Local, local, local

When we step away from the assumptions of the surrounding society, we soon perceive many hidden costs to our existence. We detect how inextricably money is woven through the affairs of post-primitive or non-tribal society. Our civilization itself might be inconceivable without the extraordinary exchanges that currency facilitates. Our universities, laboratories, government, factories, agriculture, transportation, and health systems are all built on opportunities that money permits.

The more far-flung and less locally focused our economies become, the more likely we are to lose sight of mutuality: we become blinded at the bottom line. That’s why it remains crucial that we find ways to take a regular timeout from the demands of industrial civilization. A year or even a regular day of true sabbatical will release you from preoccupations and an encroaching bondage to consumerism; fasting, too, or journeys into wilderness can renew you in freedom and wonder. Rather than demanding a forfeiture of one’s wealth, as commonly perceived, the concept of sacrifice instead imposes an awareness that makes all the resources at our disposal holy and sacred; they are gifts worthy of thanksgiving and of being shared, “equipping God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). This kind of sacrifice becomes an occasion of celebration.

Yes, we have serious issues ahead concerning Internet versus big boxes and local retail. But then there are yard sales!

The bottom line?

All economics are ultimately local.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

A microcosm of transformation

Those who have been using this Talking Money series as a guidebook for group discussion probably think they’re just about to wrap it up. But, folks, now you can see you’re just getting started.

Let’s consider two historic icons of financial success, Donald Trump and Howard Hughes. Despite his colossal bankruptcy and ego, many Americans and the popular media held Trump in awe, bedazzled by his “Art of the Deal” frenetic game executed with no regard to ethical outcome. Nearby is the fiscal tightness of Hughes, the billionaire investor who wound up fearing everything.

I’ll throw another model into the mix, Lisa Johnson’s self-help book, How To Marry a Millionaire — complete, I’m not kidding, with dinner recipes.

In the upside-down realm of spiritual faith, however, stands Jim Corbett and his goatwalking times of sabbatical-reflection. There, too, are Malden Mills president Aaron Feuerstein, who kept employment in the community after his textiles mill burned, and developer Jim Rouse’s “moral leadership that swept traditional barriers aside,” as longtime neighbor Padriac Kennedy saw it.

 

A sharpened awareness of your values will enable you to set goals for personal fulfillment. As you apply these goals to your spending plan, you may begin reducing or even eliminating expenses that don’t contribute to your fulfillment.

There are other reasons, too, for defining and upholding your personal values. It’s about a lot more than cash.

Would you want someone with an “easy come, easy go” outlook handling your retirement nest egg? If you think that your values regarding money are unimportant, think again. They are.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Face to face, right in front of us

Concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, accompanied by corporate raider fever and hedge fund mentalities, can endanger the very independence and democratic decision-making we cherish.

My preference would aim at reducing hierarchies, rather than adding to them.

One of our earlier exercises began with pennies. Put them aside as “pennies from heaven” dedicated to helping others. Where do you choose to apply them? Can you get others to participate with you? How do you feel when you release the pennies to the project?

A young Friend once rose in Meeting for Worship to speak of ways his father viewed his work desk as a daily altar, a place of opportunities for holy service. Are there ways you, too, can transform your own work station into similar service, beyond what you are paid to do? Sometimes, the service may seem insignificant — except to that one person whose life was touched. Other times, it may be on a grand scale.

When news stories reported the death of James W. Rouse — a visionary developer who created the “new town” of Columbia, Maryland, and whose urban centerpieces such as Baltimore’s Harborplace and Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace revitalized major American downtowns – what came through was the scope of his vision. Rather than build structures, he wanted to enhance community. He learned to accept a personal pain when each effort inevitably fell short of his goal. After his death, one friend and Columbia neighbor, Padriac Kennedy, related,

“Jim Rouse liked to quote Daniel Burnham’s famous lines: ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with every growing insistency.”

Kennedy then added: “Columbia is very proud of Jim Rouse. He was a creator of community, a champion of the poor, an uncommon man.”

Initially, we noticed that his surname was one of the old Maryland Quaker families and that he had been born in the vicinity of an old Quaker stronghold on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But more telling was this: he had, at one time, been involved with the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. He spent his retirement years working full-time to build affordable housing — an effort that led, in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, to job-training, crime-prevention, and school and health-care improvements as well, as the New York Times noted in its obituary.

 

When other news stories reported on a devastating blaze that swept through a historic millyard in Methuen, Massachusetts, many observers expected the event would give company owners an excuse to close up shop and move operations overseas. Instead, everyone was startled when Malden Mills president Aaron Feuerstein announced his intentions of keeping everyone on the payroll until the factory was back on line. “That decision has to be grounded in religion,” I remember mumbling at the time. And then came Feuerstein’s explanation, a Yiddish saying from his father, one that translates roughly, “When the going gets rough, be a man!”

In subsequent interviews, Feuerstein confessed his surprise at being hailed as a hero for simply doing what he believed was right and for his loyalty to his workers and his community. One value leads to another.

One of the challenges facing contemporary American society is in creating opportunities for meaningful work for everyone, including youth who too often are excluded from activity that contributes to the common good. How much seemingly senseless violence today arises from a disconnection with a meaningful place in society and from an outlook that overvalues possession, especially status symbols, at the expense of integrity and mutuality?

As you stick to your Spending Plan, keep these perspectives in mind:

How much income would be “enough” or put you on “Easy Street”?

What would it really take for you to live on?

What would it take to endow yourself, as a trust or a foundation?

When you look at advertising, what do YOU see? What messages do you get? Do you unconsciously buy into them? Do you see them as Caesar’s, rather than God’s?

What are YOUR priorities and goals?

With practice, you will be empowered to live below your means — and live well, at that. The difference between your income and your expenses can be saved, invested, and even applied to projects you value. Your Money Operating System then becomes a microcosm of transforming the world.

American poet and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder has thought deeply about these issues, especially the place of meaningful work and labor:

“I asked myself a lot: what is the real work? I think it’s important, first of all, because it’s good to work — I love work, work and play are one. And that all of us will come back again to hoe in the ground, or gather wild potato bulbs with digging sticks, or hand-adze a beam, or skin a pole, or scrape a hive — we’re never going to get away from that. We’ve been living a dream that we’re going to get away from it, that we won’t have to do it. Put that out of our minds. . . . That work is always going to be there. It might be stapling papers, it might be typing in the office. But we’re never going to get away from that work, on one level or another. . . . And that’s the  real work: to make the world as real as it is, and to find ourselves as real as we are within it.”

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Is your car a fashion statement?

Clearly defined goals provide important clues that help you express personal values. Once again, this involves acknowledging the emotions affecting your Money Operating System. Paradoxically, naming your values will help you define your goals even more clearly, and that will point you toward inner harmony.

As we’ve noted.

Another way of taking a possession to reveal your personal values is by looking at your wheels.

What kind of car(s) do you drive?

Own or lease? Company perk?

Did you get it new or used?

Domestic or foreign? Why?

Color? Size? MPG?

If it’s imported, did you consider that nation’s record on human rights or treatment of women?

What do these factors say about you — and your values?

Cars can be even be seen as a fashion statement!

You can take this even further and compile a history of the cars you have driven. A minivan, for instance, usually says “married, with children.” A sporty model, “fun” or “dreamy.” A Mercedes, “wealthy.” As for red, just remember police officers with radar!

I met one man who had read a profile of who owned station wagons just like his — owners who turned out to be middle-aged suburban professionals, just like him — and it was enough to make him run out and trade it in. “I wanted to be myself,” he said, “so I bought the hot Mercury” — the sizzler he remembered from his teen years!

One benefit of having a Third World connection is in the twist it gives exercises like this one. We Americans assume we’ll get in our own auto and take off wherever we want. When you have a “sister” congregation elsewhere, however, you can begin to see things differently — especially when your friends in a place like Cuba all get in the back of an open-air truck whenever they go anywhere, singing praises and laughing. Somehow, you can feel you’re the one who’s missing out when you get in your car all alone.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Let the grass grow … and other bits of wisdom

As one retired magazine editor advised years ago, if you want to write or read seriously, you must be willing to have the longest grass on the block.

But if you’re the one with the perfect lawn, maybe you need to ask what values motivate your precision. You may wind up sharing some of that energy by volunteering to help maintain a garden club project on the town square or the church yard, where your skill is duly recognized and appreciated.

When you tackle your Money Journey or Money Autobiography, you can load it with tidbits like this. They seem to pop up like weeds!

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Listen for wisdom and her hidden messages

Earlier exercises in this series looked closely at cash itself. We found it’s loaded with hidden messages.

In addition, we’ve seen how various religious traditions, Christian and non-Christian, bestow insight into the right uses of our resources. Here’s another place where discussion can become illuminating. Curiously, much of the current awareness of money in a positive light among Christians originated among the Pentecostals — a stream that was subsequently tainted by some high-profile financial and sexual scandals, especially among its televangelists. It was quite startling the first time I heard, “She’s a member of a church where they preach it’s good to have money, that God wants to bless his believers with wealth and possessions, that there’s no reason sinners should reap the glories of Creation.” This was certainly a contrast to the gloomy view many of us had heard growing up!

While this is sometimes derisively dubbed the “name-it-and-claim-it” strand of theology, it has encouraged a renewed examination of ways faith deals in the world. In its failings, it has also revitalized an appreciation for accountability and discipleship as well. As you learn to listen to the various considerations of money, this strand may even lend its voice in your dialogue, even when its words ring strange to more mainstream ears.

For example, in What Jesus Taught About Manifesting Abundance, John Avanzini draws from the fourth chapter of Mark to argue for a transformed understanding of giving and of receiving — in effect saying that the quality of what you give and receive is more important than its quantity. From there he develops concepts of seed (your resources) and harvest (“not a natural event”) in ways that acknowledge limitations of productivity while seeking maximum results. “We must understand God’s principles of increase before we can take over the wealth of this world (Proverbs 13:22),” he writes. “Warning lights go on, and we find that God’s way of abundance is not a get-rich-quick scheme. In God’s way, growth comes slowly. It comes first as a blade, then the stalk, then the harvest.” Then he adds: “Warning lights come on again as Jesus instructs us to keep our focus ever upward.”

Rediscovering the wisdom and daily discipline of your religious ancestors can bring you face-to-face with contemporary conflicts — and their resolution.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Sometimes the goal is to achieve group clarity

Of course, money-related issues can also help us evaluate our meetings for business or other action:

To what extent do personal failure to budget and an individual lack of clarity regarding wealth itself erupt in conflict when we come together?

How often do unresolved feelings and values surface in subtle ways during our business and committee sessions — sometimes at the expense of employees we have hired to do our confused collective will?

Can we ask hard questions when we contemplate projects requiring financing, without becoming tense or even angry? Do we feel peace among ourselves when we review the budgets for our group projects?

If you find yourself criticizing another’s lavish spending, turn your vision a bit; pay attention in your next committee meeting to things that could be done if your group had a bit more money at hand!

Are you engaging the world in your witness, rather than denying it?

Are you perhaps even denying the goodness of creation?

As an exercise, name one religious, social, or personal matter that you carry close to your heart. Identify three ways money impinges on that concern. Would more resources for your concern help alleviate the problem? What emotions do you feel as you ruminate on this pursuit in relationship to money?

What if your faith community had an additional $100,000 a year? Could you come to unity on its use? How would this fit into your group’s purpose? What would it say about your values? Care to up the figure, say, to a million — or even ten million — a year?

 

Occasionally, a daring congregation will reverse the Sunday morning collection plate routine. Instead of asking its members to put money into the offering plate, they are told instead to withdraw a given amount — ten or fifteen dollars, for example. The amount is to be “invested in the Lord’s work.” Later, reporting on their applications, the participants learn of activities ranging from feeding the homeless to using the amount to fund a letter-writing campaign that raised even far more money.

Is there a place in your congregation’s budget for an experiment like this? What would it reveal about your members?

In some circles, “The Lord will provide” is a popular phrase. Do you see this as an expression of genuine faith — or of naivete? What will God provide — food, shelter, clothing, gold? Or is it a transcendental comfort to endure difficulties?

In this view, is the individual’s role passive or active?

Have you ever found yourself in seemingly hopeless situations where you would say that God did, indeed, provide? How does this fit in with the original passage, in Genesis 22:8, where God provides a sacrificial lamb to be a burnt offering in place of Isaac? Or does it better fit in with the manna provided to the Israelites, in Exodus 16?

Again and always, dealing with money is a matter of trust. Part of that involves learning to trust each other, even when there’s an element of Coyote.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Apply some X-ray vision to the problem

Often, when we’re part of a group that is encountering conflict in reaching a decision, we’ll find value differences lurking just beneath the surface of visibility. This seems to be especially true with there’s some money or property involved. Next time you hit a snag in a meeting for business, recognize that the real point of disunity may have little to do with the matter on the agenda — and much to do with unseen differences in values.

A decision before one Quaker Meeting illustrates this interplay. Friends had been offered a painting of three women who were instrumental in founding their congregation in the mid 1660s. Furthermore, the painting had been used as an illustration in a volume of poems by John Greenleaf Whittier, whose parents had married “under the care of Meeting” in the same room where this item was being considered. The purchase was to come as a gift, through donations in memory of a recently deceased member. So far, we are essentially coping with a possession and some cash to buy it.

But other values flooded the surface. How did we feel about having women shown naked to the waist, their backs exposed to the colonial magistrate’s whip? About having women presented as victims? About even having such a work in the meetinghouse, where children might view it? How did we draw the distinction between being “zealous professors of the Truth” versus being “seekers after Truth”?

 

There were questions about the authenticity of the work itself, as well as details in the history it represented. There was opposition to the caliber of the work, while others argued for its preservation. Could we use the money better in other ways, or does a gift free you to indulge in special spending?

You must remember, too, that in a traditional Quaker meetinghouse like this one, the windows are clear, rather than stained glass: nothing superfluous, mind you! And decisions are arrived at through consensus, rather than a simple up-or-down vote.

For the next several months, Friends endured a quasi-comic opera of shifting opinions, animated discussion, even the formation of a committee charged with investigating the facts. Never mind the absurdity that generations of Friends — possibly including the women portrayed — would have objected to any painting as a graven image. Suddenly, these modern Quakers had emotions and values regarding aesthetics, feminism, history and heritage, the decision-making process itself, philosophy, and, of course, theology, all in play.

Only as the assembly began to discern its underlying values could the group begin to untangle its imbroglio. More importantly, everyone were forced to reexamine some of their own central assumptions — an exercise that brought both new depth and understanding to the faith community. Maybe the ultimate decision about the painting wasn’t so important, after all. Or where Friends will wind up displaying it.

Later, a visitor from Cuba offered yet one more dimension to the piece: “How remarkable! Here the Colonial authorities thought that by persecuting these women, they could eradicate this movement. Instead, they spread it. The women accepted this as an opportunity to demonstrate their faith!”

Can you think of a similar example, where divisions over a group decision arose from differences in values rather than from the apparent point of conflict? Your group can be as small as two, by the way. Even a couple! How did you discover the underlying factors? Did that deepened knowledge help you reach an agreement?

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Look downward, as well as up

Early on in these exercises and reflections, we looked into our emotions surrounding our use of money. By now you know how, for many people, the primary money emotion is fear, especially the fear of losing it all and winding up in poverty. Subsequent exercises as you’ve responded to the Holistic Challenge of Money have, we hope, replaced any fear with feelings of joy, empowerment, participation, and satisfaction.

Crucially, and revolutionary, earning to see the poor fearlessly is one more way of “rendering unto Caesar . . . and unto God.”

Consider how Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin confronts us with sharp insights:

“We seem to think that poor people are social nuisances and not the Ambassadors of God.”

Or:

“What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die.”

Maurin’s influence on Dorothy Day created one of the extraordinary religious witnesses of the 20th century. As John C. Haughey explains, she “does not romanticize poverty and is careful to distinguish between inflicted poverty, which she calls destitution, and voluntary poverty, the mastery of which was not simple to her.  … The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poorer by giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.”

Voluntary poverty, if even for a limited time in our lives, is one way to grow in that mystery. But as Richard J. Foster reminds us, “Never forget that poverty is not simplicity. … It is quite possible to get rid of things and still desire them in your heart.”

 

A young Mennonite woman related some of her mission field experiences in a Goshen College chapel talk that focused on “how to get to the bottom and stay there”:

“One day as I was washing clothes in the bathtub, I thought, ‘Here in Lesotho I scrub our clothes by hand, and we drive a car that barely hangs together, and we’re conspicuously rich.”

She quoted John Perkins, a black man who made it to the top and then decided to move back to his hometown in Mississippi, where the mission he began is called “Voice of Calvary Ministries”:

“Why on earth do you suppose these people have a welfare mentality? It’s because outside ‘experts’ have come up with programs that have retarded and dehumanized them. Yes, our best efforts to reach people from the outside will patronize them. Our best attempts will psychologically and socially damage them. Their needs must become our needs.”

Judy Van Wyck Maurer expressed her experiences in entering into shared needs in an article, “Giving & Receiving,” in Quaker Life magazine, May 1997: “You have not lived until you have sat among people, gaunt from anemia, who have provided a table for you with more tropical fruit, eggs, oranges, chicken, beans and rice than you can possibly eat. In the strong heat of the day, I could not eat very much at lunch. This always disappointed my hosts. Sometimes I had to turn down the sweet, strong espresso, too, because if I drank it, I would wake up early, listening for hours to the sounds of the Caribbean dawn.

“Once more, the water had been cut off at the meetinghouse. There had been no bread in the city for four days, but my host family was happy because the sister had just brought their rations of bread, loaves about the size of an outstretched hand. My host reached for the first loaf, cut it crosswise, and gave it to me with a piece of cheese inside, although she had no responsibility for my meals. Later I told her how touched I had been. She looked puzzled. ‘Don’t you have bread in the U.S.,’ she asked. I said, ‘Yes, but you gave me the first loaf. In the U.S., we give of what we have left over. You Cubans give of what you do not have.’”

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.

Look for common wealth, linking us all

As my awareness turned away from “it’s my money” to the broader sense of commonwealth and togetherness, as you’ll find in the earlier exercises in this Talking Money series, I began to perceive money as a foundation of community or a sinew holding our muscles together. In short, those who hoard threaten the wellbeing of all.

Here’s where these things start to get truly interesting. It’s not just me but also my family, the people who live around me, my faith community, all kinds of connections. The highways we drive, the air we breathe, the water we drink or play on or, well, it goes on and on. And, yes, ultimately it shows up in politics.

It’s pretty revolutionary, actually.

I found it interesting to watch a panel try to monitor our the ongoing minutes of our Quaker yearly meeting sessions for the embedded “language of Empire,” meaning mostly white privileges (yes, I emphasize the plural – not everyone enjoys all), or what religious circles more often would designate the World, in contrast to Nature or the Kingdom of God. So many assumptions pop up when you’re looking, many of them from pro sports and military action.

Are you aware of the phrase, Speaking truth to power? I knew it was of Quaker origins, presumably from the very beginning of the movement in the mid 1600s, but was astonished to learn it originated in the 1950s in the American Friends Service Committee. In short, it emphasizes what’s right and true in the end. We may be poor in the face of the wealthy establishment, but Way will out in the end, if we are faithful in the face of everything.

Again, radical awareness, especially regarding wealth and power.

In the exercises presented earlier in the Talking Money series, you see the trail point beyond corporate profit-and-loss statements or even your personal checkbooks. Instead, you confront your role in the entire universe, not just the plus or minus signs in your checkbook or bank account or credit card statement.

Here the dollar and the dime sprout legs and scurry away. Someone will chase them into the wilderness, no doubt.

Now, for further inquiry, ask yourselves or your money buddies:

How are you and I “waging peace,” locally, regionally, or internationally, through our wealth? Are we nurturing healing of all sorts? Are we investing in the future, seven generations ahead? How?

Have we ever seen conflicts arising from these differences?

How about differences among and within ethnic or cultural identities?

What about social classes?

What do these perceptions say about ME or YOU?

Do we know how others we know are “making their living”? How about how much they’re raking in?

What guidelines for giving do we apply to our spending plans, if any, in this regard?

How would we feel giving more?

As came back to this, I also found myself reflecting on a thought hitting a few conservative economists, that a guaranteed annual income in America’s current global and digital economy is essential. I would agree, again with the question,  how does real work fit in?

My, we really do have work to do here.

Remember, it’s #TalkingMoney.