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What’s it worth?

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FLI_100413_moneyBuckets of water — and money — are pouring in to help find a cure for ALS. A megastar pastor steps down after accusations of wrongdoing, partly with regard to finances. Donations are streaming to Ferguson, Mo., some to the grieving family of Michael Brown and more (at this point) into a fund to support the officer who fatally shot him.

On a personal level, my small church is struggling to work more lean and still go about the ministry we wish to do in light of declining funds. The neighborhood around us is both booming and hurting. We are located almost on the “dividing line,” if there is one, between Kendall Yards and the rest of West Central Spokane. I am praying continually — with my voice and my feet — that we don’t end up with a walled off pocket of privilege. Happily, there are already good signs we won’t.

The flow of money baffles and frustrates me. My father, an agribusinessman by trade, would always tell me “it comes down to business, dear!” I would shake my head and wrinkle my nose in response, as if the idea of money actually smelled bad.

Perhaps what truly stinks is the place money has gained in our consciousness. It is meant as a stand in for labor (this is my very untrained thinking about capitalism) but becomes a stand in for many other things, like love, meaning, voice and strength. We judge political candidates by how much money they have raised and we listen to the media report on those figures, swaying our decision toward the candidate with the bigger pile. We speak of celebrity business people and their “net worth.” Are some humans worth more than others?

Contrast this with the words of Jesus, who instructs his followers to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Namely, coinage. Many preachers and authors have taken this to mean we should pay taxes. But not only the coins paying the tax bear the image of the Emperor: all money looks like Caesar. Jesus may be calling the Body of Christ to be a community with no money. What does that mean for the church fundraiser?

The term worship comes from an elision of two other words: worth-ship. We gather to worship God, who we deem most worthy of our praises. We see one another as having God-given worth, deep and abiding value that comes not from market shares or the ability to work. It simply is. I am worthy. You are worthy.

(OK, I can’t help but think of Wayne’s World and the “we’re not worthy!” bit. But I digress.)

What also stinks with regard to the use of money in our culture is that we tell ourselves we are equal in worth, and equal before the law. But public policy, judicial processes, city council discussions and other pursuits of justice are too often set by those with money. Those without money become those without voice. That is at odds with story we tell each other about this country and its pursuit of freedom and equality. I can hear Sweet Honey in the Rock sing, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of black men — black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men — white mother’s sons. We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

I wish to nurture a community in which everyone has worth and we don’t use money to quantify or commodify each other. I wish to nurture a community in which we can name our needs without shame and name our gifts without pride. Maybe this community can be the church; maybe not. Maybe if the church experiments with an existence beyond capitalism, with an existence of God-given and community-shared worth, we can share it with the world.

Liv Larson Andrews

About Liv Larson Andrews

Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.

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5 comments

  1. Well said, Liv, as always. 🙂

  2. “Jesus may be calling the Body of Christ to be a community with no money.” So could Walnut Corners or The Book Parlor have come into reality without money?

    • No. But are they better for the existence of money? I find myself torn. I
      was raised in an odd situation, economically. When I was a kid, we were
      poor. I didn’t understand this then, but I do now. My parents were
      nurses. Both of them. My dad finished school when we were very little.
      My mom worked, and he worked while going to school, to support us. When
      we were infants, my grandma asked my mom what she wanted for Christmas,
      and my mom’s answer was, “meat out of your freezer.” I grew up on a dish
      that was a baked potato topped with a soft boiled egg, shredded cheese,
      and cottage cheese. But then the 80’s happened. Technology took leaps
      and bounds, and (even more importantly) men started getting into
      nursing. Salaries went up and up. We went from poor, to lower middle
      class, to upper middle class, over the years. I have the weird
      experience of knowing what poverty feels like (at least vaguely) while
      also knowing how much of my life has been shaped by economic privilege.
      And that leaves me in a weird place. What do I owe? What is my role? I
      work for an insurance company, and am well compensated for it. Am I a
      part of the problem, contributing to inequality? What do I owe? How much
      should I contribute? Should I feel obligated to work overtime when it’s
      available because of the good I could do with it? What does the
      existence of money MEAN for us, as Christians? I think that’s a hard question.

      • Since Liv isn’t taking this up, I’ll run with it a bit, not my show but hey, you did comment on my comment. 😉

        Aaron, I think everyone is free do figure that out on their own before God and neighbor. I think the New Testament was clear in Acts 5 that the issue of wealth and giving is a act of freedom meant to be handled in joy and generosity not under compulsion or public approval or disapproval.

        Acts 5:1-4 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

        I see a lot of guilt loading going on in churches when it comes to trying to erect some kind of standard for all. I too have known, lived and currently live among those struggling with poverty. I see no beauty in most of what grows up around the continual deprivation of poverty. Crime, violence, addiction, social deterioration, family dysfunction, despair, chronic cycles of generational behavior that perpetuate hopelessness or ignorance. Money doesn’t solve all of it either but I often find that to be an excuse too. Today I drove past a woman in our neighborhood who is homeless, she was sleeping in a lazy boy that she dragged outside of the bathrooms in the park. Just her and her little dog. Homelessness is rooted in complex problems but as I sit on a block of abandoned or foreclosed homes, I wish I had more money for transitional housing. In the end I just pray for good people to get ahold of the resources and do good stuff with it. If we all did a little a lot more would get done.

  3. No. But are they better for the existence of money? I find myself torn. I
    was raised in an odd situation, economically. When I was a kid, we were
    poor. I didn’t understand this then, but I do now. My parents were
    nurses. Both of them. My dad finished school when we were very little.
    My mom worked, and he worked while going to school, to support us. When
    we were infants, my grandma asked my mom what she wanted for Christmas,
    and my mom’s answer was, “meat out of your freezer.” I grew up on a dish
    that was a baked potato topped with a soft boiled egg, shredded cheese,
    and cottage cheese. But then the 80’s happened. Technology took leaps
    and bounds, and (even more importantly) men started getting into
    nursing. Salaries went up and up. We went from poor, to lower middle
    class, to upper middle class, over the years. I have the weird
    experience of knowing what poverty feels like (at least vaguely) while
    also knowing how much of my life has been shaped by economic privilege.
    And that leaves me in a weird place. What do I owe? What is my role? I
    work for an insurance company, and am well compensated for it. Am I a
    part of the problem, contributing to inequality? What do I owe? How much
    should I contribute? Should I feel obligated to work overtime when it’s
    available because of the good I could do with it? What does the
    existence of money MEAN for us, as Christians?

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