An Economy of Grace

  • The economy that we are accustomed to, the one we take for granted when we use the word, runs on money.  There are two main types of transaction: buying and selling is one; lending and borrowing is the other.  Money has come to have other kinds of significance in this economy.  It confers power, prestige, social status and self esteem, among other things.

    We may forget that “economy” comes from the Greek oikonomia, meaning administration, management, or housekeeping.  If we return to the original meaning of the word we can speak of different types of economy, since there are different ways of administering or managing.

    It would be foolish to attempt a comprehensive theological exposition of grace, although the commonly accepted definition is “undeserved favour”.  A few linguistic references are in order.

    The Latin source of “grace” is gratia, whose meaning includes thankfulness (from which we get our words “grateful” and “gratitude”).  The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary says that “grace” is the English translation of a Greek word meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune” — in short, a gift.  Grace is connected with our concepts of both giving and gratitude.

    This gives me the courage to suggest that we might imagine an economy of grace, a social system organized around giving and thanking, where the currency is generosity and gratitude.

    How might this differ from the economy we are used to?  The idea of gratitude suggests appreciating what we have, as opposed to wanting what we don’t have.  Of course if this were applied universally it might lead to the end of civilization as we know it.   Come to think of it, there are some days when that prospect is not entirely  without appeal.

    On a less apocalyptic level, an economy of grace might cause us to plan differently.

    The traditional form of strategic planning identifies what we need but do not have, and finds a way to get what we need.   Asset-based planning first takes an inventory of what we already have, then finds  creative ways of using what we have to create something new.  One is based on scarcity, the other on abundance.

    For a very accessible introduction to asset-based planning, I recommend The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts by Luther K. Snow.  The book contains step-by-step instructions on how to do an asset mapping workshop with a small group in a church setting.

    Next time, a look at a scholarly attempt to construct an economy of grace.

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