Welcome to the Happy Are You Poor blog and podcast! We will be discussing a wide range of topics related to living a radically Christian life in the modern world, with an emphasis on voluntary poverty and informal but intentional community building. For full transcripts, related blog posts, and discussion, visit our website, happyareyoupoor.com
We welcome comments from readers and listeners, and will do our best to respond to all comments. We also welcome guest blog posts on related topics, and are looking for podcast guests, in particular those who are involved in building local community. For a more detailed explanation of our principles and purpose, see the “Principles of Community” page on our website.
Our name comes from the book Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Dubay; for more on this book, see the summary on our site.
Live Simply So That Others Might Simply Live: an interview with Peter van Kampen
In this episode, Malcolm interviews Peter van Kampen, the author of Live Simply: So That Others Might Simply Live. They discuss the Gospel’s teaching on material wealth and why Christians shouldn’t live lives of luxury while others are starving. You can purchase his book here. Peter’s Story Peter is a cradle Catholic. In college, he become really struck with the Church’s teaching on the universal call to holiness. We are all called to be saints, and Peter wanted to put this calling into practice in his life. Of course, there are many components to striving for holiness; but Peter found that the definition “make love your aim” really sums up what holiness is all about. As he tried to apply this motto to his life, he began to wonder about the way he spent his money. He was tithing his income, since that seemed to be a basic Christian principle; but after that, he felt free to spend his surplus money as he saw fit. At the same time, he knew that there were charitable organizations that could feed and cloth a child in Africa for a little over a dollar a day. And as Christians, we are called to love others as we love ourselves. With this in mind, his spending started to seem selfish and inconsistent with his goal of making love his aim. He would find himself spending 15 dollars on an unnecessary restaurant meal or movie, or two dollars on a Coke—and then think about how he’d just wasted the money that could have provided for the basic needs of somebody else. He eventually confided these concerns to his future wife, Catherine. She challenged him to stop just worrying about it and do something practical. So he decided to implement what he calls his “luxury budget”. He would continue to tithe and would pay for all his basic necessities. Beyond that, he would allow himself only $100 dollars a month for any unnecessary purchases, and the rest of his surplus money would go to charity. This allowed him to give away more money, and he found that he actually enjoyed living a more simple lifestyle. But it also forced him to ask even more questions. Suddenly, every purchase had to be classified as a necessity or as a luxury—and if it was a luxury, it was going to eat away at that luxury budget. On a mission trip to Kenya, he encountered real poverty for the first time. This encounter increased his determination to live within the luxury budget he had set—and in fact, he eventually reduced the monthly amount. Church Teaching Initially, Peter had thought that this attempt to live simply was just a part of his personal spirituality. Eventually, however, while he and Catherine were preparing for a conference, they discovered that the Church actually teaches that wealth is spiritually dangerous and that our surplus money belongs to the poor as a matter of justice. Once he realized this, he felt free to teach it to others. And he became struck by two things. He found this teaching on simplicity of life everywhere he looked; in official Church documents, in the New Testament, in the writings of the saints and the Fathers of the Church. At the same time, Catholics in the “developed world” simply weren’t talking about this teaching. Most of them had never heard of it, and even explicitly denied that the Church taught anything of the sort. This surprising disconnect is what led Peter to write his book, Live Simply: So That Others Might Simply Live. During the podcast episode, Peter quoted the following section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2445 Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fi
Giving Christians Permission to Live Radically; An Interview with Leia Smith
In this episode, Malcolm interviews Leia Smith from the Orange County Catholic Worker. They discuss the Catholic Worker way of life, the attractiveness of an authentic Christian life, the dangers of institutionalism, the importance of admitting one’s own weaknesses and limitations, and the need for a “Catholic Worker Third Order”. At the beginning of this podcast, I asked for donations for the Simone Weil House. To donate or learn more about them, visit their website. Leia’s story Leia wasn’t a practicing Catholic when she first encountered the Catholic Worker. When she was 5, her parents left the Catholic Church and started attending a Methodist Church instead. In 1993, however, she experienced a spiritual crisis, and stopped by the local Catholic church because it was the only church open that evening. Shortly thereafter, she found a newsletter from the Orange County Catholic Worker; the paper advertised a regularly scheduled liturgy and potluck. She didn’t know what to expect, but showed up anyway. She was challenged and attracted by what she found; a communal way of life that only made sense in light of the Gospel. As Leia put it, this way of life had integrity; it was real. This introduction to Catholic practice gave her an unusual perspective on the Faith, leading her to see the sacramental and theological life of the Church from the perspective of radical hospitality and the communal sharing of life that she experienced at the Catholic Worker. After a few years of participating in the life of the CW house as a volunteer, she and her husband Dwight were given the chance to take over the management of the house. They accepted, even though, as Leia put it, they had no idea what they were doing! They learned on the fly and have been running the house ever since. Depending on God The Catholic Worker lifestyle forces people to give up the pursuit of worldly security, which makes room for God to act. This can even be experienced in the small things of life. Leia described her chaotic attempt to cook her first community meal. At the last moment, she realized that she didn’t have any bread to serve—and just at that moment, a man showed up at the door with a bunch of bread to donate. Part of this dependence on God is a realization that we have limits, that we don’t always know what to do, that we don’t always have what it takes and need help. And it is in those moments that God’s grace is poured out on us. The Dangers of Imitation One way to avoid this dependence on God is the attempt to imitate others. For instance, a Catholic Worker might try to imitate Dorothy Day. But each of us is called to be ourselves, with our own particularities; imitating others makes us artificial and keeps us from being truly authentic. Institutionalism A key temptation of the modern world is seeking security by becoming an institution. We are obsessed with metrics and structures; many people feel that their attempts are worthless unless they are working on a grand scale. We want to have a “success story” that will justify our efforts. Ultimately, however, this is just another way of avoiding dependence on God. He does not need us to solve all the world’s problems; rather, he simply calls us to follow him and act lovingly in each individual situation. The Catholic Worker Third Order Leia talked about how the works of mercy can end up becoming “institutionalized” by being confined to those who are able to run a Catholic Worker House. For most Catholics, that’s not an option. In particular, it is not possible for those who have family obligations or who are disabled. But we are all called to live lives characterized by mercy, charity, voluntary poverty, and trust in God. Also, there is a danger that Catholic Workers will come to see themselves as the only “real” Christians and look down on those who aren’t living at a CW house. To solve thi
The Story of Moriah Pie
In this episode, Malcolm and Peter interview Robert and Erin Lockridge. They are self-described “parish farmers” and the founders of Moriah Pie, a pay-as-you-can restaurant in Norwood, OH. (During the episode, they mentioned The Moriah Pie Cookbook; you can find it here.) Parish Farming As parish farmers, Robert and Erin maintain a network of vegetable gardens in Norwood. They grow food to share with their neighbors and consider their work to be a form of prayer. While they are both Orthodox Christians, their work is not a formal church ministry as such. Rather, it is a personal way of inviting others into a Christ-like attitude. Practical Gnosticism Too often, we tend to confine our religion to what happens in church, or to a personal relationship with God; the rest of life gets left out. In this way, we can become “Gnostic” without realizing it. Gnosticism was an early heresy that denied the goodness of the physical world. Instead, Gnostics focused on an intellectual pursuit of truth and on attaining a purely spiritual salvation through acquiring secret knowledge. Robert experienced this disconnect while he was studying theology in Vancouver. He had done a lot of gardening while growing up. As his Faith life deepened, however, he begin to feel that the physical world and material concerns were irrelevant to the important mission of saving souls. Yet his theological studies didn’t seem relevant to the lives of people in his rough neighborhood. He felt that he needed a way to integrate all the sorrow that he felt and that he needed a way to pray with his body. In this spirit, he began gardening again. He found the process of tending the soil, planting seeds, and receiving the gifts of God through the bounty of nature to be deeply healing and nourishing. He also found that his gardens allowed him to exercise a pastoral ministry that didn’t require being stuck in an office. He was able to work outside, tending the land, and receiving gifts from God through the people that he met. The Incarnation In part through reflecting on this experience, Robert came to realize how limited his earlier perspective had been. As he studied theology, he came to realize that every aspect of the Faith is based on the Incarnation of Christ. In Jesus Christ, God came in the flesh. By doing so, he consecrated the material world. As man, God became fully dependent on this created world to reveal who he is, and to reveal what it is to be fully human and made in the image of God. We’re called to love God with everything we have, and that includes the body. God’s Gardeners In one sense, the world was created for us. But in another sense, we were created for the world. God placed us here to tend and care for it so that it might flourish. We were made in the image and likeness of God, and so we are supposed to initiate his act of creation. This is raised to a new level in Christ. At the very heart of the Gospel is the giving of life so that life might exist and flourish. As those made in the image of God, we get to participate in this self-giving love. In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we see the true image of God that we are called to imitate. The way of the world is that either life is taken so that life might exist, or life is given so that life might exist. The temptation is to take life to protect our own. But as Christians, we are learning to be free of the fear of death so that we can imitate Christ in laying down our lives for the life of the world. We’re called to serve, rather than to strive for domination. Sacramentality Peter noted that we experience the undying eternal reality through the physical reality. This is the meaning of the sacraments, and in one sense all of the created world is sacramental. In this way, tending the earth is a good metaphor for the cultivation of our souls. And this interior cultivation becomes a reality through our interaction with the physical reality. We can’t cultivate ou
Let Us Dream Episode 5
In this episode, Malcolm and Peter start discussing the second chapter of Let Us Dream, by Pope Francis. This is the fifth part of a series of episodes. The first episode is here, the second episode is here, the third here, and the fourth here. The following are some of the points we discussed. Individual Discernment and the Community In the first chapter, Pope Francis talked about the importance of seeing clearly so that we are aware of the reality of the world around us. In the second chapter, he talks about the importance of discernment. We need reflection, silent prayer, and study to discern; but we also need a community. How are individual discernment and the private conscience of the individual related to the communal teaching of the Church? It might seem like these things are opposed. In reality, however, the guidance of the community is there to keep individual discernment from going off the rails. It provides accountability and helps us to see beyond ourselves. We also need authority to keep private interpretations from producing division. This is why the Church has the final say on any private revelation. Growth as a human person always includes a history, a tradition that we’ve inherited, and feedback from others. Even Jesus himself built on the Jewish tradition that he inherited as a man. As Catholics, we have the community of the saints and the rich tradition of Catholic thought and practice. None of us can claim to have formed our own ideas of religion and morality for ourselves; we’ve all been shaped by others. Learning in community is much more than just coming to understand concepts. Concepts are presented to us by fellow members of our community, but they are not learned primarily through intellectual thought. We learn by doing, being part of a community that has certain kinds of practice, through the witness of others. As St. Paul said, imitate me, as I imitate Christ. The tradition grows like a tree in the living tradition of the community. If concepts become isolated from their lived surroundings, they can become idolized. When that happens, we are left with these dead concepts and no way to grow. Unless concepts are enfleshed, they are of no use. Values and Unity Pope Francis says that all values are non-negotiable. Division occurs when values that should be together end up separated. A good example of this is the Protestant/Catholic split, in which one side represents the importance of the personal and the other side represents the importance of the institutional. That’s why we can learn from those on both sides of these historic splits; we can learn from what they do well, and learn to correct what we might do poorly. Currently, the Church is undergoing a split between progressives and reactionaries. Those in both of these camps tend to appeal to their own personal judgment and discernment and use this personal discernment against the Church. Progressives appealed to conscience against Humanae Vitae, and reactionaries are currently appealing to their own understanding of Church teaching to reject Pope Francis. Such moves further division and destroy the chance for authentic dialogue. To keep this from happening, we need to give our own vision to the Church; that way, our vision can enrich the Church, instead of tearing it apart. That is why Pope Francis is calling for a synodal process of listening to one another during these difficult times. As Pope Francis says, all values are non-negotiable. Dialogue is not about deciding which values to drop; rather, dialogue is about coming to a deeper appreciation of the values that we share. If we cling to our own personal understanding of a particular value without taking the views of others into account, our understanding will be stunted.We can learn about our own values from other people, who may practice them better than we do. St. Augustine said that we can never exhaust the meaning of scripture because scripture is the word of God, and th
The Grace and Main Fellowship
In this episode, I interview Joshua Hearne from the Grace and Main Fellowship, an intentional and ecumenical Christian community located in Danville, Virginia. We discuss what it means to be a community for the poor and marginalized, rather than being a community that merely serves the poor and marginalized. We also talk about community life, organic growth, Asset Based Community Development, urban farming, and hospitality. The History of the Community The Grace and Main fellowship started as a bible study group in Danville, Virginia. It was very simple; just five people meeting once a week to discuss Scripture. They had no real intention of doing anything more than that. Over time, however, the members started eating with one another, praying together, and generally spending time together. They started to discuss the possibility of reshaping their lives around a more radical commitment to the Gospel. As Joshua put it, they eventually stopped and said “Maybe this isn’t a Bible Study like we thought it was! Maybe God is trying to do something more here…Maybe we’re one of those intentional community things we’ve heard about…Or maybe we could be one, anyway.” From this small beginning, the community has grown and evolved and changed over time. But the members are still eating, praying, and working with one another, and are still committed to living life in solidarity with the marginalized. Ecumenism in The Grace and Main Fellowship The Grace and Main Fellowship is an ecumenical community. Joshua said that in one sense, that’s just a statement of fact; the community has included members from many different Christian backgrounds. At the same time, it is also an aspirational statement. The community is united by some basic commitments and tries to focus on that unity regardless of the diversity of thought on other subjects. It is important to keep in mind that when Christ portrayed the Last Judgement, he didn’t describe it as a theology quiz! Instead, he described the judgment as being focused on a basic question: how did you treat the least of these? While searching for the truth is important, it is even more important to seek unity with fellow Christians and to give one’s life to Jesus without reservations. A Spectrum of Participation There is a wide spectrum of commitment among those who participate in the Grace and Main Fellowship. At the center, there are those who have discerned membership as a vocational way of life, and who have committed to sharing resources and leading an intentionally simple way of life. At the other end of the spectrum are those who occasionally drop in for events. Between these two extremes, there is a whole range of different commitment levels. These levels are fluid; they can change over time, depending on individual availability. This forms a porous barrier between the “inside” and the “outside”. Such a porous barrier can help to keep a community healthy and integrated into the wider local community. Commitments and Formative Influences Despite this range of participation, the core members do share a set of commitments; they hold the Apostle Creed as a basic statement of belief and are committed to non-violence, solidarity with the marginalized, sharing life, and practicing radical hospitality. Some of the most important formative influences for Grace and Main are the Catholic Worker movement and the writings of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Koinonia Farm, Rutba House, the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Asset Based Community Development. A Shared Life The core members of the community live in a network of houses, all within walking distance of one another. Some of these houses are owned by the community, others by individual members, and others are rented by the community. The community also maintains a common fund to make sure that all the members have a place to stay and enough to eat. Core members are expected to donate
Friendship with the Poor: Christ in the City
In this episode Malcolm interviews Matthew Flaherty, a Christ in the City missionary. They discuss the human dignity of the poor, the spiritual lessons of living in community, and the work Christ in the City does in Denver. Christ in the City Christ in the City is a small missionary organization of young adults who serve the unhoused in Denver. The missionaries live in community. Every day, they walk the streets and befriend those they meet. Their mission is to show the love of Christ to the poor and marginalized, particularly the unhoused. Matthew Flaherty grew up in Los Angeles, California. While attending college in Humboldt county, he heard about Christ in the City and their mission. He traveled to Denver and volunteered with them for two weeks. He was deeply impressed by the intentional life of prayer and fellowship in the community, and by the way their work grew out of their life of prayer. In particular, he was struck by the way that the missionaries developed friendships with the poor. Friendship, rather than just Aid There are many great aid organizations. In major American cities, it is easy to find free meals. That’s a good thing. It isn’t sufficient, however. Too many of the aid organizations are bureaucratized and professional. They can’t provide the friendship and relationships the marginalized need. In fact, at times they can further erode the dignity of the poor. The poor and particularly the unhoused suffer material hardships, but the loss of human dignity is even worse. Many of them never hear their own names spoken. They are socially marginalized, modern day lepers. The world ignores them. People walk by on the street, purposefully avoiding eye contact. We subconsciously block them out, because it is uncomfortable to see reality. Many of the unhoused become “resource resistant”. They know all about the resources available. But they lack the motivation and assistance necessary to navigate what is on offer. For instance, many of them lack IDs. Without identification, many services become unavailable. Getting a new ID card is a difficult and lengthy process, particularly for the unhoused. They have no secure places to store documents and paperwork. One theft can undo weeks of work, and give a fatal blow to their motivation to get off the street. That’s where Christ in the City comes in. Instead of an emphasis on aid, the Christ in the City missionaries have an emphasis on friendship. They treat those on the streets with dignity and respect. Through this friendship, they can learn about the unique struggles and needs of each individual person. The missionaries can then provide assistance, just as they would for any other friend in their lives. Our Brothers and Sisters in Christ We’re called to see every other human being as a brother or sister in Christ. How would we react if a brother or sister was sleeping on the street? We might not all be called to work with Christ in the City, but we are each called to give the poor the respect and recognition that they deserve as fellow human beings. To often, we shunt our charitable duties over to organizations. We throw money at problems, because we can’t think of anything else to do. Giving money is good, but not enough; we have to show others the personal love of Christ. Aid through Friendship The Catholic teachings of solidarity and subsidiarity would seem to suggest that we can only truly help those we know. If we don’t know them, we don’t know what they need! This is a widespread problem in our society. St. James condemned those who say “go in peace, be warm and fed” without taking concrete steps to make this sentiment a reality. But if we don’t know others, we won’t know if they need help! It is perfectly possible that we’re attending Sunday Mass with a family who has just got their power shut off, but we don’t know them. This lack of knowledge makes us unwittingly fal
Stumbled upon this podcast, and I absolutely love it! Incredibly inspired by the call to community and Gospel poverty. Thanks for making these episodes, keep up the great work!
PHENOMENAL Podcast on Building Christian Community
I am ever so grateful for having this podcast in my life! Hearing Malcolm and his guests’ take on intentional communities is a breath of fresh air. It’s great to see so many people out there are creating SUCCESSFUL communities that are still somewhat intentional, but not so overbearing that the community fails.
I had done so much research on the how and why create a Christian community before this podcast existed. But even then I had never come across the large wealth of knowledge that Malcolm has uncovered in his short time as a podcaster. These interviews truly are priceless gems.