The Underground Economy Cafe; Some call it Lunacy


By Reverend Dr. Donna Schaper

Eventually people will come together and start an alternative economy. People will get fed up just enough to say no more and mean it. We will enjoy “oikonomeia,” the original word for “economy,” and the marketplace where goods and services are exchanged with joy and justice. “Oikonomeia” means “economy” or “household management” or a plan for the fullness of time, when heaven will be realized on earth. This is no time for stingy hopes.

We held an experimental underground economy at Judson Memorial Church on the November full moon. We will hold a second on Fri., Dec. 12, the next full lunacy, at 8 p.m., in the Judson gym. About 60 people gathered the first time to eat some food, drink some wine, sell some stuff — and be their own poster. We asked the people present to do without newsprint for a second; our joke was that we couldn’t afford it. We did on-the-ground, newsprint-free, populist research.

Those who wanted Justice gathered in one group, under one spoken sign. Another group wanted Systemic Change in the so-called real economy. A third wanted Mercy. A fourth wanted Encouragement. A fifth wanted Model Development. A sixth wanted to know how to help others get through the crisis. The individuals separated almost evenly, with 10 or so wanting each thing. Justice, Systemic Change, Mercy, Encouragement, Model and Practical Resource Development and Service — these were the groups.

Whatever we do in the Underground Economy Cafe — besides eat and drink and “flea market” — will be grounded in encouragement, mercy and justice. You think that is vague? Yes, it is. The only thing more vague is what the economy as it exists is doing to us now. We don’t really know what will come next. We do know we will have to rely on each other, for both the short and the long term.

Judson began as a place where clean water was given to those “dirty” Italian immigrants in the 1890s. We continued as a place that fermented Off-Broadway, modern art, modern dance and the right to choose an abortion, medical care for prostitutes and more. If you came by today, you would find people singing on Sundays, packaging bleach kits for safe needles on Wednesdays, offering sanctuary to immigrants about to be unjustly deported, training seminary students in how to be leaders in a less parochial, more ecumenical church and working with restaurant workers to reduce the hate speech against them.

None of these things have been very big. We have another small seed in our hand right now, best called the “Underground Economy.” Others like to call it “Lunacy” because we intend to do it at least once a month on the full moon. Its purpose is to ferment hope. 

If we were in a football game, you would call this a Hail Mary pass. A Hail Mary is when you throw a long one and hope someone is downfield to catch it. We are tossing this ball to the community because we are already too fed up not to begin imagining a different kind of economy. Watching Wall St. get bailed out by the government — we are all socialists now, comrades — is like the 21st century of George Orwell’s “1984,” where lies are truth and good is bad. We watch our congregation members lose their jobs and desperate “walk-ins” increase. At Judson, we can’t just occupy our great heritage and great real estate and whine. Instead, we intend to create some tables where people can help each other. 

The Lunacy Underground Economy is a taste of what we hope can become reality: people helping each other, talking to each other, reinventing a just and joyful economy. Think open mic, where you can tell your story, even bemoan your astonishing pension reductions, and someone will listen. Some of them won’t even have pensions to be astonished by! Think cafe. Think music. Think the way we have an unusual Eucharist at Judson on the first Sunday of the month, oikonomeia become Eucharist. Think how sacred the ordinary is. If you don’t like religion, and many of us don’t, think flea market and rummage sale. We will create a space where people can exchange goods and services, baked goods, ideas, hopes and fears, so as to get a little bit of the cash, entertainment and community they need. Think Make/Shift. 

Think seed. Think about joining us to help us know where we are to go. 

If you want to come to the Underground Economy, on Dec. 12, at 8 p.m., just come. We will be “upstairs” in the meeting room, not the gym this month. Paul Knopf will be on the piano, improvising. Bring a dish to share if you can. Potluck is always a good metaphor for an economy. Don’t bring a dish to pass if you can’t. Be welcome. If you have something to sell or give or barter, bring it. If you don’t, don’t. Just come. Be welcome. If you want to tell us (an abbreviated) story, be ready. Maybe you have a poem or a song. The real message in our “Hail Mary” is here: Your gifts are welcome, even if you have just been “let go.” Our biggest fear at Judson is that people will be isolated. There is no need to be alone. Come and enjoy each other’s company in such a way that a little heaven touches a little earth. R.S.V.P.’s are welcome at 212-477-0351, ask for Jeff. Check out our Web site, www.Judson.org, for more information. 

Schaper is senior minister, Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South