Peaceable Projects : Exchanging money for communal economics

The following is a guest blog by Tyler Sims.

Over the past six years my wife Andrea and I have been pursuing ways to be peaceable followers of Jesus.

We strive to be pro-active pacifists who heal the earth, love people and cultivate community. Essentially, we desire to imagine and participate in a Jesus-inspired-peaceable community.

Sounds nice. Doesn’t it?

The problem is peaceable communities are few and far between. Here in Protestant America, it is a lonely venture. Contemporary peaceable resources for the novice are almost nil. There is scarce personal storytelling, history lessons, or norms related to pacifism in American churches. So what do we do about it?

Andrea and I do what so many peaceable sojourners do; we keep our eyes and ears open for supplemental guidance. We look for sustenance. We experiment. We wait.

This blog chronicles one such peaceable guide that surprised its way into our lives. The guidance recommends replacing money or finance with community and trust. Our peaceable sojourn into the conscientious world of finance started with a kid’s trip to the library.

While waiting for our kids to finish their library routine I found myself scanning through finance books. One book stood out, Saved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World by Ben Hewitt. Much to my surprise a book about finances cradled partial blue prints for cultivating Jesus’ peaceable kingdom.

Ben Hewitt’s journalistic venture introduces the reader to a subversive community and the quest to understand “money”. The community he describes has a primary currency of trust and generosity. Finance is used judiciously and as a last resort. Ideally, communal trust is exchanged from household to household. Through time the hypnotizing illusion of financial systems is eroded. Investment in stocks and retirement morph into investing in people and the earth. For Hewitt he came to these communal-economic ideas by asking the question: what is money?

Dethroning the World of Finance

After September 11th, Ben Hewitt found that his modest retirement fund had virtually disappeared. He set out on a quest to learn exactly what value, wealth, and money is. His discoveries would reshape his life and metaphysical orientation. In a sense, Hewitt’s work is a tool for naming the idol(s)–the practice of identifying, analyzing, and supplanting death-like power structures. His work dethrones money from its lofty pedestal and exposes its empty nature.

Hewitt systematically probes and documents the false reality of finance and money. He points to finance as an immaterial and contrived structure. How is this so? It commodifies needed resources–food, clothing, shelter– into consumer products. Essentially, objectifying real necessities to a violent fiscal metric or language. For instance, once food is commercialized it loses it natural relation to people; food is no longer a foundation of life freely given from the earth unto people. Food morphs into a commodity dispensed by corporations. People soon see it through this distorted lens. Altering humanity’s perception of food drives their “need” to accumulate money in order that food or other resources might be seized instead of shared. Mass participation in finance results in a power based economy founded on the the fear of death.

Thus, the finance economy holds communities at ransom through financial demands and language. In other words, only money can unlock needed resources within the modern world. Money or finance becomes the lock and key to life. It takes up the role of idol by replacing natural processes. From a theological angle, fiscal systems exchange resources found in creation with a human fabricated arbiter. Romans 1:25 comes to mind “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and turned to idols”. Consequently, finance generates its own moral code and metaphysical definition of existence. It is an existence of ransomed resources and enslaved people.

Ransoming of resources via finance is accomplished through the concept of value. According to Hewitt, value assigns subjectively determined, numeric rankings to resources. The result is an oppressive system which disproportionately dispenses or withholds basic resources from people according to income. Thus, the perceived numeric value of resources leads to speculation. Speculation ignores abundance. The result is resource hoarding by a few. Thus, greed converts abundance into scarcity; greed masquerades inequity as savvy financial stewardship.

Hewitt underscores scarcity by quoting from the book Sacred Finance, “In context of abundance greed is silly; only in the context of scarcity is it rational. The wealthy perceive scarcity where there is none. They also worry more than anybody else about money. Could it be that money itself causes the perception of scarcity? Could it be that money, nearly synonymous with security, ironically brings the opposite? The answer to both questions is yes.”

“Financial security” replaces communal systems of interdependence with a fear of scarcity resulting in greed. The oppression via monetary systems persist as value creates power structures. Value assigns numeric ratings for resources and for people via cost and salary, solidifying an alternate reality rife with alienation. Once people could drink freely from wells (resources). Now water can be purchased (via salary) by the bottle (commodity).

Value does not simply objectify resources, it dehumanizes people. For example, teachers and EMTs have low salaries (low value) and can barely afford housing (a commodity) due to its expensively assigned value. Meanwhile, CEO’s and lawyers with high salaries (high value) easily access necessary resources (commodities). The needs of the “low” and “high” professionals are equal and yet their access to resources unequal. Classes are spawned by the systematizing of people via “value”. Climbing the economic ladder becomes the new purpose to life.

Clearly, the world of finance is fabricated and violent in nature. Finance, at some point in time, arbitrarily creates the “haves” and “have-nots”. Money morphed from the gold coins of Rome to the cash bills of Washington to Visa cards. This economy of fear and finances has changed but its method of oppression remains the same. First, convince people that money is necessary and neutral. This is important. People must believe money is foundational and amoral. Second, wield the power of finance to exploit human lives.

Deflating Financial Economies with the Substance of Community

Hewitt dissects the lie of finance: money is necessary. He exposes money as a hollow ploy. The paradigm that you either have money or you are in debt is false. It turns out money is debt. Documented in his book, he points to the federal reserve printing currency backed by nothing, U.S banks loaning mortgages that they cannot fund and the US GDP requiring 4 dollars of debt per 1-dollar increase (Hewitt, 95-98). Essentially, modern finance uses ethereal fiscal numbers to claim physical resources. These monetary claims greatly exceed actual resources available. It can be deduced, money is debt, the financial system is a ruse, and numeric wealth is an illusion wielded by the powerful.

The weaponized illusion of fiscal wealth masks the reality that concentrated fiscal fortunes are connected to decreased communal wealth and natural resources.

So, what can be done with financial oppression? Hewitt reintroduces alternative ways of exchanging goods and services. In place of the ambiguous and oppressive value systems Hewitt suggests its counterpart, genuine wealth. Unlike Wallstreet, a realm which conjures its existence not from substance but through speculative judgments seeking to capitalize on consumer habits, genuine wealth is formed by substance and sincere relations.

The substance of genuine wealth is the combination of physical goods, food, skills and relationships a person has, both individually and by extension of their community. Wealth in its optimal form is communal, fluid–exchanging hands– and accessible to all.

An example the author gives is ladders. Why should a neighborhood of ten homes have ten thirty-foot extension ladders? Why not one or two ladders? This increases the neighborhoods resources and increases person to person interaction. Generosity or wealth is spread all around.

Consider Erik, the “poorest” and wealthiest person Ben Hewitt knows, “In short what I observed in Erik’s life was an incredibly interconnected, interdependent, community network that shared freely of its resources be they intellectual, physical or material…Erik had in large part usurped the moneyed economy by creating an economy of reciprocation (Hewitt, 139).”

In a community with Erik-like citizens time and resources are abundant. A person should need only the currency of trust to have their needs met. In communities where trust is currency people are generous, responsible and resourceful. They lean on friends and neighbors wielding innovation to meet each other’s needs. Communal trust systems cultivate renewed relationships between people, earth, and Creator, exchanging fabrication for substance.

People participating in either communal or fiscal economies might resemble the following traits.

Generally speaking, people pursuing finance value independence while relying on the accumulation of money and consumer goods. People pursuing genuine wealth value interdependence while relying on the accumulation of relationships and the development of skills. The first group immerses themselves in the unreal of financial speculation and accumulation. The second group immerses themselves in the real of relationships and cultivating innovation. And yet we are all a part of the fiscal system likely falling somewhere between the two systems. Thus, an ever increasing lean out of the fiscal system and into the communal trust economy is paramount.

After reading Hewitt’s book Saved, Andrea and I were able to understand the violent working of the money idol. We clearly understood the need to develop a large store house of communal trust. Likewise, we saw the need to decrease our dependence on money. Not because money and finance can lead to evil. But because money has become the vehicle of evil. It has stratified humanity into no-class, low class, high class. It has stripped forests of trees, polluted ground water with oil and deprived children of food. The lie of money perpetuates homelessness, cultivates war and substitutes communal relationships with personal finance. The truth of community erases hierarchy, cultivates relationships and shared resourcefulness. Humans created money. Therefore, we can undo this mistake by supplanting monetary systems as an act of creating peaceable community.

Jesus as Financial Iconoclast

Perhaps Jesus would have been willing to recommend Ben Hewitt’s book. At times Hewitt draws from the New Testament Canon and shares Jesus’ fiscal iconoclasm. Reviewing Jesus’ sentiment toward money in light of Hewitt’s book sheds light on a peaceable economy. Luke 18 records the story of a young man who wished to join Jesus’ peaceable community. He was told to sell all his possessions first. In Matthew 21 Jesus rages at merchants for turning God’s temple into a market. In Mark 10 Jesus states, “It is much harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Jesus puts great distance between money and the Kingdom of God through much of his teachings.

Two of Jesus’ teachings confront the economy of money in a profound manner. These teachings face off with the popular American sentiment “In God we Trust” as seen infused on money. A lie so well entrenched it would forge God’s endorsement– the God who turned over money tables and multiplied fish for the masses at no cost!

And so, Jesus’ words ring clearly:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”- Luke 16:13

As well as “Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him.” Mark 12:17

In the first saying Jesus draws a line in the sand. Serve God or money. Either serve the systemic and deceptive world of money/finances or serve the peaceable community of Jesus. You cannot have two masters. In the second quote, Jesus teaches money belongs to Caesar. Jesus had no interest in the power wielding system of Caesar. This death dealing economy is hollow and Jesus disowns it.

In contrast, Jesus embraces the life-giving economy of God. “Give to God what is God’s.” How beautiful. Life belongs to God. This is not some trite phrase readily consumed and processed. No; it is a stark metaphysical claim. Between the two scriptures above Jesus makes it clear: what belongs to God is life. What belongs to Caesar is death: an empty, hollow fabrication called money.

Jesus endorses a communal ecosystem. He called his peaceable ecosystem the Kingdom of Heaven. Consider the garden of Eden and its founding elements: relationship, cultivation, and abundance. Communal trust systems are much like plants in an ecosystem. Plants take nutrients, process, and give back to the ecosystem. Plants do so patiently and in season. Taking what is necessary while re-gifting what is not needed. Eventually, a tree or bush will fruit abundantly; no one creature can consume its bounty. The communal trust ecosystem involves sharing, patience, and interdependence. Where no one thing or person is labeled as “mine” by fiscal systems but everything is everyone’s according to God’s gift called life.

Unlike the communal system, the ecosystem of money withholds necessities of life until the system is appeased by its ever-shifting financial demands, e.g. inflation. It is a system which takes without thoughtfulness and wastes instead of re-gifting resources. Man authored a fiscal economy which deals in alienation and death.

Thus, the choice is to consume or cultivate, take or give, fearfully grab for control or trust in Jesus’ community of peace. It is a call to acknowledge “money” as ancient evil lie. The choice is relationships restored or relationships fragmented.

Will we bow our knee to the power-based reality of Caesar? Or will we lean into the embrace of peaceable communities of trust?

Acts 2:44-46 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they shared with anyone who was in need. 46With one accord they continued to meet daily in the temple courts and to break bread from house to house, sharing their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart.”