Thursday, January 31, 2008

Faith Works 2-2-08
Jeff Gill

Give Churches Some Credit

Consumer spending only increased 3.5% last Christmas season, say economic news stories.

Only? Only that percent of growth in spending is bad news for our economy?

Our economy is well and truly broke, then.

Economic news is everywhere, and much of it sounds bad. The worst stats have to do with foreclosures, and I keep thinking I’m missing something. In Licking County, for our 150,000 souls we have 55,000 households, with not quite 42,000 owner-occupied households.

When I read that we had nearly a thousand foreclosures a couple years ago, a thou one year back, over a thousand last year, and we’re guaranteed 1,200 at minimum this year, that’s 4,000 plus households dealing with mortgage foreclosures in the current time frame.

That’s one in ten Licking County households.

Faith communities obviously have a stake in talking about finance and personal restraint and stewardship in a good season, let alone right now. With the deeply disturbing trends knocking around, there are a number of good responses from church bodies and gatherings of concerned religious folk.

One is just called “The Compact.” You can google around a bit and find some of the groups, which started on the West Coast and Pacific Northwest but is spreading to all kinds of locales around the county.

Their proposal is simple: we make a compact together not to buy anything new for a season, whether Lent or a year or whathaveyou. If you need something, you find it used, you trade or borrow, or you figure out how to do without. Food stuffs are an exemption (more on faith and food next week!), and there are some other common-sense exceptions, just look for “The Compact” and add in search terms “consumer, consumption, used” to find all you need to know.

There’s a fellow called “the Cheapskate” who has been writing about living cheaply for years; with Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent this Wednesday it makes sense to lift up his new idea -- a money fast! Jeff Yeager is looking for meaning and purpose in life, and one of the steps he commends is to set aside a week a year to spend no money.

If that sounds silly to you, ask yourself: “Why is that?” Why should our need to define ourselves by what we purchase, the things we consume, be an absolute?

And that’s what any discipline of fasting is about: remembering that eating or whatever special thing we set aside for a fast is not who or whose we are. Yeager says try a day, or a day a month, but try a money fast. I think he’s on to something important.

Over in England, the Methodist Church of Britain is launching a credit card. Today, it seems every organization wants us to get “their” credit card, to merge their identity and our own into another tool to consume.

But this credit card goes in your wallet, in front of your cards that work, because it doesn’t. it just makes us stop and think. The English Methodist card is a bright cheery red plastic reminder saying on its face “Buy Less, Live More,” meant especially for the Lenten season. Where the card number would go, it says “Mark 10: 17-27.”

Go to their website, and you can register to get daily e-mails with ideas on how to “live life in all its fullness” by buying less and living more. They welcome Americans, too.

Or you could just look up the Bible quote on the card each day.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your Lenten discipline at

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