Last weekend I was in Dallas, Texas, taking part in the Gathering, an event that is hard to describe. It is difficult to even imagine that it happens. Once a year several hundred people with hearts longing to offer their resources to address the complex aches and pains of the world, come together to deepen their discernment about what might be done on the face of the earth— if the compassionate use of accumulated wealth could be brought to bear. It is as strange, and wonderful, as it sounds.
And this year, set within a beautiful hotel between Dallas and Fort Worth, day and night for several days these people came, thinking and pondering, seeing and hearing, laughing and lingering, committing themselves to the complexity of the world.
The causes and concerns span the literal globe, from the systemic reasons for homelessness in American cities, to the perennial heartaches of Haiti, to modern-day slavery with the thousands upon thousands of faces that call for release, to the almost unimaginably intractable questions of justice and mercy in our globalizing political economy— and more and more and more.
Brought into being by Fred Smith, the hopes and dreams of the Gathering come from his heart. Through his life he has read widely, and cared deeply, resisting the easy black-and-white responses that most of us are all-too-willing to live with. Like every one of us, he has commitments and loves, but it would be very hard to capture them with a political name. His beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice, do not find a home in the partisan politics we know so well. And over time, he has earned the trust of good people all over the country, each one a steward of more than most, aware of their responsibility to pay attention to what might be done to offer compassion and mercy, justice and truth, to the wounded world in the name of Christ.
I was asked into several settings over the days, from a book launch of Jena Lee Nardella’s One Thousand Wells, to a morning focused on “the never-ending influence of movies and media,” to an evening with the arts community of Dallas, to a morning and afternoon exploring “the economics of mutuality” with remarkably serious people whose vocations have taken them into places with great responsibility for the way money and markets work for the common good, and finally to an evening with the new film, “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” celebrating a story that tells the truth about the human condition in language the whole world can understand. And that was just my schedule! There were hundreds of other people taking in different questions, each one played out before the beautiful and broken world that is ours.
The words, “the compassionate use of accumulated wealth” kept running through my mind. I first heard the words years ago from Francis Schaeffer, who I am sure was working out a vision that was supportive of the best of the capitalist economy, while sympathetic to the high ground of Marxism which had asked questions about “why?” and “how?” that should not be easily dismissed; he was trying to carve out “a third way.” Hearing the conversations at the Gathering, meeting its participants, I wanted to add the words “visionary and entrepreneurial” to Schaeffer’s, being deeply impressed with the active and engaged character of the strange and wonderful community of kindred spirits that came together to consider their own responsibility, born of love, for the way the world turns out.
May their tribe increase.
(A beautiful place between Dallas and Forth Worth, somewhere near the heart of Texas.)