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.”

A Christian Devil?

The following is a guest blog by Allan S. Contreras Rios.

Matthew 4:1-11

When talking about Jesus’ temptation it is but inevitable to identify ourselves with Jesus.  After all, everybody is tempted, constantly. But, what about an interpretation in which a Christian can see himself as being Satan? This is a possibility ignored by many because, well, who likes to be called Satan?

In a hermeneutics class with Jason Rodenbeck, a book called “Grasping God’s Word” by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays was used. A comment by Rodenbeck about the name of the book stood out (without demeaning the richness of the book) “the word ‘grasping’ has a violence to it. I’ve got it, I own that. I wish it was ‘being grasped by God’s Word’.” The idea is that the Bible is not something a Christian should hold, but that which holds the Christian.

It is a fact that everybody is an interpreter; and in this case, even Satan is. Satan uses misapplied Scripture to tempt Jesus. Several things must be pointed out: 1) Satan is called by three different words: tempter (v.3), devil (vs. 1, 5, 8, 11), and Satan (v. 10). 2) Satan is using the Word of God to tempt the Word of God (Logos, Jesus). 3) By doing so, he thinks his interpretation of the Word of God is superior to the Word Himself (Jesus). 4) The temptation is luring Jesus to succumb to the culture, religion and politics of this world.

Every teacher of the Bible should be careful about what he learns and teaches (James 3:1). It is not uncommon for teachers and preachers to use Scripture according to their agendas. It is not uncommon for them to believe theological doctrines based on verses out of context. It is not uncommon that their congregations end up believing these theological doctrines, whether they’re correct or not. And this is the reason why I think it is important to stop “grasping the Word of God” like Satan tried to do, and start “being grasped” by it.

The three words that describe Satan in this pericope can describe preachers as well. In Revelation 2:12-17 the Church in Pergamum is rebuked for holding false teachings and for committing acts of immorality. They are warned to repent or Jesus will make war against them with the sword of His mouth (the Word). Immorality and false teaching have crept into the church, many preachers even mishandle Scripture to teach that certain immoralities are no longer immoral, but normal. And so they fall into the first description of Satan, they are tempters. This control over what the Bible “teaches” is what makes them fall into the second description since “devil” comes from the words “calumniate, accuse, repudiate, misrepresent;” they are opposed to what the Bible teaches because they think that their interpretation of the Word is more important than the Word itself, even if or when it is a lie. Because of this misuse of the Scripture and their opposition to it, they become “adversaries” (the meaning of Satan) of the Word itself (Jesus).

Many preachers today use Satan’s strategy to have more “Christians” in their churches. They lure them to “following Christ” by remaining in the kingdom of this world, and by appealing to this world’s idols. There is no change of culture, or religion, or politics. Who would not like to have eternal life without sacrificing a thing? But, in this account Jesus does not fall into Satan’s temptation. Would He –having eaten bread or having thrown Himself from the pinnacle of the temple or worshiped Satan– gone to die on the cross? Not likely. And is it not what Jesus calls Christians to do as well–take up our cross to die (Matthew 16:24)?

Many preachers may not know that what they are teaching is opposed to the Word. And how could they not if they fail to do their homework when it comes to interpreting? “Ignorance is not the same as innocence.”[1] Christians must acknowledge this: bad theology leads to bad practices, many times violent ones. It is every Christian’s task to let himself be grasped by God’s Word in order to have good theology and as result, good practices. Mankind, since Genesis 3, is so used to the violence of seeing, holding, eating and sharing the wrong thing with others because it empowers them. And this is what makes the kingdom of Christ so radical, the citizenship requires the complete opposite of empowerment since it calls to an emptiness and denying of the self.

…the Bible is not something a Christian should hold, but that which holds the Christian.

Satan’s temptations follow his own pattern in Genesis: food, sight, pride. Israel fell on all of these during the wilderness. But Jesus shows a better way by denying His own needs in order to focus on ours. Christians are called to do the same to other Christians. But many, like Israel, fail to do so, or like Satan, they become the enemy to other Christians. What does Jesus call those who do Satan’s will? Those who refuse to be endorsed by a peaceable kingdom and therefore endorsing a violent one? Those who are not willing to give up their culture, religion or politics for a relationship with God? A Christian devil? No, He calls them “son of the devil” (John 8:44). Strong words that may apply to some who think are Christians, but not everyone who says “Lord, Lord…” (Matthew 7:22-23).

[1] This is a quote from the film Batman v Superman  which is thought to be a variation of the line from the English poet Robert Browning who said “Ignorance is not innocence but sin.”

The Matrix: Revisited

The following is a guest blog by Ray Jewell.

Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”

I remember when the first of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix, came out in 1999. Crowds flocked to see the latest thing in movie magic technology. The Matrix took the cosmic struggle of good vs. evil to a much higher plane. And many Christians bought into this movie, hook, line, and
sinker. Continue reading “The Matrix: Revisited”

Trust in God: Lessons in Being Small from David and Goliath

The following is a guest-blog by Tyler Goss, converted from a sermon he preached at Berea Mennonite Church in Atlanta, GA, June 24, 2018.

I have a hard time understanding what complete trust in God looks like. I mean—I trust that God cares about me…I trust that God pours out unconditional love for me…but, what about when it comes to a big situation that seems out of my control, like a car accident or a robbery? What about the risk of nuclear war in my lifetime…? I don’t know what completely trusting God looks like. Why do some die, and some escape death? Why do some suffer and others live extravagantly? In a war, both sides may trust in God to see them through the fight…but it’s a battlefront, people will die, loved ones will not return home. Does my trust in God lead to my safety? Or, looking at trust from another angle, if I trust in God, what is it that I am to trust God with? My future, my finances, my health, my plans? What does it mean to trust in God? Continue reading “Trust in God: Lessons in Being Small from David and Goliath”

The Men and Women of Pod

The following is a guest blog by Bret Powell

There’s nothing new about podcasts, but the subscription-based digital downloads seem to be opening a new door into something that looks an awful lot like “community.” More than just a cult-following of artistic enthusiasm—of the kind that develops around eccentric films, music, television dramas, and many other types of media—these podcast communities are tuning in for a no-boundary brand of discussion and post-modern explorations of society. While the fear to express alternative political and religious opinions has left many feeling marginalized or “herniating on the fence of ambivalence—“ teetering somewhere between definitive party platforms and the complexity of social issues, or between denominational identity and the failure of religion to meet the challenges of the culture in a way that does more than simply inoculate it with nostalgia for some golden era of the past—such frustrations are now the vital pulses of a different kind of community: a church. Instability and doubt are now a cause for gathering and commonality. This is the church of honesty and empathy, of expressiveness and profanity, of nuance and complexity, of story and therapy. Here, Jesus is still the Son of God…if you want him to be. But without a doubt, Satan is any semblance of hatred or shaming. Continue reading “The Men and Women of Pod”

Why Is the Church So Violent and What Can Be Done about It? (Part 2 of 2)

The following is a guest blog by Eric A. Seibert

When people look at the church, I want them to see a community that rejects violence and is committed to peace, justice, and reconciliation. Christians should be part of the solution to what ails the world, not part of the problem. In order for that to happen, the church needs to prepare its members to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus. Thankfully, there are many practical things the church can do in this regard. Continue reading “Why Is the Church So Violent and What Can Be Done about It? (Part 2 of 2)”

Why Is the Church so Violent and What Can Be Done about It? (Part 1 of 2)

The following is a guest blog by Eric A. Seibert

Among Christianity’s most notable teachings are commands to forgive wrongdoers (Col 3:13), love enemies (Matt 5:44), and serve others (Matt 20:20–28). Christians, empowered by God’s Spirit, should exhibit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22–23 NRSV). Retaliation, retribution, and revenge are forbidden (Matt 5:38–42). Believers are never to “repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12:17 NRSV) but rather are to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21 NRSV). Love is the quintessential virtue of Jesus’ followers and the identifying mark by which the world will recognize them as his disciples (John 13:35; 1 John 3:11–24; 4:7–12). Christians are to love their neighbors (Matt 22:39), treat others as they wish to be treated (Matt 7:12), and be merciful (Luke 6:36). They are to live such exemplary lives that others see their “good works” and glorify God (Matt 5:16 NRSV). Continue reading “Why Is the Church so Violent and What Can Be Done about It? (Part 1 of 2)”

The Final Parable

The following is a guest blog by Brett Powell.

The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke share alternative adaptations of a parable told by Jesus in which a master, in preparation for a journey afar, temporarily entrusted various amounts of wealth to his servants. In Matthew’s version, eight talents (a unit of weight) are distributed among three servants: the first servant receiving five, the second receiving two and the third receiving only one—each according to his proper dynamic. In terms of wealth, it’s impossible to say just how much Jesus was imagining. The idea, so it would seem, is that each servant received, not just slight gradations in pay, but measurably different degrees of resources. Such that, the first servant is entrusted with a sum of resources which could potentially employ or support a multitude, the second is entrusted with the resources to support many and the third servant is given the means to support only a few. Continue reading “The Final Parable”

The Apostle Junia: Christianity Undoing Gender Oppression

The following is a guest blog by Sharon Klingemann.

When I first heard about Junia I was appalled. A woman?! Apostle!? Where has she been all my life? Why have I never heard of her?! The tragedy is that I never heard of her due to the somewhat successful, and somewhat unsuccessful blotting out of her name from history. Open your bible and read Romans 16:7, and if you are ambitious go ahead and read the chapter in its entirety. Continue reading “The Apostle Junia: Christianity Undoing Gender Oppression”