beliefs that were planted in us by capitalism, how might we practice resistance to the market economy, find ways to widen even more the circle of giving?
Here’s one idea I’ll put in the pot.
A lot of us empty-nesters have unoccupied rooms in our houses. What if we shared them with young adults, not charging rent but rather rejoicing in the chance to provide financial relief for someone who might be carrying debt which prevents them from serving their community because they have to work all the time? What if we collectively carried a key to unlock their potential to serve our communities?
There are details to work out, of course, and like anything it’ll be an ongoing experiment involving planning, learning, and adjusting. We can set up agreements: how long is the stay, what are the house ways, how will we work through difficulties, how can our guest be helpful. Tricky things can come up, and it’s easy to see why we would rather just not deal with them. But imagine that you had children who were young adults and could flourish in their calling if only they had this kind of help for a year or two. Imagine the proud feeling of a town that knew itself as a place that cared for its young adults in this way. Why wouldn’t we give such a gift to the young people, to our selves?
And is it even really a gift, when the abundance that many of us have was gained unfairly through colonization, privilege, and inheritance?
Aren’t we aspiring to learn better how to live together in peace? What better practice ground for this than in our own homes? We could create an association among people who were practicing this way of community building, so that we could support each other in learning how sustain it. What an accessible and powerful way this would be to help build local connection and world peace.
Imagine our communities teeming with the vibrant energy of young adults who know that they are seen, valued, and supported. Imagine how we could live in gratitude for each others’ presence, the different generations teaching each other about what they know, providing pathways that otherwise might take years to find. Imagine if you as a young adult had had a seasoned community member to watch as they walked the invisible pathways through the cultural ways of that place.
Not everyone is in the position to offer this. It’s just one idea, and there are plenty of reasons this is not possible for some people right now or perhaps ever. But if our reason is something akin to thinking our house isn’t good enough, or that we’re too busy, or that we don’t have that many community connections, or that we’re not wise enough to be a mentor…well, I think then that we should take another look.
What if you don’t get along, or what if this young person just wants to stay forever? They won’t. They have their journeys to take, their life to live. But also, you will set it up in advance a designated number of months or years, to be reconsidered based on how things are going. It’s your home.
To those who own a bit of land: have you noticed all of the young people these days who are called to garden and to farm? They are ready to answer a desperate need of our society: that every community have access to fresh, nutritious food and that people remember how to grow food and tend animals—for we must have food to live. Not so long ago in human history, access to land truly was a birthright of each and every human. Therefore, friends, if someone wants to grow food and we own land that’s available, can we consider not charging rent, but rather offering that space as a gift in gratitude for the farmer’s contribution to a healthy community? Maybe over time we can contribute to the re-creation of a commons where there is access for all. On the way to that goal, at least we can make a patch of land available for the common good, one person, one cabbage at a time.
Do you remember as a child the moment when you learned that people have to PAY for food and shelter? Did you ever think that people should just get to have those things, because of being alive, rather than earning them? Here’s one way in which can live as though that were true, and in so doing, make it true.
I can only hope that, when my partner and I moved from the farm where we lived rent-free to the land we bought using the money we’d saved, we gave wholehearted and abundant thanks to the farmer-couple who had allowed us to live there and taught us things about life. Today I am deeply moved, considering their gift and longing to pay it forward a hundred-fold. Let’s do it, friends. We won’t learn how from the society that has tried to monetize everything and in so doing has destroyed so much of what’s truly valuable. We’ll to have to figure it out on our own.
There are countless ways to serve the world. Some leave their homes and travel to faraway lands to serve our needy planet, and I honor their work. Me, I only know how to serve right here where I live, playing the small parts of this place, knowing that I’m on of the global team that’s holding it all together. Here’s one way. I’ll open my door, dissolve the wall of mine-yours, keep looking for ways to practice radical generosity right here where I live. Join me if you can.
Thank you for whatever it is that you are doing to hold us together, wherever you are.