Economy of Love

Economy of Love: Creating a Community of Enough
A Resource of Relational Tithe
Video Sessions with Shane Claiborne
Kansas City: The House Studio, 2010

Review by Carl McColman

“America thrives on a simple message — that what we currently have is not enough. Not big enough, not nice enough, not fast or hip enough.”

This is the tag line on the back of the Economy of Love box, which contains a 120 page book (that can be easily read in a single sitting) and a DVD with five short video segments, featuring that always-entertaining Shane Claiborne. Taken together these items function as a 5-week curriculum for exploring the question of how to do Christian discipleship in a world with staggering degrees of economic inequality. Each of the five sessions is built around a single word theme: “Tension,” “Enough,” “Vulnerable,” “Filled” and “Practice.”

Ironically, my immediate response to this package is that it doesn’t contain enough! It feels like it was designed for folks with attention deficit disorder (and maybe it was), for all the video segments are under five minutes long (halfway through watching the DVD my wife turned to me and said “Are all these available on Youtube?”), and the book contains large margins, and many pages with only a single paragraph of text (or even just a single word). I was left with an overall sense that, with such an important message, Economy of Love offers precious little information beyond the stark question: “are you on the bus or off the bus?”

I would have liked to hear, see or read more stories: people whose lives have been crushed by western culture (read: the empire), people who enjoy material affluence but who embody the empire’s lack of consciousness, people who have discerned and responded to a call to step out from the economy of not-enough and how their lives have been transformed and set free. And maybe such a wealth of information would be counterproductive to the focus of this slim little curriculum. But I suspect that a vibrant discussion group would face questions like that, articulated or not, from its group members.

Economy of Love is a resource of Relational Tithe, an organization and website described as “an interactive platform for connecting and meeting needs across socioeconomic and geographic barriers.” It’s not meant to replace local faith community involvement, but rather promotes a way of thinking about money (and tithing) that calls for each person to donate ten percent of income to those who are in need, with support for one’s church coming out of the remaining 90%. This, needless to say, is not a message heard from the pulpits of traditional congregations. Economy of Love functions as an introduction to the philosophical foundation for Relational Tithe: exploring the theological, spiritual, and justice-based rationale for this kind of economic redistribution. Given the profound cynicism of our age, it may be tempting to see this curriculum as an infomercial for the organization, and I suppose that it is. But since Relational Tithe is volunteer run and seeks to pass through 100% of the resources donated to those who are in need, it’s an infomercial I can live with.

Economy of Love is modestly priced and deserves to be shown widely. It might engender some push-back from Christians who feel that making a pledge to their local congregation is “enough.” But the conversation that this will inspire, difficult though it may be, will be well worth having. I just wish it were a meatier curriculum (similar to the Catholic Church’s JustFaith program). Maybe version 2.0 will provide us more insight into how we, individually and collectively, can best create and embrace the community of enough.

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