Posted in: history by bill-o on March 14, 2010

This month is the 80th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi‘s March to the Sea or Salt March, which occurred March 12 to April 5, 1930. Gandhi and 78 other men made the historic 390-km or 240-mile march down to the ocean in order to perform a simple act: To boil off salt from sea water. Gandhi’s act of mass civil disobedience eventually led to the arrest of 60,000 people on charges of failing to pay the British salt tax. In spite of the skepticism of other leaders for Indian independence, Gandhi chose to initiate the protest against the salt tax because (1) everyone in India used salt and (2) this tax hurt poor Indians the most.

Salt is a symbol that everyone can understand. It is everywhere and used by everyone. The chemistry of salt is so simple that it is the one chemical molecule, along with water, that most of us will remember from chemistry class: NaCl. Unlike precious metals and jewels, like gold or diamonds, salt is for everyday use. And unlike water, a very small portion of salt (i.e. a “pinch of salt”) is useful, whereas water is heavy and cumbersome to transport.

Take a closer look at the phrase “table salt”: Salt is so common, it is found on every dining table, the place of communion for family and friends. Is there any other substance that is given such an honor? Even the word “table” here implies that the grade of salt is good enough to be eaten by people. And to further the symbolism of communion: Unlike the plate, knife, spoon, and fork, the salt shaker is shared by everyone at the table.

Eighty years later, salt is still a potent symbol: To free something that is shared by everyone is a symbol of bringing freedom to everyone.

The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #2

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on September 06, 2008

Continuing with our reflections on the 12 marks of the New Monasticism, we encounter the second mark:

“Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us”

The first mark dealt with geographical relocation, whereas the second mark deals with monetary reallocation. What some have called “commonism” (which is not the same thing as Communism, by the way) was a hallmark of the earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem. “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (The Book of Acts, chapter 2 verses 43 and 44) Such a deep commitment of communal sharing, however, lasted for decades beyond the Pentecost. As the church father Tertullian later expressed (around the year 200) about the lives of Christ-followers: “Everything is shared among us – except for our wives.” (Tertullian, Apologetics, 39:11)

Such a communal sharing takes real maturity and love. Yet the benefits are remarkable. Everyone is cared for to the best ability of the community. No one is left behind. Each person has the supply and backing of the greater community. Additionally, the leaders of the community cannot gain unfair advantages over the followers on the basis of monetary wealth. What greater statement could there be that God is no respecter of persons.

Notice carefully that there are two different groups of recipients of the common economic resources of the community of followers of Christ: the members of the community and the needy (poor). The needy mentioned here may or may not be part of the faith community. The pagan Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate (who reigned from 355 to 363), was no friend of Christians. However, he famously observed that believers in Christ not only provided for their own poor but also for other poor people, too. Jesus made it clear that he had come to preach good news to the poor, and it was mostly the poor of this world who became his followers in the decades before Christianity was made into an official religion. I, myself, have seen hearts that were hard towards Christ and his followers quickly soften when they see true works of charity given to the poorest of the world by the followers of Jesus. And if there is one thing that I have seen that separates the true spiritual seekers from the spiritual charlatans, it is that their hearts are soft and caring towards the desperately poor.

The New Testament Greek used two words for the poor: penes and ptochos. Penes referred to what we typically call the “working poor”. These were people who did not have many material possesions or property, but who were able to work as day-laborers in order to provide for themselves. Ptochos, on the other hand, were the desperately poor, the destitute ones. It is these needy ones that Jesus was talking about when he said that he was preaching good news to the poor. The poor (ptochos) widow who Jesus observed donating everything that she had to the temple was one of these very needy people. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor (ptochos). When the apostles Peter and James recognized the work and calling of the apostle Paul, they gave him only one command: that he should remember the poor (ptochos), which was something that Paul was already eager to do. Paul also said that, though he was poor (ptochos), he and his spiritual brothers, through many difficult and dangerous journeys, were making many (spiritually) rich.

It is at the very core and nature of true Christ-followers that they yearn to care for the desperately poor in their own communities and around the world. It is the rhythm, pulse, and heart-cry of Jesus and his disciples, and the sharing community provides a place of wisdom and gentleness for the redistribution of possessions to those who are truly in need.


For further reading related to this subject, I recommend the article “OK, I Admit It” at Behold: The Blog!