• Hiatus

    Hiatus

    Two Cents will be taking an open-ended hiatus during 2015. We value these conversations and believe it is critical that intentional spaces are created to host them but presently do not have the organizational capacity to continue filling that role. That’s not to say things are over; we are simply moving Two Cents to the back-burner until such time as we are once again able to pick up this mantle. Think of it as the ellipses to a vital conversation that must continue…

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    Gods and Kings, Wealth and Power

    This post originally appeared on: www.s.coop/nehemiah ——- Biblical blockbusters are a thing now. Last spring’s Noah was followed by Exodus: Gods and Kings. Spectacular computer-rendered miracles have helped a supposedly godless Hollywood to cautiously embrace scripture. But the latest shiny apocalypse has preserved little of the Bible’s warnings against wealth and power. Yes, flogging and starving slaves to build monuments is wrong. But our modern Empire does not feature pyramids built by slaves with flayed skin. Still the great towers of our world rest on the backs of exploited workers; despite significant but superficial improvements, we are still in Egypt. Exodus director Ridley Scott missed his source text’s moral about how not to be like those awful Egyptians. The film pays no attention paid to how the Israelites attempted to free themselves from the oppressive ways of Egypt, which is a major theme of the Book of Exodus. Evil is found not just in the horrific labor practices that made the Egyptian monuments. The problem is the very existence of grand platforms for worship by and of elites. It’s hardly surprising that Hollywood ignores the material’s deeper treatment of elites – our culture portrays revolutionary leaders as merely another type of elite. Even relatively subversive works like The Hunger Games default to a messianic hero(ine). We can’t wrap our head around effective collective action, even when the Exodus story teaches just that. Perhaps elitism is an essential part of filmmaking – a mass of characters certainly can’t be developed in a couple of hours. But as Rebecca Solnit points out in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, disaster films are also propaganda. Catastrophes (including biblical plagues) have their own mythology rooted in our cultural default of hero worship. Elites depend on order and know that disruptive moments can bring it…

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    Capitalism and the False God of Strength

    Strength has been worshiped by various cultures throughout the history of mankind. The strong are elevated and the weak are subjected. We would like to think we have matured a bit past older barbarian habits, but the god of strength has found a new home in our hearts. That home is our zealous embrace of capitalism. Capitalism is NOT “Christian Economics” Capitalism is the best method of economic governance we have for found for producing wealth… so far. I want to make it clear that criticizing capitalism is not a default argument for communism. Besides, we are in a sad state if we think we only have those options. Instead, I am simply pointing out that there is no reason for capitalism to be so embraced by western Christians as to confuse the two. Just because it is “the best” doesn’t mean it is perfect, beyond criticism, or above reform. “You Will Succeed… If You Are Strong Enough” Just about every cry of social inequality today is countered by zealous capitalist anthem of, “If you work hard enough you will succeed.” No matter how disadvantaged you are, or far behind the curve, cries for empathy fall on the deaf ears of “just get a job.” Yes, it seems that every situation has the simple solution of working more, working harder, and working longer. We say this with an implied social contract that all our hardship will pay off with success. Survivors Often Despise the Weak “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 There is a commonly understood effect in modern psychology that people who survive stressful and difficult situations often come to despise…

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    Seeds, Soils and Revivals

    This post originally appeared on: www.s.coop/nehemiah ———————– What triggers a revival? What sustains it? What are the seeds and soil out of which transformative mass religious fervor springs? Large groups of excited people gathered to hear charismatic preachers can certainly spark change. But events end and leaders’ perceived shortcomings inevitably emerge. Ne believers are dragged back down from the heights of passion. Structures are needed to help the change really take root. Last Tuesday I helped lead a short interactive discussion for the Presbytery of San Francisco, on the subject of the most recent major American religious revival: the Jesus Movement – a.k.a. the Jesus People or Jesus Freaks. While the counterculture of that day (religious and otherwise) has mainly passed, some institutions created out of it have continued to the present. We watched a portion of the video biography “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, which has since been removed from the free Internet. It was about one of the key figures in the Jesus Movement, Lonnie Frisbee, whose ministry began with wilderness acid trips featuring Bible study and baptisms. The video made passing reference to a key legacy of the Jesus Movement as well as the broader counterculture of the day: Communes. Life Together Early in his ministry, Frisbee connected with the Big House, a Christian group living communally near San Francisco. He went on to co-found the House of Miracles, which grew to 19 communal houses, and Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, which included around 175 houses in the U.S. and Canada. Christian hippies grew out of the same fertile soil as the rest of the hippies, who planted many of the older food co-ops and worker collectives that continue in the U.S. today, along with a whole range of live-in communities. Now, “commune” is a…

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    Nuts and Bolts of Christian Giving

    Editor’s Note: So, I had to give a short introduction to this article. At a poverty advocacy meeting, this older gentleman over-heard me talking about TwoCents.co and said he would love to contribute. He doesn’t even own a computer, so he wrote out this article on paper and my wife typed it out. With that understanding, enjoy! —– FAITH is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11-1) Paul Tillich describes faith as your ultimate concern. God’s plan for our finances is clearly disclosed in the many references the Bible has to money. II Corinthians 8 and 9 are very specific: “It is better to sow generously and reap generously.” Living in the “tyranny of the moment”, makes it difficult to determine ultimate concern. Living in abundance makes it difficult to determine ultimate concern because it is easy to allow the possession of money to control your life. Rich or poor we have similar challenge: How to discern God’s will for us and do it. Rich or poor, it is clear that Christians living outside of God’s economic shelter will suffer greatly and need less. Can you think of someone who is poor and you know it doesn’t have to be the way for them? Can you think of someone who is rich, yet every moment of their life appears to be without joy? God made Abraham rich and He is for our being prosperous. God does not want money to satisfy every earthly desire, corrupt us or have us hoard it. Christians may read clear directives from God and harvest a marvelous spiritual revelation, tangent to what the Bible passage says. Often God’s Word contains much more than a single lesson. Several examples that come to mind are: the parable of…

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Blessed are the Poor [as long as you keep them away from me!]

Blessed are the Poor [as long as you keep them away from me!]

I could not believe this article when I read it. But it seemed legit and so I started writing this Two Cents piece. But then I realised that both the sources I had were from the same source which was called Gawker.com which sounded a little potentially dubious and so I did a typical ‘Name of site/Hoax’ search and saw the words  ‘Gawker’ and ‘Scam’ and so figured I had been caught and so deleted the whole thing with a sigh of relief that I had avoided sharing the story and then finding out I had gotten it wrong. But then something in me made me check myself and I did a google search for the original premise of the story and found that there actually were multiple sites reporting on it and so this ‘dreadful hoax’ does in fact seem to be a more dreadful truth. The article, ‘Outrage over Separate Doors for Rich and Poor in Manhattan High-Rise’ sums up the story like this, In an effort to secure tax breaks and other building allowances as part of New York City’s Inclusionary Housing Program, Extell Development Company has offered to set aside some 55 Affordable Housing units for low-income families inside the 274-unit luxury tower it is constructing in the Upper West Side. The “catch” being that 40 Riverside Boulevard will feature two distinct entrances — one for affluent residents on the building’s Hudson-river facing façade, and the other in a back alley for Affordable Housing tenants. But probably a more accurate way of releasing this story would be how a different article on the same site chose to describe the decision: It would...

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Why Do We Demand Greater Virtue of the Poor Than the Rich?

Why Do We Demand Greater Virtue of the Poor Than the Rich?

And Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and expect nothing in return.  Unless they bought an XBox, then screw ‘em.” – Ramsey 2:16 The most prevalent argument against programs which combat poverty is that poor people deserve to be poor because they make bad decisions. Of all these so-called bad decisions, the one that is rising to the top is that poor people buy stuff they don’t deserve. Not just pundits and talk-show hosts, but even friends and family, who I normally consider reasonable, say stuff like, “What right have they to be on government assistance? They have a TV!” Where does this vitriol come from? Why do we demand saint-like virtue of the poor? A Double-Standard Which Shows Our Own Greed No one bats an eye when a rich person throws money away on obvious excesses and luxuries. No matter how extravagant someone lives, we just say “Well, they earned it. They can do whatever they want.” But that’s not the worst part, because the most harmful thing you can do with money is nothing at all. As the wealthy hoard their money, the economy grows anemic. Even today, this is one of the biggest reasons our economy is so slow. But again, we say nothing because our culture doesn’t base virtues on their own merit, we base virtues on class. The truth is that we have different virtues for the rich and poor because we all hope to be rich one day, even if we feel it is unlikely. If the time ever comes that we “make it” we don’t want anyone telling us...

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When my Helping has Hurt – a shared post of Sarah Binos

When my Helping has Hurt – a shared post of Sarah Binos

  Sarah Binos is the Executive Director of the Common Ground church initiative and non-profit known as ‘Common Good’ – she wrote this article ‘4 Common giving mistakes I’ve made’ on the Common Good blog page and you should totally go and read the full article, but here are some excerpts which stood out for me.   Instead of giving you a blueprint for giving – because there isn’t one! – here are some of the mistakes I’ve made in the area of giving. Hopefully this will equip others not to do the same! Mistake #1 I haven’t prioritised building relationships enough as I try to live out Christ’s call to do justice My friend explained how much it would have meant if her donor had been more like a distant aunt – who checked in with her occasionally and saw her as a person with hopes and dreams as opposed to a project. Mistake #2 In my attempt to “fix things”, I’ve communicated that “I am the adult and you are the child” Instead of engaging, asking insightful questions and giving the person I hope to bless the space to process and think through a way forward, I present a quick solution with a whole lot of uninvited advice. This can communicate the idea that I’m wiser, and that I know how to solve your problem better than you do. Mistake #3 I have not listened and empathised enough In our haste, we bypass the process of listening, understanding, and identifying with those in need, and instead jump straight to giving something that will hopefully fix the problem....

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The Moment Our Church Breaks Our Heart – Growing Up and Social Justice

The Moment Our Church Breaks Our Heart – Growing Up and Social Justice

There is a cost to following Christ. It is not something you typically hear in the usual evangelical advertisements. I am not talking about “being a Christian” per-se. I am talking about when a Christian gets to that point in their life where they see a need in the world, and they want to do something about it. It is a call of conviction where you want to go to battle to make the world a better place. The point when a Christian wants to change the status-quo, instead of live within it, they often find themselves suddenly alone. The False Promise of Institutional Idealism The great lie often told by mostly well-intentioned motivational speakers is that if you serve Christ you will be blessed. While this is true in many way, but the problem is that it creates the illusion that serving Christ or “doing the right thing” is met with immediate worldly reward. “Here comes an honorable man! Roll out the red carpet!” It sounds almost silly, but the truth is that many “do gooders” start out with an expectation that their good intentions will be greeted with warm reception. When we are children, we receive praise for doing “good” in our communities. Many churches use AWANA, a literal merit badge system for memorizing scripture and doing other achievement oriented activities at church. This can create an illusion that “doing the right thing” and receiving support and praise from your community are the same. In fact, many of us high-achievers and people pleasers can make it all the way to adulthood without ever having to confront loved-ones....

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How Apathy Creates Systems of Persecution

How Apathy Creates Systems of Persecution

There is a disconnect, you could say a deep valley, between how the rich view their behavior and how the poor perceive their treatment. Those in poverty often feel like “the man” is working against them. The rich, on the other hand, feel they have nothing “against” the poor and there is nothing stopping them from working their way up the ladder. What’s going on? Often, this gap is explained by saying the poor are just making excuses, but the truth is that society really has made systems to persecute those in poverty. These systems seem so spiteful to those at their mercy, but really they are just systems which formed by those in power not paying attention. In order to repair them, we have to wake-up and act with purpose. The Cliff Effect The Cliff Effect is a phenomenon that occurs in varying degrees from state-to-state, but basically it is a system of persecution which punishes those in poverty for trying to work to improve their lives. See the video below for an explanation: Those We Don’t Help On Purpose, We Harm On Accident This is just one example of how we create systems of persecution when we aren’t paying attention. Our ideological, political, and religious dialog is so polarized and fantastic that we never see problems as they are really are: problems to be solved. Because of this, legislation and laws are not passed with an understanding of what people need, just what sounded good. I have come to discover that most, if not all, of the hurdles which those in poverty face on a daily basis...

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Monopoly with the Pope: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Monopoly with the Pope: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200

It seems like Pope Francis really is serious about cleaning things up in the Vatican as far as healthy use of money goes, as this new article from ‘The Fiscal Times’ suggests When he took over as head of the Roman Catholic Church last year, Pope Francis made it clear that he meant to be the leader of a “poor church” – meaning that the Vatican would focus less on its own splendor and more on finding ways to use its vast financial resources to benefit the world’s poor. What might have been viewed by critics as ‘a strategic move’ when Pope Francis came into power and made some significant changes to the banking structures, now seems to really be something that the pope is taking seriously as he has just fired all five directors of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority [considered to be the primary watchdog in terms of the Vatican’s financial operations] as they were too closely tied to the previous leaders who were ousted and were getting in the way of reform. The article compares Francis’ actions to a similiar controversial incident that Jesus was involved in: The announcement on Thursday was only the most recent in a series of firings, replacements, and arrests that have rocked the Vatican’s financial hierarchy. It turns out that for Francis, casting the moneychangers out of the Temple has proven to be a time-consuming task. Will this latest action be enough to help bring accountability and significant reform to the way that Catholic Church is viewed with regards to the way they spend their vast money? Or do you think the corruption and...

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A Generosity Dinner: Meet Tristan Pringle

When we visited our home in South Africa in January this year, my wife Valerie and I hosted what we at Common Change refer to as a ‘Generosity Dinner’. You invite some friends over for a meal and each person donates some money into a common pool and then as a group you decide what needs [of people you know and care about] you will meet with that money as a gift to those people. Tristan Pringle attended the Dinner we ran and was inspired by it so much that he decided to host his own. I asked him to share the story of how that went: A while back a few of us felt compelled to create or be part of a platform where we were able to have gospel charged robust conversations about Justice. We formed an informal group of people committed to get together every few months and chat about social justice; we called it ‘Jesus Justice Us’. Our aim is to empower each other to talk about Justice and actively seek for an outlet for the things we learn. We are compelled by love, fueled by the Gospel, and we have Jesus as our main example. My friend Chido and I spent hours talking about what to do with the group and what Jesus meant when he said some of the things he said, particularly when he spoke about giving. For one of the sessions we thought it a good idea to experiment in collaborative giving. We would be able to chat about issues in general but also have a practical outworking of it. The...

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Wealth, Pleasure, and Worry

Wealth, Pleasure, and Worry

It is not an uncommon theological discussion in American churches: is it money itself, or rather the love of money, which is the root of all evil? It is all the stuff he has, in and off itself, or is it the love of his stuff, that makes the rich young ruler turn away from Jesus? It is hard for us, in our current cultural climate, to question the idea of wealth as anything but an unqualified good. However, Joshua Becker over at Don Miller’s Storylineblog examines the Parable of the Sower and points out that Jesus’ parable does just that: it seems to suggest that wealth itself can be an obstacle, a thorn, in the life of a believer. His thoughts and their counter-cultural import are worth serious reflection, and the discussion below his post debates some of the nuances in the various New Testament treatments of wealth. It’s especially worthwhile  discussion for those of us who, having heard the gospel story so many times before, might need to hear Jesus’ words again for the first...

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Gathered vs Hidden Cash

Gathered vs Hidden Cash

          Everyone loves the thrill of walking along and seeing a 5 dollar bill on the ground with no-one nearby who could have obviously dropped it. Now imagine that $5 was $200 and instead of randomly on the ground it was placed in an envelope and you had been given a clue of a location and a photograph of where you might find it. You and 440 000 others. That’s right! In just two weeks, what began as a fun quirky tale on Twitter with a handful of followers has become a little bit of a media phenomenon [especially in SF where it’s been happening] and a rapidly exploding Twitter account. An anonymous millionaire [apparently] decided that it would be fun to start propogating random acts of kindness and started hiding money in envelopes and leaving clues under the Twitter handle of @HiddenCash. And it has grown and grown and grown, launching a trip to L.A. this last weekend and a bunch of copycat accounts all over the world of other people trying to do similiar things. In L.A. @HiddenCash filled 36 Angry Birds with cash and buried them on a beach and then tweeted the location of the beach the next day… It has definitely caught the attention of many and has been a fun event. Who doesn’t like random acts of kindness? But one of the questions we like to ask at Common Change is, ‘What happens tomorrow?’ WHO IS IN FOR THE LONG HAUL? When someone dies, everyone gathers around them for the first week and they have all the support they...

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The Most Misunderstood Difficulty with Being in Poverty

“If someone can’t live on what they make, they should get a better job. If they can’t get a better job, they should go back to school.” These kind of naive and careless expressions are heard often by those of us trying to promote social justice and combat poverty. So many people fail to grasp the greatest reality of being in poverty: That you have less time than you have money. I have been broke, but I have never been poor. So what’s the difference? The difference is that I always had time to improve my circumstances. When you are a young adult, going through college, you may have little to no money, but you are not poor. Your family, community, and social systems are conspiring together to give you time to improve your standing. Those in poverty seldom have anyone but themselves to rely on. We may have 24hrs in-a-day, but none of us have 24 hrs of “brain time.” Let’s be honest, even the most professional among us can only really focus on an intense mental activity for at most six hours without sleep. Even as a writer, I need to be completely undistracted for at least four hours a day to be productive. Those in poverty aren’t just always distracted, they are consumed with worry and anxiety. Imaging never even having one hour to yourself to think? Money is like oxygen other people give you permission to breath. Without “breathing room” single mothers can’t get good care for their children as they try to get an education. Without space and time to think, poor families can’t...

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