I spent last week hanging out with the directors of four "New Friar" fellowships - Servant Partners, Word Made Flesh, InnerCHANGE and Servants to Asia's Urban Poor. These guys are intense. They send scads of people to live in some of the most horrific slums of the world as bearers of news about a new kingdom. A kingdom where, as Jesus' mom put it, God has "brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
Their fellow sojourners live and work in the worst areas of cities like Calcutta, Caracas, Mexico City and Manila. They know first hand the bizarre reality of a world where millions are dying from obesity while billions slowly starve. Most of the guys I hung out with last week have done serious time in the developing world but now live in the west, helping to mobilize and care for hundreds serving among the urban poor. As a result, they live pretty frugal lives - embracing simplicity as an act of worship and solidarity with their brothers and sisters living in slum communities. But one thing is clear, they know how to party.
Chris Heuertz of Word Made Flesh hosted the gathering. He says they learned the value of extravagant hospitality and celebration from the poor, and during our off-hours and meal times it was evident - good wine flowed freely and meals were rich affairs during our three days together.
I remember one evening a couple years ago walking through a garbage collectors community in Cairo, Egypt. Down one street there was an amazing commotion - a wedding celebration. Speakers thumped music out at volumes they were not designed to handle, Christmas lights were strewn from one end of the street to the next, and people carrying great trays of food and drink walked up and down the street while hundreds of people sat around tables feasting. I decided to walk down the street to check it out and was immediately yanked into a table of guys who insisted I sit with them. They gorged me with food while cases of beer stacked up next to us. This feast had been going on all day and would go well into the night. I can't imagine the cost of such an outlandish celebration - thousands of dollars easily, even with people in the community chipping in with food preparation and serving - it likely amounted to the life savings for a family who make their living off of the garbage of others.
The poor are generous and extravagant - qualities you don't necessarily attribute to people who live on a couple of dollars a day.
I need to learn how to party like a poor man - inviting strangers to come into my celebrations, sparing no expense for the company of friends. While it did not "cost" Jesus anything to make about 100 gallons of wine for the wedding feast in Cana, it displays the kind of lavish celebration Jesus encourages. The Hebrew calendar and economy was built around feast days and celebrations.
I say we learn to live simply and party opulently.