• 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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  • godsandkings

    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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  • false-strength

    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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even the best of intentions…

even the best of intentions…

“Maybe their hearts were in the right place. Maybe not. Either way, these are solid contenders for the title of “worst attempts at helping others since colonialism.”   So begins this article by Richard Stupart, titled “7 Worst International Aid ideas” and while you may not agree with all of them, i imagine at least everyone will have some kind of agreement that some of these ideas were not well thought out. Read the article to get the full commentary on each point, but to give you a taste of the themes, here are the ideas he lists: 1. One million t-shirts for Africa 2. TOMS Buy-One-Give-One 3. Machine gun preacher 4. 50 Cent ransoming children in Somalia 5. Donor fund restrictions 6. Making food aid the same colour as cluster munitions. 7. Making USAID a foreign policy tool Check out the complete article over here. This closing paragraph sums it up: Sometimes bad foreign aid is just the consequence of someone caring too much, but knowing too little. Other times it’s people who should have known better not being diligent in considering the consequences of their actions. And sometimes politicians and unscrupulous businessmen are simply manipulating the suffering of others for their own ends. When it’s benign or thwarted, it’s easy enough to laugh it off. But when a bad idea is carried through, the results can be diabolical. Reminds me of a story my wife Valerie reminded me of the other day. In the wake of a Tsunami, one well meaning group came in and fixed all the roofs of the houses that had been affected… which indirectly...

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Why the Rich don’t know they’re Rich

Why the Rich don’t know they’re Rich

[a guest post by Yaholo H] I live in Hamilton County in Indiana. If you are not familiar with it, it is kind of the Dubai of the Midwest. Our churches look like a combination of Hogwarts and a Frank Lloyd Wright concert hall. (I will stop for a minute so you can Google all that…. Ready? Ok.) You can’t throw a rock without hitting a conservative evangelical. (BTW, don’t throw rocks at conservative evangelicals.) Yet, with all this wealth and religion, our central city, Indianapolis, struggles with poverty and is one of the largest food deserts in the country  Those who work to overcome poverty, or raise awareness of social issues, often find themselves wondering, “Why is this so hard?” Are rich people just bad? Do they hate the poor? In areas like mine, it can be infuriating to see all the need with so much wealth just on the other side of the road. But here is the shocking part, the wealthy in my community don’t even know they are wealthy.  Say What?!? – The Miserable Wealthy  You heard me. In these huge castle churches with parking lots packed full of SUVs, most people are just worried about losing what they have. The men’s prayer groups really highlight this (I am not being sexist, I am just male. I can’t go to the women’s prayer groups… inconspicuously.) Just about every other request is fear of a job loss, anxiety about a promotion, worry about moving, etc. So many rich people who can only worry about losing what they have.  Before you feel I am being overly harsh...

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5 insights from social entrepeneurs on how business can lift people

5 insights from social entrepeneurs on how business can lift people

 As one participant put it, “wouldn’t it be great if ‘billionaire’ was re-defined to mean someone who had improved 1 billion lives?”     Thus ends this insightful article by Mark Cheng, titled, ‘5 Insights from Social Entrepeneurs on how Business can life People out of Poverty’ which seeks to answer the question:  How do you profitably sell to a customer who earns less than $2 per day? It begins with realising the enormity of the group of people who are living on such limited resources and then moves on to suggest that reaching these people has to do with both immense potential as well as a kind of moral obligation. Ashoka’s Globalizer initiative, in partnership with the eBay Foundation convened 20 of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs in Chennai, India, for three days in early March. The Ashoka Globalizer on Economic Inclusion provided a robust forum for sharing and improving their strategies to scale their impact. A list of some of the strategies that these groups are using to have a deep and transformative impact [and really go and read the whole article to dig a little deeper into each one] follows: [1] Recruit and Empower Local Changemakers [2] Build a Movement, not just Marketshare [3] Embrace Competition [4] Motivate with Mission, not Money [5] Maximise Distribution, not profits David Green, founder of multiple medical programs and device companies that provide radically lower cost products and services for low-income people,  coined the phrase ‘Empathic Capitalism, saying, “Business can be the great engine that lifts billions out of poverty, but it needs to be a new kind of values-driven business,...

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God’s First Economy Lesson

God’s First Economy Lesson

Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. – Exodus 16:18-20 Exodus 16 contains the story of God sending manna from heaven. You have likely heard this story as an example of God’s grace or a demonstration of Israel’s childlike obstinance. What if I told you it is actually a divine lesson on economics? Manna was a kind of “training wheels” for Israel to set a foundation for a strong economy and society later. If we listen, we can find the problems of our own economy today, the real meaning of gluttony, and much of our own self-inflicted suffering. Take Only What You Need for Today Israel was trained as it wandered the desert to learn to look at resources as a daily provision. Not to try and horde more than it needed. Gluttony is not about eating too much food, it is about taking more of anything than you really need for today. This isn’t just a Christian principle, it is a solid economic foundation. If a whole nation of people live in fear for what tomorrow will bring, they will take more than they need in hopes of hoarding it for future problems. When this happens over millions of people, our economy begins to crash. To take more than you need for the day is to rob someone else of their resources. The more and more people feel...

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Outsourcing Slavery: How Our “Free Market” Ideology has Come Back to Bite Us

Outsourcing Slavery: How Our “Free Market” Ideology has Come Back to Bite Us

[Guest post by Yaholo:  practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. ] The economy has been slow all across the First World. In the USA, our middle-class is smaller than it has been in half a century. Few economists seem to truly understand the root issues of this problem. Robert Reich,  who just released the documentary “Inequality for All,” grazed the core issue but did not go in depth. The greatest reason for our stagnant wages is from what I am calling “Outsourced Slavery.” The truth is that our blind love for “free market” ideology has led us to be deceived by political propaganda and social prejudice into digging our own economic valley. You Can’t Compete With Slavery What the South knew during the Civil War, and what global corporations know now is that slave labor is cheap. When slavery was abolished in the US, we moved to child labor. When that was outlawed we moved to the kind of poor working conditions which led to the formation of unions. Once unions were formed, corporations finally realized that to get that oh-so-cheap labor they relied on, they would have to outsource it. The truth is that we never abolished slavery, we just moved to where it was invisible. You see, business thrives on competition, but it is government which sets the rules for the game. If there are no rules protecting the workers, then businesses will squeeze workers to beat competition. In the case of the last century, the rules in America improved, while others countries still allowed worker exploitation. That means jobs left,...

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To increase the size of the pie or share the pie more equally?

a Guest Post by Nigel Branken of Hillbrow, South Africa [Nigel and Trish Branken live together with their 6 children in the inner-city suburb, Hillbrow, in Johannesburg, South Africa.] A friend of mine once did a study which found that your income level is the greatest predictor of your economic view. He found that people who earn over a certain amount per month almost exclusively believed the key to dealing with poverty is to increase the size of the pie, while people who earned under a certain amount almost exclusively believed that in order to address poverty, the pie needs to be more equally divided. In other words, our view of solutions to the economic challenges we face is more likely determined by self-interest than hard facts. I have found this very interesting in my informal conversations with friends from the suburbs. They keep telling me that the key to dealing with poverty is to create economic growth. My friends on the margins, however, are often quick to complain about how much bosses earn and wonder why they can’t just share some of their wealth. Theologian Robert McAfee Brown once said “where you stand will determine what you will see; whom you stand with will determine what you hear; and what you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.” Living in the Hillbrow among the most vulnerable in society, while attending a church in the suburbs among the wealthiest in society, means that I often get to hear these two worldviews – sometimes on the same day! Both sets of friends are able to...

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They’ll probably just waste it, or use it on drugs…

  A constant concern I seem to hear about charitable giving is about what poor people will do with economic assistance once they receive it. Won’t poor people just waste the money or benefits? Won’t they use it to buy unworthy items like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs? A second line of criticism has more to do with self-sufficiency. Won’t receiving economic assistance just make people dependent? Won’t it show people that they don’t really need to have a job, or to strive to be self-sufficient? An organization called GiveDirectly (and others like it) have challenged these assumptions recently by giving what are called “unconditional cash transfers” to individuals living in poverty. Basically, they locate impoverished people and communities overseas in need of assistance, and then they give individuals large amounts of money with no strings attached; the recipient can use the money however they want, for whatever reason they see fit. This approach has received lots of criticism, for all the listed reasons above. Surely the recipients, not having to answer to anyone about their spending choices, will squander the money in all sorts of different ways! However, in October, researchers at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT published their findings on the effects and outcomes of unconditional cash transfers. Surprisingly, their findings suggest that very little of the money was wasted. Instead, recipients used the money for such purposes as to buy more food for their families, to invest in the education of themselves and their children, and to build up revenues around small business or agricultural products. Conversely, the study could “find no evidence of increased expenditure on temptation goods...

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Blessed are those with things…

Blessed are those with things…

            I sometimes follow a cartoon strip called Buttersafe and this week as I was doing a bit of catchup of older strips, I came across these two that are both so simple and yet powerful: This is a perfect advert for Common Change, the non-profit I work for, as we are all about using the resources you have [while joining together with a group of friends to do so] to meet the needs of those you care about [those people who are in and around your life – the problem in this particular cartoon above]. And the second is like it [and hopefully a reminder for us to take a long hard look at the things we own and how we spend our money, time and energy and see if there are not some changes that perhaps need to be made while we still have access to the feelings]:  [For an interesting post taking a deeper look at the relationship between Poverty and Inequality, click here] [To take a deeper look at the question of giving poor people a hand up or not, click here] [To look at the possibilities of  living a waste-free life, click...

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How to be poor with a lot

How to be poor with a lot

One phenomenon of the modern economy is affluence that doesn’t feel like it. You work, earn and spend quite a lot, yet it seems you’re getting nowhere. That opening paragraph begins the interesting article I read recently titled ‘The ‘Wealthy Poor’ replace the Middle Class’ …spending every dollar of regular income — even if it’s a high income — can leave affluent families as vulnerable to an economic shock as those who have no wealth at all. The problem comes when a major portion of net worth is tied up in illiquid assets such as homes, cars and other such items that can’t be translated easily into cash when necessary. [As an aside, this last paragraph describes where the non-profit Common Change has been seen to work so brilliantly. Many families are living close to the line and it can just take one unexpected happening, such as a car crash, appendix operation or pregnancy to be the thing that pushes them over the line.  As someone who is part of a Common Change group, that would make a perfect need to share with the group and save that person or family from crashing over the edge] While debt-inducing expenses such as tuition and mortgage payments may be easier to justify that some others, for many people who find themselves in this situation, the solution might be as simple [and as complicated] as making different life decisions that fit more in line with the income you have. Questions like ‘Where I live’, ‘Where my children go to school’ and ‘What stores I shop at?’ might lead many people to changes they...

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are you into poverty porn?

are you into poverty porn?

‘Generally, the objectification and exploitation of human beings in the media bothers us. At least to some degree, we are bothered when media simplify humans, women and men, down to the characteristics that can be used to prove a point, elicit a high emotional response and generate profit. We see this in advertising, movies, pornography. There is a similar problem with the way we represent the poor in our media, exploiting their condition and even their suffering for financial gain. As we often do with the objectification of women, we need to pause and ask ourselves whether it is ethical to depict the graphic qualities of a human being to Western audiences for the sole purpose of eliciting an emotional experience and ultimately, money. It is a practice called poverty porn, and it does almost nothing to address the real structural problem of poverty.’ And with that introduction, starts this article titled, ‘5 reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong people’ by Emily Roenigk, which you can read on her blog, ‘Emily from Charm City’. Emily breaks down her reasons into these 5 but take a read of the article to see them in greater depth: 1. Poverty porn misrepresents poverty 2. Poverty porn leads to charity, not activism. 3. Poverty porn misrepresents the poor  4. Poverty porn deceives the helper and the helped 5. Poverty porn works. Back when I was living in an inner city community in Philadelphia, we had the same thing which we referred to as ‘Poverty Tourism’ – the idea of a group of [usually white] people coming in to a poor neighborhood and taking photos...

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