A woman who was raised in both the Lutheran and Catholic churches is now a member of my congregation. When Shannon described what led her to the Mennonite church, she observed a few differences between how Mennonites and other traditions she knew practise their faith. She said that one difference was that “Mennonites hold on less tightly to their possessions.”
It is an interesting turn of phrase. Shannon did not describe Mennonites as being more generous than others but noted that we are less attached to material possessions.
By holding on to our assets less tightly, we are better able to share with others when the need arises.
In this issue, we present a Focus on Money. Among the several articles on this topic are “Giving in the digital age,” Joanne De Jong’s look at how the digital age affects our offerings, and “Money and the Menno millennials,” Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe’s investigation into how some young adults are learning to be generous. Elsewhere, guest writer Lori Guenther Reesor encourages churches to change how they talk about money to better cultivate the next generation of faithful givers.
Mennonites have resisted the lure of consumer culture, which promotes spending on items for purely personal benefit. Retailers bombard us with slogans to make us think that we are not fully enjoying life unless we buy their product or service. On top of the selfishness that consumerism has generated, it has also created a great deal of environmental waste. Traditionally, Mennonites have taught that a focus on all this buying for personal consumption is not consistent with a life of discipleship. Jesus modelled service to others and he counselled against stocking up on things.
The standard economic theory that supports consumerism is that everyone is better off when we spend money and buy stuff. There is job creation and economic growth, which lead to more wealth for all. It is obvious that the consumer system also entrenches wealth for the wealthiest and leaves the poorest in society needing more. Nevertheless, much of North American society considers consumerism to be good for everyone, because it is good for the economy.
God offers us a glimpse of some reverse economics that are even more powerful. The more tightly you hold on to an asset, the less value it retains. When you share it, the asset not only appreciates in value, it goes further. Indeed, it multiplies.
At the simplest level, you can imagine having zucchini growing in your garden. You want to use every single one—you are not wasteful, after all—but additional zucchinis become less appealing because you have enough. You can sell the zucchini to neighbours and friends. An economic transaction gives them a zucchini and you some money. The impact is finite but tidy.
But if you give it away instead, the recipient will value it more highly because it is a gift. Not only does the sharing elevate the value of the zucchini, it deepens a relationship with someone who will probably offer you something in return in the future. They do not have to return the favour, but they probably will. Sharing creates a bond that endures and encourages more sharing. Your household economy expands when you share.
Another example of asset appreciation through sharing is the minivan our family owns. We bought it to ferry around our family of five plus music instruments and sports and camping equipment, among other items. It is valuable to us, but it depreciates with time and will one day need disposal. When we offered the van to our church to transport young people to events, the value of that van increased considerably. Our sharing not only increases the value of the asset for the rest of its life, it strengthens relationships with people in our church and it encourages others to share with the community as well.
When he was on Earth, Jesus showed God’s reverse economics. This is economic expansion through sharing. I can think of numerous examples of God’s overflowing abundance, but the easiest one to point to is the feeding of the multitudes in the gospels. These stories show what happens when people share a few resources. Once begun, the sharing goes on and on. Everyone is fed and there are leftovers. God provides abundantly for us when we hold on less tightly to our possessions.