Coin

You are God's Currency (by Chris Schwass)

In response to the last few weeks of teachings at Open Door, Chris Schwass shared these thoughts and we wanted to share them with you all! Dive in and engage these thoughts! 20150104_coin_banner

We are God's currency Matthew 22:15-22

Matt 22:20-21: "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?"..."So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

Coins are imprinted in Caesar's image, so they belong to Caesar. Jesus says to give them back if Caesar asks. But what belongs to God? The ten percent tithe that he requires?

Humanity is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), so we belong to God. We are His currency. He mints us in His image, sends us into circulation in His economy, and calls us to return. We carry His intrinsic value.

In Caesar's economy, scarcity rules. The more I can accumulate and isolate/guard my coins, the more they are worth. The less everyone else has, the more what I have is worth. The value of my coins rests on the worth of Caesar's economy and the scarcity of how his worth is divided. If Caesar falls, my coins may be worthless. If a robber comes, my coins may be gone. The value I carry is extrinsic.

In God's economy, abundance rules. What I accumulate means nothing, because I carry God's worth. Matthew 6:19-34 reminds me to store up my treasures in Heaven, not on Earth, and not worry about what I eat, drink, or wear.

In God's economy, isolating or guarding my wealth - in essence not giving myself away, limits the value of God's investment. Perhaps the talent buried in the ground is myself - the very currency of great worth God created to be used.

In God's economy, I can have more and you can have more. God always has enough. In fact, it is in giving away that God multiplies resources. The widow has enough to eat after giving her last meal to Elijah. 5000 people have enough when Jesus' disciples give away the last of the food. The faith community in Acts has enough when everyone shares their resources.

God's economy rests on the awesome power of God. His kingdom will never pass away, so our value as His currency will never diminish. No one can steal our value or separate us from the love if God. Our value is intrinsic.

God's economy is living Matthew 22:23-33

Matt 22:23 "'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' He is not the God of the dead but of the living." Caesar's image is on an inanimate coin, a lump of metal. His coins don't create more coins. God's image is on living things, who - through His power - make other living things. God's currency multiplies.

This is the natural order, the way God built the world to operate when He commanded, "Be fruitful and multiply." When Jesus feeds 5000 with a few fish and loaves, he demonstrates how God always expands His living economy: making more fish from generations of fish, wheat from generations of wheat, always more than enough. He makes life from life: miracle and everyday. That has been God's natural way since life began.

Man uses a non-living currency we can control to transfer value. That creates scarcity and isolation because it is limited. God multiplies resources, humans divide them. Our act of submission to God's economy is to multiply resources by bringing them together rather than separating them, so each person has more than enough.

Jesus bridges the gap, making more fish from dead fish, as a man and as God. In faith, we lean into God's infinite provision and let go of our store.

It's a Battle

God wants us to operate as His currency, while Satan wants us to doubt our value and isolate our worth in fear. It's about more than money moving around. Satan uses illness, pain, fear, obligation, pride, and a host of other tricks to keep us apart, to stifle God's economy.

When we lean into God's economy and move into circulation, we will experience new freedom (through God) and new friction (through Satan). Satan would love for more coins to be lost, but Jesus is seeking out every lost coin to add to the treasury.

It is our obligation to enter in, to listen to God, and accept the great value that He has imprinted on us with His image. He is love, and we are called to transfer and multiply His love in the world. It will not always be easy, but it will always be good.

What do you think? What does it look like to live as God's currency? What kind of investment might God be asking of you?

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

20150104_coin_blogAs we've moved through Coin, we pointed to a few books as helpful resources and catalysts for thought and conversation. This week, I (Dave) will be posting a few thoughts from these books and summarizing the contribution they make to the wider conversation about following Jesus with our money in an economically-driven world. If you've picked up either book or have thoughts on what's posted here, please jump into the conversations (in the comments section below, over email, or a cup of coffee!). William T. Cavanaugh is a Catholic scholar who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago and has written extensively about formation, liturgy, and the way we are shaped by the culture that surrounds us. His book Being Consumed is an incredibly helpful guide for thinking about how we're shaped by economies and what faithful discipleship looks like in the 21st century world. It's a bit heady at times but constantly moves back to practical, everyday questions, examples and stories of an economic way of being faithful to God in the world.

Freedom and Desire

In Being Consumed, he addresses the way capitalist, consumer-driven economies shape and form those residing within it. He explores the ideology of free-market economics, and suggests, contrary to their name, free-markets are not actually free. Because they create, shape, and perpetuate desire in such a way that maintains a certain status quo, their end goal is freedom, but only in a very limited sense of the word fitting within the market-shaped and -enforced rules and norms of society.

In contrast, Cavanaugh explores the work of early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo, who (Cavanaugh suggests) names that true freedom is "fully a function of God's grace working within us. Freedom is being wrapped up in the will of God, who is the condition of human freedom" (8).

Connecting freedom and desire, Cavanaugh distinguishes between arbitrary desire and intentional desire. Arbitrary desire is desire for desire and consumption's sake (e.g. the economy is in trouble, buy something - anything!) or for a shallow end (I have a deep longing and no idea how to fill it, I'll try television). Intentional desire is shaped by a vision for the ultimate purpose or goal, a desire not divorced from a vision for greater/ultimate meaning and purpose.

Consumption and Participation

"Consumerism is an important subject for theology because it is a spiritual disposition, a way of looking at the word around us that is deeply formative" (35). Unique to our American context is detachment. As a country, we're more in debt than almost anyone else and, as individuals, we save less than almost anyone else. We continue to, ourselves, produce less and less of our own 'stuff' and instead consume what others are producing, and our system is designed such that those who are doing much of our producing are invisible to us.

Yet Cavanaugh recognizes "there is no question about whether or not to be consumer. Everyone must consume to live. The question concerns what kinds of practices of consumption are conduce to an abundant life for all" (53). So the choice is not whether we consume or do not consume. Instead, we must ask the right questions about what our participation and consumption in the world looks like.

Abundance and Our Place the World

Cavanaugh suggests our default way of interacting in the world is as a tourist - "detached from all particular times and places...[craving] what is different and authentic...the tourist can go anywhere, but is always nowhere" (74). In contrast to the always-but-never-present tourist, Cavanaugh points to the paradox of Jesus who is both fully universal and particular: "Christ is the infinitely integrating one who makes room in himself for everything truly human" (78).

Cavanaugh writes that, as followers of Jesus, "we cannot stand back from the world and survey it; we must simply take our role in the drama that God is staging and give ourselves to it" (81). We do not become fully universal/particular in the same way that Jesus is, but we point to him with actions that "'realize' the universal body of Christ in every particular exchange" (88). Examples given include types of co-ops, fair trade, and community-supported agriculture.

Miscellaneous Snippets and Quotes

What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things. (34)

Many people do not see their work as meaningful, only a means to a paycheck. One's labor itself has become a commodity, a thing to be sold to the employer in exchange for the money needed to buy things. For many people, work has become deadening to the Spirit. (38)

We desire because we live. The problem is that our desires continue to light on objects that fail to satisfy, objects on the lower end of the scale of being that, if cut off from the Source of their being, quickly dissolve into nothing. (90)

Possession kills eros; familiarity breeds contempt. That's why shopping itself has taken on the honored status of addiction in Western society. It is not the desire for any one thing in particular, but the pleasure of stoking desire itself, that makes malls the new cathedrals of Western culture. (91)

The Eucharist tells another story about hunger and consumption. It does not begin with scarcity, but with the one who came that we might have life, and have it abundantly...The Eucharist effects a radical decentering of the individual by incorporating the person into a larger body. In the process, the act of consumption is turned inside out, so that the consumer is consumed. (94-95)

Practices of an Abundant, Sharing Economy

Our word economy comes from two Greek roots: household and management. So 'economy' is rooted in the practices and ideas that help a household (a family) flourish. It involves money, but it's also bigger than money. Economy is about money, relationships, possessions, and more. 20150104_coin_banner The last two weeks at Open Door we've talked about the idea of an economic imagination - the realization that the 'economy' we exist in has a particular vision or imagination for 'the good life' or life's ultimate goals or purpose. That imagination will inevitably form and shape our everyday economic practices - how we buy and sell, where we choose to live, how we relate to those around us, etc.

Capitalism has a particular imagination (involving retirement, self-sufficiency, upward mobility) which lends itself to particular practices (investing, consumption, seeking promotions, etc.).

In the same way, Jesus invites us into a particular economic imagination. The 'good life' that Jesus invites us into (life 'to the full') is marked by a pervasive and holistic shalom, love of neighbor, faithful stewardship of what we've been given, trust and reliance on God's abundance, and a family formed around Jesus. 

This Jesus-looking economic imagination invites us to consider certain economic practices that move us deeper into this kingdom imagination.

This past weekend, we continued our conversations about money, economy, and following Jesus with a focus on naming some of these specific practices and action steps we can take as a family - particularly those centered around Abundance and Sharing/Community.

Here are a few of the practices we named to help us live deeper into a Jesus-looking economic imagination.

Practices of Abundance (Luke 12:22-34)

  • Meditating on Scriptural passages of abundance
  • Journaling a daily gratitude/thankful list.
  • Dwelling in our identity as God's beloved child.
  • Immersions into nature, recognizing that the God who holds together the world cares also for us
  • Picking up pennies and seeing them as symbols and reminders of God's abundance
  • Developing a baseline for what is actually 'enough' (based on global averages, actual needs, etc.) and taking an inventory of possessions and actions to simplify.

Practices of Community (Luke 9:10-17)

  • Trusting you have something to offer to others (financial, relational, skills to share, etc.)
  • Offering an area of your abundance to the community (produce or flowers from your garden, time, skills)
  • Developing an infrastructure of sharing ("You need a power tool? I have a power tool you can borrow!")
  • Willingness to name what you need and what you have
  • Bringing meals to those with new babies, in transition or in crisis.
  • Believing God can do more with what you're willing to offer than you can imagination.

Taking steps of practice in these areas, I believe, will move us deeper toward the life that Jesus invites us into. These simple steps are the stuff of faithfulness in God's kingdom economy!

What other practices would you add to the list? How have you experienced growing depth towards a new economic imagination as you take steps of faith with our money, possessions, and resources?

Recommended Reading/Resources for Coin: Jesus on Money

  We're two weeks into Coin: Jesus on Money, our journey exploring how Jesus interacted with money and how we might seek to follow Jesus with our own money. When we look at the teachings and actions of Jesus, it seems that money functions in (at least) three ways:

  1. A window into deeper things.
  2. A tool for our cultivation.
  3. A resource for weaving heaven and earth together again.

We're taking time to dig in and explore these primarily through our Gathering teachings (each week's teaching will be posted here) and two of our winter Circles following Mark Scandrette's book Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.

If you're not able to join one of the Free Circles, we encourage you to grab a copy of the book and work through it on your own or (ideally) with another person. Throughout the Circles, we'll post a few blog updates and stories if you want to follow along with the journey.

In addition to Free, here's a few other resources to consider reading and engaging if you want to dig deeper. [Note: I'll be reading through all of these and posting some thoughts. If you'll be reading along, let me know and I'd love to have you engage in the conversation. -dave]

Do you have any other resources you'd recommend as we think and ask questions about money, economy, and walking in the way of Jesus? Add them below in the comments!

Coin: Jesus on Money (Series Introduction)

Money is deeply-engrained in the fabric of our world. Global markets wield incredible control over our local economies and the cash in our pocket (or lack thereof) is often a primary cause of our stress and worry. Whether we have it or not, money shapes our lives, our relationships, and the environments around us. Is it a necessary evil or an opportunity for good? A tool or a vice? At Open Door we're seeking to walk in the way of Jesus and and pursue cultivation and formation of our whole self, including our finances! Jesus talks about money all the time not because it’s “good” or “bad” but because it's a window into deeper things.

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Through the beginning of Lent, we'll be engaging in a series called Coin: Jesus on Money. Throughout Coin, we'll dig into the teachings of Jesus on money, and experiment, dialogue, learn and grow together towards an integrated way forward with our money as we seek to walk in the way of Jesus together.

We'll have a few special opportunities to learn and practice together throughout the series. On January 18, Mark Scandrette from San Francisco's ReIMAGINE will be with us and in late January we'll launch two separate circles using Mark's book FREE to think about the alignment of our money and values (if you don't have a copy of Mark's book, it will be available at a discount on Jan 18 directly from Mark!).

As we begin this series, we'd love to hear your thoughts and questions below!

  • What stirs your imagination about the possibilities of following Jesus with your money?
  • What are the biggest stressors caused by money?
  • What kind of communal practices involving our finances can help us better walk in the way of Jesus?