The Economy of Kindness

By

If you wander through downtown Knoxville on a Wednesday or Saturday morning from May to November, you will likely chance upon the Market Square Farmers’ Market, and what a happy accident it will be. Your eye will feast upon a kaleidoscope of homegrown vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes bejewel the boxes and crates, their variegated skins like the cloud-cover of exotic planets. Peppers of all sizes and colors spill out from baskets, drawing the brave and foolhardy with mythic names like Carolina Reaper and Trinidad Scorpion. Greens of every shade festoon the tables.

Several years ago, in a fit of either wisdom or brazenness, the market decided to issue its own currency. If you go shopping now with a card instead of cash, you can visit the central tent first and purchase a few stamped wooden tokens labeled ‘Market Money.’ Then you’re all set. You want kale or leeks? Hand your Market Money to the tan-shouldered lady who picked them that morning, and she’ll hand you a bag of fresh produce. Buying some basil plants for the garden? Same deal.

I love this system for two reasons. First, I don’t have to carry cash, which tends to burn a hole in my pocket. Second, Market Money lets you know you have verged upon different territory. Like Lesotho or Vatican City, you have left the mere confines of the surrounding country and entered another land. As if the bright arrays of kingly garden fare aren’t enough to lend a sense of place, Market Money puts a full stop at the end of the idea.

When we offer the token of kindness to others, especially when they expect an exchange of money, we let them know that they have verged upon another land. Here, their money can buy nothing, but if they offer their need, they can dine on the richest of fare.

Adam Whipple

I love visiting places that require different money. I took great joy, the times I went to Scotland, in making the changeover before I left. Not only the look, but the feel and the sound of the currency were different. The metal jangled in my hands and pockets with a meatier, more muted timbre than nickels or quarters. The engravings and fonts were curious and beguiling. More than the plane tickets or the looming dates, it was this foreign clink in my pocket that let me know I was no longer going to be in America. Then, upon arriving at Heathrow in desperate need of coffee, I had to remind myself to pull out the correct money. You try and spend a few dollars, and they look at you like you’re an idiot. Your money’s no good.

More and more, I’ve found that kindness works in this way. My elderly neighbor asked me for help with his TV speakers. I’m fairly inept with technology, but I toted a mess of cables over to his house to see if I could fix the problem. Long story short, nothing I did worked, but I left him a few likely cords, hoping that if this end were plugged into that jack, and this button pushed, and so forth, he might happen upon the right combination and get sound out of the contraption. He tried to slip me twenty bucks. It wasn’t the first time he had done so. I’m certainly not against being paid for little helps here or there (especially if I’m actually successful at fixing the problem), but if it’s not an official job, I can easily do it for nothing. In those situations, the kindness of laboring for free works like a foreign currency. People get a sense of being in a different place.

Let us be honest: we love getting paid. It’s wonderful and blessed to be able to feed one’s family and earn one’s living in this world. There should never be any shame associated with a decent and honest living. Yet that is not the most elemental remission of which we are a part. The Kingdom of Christ and its economy of grace run deeper. When we offer the token of kindness to others, especially when they expect an exchange of money, we let them know that they have verged upon another land. Here, their money can buy nothing, but if they offer their need, they can dine on the richest of fare.

If we don't give our needs as tokens of payment, we cannot have what is offered. In the Kingdom's economy of kindness, our old money is no good.

Adam Whipple

Years ago, the church my wife and I attended helped us patch up our house. With smiles on their faces, our friends scuffled around the crawlspace with me, tearing out molded insulation and spraying chemicals estimated by the State of California to cause unseemly demise. Over the months, they also helped us with childcare when I had to be out of town. They delighted in our help at times too, saying, “Thank you for serving,” something I hadn’t heard before. By degrees, they taught us the barter system of helplessness-for-help, the barter system of Christ. At one point, our friend Michael pointed out a peculiar fact.

“The one thing you brought to the congregation,” he said, “was your needs.”

That was the other side of the coin. Americans are often great at helping. If you’ve got a natural disaster, we’ll send a team of skilled workers to get you on your feet. If some tragedy befalls you, we can easily show up with extra meals and ready hands. This is well and good. Often, though, the people most prepared to give help are the least prepared to receive it. The other face of the Kingdom economy is accepting grace and mercy. People who cannot accept help cannot be a part of the holy barter system. If we don’t give our needs as tokens of payment, we cannot have what is offered. In the Kingdom’s economy of kindness, our old money is no good.

Sally Lloyd-Jones has a great line about Naaman the Syrian in The Jesus Storybook Bible: “All Naaman needed was nothing. It was the one thing Naaman didn’t have.” To participate here, you must bring your need.

“Come buy wine and milk,
without money and without cost!
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
-Isaiah 55

I know altruism is in vogue these days, but when we can serve others with little or no fanfare, those who get to see it can be well blessed by our work. When kindness is marked by the narrative or fragrance of the Gospel, lending it backstory and depth, it becomes the jangle of Kingdom treasure in the hand, ringing with the sound of a land where we bring our needs and find grace.


4 Comments

  1. Linda Rogers

    @misslinda

    There is a lot to think about in this. I find it much easier to imagine a Kingdom in which there will be no money and we will all give what we have when I am on the giving side. When I am on the needy side, I find it hard to remember that this is also part of the economy of the Kingdom- I am not harming the people around me with my need, but instead inviting them to live out the Kingdom that is coming. It also ties in to something one my church elders said recently, that real fellowship (which is deeper than what we usually call “fellowship”) is the circulatory system of the body. Without it, not only will the resources not reach the places they are needed, none of us will be able to function as we are meant to. None of us can meet all the needs, of course, but that is why we must all remember that God is the true source for us all, and we are all relying on Him even in what we share with each other.

  2. Drew Miller

    @drewmiller

    Linda, as someone who is endlessly both intrigued and frightened by money, I resonate deeply with what you’ve said here.

    I think your church elder’s analogy is spot on—in fact it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, The Gift by Lewis Hyde. He also compares gift exchange to the circulatory system in poetic, and in my interpretation, distinctly eucharistic terms:

    “Perfect gift is like the blood pumped through its vessels by the heart. Our blood is a thing that distributes the breath throughout the body, a liquid that flows when it carries the inner air and hardens when it meets the outer air, a substance that moves freely to every part but is nonetheless contained, a healer that goes without restraint to any needy place in the body. It moves under pressure…and inside its vessels the blood, the gift, is neither bought nor sold and it comes back forever…

    The image of the Christian era would be the bleeding heart. The Christian can feel the spirit move inside all property. Everything on earth is a gift and God is the vessel. Our small bodies may be expanded; we need not confine the blood. If we only open the heart with faith, we will be lifted to a greater circulation and the body that has been given up will be given back, reborn and freed from death.”

    I hope those words can pass along some hope and inspiration.

  3. Sarah T

    I have been marinating in the idea that we have a treasury to pull from at all times through Jesus. This entry made me particularly happy to read this evening as I need to be reminded of this jangle of the kingdom treasury all the time, because I tend to forget!

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