Economy: Living by Fire

We must see the error of our effort to live by fire, by burning the world in order to live in it. There is no plainer symptom of our insanity than our avowed intention to maintain by fire an unlimited economic growth. Fire destroys what nourishes it and so in fact imposes severe limits on any growth associated with it… We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.

~Wendell Berry, Conservation and Local Economy, an essay.

What a great, if sobering, image: Living by fire. Destroying the very substance that nourishes us.

If self-serving consumption characterizes the world after Eden then as Christ followers (the community between the worlds) we should be living like the tree. This, in part is the answer to the question the Apostle Peter propounded: Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness….

Peter was observing the ultimate end of all things, but the question is still begging an answer, even today. What kind of people ought we be? The stuff of this world is vanishing. The stuff of heaven isn’t yet in full view. So, what does holy conduct and godliness look like here between the worlds as we release our grip on time and space and anticipate eternity?

I’ve been deeply disturbed over the sale of a beautiful Rose City home to be bulldozed to make room for three row houses, tall skinny dwellings meant to increase the density of population in the neighborhood.

Thoughts swirl: The drive for money while ignoring the impact on others in the community; contractors who see a neighborhood as food (living by fire); the lure of “cost and convenience” as motive for our culture.

And the church is not immune to these things. Yet to live consistently apart from the world that lives by fire, all the while anticipating the world to come, means to be deliberate about living organically like the tree of Berry’s observation.

Jesus’ teaching about anxiety speaks to this. It is a statement about spiritual economics:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

The currency between the worlds isn’t valued in terms of income, and the ability to buy food or clothing. I think Jesus was teaching that God has freed us from the bondage of earthly economy so we could think about more important things. We are to live by a different value system.

I want to learn to articulate that value system and, more importantly, to live it. Where is the community that lives beyond the social norms of 21st century America and tethers itself to the Kingdom? Such a community will need to be self-sufficient while not being self-indulgent. It will need to care for its members through all seasons of life—young, old, mid-years—and learn to be less concerned with accumulation and consumption than with relationships and providing the needs of the community. In short, the trans-culture of Christ followers is a corporate culture that values sustainability within itself while respecting the dominant culture that it is leaving behind.

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