Achieving group clarity

Money-issue awareness can help us evaluate our meetings for business, whether it’s within our congregations or not-for-profit organizations or even our workplaces:

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? When is this last time you experienced this happening?

When we come together, 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 shape the budgets for our group projects?

If you find yourself criticizing another member’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 in some way denying the goodness of creation?

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

What if your faith community or nonprofit organization 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 $1 million – or even $10 million – a year?

Occasionally, a daring congregation will reverse the Sunday morning collection plate routine: instead of asking its parishioners to put money into the offering plate, they are told instead to withdraw a given amount – $10 or $15, for example. The amount is to be “invested in the Lord’s work.” Later, reporting on their applications, the participants tell 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, do you see the individual’s role as 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, 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.

While we’re at it, let me suggest another reading that heads off in what initially appears to be a non-monetary direction: Kathy Neustadt’s Clambake: A History and Celebration of an American Tradition. She studied a fundraiser conducted by Quakers of Allen’s Neck, Massachusetts, each year since 1888 to serve their community, and all the traditions that go with it. Clams, of course, has long been a slang term for coins, and so the concept of the traditional New England clambake as a way of raising “clams” for their Meeting becomes especially intriguing. Behind it all, however, are service and neighborhood, with many facets outside of the monetary system. If you still think this reading is a long stretch from our topic, remember that in this same countryside, wampum was once the unit of exchange – beads made of polished shells strung together into strands or belts used by Native Americans as money or jewelry.

Clams, by the way, also take me back to the chowder house, where some of us once discussed the animal nature of that “filthy lucre.” By the way, the one we visited that week also serves up excellent steamers, cheap.