Monday, August 20, 2007

$100 project update: Final report

Last summer I participated in one of Calvin College's Seminars in Christian Scholarship about writing as Christian proclamation. We mistakenly thought that we each had $100 of funding to use however we decided. (Turns out that we had already used our allotted $100 for reimbursement of books for the seminar.) But we went ahead and decided to embark on a $100 project, in which each of us would do something creative and constructive with $100 and then write about it.

My $100 was "funded" by an interview article that I had worked on during my Calvin seminar, and I spent much of the following months wondering what to do with the money. Got some nice suggestions from commenters on this blog, with ideas for helping youth or elderly, sponsoring an essay writing contest, coffee for strangers, facilitating a community garage sale, environmental stewardship and the like. I definitely wanted to do something related to my suburban community, and I thought it would be appropriate to do something writing- or book-related, given the nature of our seminar.

I thought about ways to grow the money first. Something I do fairly routinely is sell used books on Amazon; I always get a kick out of finding a book at a thrift shop for a quarter that I can sell online for ten bucks. Last winter I was browsing a used book store and found a number of Anchor Bible Commentaries for six or seven bucks each. I sold some of them online for thirty and fifty dollars apiece. Should I calculate that into my $100 amount and declare that I had grown the money to $160 or so? But what about the inventory of books that I bought that haven't sold yet - do I need to deduct that from the balance? And shipping costs, etc.? After thinking through the accounting details, I concluded that I didn't want to mess with the potential entrepreneurial investment growth aspect of the project and would just keep it to a simple what-could-I-do-with-$100.

Something that occurred to me while reading The Kingdom Assignment is that people often used their $100 in ways consistent with their natural interests, gifts and opportunities. So I thought about the various community organizations and institutions that I interface with, and the obvious thought that came to mind was our local public library. We go to the library several times every week and always have dozens of items checked out and stacked up on our nightstands.

So I talked with folks at the library, explained the $100 project and asked if there were any ways I could use the money for some sort of special volunteer project or donation. I didn't want to just donate it to the friends of the library foundation or buy a brick on the sidewalk; I wanted to do something a little more personal and specific. I mentioned that I work at a book publisher and could purchase books to be donated. They talked it over at some meeting and got back to me, saying that they'd like the donation of books. So I gave them some current catalogs, and they looked through them and gave me a list of requested titles.

Because of my IVP employee discount, the $100 was able to purchase $250 worth of books (retail price), which in this case was 15 books, four of which I had worked on as project editor. And I was also able to donate another dozen or so overstock/slightly hurt books that were available for giveaway. The library carries numerous Christian books and even already had a few IVP titles (including my suburbs book), but I was glad to make more IVP books directly available to the collection.

So my $100 project flowed out of my work in Christian book publishing and benefited an institution in my local suburb that serves as a "third place" for the community and promotes literacy, reading and knowledge. I'm hopeful that random browsers will pick up these books on the new arrivals shelves and experience some degree of spiritual ministry through the content. I've always loved the fact that our books are like little missionaries that can go many places that we can't. I think it's theologically significant that Christians can work through existing community organizations (like public libraries) to be salt and light in our communities. We can work counterculturally through the church and other Christian organizations, but we can also work transformatively through society's own institutions.

So that's what I did with my $100. What did you do?

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