Christians and the Structure of Money

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October 28, 2010

Since Winnipeg has experienced (until now) an exceptionally warm October (still cracking double digits!) I have tended to wander a little outside during my lunch break.  Yesterday I walked into small corner store.  The sign on the front said 25% off and they were doing work outside so I assumed they were closing down or making some changes.  As I walked in I saw a new counter roughed-out with some other renovations underway.  I am always excited to hear about new ventures and businesses starting up in the downtown area so I asked what was happening.  The man behind the counter, reading a magazine, barely looked at me and responded by saying he thought a Money Mart was coming in.  Money Mart has been described by others as legal loan sharking.  Basically a Money Mart exists to exploit those desperate for money who should not have money lent to them through traditional means.  In fact an ongoing court case has accused Money Mart of charging literally criminal interest rates which exceed 60%.  All this to say that my heart sank when I heard him utter those words.

But, but, but I need money now for my cell phone contract, to get my cable hooked up, to score a little something-something tonight.

Rent is due and there is no milk on the table and the carburetor is broken, whatever that is.

These sorts of lenders will refuse almost no one the opportunity of feeling, smelling, and touching actual cash.  You can go in and come out with cash.  You can come out with the most the valuable object in our society, well almost the most valuable, perhaps the second most valuable.  Cash is nothing if not integrated into a complex of power made up by human beings.  The most valuable object then is that mechanism which puts you most directly in control of the human-complex.  And I would argue that debt is more powerful than cash. 

Wealth is that which another does not have, it is therefore relative, relational.  The equation of wealth then must include the variables of human beings.  Money Mart literally gives you less then it takes.  These places give you cash and then take control.  So to reduce the exchange it is accurate to simply say that it takes.  Is this the definition of power?  Is this the definition of rape?  But we would rather be raped then be denied access to the game that is established for the very purpose of abusing and enslaving us (consumerism).  So cash ultimately is not valuable.  Cash is simply that which allows us to role the dice one more time hoping we will hit a ladder and not a snake without even knowing if there is anything at the top.  We know no other game . . . this appears to be life for us in the West.

I mourn the possibility of a Money Mart moving across the street from our church.  What is our witness of response?  How do we disengage the network of debt to plant seeds of aid and mercy?  I would want to push Paul further in his previous post.  We are not only responsible for the money we spend but for the structure that gives money its worth and function in our lives.  Though I wish I had more to offer in response at this time.

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