When I was at LAbri, Andrew Fellows taught us about the gift economy. The gift economy exists, at least for the questioning minds at LAbri, only in contrast to the market economy, the world we live in, the world we trade and shop in. Although, Andrew Fellows says that in reality, by the grace and creation of God, we actually live in both gift and market economies simultaneously; we belong to both. I've read through my notes on those talks again and again. Each time, I catch some glimmer of peaking truth in the idea of the gift economy, some sporadic and fragmented sense of freedom and peace. But what has it to do with Jesus? Why do we need the gospel for a gift economy? It all seems so quaint but not all that necessary. We seem to be living moderately peacefully and successfully in our market economy.
In Chiapas, the glimmer became a glare. All the the pieces about truth and freedom, all the shadows of release and peace that before only simmered in the gift economy, now overflow. In Chamula's tribal worship center, where we saw the Shaman ceremonies and witnessed the blood sacrifices, the candles and incense, it all became clear. People make a lot of money in this tribal religious system. There are the candles to be bought, and the chickens and the incense, all the tools that go with them. And there are Shamans to be paid for diagnoses and instruction and intersession. And of course, when the families entire month's salary is spent and there is nothing left to pay for the healing ceremony your 3 month old child desperately needs, there is always money to be borrowed, for the modest interest rate of 100+%. Many make a living in this system, some get rich. And the families? When the money is gone and undignified begging is just around the corner, there is no freedom or peace. And what's more, your baby daughter is still dying. So, this is a cycle you see. Spend the money, get no results, borrow more, get behind, go without food, shoes, water.... and never recover. You have nothing left to pay, your baby dies. This is the market economy. When the consumer, the family or the tribal council, has nothing left to offer the Shaman or the money lenders, there is no more hope.
This is when they turn to Carla, and Rene. Because you see, there is another economy, another system. There is healing and power offered from an open hand. There is a gift to be received. "Would you like us to pray for your baby?" they offer. "But I have no more money, no way to pay for it!" "That's OK." And the baby grows stronger everyday after.
Imagine your relief when a tiny salary, barely enough to buy food and clothing, is no longer spent in vain, begging the gods to cease anger or heal your loved one. Imagine a God that gives and loves and you need only receive and let your gratitude overflow. This is the real life of the gift economy. It's not a cute idea to better build the postmodern community reputation of the church. It's a matter of life or death, a matter of love or neglect, a matter of freedom or oppression, poverty, hopelessness... darkness. Here the gift economy means everything. The joy and peace of the Chiapan evangelical churches is no wonder. These people have been given their lives back. That's not all. The gift is to us all. An open hand to all humanity. We are all given our lives back. It just means more to the Tzotzils in Southern Mexico, than to us in our middle class, materially comfortable lives. Our own oppression is much more faint, more elusive. We are more submissive to it. We play along with no fuss: buying, selling, trading: ebay, craigslist, WalMart.