not as simple or clear

A couple recent experiences have got me thinking. I received a package from George Walter, a full-time pilgrim who I met years ago and walked with for a few days. It was his journal from this past summer's walk. And, not surprisingly, it brought back memories from my days on the road. Then I noticed an online discussion about working for a living vs. "gift economy," and it was being argued whether Jesus promoted the latter, and if it is possible in our day and age. I used to argue for that a lot, years ago.

I haven't been as obviously committed to these things as I used to be. Things have gotten more complicated and messy. It makes me begin to worry that I've forgotten the convictions that were so important to me, that I may be getting compromised and losing my focus in the many concerns of daily living.

We intentionally did not become official members here in order to remain poor, to not have ownership of the land and house we live in. But that is not nearly as clear and obvious as being homeless on the road. We have lived on gifts and donations, and even arranged it with the farm and bakery so we volunteer there, and they are free to give what they wish at the end of the season. But then that begins to get murky (as far as the IRS is concerned those are wages), and we can't have all the donations go into the church fund because if the church then gave us money directly (rather than paying retreat expenses) we would be considered church employees which becomes a big headache for everyone tax-wise. I think I am happy about how we eventually worked it out, except that it's not nearly as clear and obvious as having no income and no bank account. It's not a very big income (just a little over half the poverty level), but still.

And now I'm about to become church treasurer. How did I get mixed up in that? I guess because the guy who was doing it has wanted to be relieved of the job, and I thought I could do it well, and part of the bookkeeping is our finances. I know keeping the books is not the same as having the money myself. But it seemed to send a much clearer message when I wasn't involved with any of that.

It's just that the people here need help, and can I really stay completely away from these things just because I'd like to be very clear that my hope is not in money? But it makes it so messy. And I wonder if I'm getting sucked in, gradually, without realizing what's happening to me.

On the other hand, I recognize that these experiences and struggles are what most everyone has to deal with all the time in their complicated lives. They have to make decisions in complicated, messy situations. And I would like to think they can make radical decisions and follow Jesus closely even in complicated situations. It just won't be as simple and clear, perhaps, as it was in Jesus' life, or as in my life on the road.

I hope I'm not fooling myself. It seems that what it needed is to let loose a bit from strict rules on myself and let myself be guided through dangerous, messy situations. Following the person of Jesus, rather than the conviction or the rule. Hopefully the convictions have gotten deeply enough ingrained that I automatically notice the warning signs, and can stray a bit outside the rules to help others without going too far and losing my way in the process. Perhaps I can lean more on the person of Jesus to help me navigate these situations, when the rules or convictions are not flexible enough to be much help.

And, I pray, if I'm wrong, that I will be able to leave it all behind and step away again with nothing in my hands, a pilgrim on the road.