Mine and ours (part 1)

I’ve said it before: I love Pixar movies. The studio has a gift for storytelling, and some of the scenes are so memorable as to be nearly iconic.

Take Finding Nemo, for example. It’s not my favorite out of the Pixar canon (the first Incredibles movie still holds that honor). But if you’ve seen the movie, I’m betting you remember the scene with the seagulls.

Marlin and Dory are (literally) fish out of water, stranded on a dock, about to be devoured by a flock of seagulls. In a scene that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, seagulls gather menacingly in the background while a friendly pelican tries to help the fish.

“Mine,” squawks one seagull. “Mine,” responds another. Soon, the air is filled the sound of that single word, repeated over and over — “Mine. Mine. Mine, mine, mine” — as the birds attack, and the pelican makes a narrow escape with Marlin and Dory.

“Mine.” It’s one of the first words in a toddler’s vocabulary, when they’re just beginning to learn what it means for two people to have separate and competing desires.

“Mine.” It’s the unofficial, unconscious slogan of a materialistic consumer society, the subliminal message behind the commercials, the encouragement to stockpile possessions.

“Mine” doesn’t make for neighborliness. “Mine” doesn’t make for a cohesive and loving family, which needs to be built on “ours.” With all our inbred possessiveness, it would take a miracle to make a group of “mine-thinking” strangers into an “ours-thinking” family.

But God is in the business of miracles.

As we’ve seen in previous posts, after being arrested and interrogated by the Sanhedrin, Peter and John returned unharmed to a place where the believers had gathered. Together, they prayed for the boldness to continue proclaiming the gospel in the face of the new threat of persecution. That prayer was immediately answered: “the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence” (Acts 4:31, CEB).

Then Luke gives us a description of the incredible unity of the church:

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need. (Act 4:32-35)

The description recalls the earlier and more famous one in chapter 2:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. (Acts 2:42-45)

In both passages, we see the apostles working wonders, and the people following their leadership. That shouldn’t be too surprising. After Pentecost, we’d expect God to be working through the apostles. And if we were around people who were doing miracles, we’d probably follow them too.

But notice how the closely the descriptions of the church’s unity are interwoven with descriptions of the miraculous. In Acts 2, we might imagine that the believers’ “sense of awe” was the direct result of the signs and wonders they saw. That in itself could serve to bind them together — but only to a limited extent, more like enthusiastic fans at the same rock concert than family.

The miracle is this: the coming of the Holy Spirit makes possible not only the healing of the lame, but the creation of a new family where before there was none. When in Acts 4 Luke tells us that “an abundance of grace was at work among them all,” he’s not just referring to the apostles’ preaching, but to the shift from “mine” to “ours,” a shift that means sharing meals, sharing possessions, sharing life in a way that no one is needy.

For those of us thoroughly immersed in a culture of “mine,” that might sound impossible or even dangerous. Are we supposed to sell everything and give the money away? Are we being faithless if we don’t?

Let’s think about that together in the next post.