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Testimony: Kateri Boucher

St. Clair-Detroit River System watershed

I’m so grateful to be here with you all this morning.

I’m coming to you from the Detroit River watershed, which is the traditional land and home of many Indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabe, Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. I am still learning their stories.

When I moved to Detroit a little over a year ago, I moved without a job or even a plan for one, but following a deep call to be in community with folks I’d spent a summer with a few years prior.

I’d lived on a street there called Larkins, home to an intergenerational group of Catholic Worker-affiliated folks — a few families, younger couples, older pastors, chickens, and a community garden. I’d wanted to move back to Larkins since I left, and my friend and mentor Lydia had encouraged me to come back, even without a job, assuring me that we would figure it all out.

Moving into community on Larkins felt like somewhat of a risk, but it also felt like an invitation. An invitation to step out, even in small ways, from an extractive, transactional money economy, and more towards models of gift economy, mutual generosity, and intentional community.

I was particularly excited about growing in community with Lydia and her partner Erinn’s two kids, Cedar and Isaac, and early on I offered to start taking a night with them every week or two, coming over for dinner and then putting them to bed. At the end of those nights of babysitting, we all ended with gratitude. I was grateful for a home-cooked meal, time with beloved young ones, and a quiet evening reading after the kids were asleep. Lydia and Erinn were grateful for a night out of the house together, sometimes even just to go grocery shopping, which they swear is the best kind of date night since they’ve had kids.

It was only after a few weeks of doing this that I realized how refreshing it was to not have to keep track of hours or payment, as I had for all my previous years of babysitting. Instead of ending the night with an exchange of money, we could share a little conversation or tea, and then one of them would watch me walk down the street til I got home.

No bills passed through our hands, but the gifts of the evening were valuable to us all.

Gift economy has long been a part of the Larkins community, as I’m sure it’s a part of many of your communities as well, and this kind of exchange continued to emerge for me as the year went on. My friend Luke, who tends to the community garden, would bike by with a basket full of garlic or beets and ask if I wanted a bunch. Then I’d go over and water the garden for him when he was out of town. The land shared with all of us, and we shared with each other in return.

Gifts of transportation were also readily shared. I’d borrow Luke’s moped; Joan would borrow my car; Erinn helped me fix my bike.

Wheels of exchange went round, oiled by time, shared meals, and growing trust that if I borrowed a bike pump I would, indeed, eventually give it back.

This past summer, a larger, more unexpected gift was given to me. As I prepared for summer travels, I wasn’t sure I could continue to afford rent, so I planned on moving out and crashing with a few friends on the block for a couple weeks each. But when my landlady Marianne heard this, she immediately offered for me to stay for the summer rent-free. I’m sure this offer posed some financial fear or maybe even risk for her, but it was an incredibly meaningful gift to me. And it also ended up allowing me to pass the gift along, by offering space to a friend of mine who had just been evicted. Over those weeks, I helped care for Marianne’s cats when she was gone, my friend helped cook for me, and we both had a safe, stable place to call home.

Although the original move onto Larkins street felt risky, these months have in fact been characterized much more by abundance than scarcity, much more by stability than instability.

As I reflect on this past year, I can see more clearly the factors that allowed me to take these small risks which led to such greater gifts. Lydia’s encouragement. Being surrounded by a supportive community. A willingness to live a little more simply and a little less predictably.

And I also see how my ability to take the risk was based on certain conditions of privilege, like graduating from college debt-free — an incredible privilege among so many of my peers. Perhaps ironically, my own small risk-taking and experimentation with money are in part based on inherited wealth and systemic inequalities in our financial institutions. These are tensions I continue to hold, examine, and navigate, even as I simultaneously hold gratitude for the gifts this past year has granted me.

In this current moment, in this time on the clock of the world, it feels urgent to continue learning together how to share both our gifts and our risks with each other.

To say, “Let’s try this, and we will figure it out together.” To keep the wheels of exchange turning, however slowly, moving us away from scarcity and fear, and in the process drawing us closer to each other.

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St. Luke’s was excited to welcome Kateri Boucher from Geez magazine to worship and coffee hour on Sunday, October 20th. Geez magazine is a quarterly, non-pro?t, ad-free, print magazine about social justice, art, and activism for people at the fringes of faith in both Canada and the US.

 

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