Stand against the invisible hand: share and pray

When capitalism organizes your money, it undermines community. Worse, when capitalism channels your desire it warps prayer. The main things our church may be lacking the most right now are money and prayer. There is a good, macro reason for that lack which we might not even notice: we are in the grip of the invisible hand.

Let me say right off the top, in case you don’t read too much further:

1) We cannot sustain community without sharing money. Practically, we have made commitments as a group that require money, of course. But more profoundly, if you opt out of contributing to the whole you diminish it, even mock it, name it unworthy. You put a hole in our mutuality. Give ten dollars or a tithe, but stay in the game with us. We could lose the game.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire. Practically, if the consumption-driven economy drives you, you have another god. If you have stopped praying because, in reality,  your “needs” are met by your place in the economy and your desires are driven by the market, you look like a foreigner in the Kingdom of God. Pray one minute or make praying your vocation, but connect with the Spirit. You could die. And the church could die with you.

What is capitalism again?

socialists trying to thwart the invisible handCapitalism was identified in the 1700’s by the likes of Adam Smith and others as an economic reality in which the “market” is not something that is extra to your life, it is in the center of your life. For centuries, markets were places where you could go trade for something you could not produce yourself. Now markets are the only means you can obtain anything. We always hear about the “free” market, which means the market, as an abstraction, aspires to be free from external constraints and obstacles. By this time, not only is the market central to everything, but everything is also subject to the rules of the market. The market is free, but we cannot be free from the market.

There are many schools of economics. The one that has been steering us since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, followed up by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, advocates the complete marketization of life. It is all for overcoming obstacles and inefficiencies brought on by the so-called “welfare state” and increasing the integration of the globe into one market. This school is, in a sense, “anti-government” since governments interfere with the invisible hand. But its proponents are usually for small, lean governments that have strong militaries to face threats to the market.

Did you miss this debate? While you were growing up, the invisible hand of capitalism firmly took over your territory. It is global and it has armies. For instance, during the recent downturn, the 1% we talk about took advantage of their opening to gain world domination; now a huge percentage of global wealth is in their hands. The triumph of the invisible hand — a reality most of us don’t even recognize — might be why we don’t share like we could and why we might even be discouraged in our prayer. Yet the church needs sharing and praying more than ever if it is not going to be ground down even more by this powerful force.

We cannot sustain community without sharing money.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

In God’s economy, sharing is motivated by the desire to create community because that is elemental to God’s desire. The work of the cross joins us to Christ as his body. Former motivations from the world system that drove us are healed. We are freed from self-absorption, obsession with our own interests, and fear of scarcity — our desire is turned outward in humble vulnerability and generous service to and with others. Jesus demonstrated that love as God shared life with us, even to the point of death. That’s the basis of the new economy in Christ — unless it is not.

invisible hand dialogue between pawns and kingsA good half of us have a terrible time sharing because we are still consuming church like a product and are still too afraid of our own present or prospective poverty to share. Lack of sharing kills the church. It is not so much that the church needs a lot of money to survive. We can survive as the church at all sorts of levels. What is important is this: when we don’t share, we do not subvert the anti-sharing of capitalism and we worship the invisible hand by default. We become individual marketers in competition for scarce resources; we become individualized products selling ourselves daily. We become mere pawns in the 1%’s market pretending that our freedom to buy a new gadget or buy the monetized thoughts of the internet is actual choice.

We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:2).

All economies are based on desire. Capitalism has mastered the art of making everything about desire, what we want and don’t have. Long ago, James rightly prophesied that such misplaced desire would cause nothing but conflict. The recent, ongoing U.S. wars have proven James right in a large way. They are all about our desire for revenge, desire to be protected and our desire for oil and our “way of life,” aren’t they? Did anyone ask God about that? “Asking God” does not mean getting God to give us what we can’t get in the economy. It means being part of a new economy based on God’s generosity, being in full communion with the one true God and putting the invisible hand in its place.

danceMany of us have a secret. We stopped praying long ago because we believe the bible of capitalism when it says that education and hard work will get us what we desire. We don’t have time to pray because we are at work or at school. Our schedule barely leaves time for our families, much less some alternative economy. We are content to have a privatized faith, a leisure time faith that we visit a couple of times a month at the Sunday meeting. Our desire is deformed. It is so conformed to the way the world is post-Reagan that we believe it when people say it has always been this way, only now it is better.

I get a sinking feeling some days that we are going to lose the battle. As alternative as our church is, as radical as some of us are, as amazing as our thinking and acting really are, the forces sometimes seem stronger. The post-9/11 generation is so scared. The institutions are so much bigger than they were before the attack and before years of warfare, homeland security and recession. Are we still a circle of hope? — or is that just a brand name, now? If we don’t share and we don’t pray, if we don’t do what the church really needs right now, what are we?

God rescues me when I am sinking in such thinking, just like he pulled Peter from the sea that time. Paul also said in Romans 5: Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. And James also said in James 4: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Whether we share and pray or not, God’s grace is greater. That grace has made us and will keep drawing us toward home.

6 thoughts on “Stand against the invisible hand: share and pray

  1. Giving money to the church has a mystery about it anyway, kind of like a win-win investment. Your church gets some funds and you end up feeling like you have more money. I never understood it, but I see it in action in my own life and have also heard testimony about it in others. Capitalism seems more like lose-lose, spend the money to fill the lack that is subtly pointed out in the background noise of the TV and get left with less money and the same big gaping hole. The idea of capitalism is good though, the idea of empowering a person to be able to produce a product and a profit, but really it’s a lie, thinly veiled by consumerism and corporatism, fueled by our laws that deemed corporations with the same rights as people. Wrong. The idea of giving/receiving instead of selling/buying is unpopular, but much more satisfying and community-oriented. Less profit for sure overall, but since when does profit have to be measured only in $$?

  2. In some ways I do feel weighed down by the economy and capitalistic mindset of our country. Even Christian friends of mine assume Capitalism is beneficial for them and the world. I do not feel defeated though, as long as I continue to live by putting my desire for God above my desire for the capitals spoils I am not part of the machine.

  3. This post jives well with the recent pastors’ A.M.A. video on Circle of Hope’s youtube channel: “Does my cell phone enslave me?” Smartphones are a good example of “the hand” extending it’s reach to provide mediated connections and make market goods addictively readily available at the fingertips of innumerable individuals. I can see how praying unmediated to God and sharing generously in community is the real alternative.

  4. I appreciate the connection you are making between prayer and economy. In both areas we have habits that form out of our hearts. It’s tempting to allow less personal external conditions (do I have enough money coming in? Do others give me what I really want/need?) modulate for us worship/prayer or sharing. I also find it liberating to let the Spirit and community form me when navigating those waters – especially when I am feeling more strain than gain. Thanks for this.

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