Money talks: the language of transaction

Economic talk pervades our language: our relationships are all about “give and take”, we ask ourselves “is it worth it?”,  when evaluating someone’s value we ask, “what do they bring to the table?” (and if it’s not “enough” we feel we got a “raw deal”) and when we want to be let into someone’s deep meditations we offer “a penny for their thoughts”. We define our own worth in economic terms – we “feel like a million dollars”. We rarely take things at “face value” and when we mess up we like to “pass the buck”. “The bottom line” is that a language of transaction permeates our relationships and interactions. We don’t only talk using money phrases but we interact with others with a transactional mindset, keeping a balance sheet of rights and wrongs. Our relationships often look like little black books of debits and credits. Or as Micah Bales puts it in Money is our Language and our Love, “It has emerged as the communication system of an entirely new way of seeing the world: The entirety of God’s creation becomes capital to be exploited and property to be owned by individuals and corporate entities. As a natural outgrowth of this worldview, today every square inch of the earth is theoretically owned by someone. Every living thing, every...

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Bill Gates, Batman, and the Poor Widow’s Contribution

Recently, I came across a fairly stunning infographic on the site which forwards an assertion initially made by Jon Stewart that Bill Gates is better than Batman. As a big fan of the caped crusader I initially found the claim highly suspect – however, what is presented in the graphic is a fairly compelling case for the massive amount of good that Bill Gates has done in the world with his philanthropic giving; the number of people he has helped with his resources is boggling, and the numbers are almost difficult to envision. However, as a Christian my first reference point for any discussion of giving is the gospel, and in reading this I specifically thought of the parable about the Poor Widow’s contribution. In case you haven’t read it in a while, here is the passage from Mark’s gospel, 12:41-41 (New American Bible Translation): He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money onto the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Call his disciples to himself, he said to the, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their...

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Common Change Stories: Meet Abi Ornellis

The way Common Change works is that you sign up and join a group and commit to giving a regular amount [or percentage of salary] to a common group fund. At any point if anyone in the group knows someone [one degree of separation] with a need, you can present the need to the group and together hopefully come up with the best way of meeting that need. Our group has the mantra that ‘It’s not IF we will meet a need, but HOW we will meet that need’ and Abi was the first person with a need that I shared with my group in the hope that we could help her achieve this trip she was going to be making into Tanzania to work with an orphanage. Here, Abi shares some of her story: ‘I applied with a volunteer-based organization, Love Volunteers, who connects individuals with various NGOs and projects across the world, based on their experience, passion and skills. They then referred me to an NGO in Arusha, Tanzania which focused on serving their community through working with abandoned and neglected children, as well as women and families in need, in terms of education, healthcare and business opportunity and growth. I was incredibly excited. However, with flight tickets and living expenses, it was beyond my financial reach....

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The Commodification of Christianity

We’ve all seen them. The christian marketplace is literally saturated with religious products – from the crass to the kitsch to the corny. These Christian trinkets are concerning not only for the cultural messages they portray but for the erroneous theological points they make. Or, as Matt Capps – in Kitsch, Trinkets, and the Commodification of Evangelical Christianity – puts it, “the commodification of the Christian message not only exploits the faith to consumer capitalism, but it also sentimentalizes and trivializes the gospel.” What is this industry currently worth? The numbers are hard to find and very outdated. CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, reported that in 2006 the Christian Retail Industry stood at $4.63 billion. 30% of that was related to books. Leaving a cool $3.2 billion that was spent on must-have items like these (and yes, that’s a bobble-head Buddy Jesus): When I think of it, I can’t decide which offends me more: “In God we Trust” on a $1 bill created by the Federal Reserve, or Jesus’ face on a novelty bill created, and sold, by Christian industry. We don’t need more christian stuff; we need more Christ-following. We don’t need this written on our things; ” It should come out of our own mouths. It should be written all over our lives!”...

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Presenting our offering at the altar of celebrity

Remember that story, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Anderson? Wikipedia sets out the plot for us: ‘A vain emperor who cares for nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession.’ Well in an article I read this week it seems as if the emperor is well and truly among us and Kanye West be thy name. ‘Kanye West’s line of plain white t-shirts, devoid of any imagery or special characteristics and priced at $120 each, have completely sold out virtually instantaneously...

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