Money isn’t Real

One of my common refrains goes something like this: “Money isn’t real! It’s all made up and imaginary!”

In point of fact, this is true to an extent. The United States and most other nations abandoned the gold standard over the course of the 20th century, severing money from any sort of physical or material value. With the advent of the computer age, even coins and paper money are becoming obsolete. Money, for all intents and purposes, is a fantasy that floats around inside of electronic brains.

Practically, however, I recognize that money holds very real power. Humans everywhere spend their lives in pursuit of making enough money just to survive. Some few manage to hold onto enough to “thrive.” A very select few are so enormously wealthy, and control so many other forms of power, that money quite literally becomes value-less to them. Whereas I might do any number of things if offered a million dollars, someone like Warren Buffett is actively working to give billions away. Read more

Money and Friends

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 16:1-13

There are a number of interpretive puzzles in this story of the so-called dishonest manager that forms the gospel reading for this Sunday. I will try to say something about them in due course. First, let us look at the end of the story. Here Jesus is talking, adding some comments to the story he has just told. He concludes these comments by saying that no one can serve two masters for obvious reasons. Then he says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Whether or not I always serve God, I hesitate to accept the idea that I might be serving wealth. Rather, wealth is there to serve me. I think that is what many of us both in and outside the church think. We are free and wealth or money is to be used by us. It is a tool; it serves us. We may not always use our money wisely, but we definitely use it rather than serve it. Unless we think this, it would be very difficult to sustain the idea that money is something neutral. As long as money is a tool we can treat it as something to be used but it is neither good nor bad in itself. Read more

Airbnb, Hospitality, and the Gift Economy

Chi-Ming Chien, EP board member and blogger, examines the tension between the economy we live in and the economy which God calls us to participate in:

“It’s ironic that, as we participate in the sharing economy, more and more of our lives get ceded over to the domain of the transactional. Where previously we might have a couch or spare room for a guest to crash in, now we rent it out. Where previously we might have offered an unused desk space in our office for a friend needing a place to work, now we list it and charge by the hour or by the day. Where previously (in antiquity, it seems…) we might have given someone a lift if we were headed their direction, now we charge for a Lyft. Interestingly enough in Lyft’s case, what started off as a suggested donation has moved toward fixed charges as the service has matured.

The core issue, as I see it, is that despite our best efforts, we continually get bent toward relationships characterized by transaction or exchange– what Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist and theologian, calls the Law of Money.”

Read the rest here:

What Else is Money For?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

A friend of mine was a missionary for many years in various parts of Asia. One Sunday while on furlough she told a story about one particular country in which she had worked. The government had forbidden Christians from assembling; indeed, no citizens could have more than one other guest at their apartment at any time to preserve “order.” In defiance of political authorities, believers surreptitiously sought to get around the law; they were determined to meet together for fellowship, prayer, and worship.

Unfortunately, the local policeman saw the staggered comings and goings and figured out that they were gathering. At that point, my friend did what was socially expected in such circumstances: she paid the policeman a bribe. And as long as she kept paying, Christians kept gathering in this apartment for the sustenance they for which they longed and for which they risked severe punishment.

When my friend told this story in front of the congregation, she was a bit sheepish – even ashamed – that she had bowed to the dishonest system of payment and the black market economics common in much of the world. My friend Scott – trained by Jesuits with a PhD in philosophy (and the most likely of my Mennonite circle to be canonized if we ever decided to institute the practice) loudly and quickly retorted loudly before the entire congregation, “Ah, well, but what else is money for, really? Seems like a pretty good investment to me.” Read more

A Great Gathering

Thanks to everyone for a great gathering. One sign of how important our topics were is we began conversations much larger than we could carry on during the time allotted. We’re hoping we can continue our work together through an ongoing sharing on bLogos and FB.

Wealth, especially money, divides the church. It can and does also become part of our sharing, our communion (koinonia). We’d be mistaken to try to create the fool-proof perfect system that will overcome sin and remove our need for mercy, patience, and hope in God’s grace. But we can still share wisdom about how congregations can plant the kudzu of the kingdom. How, in this culture so saturated with the symbolic power of money, can we be people among whom wealth serves its proper ends? How do you talk about that in your congregation?

In short, in what ways has your community made wealth and poverty into occasions for reconciliation, supporting and building friendships, witnessing to the finitude of being creatures and the plenitude found in bearing the cross?