There is value in protest. But protest doesn’t always look like taking up residence in a tent city, standing on a street corner with scrawled signs. (Although, I admit it: I like that, too.) Yes, the Occupy Wall Street protests have ignited a much-needed discussion about our economic systems … but now what?
I am a simple living wannabe. I have a mortgage, three tinies and a habit of wandering aimlessly through Pinterest as a cheap form of therapy. But I also want to be a part of a new economy by living a better and more redemptive truth with my money.
As I wrote for RELEVANT recently, if there is a greater purpose to Occupy Wall Street, then perhaps it is this: A call to repentance and change for us all. Perhaps this is our time, as the Church, to speak boldly about the worth and value of people, made in the image of God even in our economic systems. As Fr. Richard Rohr wrote, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.
Here are a few actions that I would like to hold up for your consideration and conversation as we seek to make economic choices that affirm our personhood in Christ and our countercultural values.
1. Fire your bail-out bank and move your money to a credit union. The credit union model is the most ethical system I’ve found yet to handle our finances and ensure that we are part of a movement that puts people before profits. Credit unions are typically local and unique to your community. Every member is able to vote on major decisions, the board is elected by the membership, profits are reinvested back into the communities where we live and work, and it is co-operative grassroots economics.
2. Make things … We live in a convenience driven, throw-away culture. We’ve lost our connection not only to the seasons and the land but to each other and the work of our hands. A few years ago, I learned to knit in a run-down local yarn shop. Now when I knit sweaters or hats for my friends and my tinies, I find there is prayer in every stitch. Handmade work is creative and life-giving, unique and desirable, not menial and degrading. Work can be a partnership of co-creation, perhaps as it was meant to be all along. My home may not look like an HGTV model with our homemade furniture, quilts and handknits, but oh, it makes me happy.
3. … or buy handmade. I make many of my purchases at big-box stores for the same reason as everyone else: price, convenience and selection. However, I do try to give my business to handmade artists. Mr Gigantic Discount Retailer won’t miss my money, but my purchases could make a real difference for the woman selling jewelry in Rwanda to put her daughter through school.
4. Put the government out of business wherever you can. If it is not the government’s job to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister life to the wounded, then perhaps it is time for us to prove it. I find this deeply challenging, but I try to find ways to gather around the ones in need in our church and community in real, tangible ways. I want to be the hands and feet of God, making space for His way of loving people one-by-one. I much prefer the organic life of God, the yeast in the bread of life, handed out freely. Stuffing food bins for the poor. Helping out-of-work friends with résumés and contacts. Collecting coats for the homeless when the weather gets cold. Making meals for my neighbor who is sick or even offering a night of babysitting to young parents.
5. Manage money responsibly. It seems there is always more money left at the end of the month in this stage of our life: that aforementioned mortgage, three tinies, one moderate income, a high cost of living. We are asking ourselves hard questions about all of it, still deciding how to best live our values in this area. But here it is: I want to live simply and I want the stress of money removed so we are free to give and live and move where God leads. We are learning to be prudent and disciplined (never very popular words, are they?), living on a budget to save, to pay off our debts, reduce our cost of living. I’m not that interested in piling up loot, but I do want the freedom that comes from discipline.
6. Repent of our own selfishness, greed and consumerism; believe that we have enough. We are convinced we always need more in our culture: more space, more food, more money, more clothes, more things (or nicer versions of what we do have). We tend to form our identity by what we own instead of who we are. But what if we believed we have enough? Contentment is a beautiful, radical virtue of the Christian faith and so perhaps we, too, need to repent along with the system.
7. Listen to stories of economic inequality and powerlessness. There are many that dismiss the Occupy Wall Street protests as a bunch of spoiled, jobless socialists. But this is not usually true, and sometimes the first step to any useful change is to listen. Listen to the other, listen to the stories of people, real people, in your neighborhood, in your family, in your city and tune our ears to our brothers and sisters around the world. Listening is a form of loving and may lead you to meaningful action.
8. Address systemic inequalities. I do have problems with our economic system, such as the weird relationship between corporations, lobbyists and our governments on everything from food to the environment to banking to housing to health care. I believe there is much in our current system that can—and should—change. And as much as it matters what I do with my own small corner of control, it also matters that I lend my voice to the collective advocating for change.
9. Sponsor a child. I’ve been convinced of the child sponsorship model by reputable NGOs like World Vision and Compassion International to make a difference in the lives of children, their families and their communities directly. Consider sponsoring to lift them out of poverty, yes, but also consider committing to write letters, send photos or drawings, to pray for one another.
10. Be a giver, not a consumer. Whether you feel strongly about tithing an exact 10 percent or not, a suggestion or a commandment, whether it goes to people as you feel led or directly to an official nonprofit status ministry, just do it. Give away some of your money, on purpose, consistently.
There are many of you much further along in this journey of redemptive economics, and we all look forward to your wisdom in the comment section below. There are many ways to live a better economic truth.
Sarah Styles Bessey is a nonprofit marketing director, writer andsimple living/social justice wannabe. She lives in Abbotsford, BritishColumbia, with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.emergingmummy.com.