It has been long known that the first markets were sacred markets, the first banks were temples, the first to issue money were priests or priest-kings. . . . If we recognize the essentially sacred character of archaic money, we shall be in position to recognize the essentially sacred character of certain specific features of modern money … – Norman O. Brown, “Life Against Death”
We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address
Like a flip of the coin, we can go from the intensely private exercise of household accounting and, from that, crafting a personal spending plan to a much broader personal vision. The earlier postings in our Talking Money category focus on our individual encounters with money issues – the ways we earn our incomes, cover our purchases, care for our possessions, expend our waking hours, respond to others. Along the way, we see ways our down-to-the-penny calculations impact our families, our neighborhoods, and our world. “Money is central to our attempts to live a communal life,” Thomas Moore observes. Whatever we believe in the abstract becomes tested in the mundane encounters as we deal with money. In our age in history, the rubber hits the road, whatever our destination. In our use of money, we play out timeless decisions through which we either flee from or find harmony with the universe. Either way, we express our values and dreams. From a spiritual perspective, we can say one route runs through darkness, while the other turns toward the Light. Common expressions such as “It’s my money,” “Shop till you drop,” or “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” are credos – statements of belief that may be more honest than words read from a prayer book. Sometimes we coat the message with humor, probably because we sense, however vaguely, something bitter in the unresolved conflict between our ideals and our daily actions.
One of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s daily reflections in Simple Abundance presents Quakers, or the Society of Friends, as “individuals who manage the delicate balance of living in the world but not belonging to it. This is because they refuse to segment their lives into the sacred and the secular. Instead, Quakers believe that all of life’s daily experiences are spiritual in nature, from preparing a family meal to protesting public policy. The British writer George Gorman has observed that ‘the essence of Quaker spirituality is the certainty that everything we do has religious significance. It is not cutting ourselves off from life but entering deeply and fully into it.’”
As I Friend, I can reply, “Well, we try,” though I doubt we succeed nearly as consciously or often as she claims. This time, looking at the concept of “being in the world but not of it” (based on John 17:14-16 and passages in the New Testament epistles), I am struck by a reading that suggests being in the world but not being owned by it. When I began this project, money was indeed compartmentalized in my life, away from spirituality. Money presented a struggle in which I felt inadequate to the callings I sensed for my life’s direction. My handling of money was poisoned by feelings of impoverishment, inadequacy, and resentment. I was in self-denial, especially in regard to the fears and anger money issues stirred within me. Not only was I not seeing both sides of the coin, and harmonizing their innate tensions, I wasn’t even seeing the coin. Spiritually, this could be seen as a refusal to even admit being in the world, much less having God’s kingdom come, “on Earth as it is in heaven.” In terms of religious practice, ignorance typically presents itself as superstition rather than wisdom, and magic rather than mystery.
What I have found since is that money issues are very much a part of our spiritual discipline. The classic seven deadly sins articulated by Pope Gregory the Great and articulated during the Middle Ages all address money issues: avarice or greed, anger or wrath, lust, envy, gluttony, pride, sadness or sloth. Indeed, greed is considered the mother of all sins. By definition, sin is an action or thought that separates us from God. Sin clouds our vision and our hearts. Sin, as Jewish teaching insists, means missing the mark.
Once again, I hear Friends Barbara Potter and Mary Hollis urging us to bring our money dealings into the Light, rather than covering them in secrecy. I keep hearing the reminder to turn our money itself from a noun into a verb – from something hoarded into something that facilitates transformations. The concept of “liquidity,” after all, recognizes the power of wealth when it is free to flow.
I think, too, of the motto on our currency, “In God we trust.” It bothers me, because I find it dishonest; too often, the nation ignores or even defies God’s directives. I think the title of a story about Ithaca HOURS, a local currency in New York’s Finger Lakes region, with its more accurate expression of the ideal: “In Each Other We Trust” (Whole Earth, Spring 1998). Remember, too, that “trust” is another word for “faith.” Our dealings with money are ultimately acts of faith.
A healthy money awareness would have us see that everything exists in relationship with everything else. How we handle our possessions and time has an impact, for good or for bad. We are drawn together in communities of faith and into various not-for-profit enterprises because we know that in the pursuit of goodness, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. Religious disciplines, at their best, direct actions toward virtuous outcomes and encourage us to ask tough questions. We’ve already examined many ways these affect us individually. Now we may also consider how they affect us when we work together in a common purpose.
If you see money as corrupt and corrupting, how do you then handle it as a community? Can you do without it in working toward our goals? Can you sanitize it through mutual oversight?
If you see it as empowering and transforming, what is the best use of what you are entrusted to handle?
If you have a building or grounds, what are their best use? Do you see yourselves as stewards of these resources? Do you see yourselves as investors in these resources?
Do you hire people, either full-time or part-time? What selection process is used? How clear are you in your expectations from the outset? Do your standards differ from other employers? Would you hire a person with need from within your group, knowing the productivity might be lower or the going rate (say for a builder caught in a slow season) might be higher than other available candidates? Are you in full legal compliance? How do you terminate employees?
Has your group ever been audited for its taxes? What advice or preparation do you turn to?
Is your group “waging peace,” locally, regionally, or internationally, through its wealth? Are you nurturing healing? How are you investing in the future, seven generations ahead?
Because nonprofit organizations, by definition, are viewed as a kind of business, we may expect them to be more savvy in their handling of money than many faith communities are. The long-term viability of nonprofits rests heavily on the chemistry of those who serve on the board of trustees – their commitment, skills, financial resources, and vision. Since many nonprofits are somewhat insulated from direct competitive measures applied to for-profit enterprises, and since the trustees are often a self-selected body, their faithfulness to their stated mission can vary widely. Some prove to be highly flexible, quick-thinking, and responsive; others turn clubby, enjoy perks, or land summer jobs for their children or nephews and nieces.
From experience, I can say that within a congregation or nonprofit organization, money issues are not something to be shunted aside to the Treasurer and Finance Committee, so our attention can turn to “more important matters.” To participate in the “priesthood of all believers,” as the apostle Paul envisioned spiritual fellowship, means everyone has joint stewardship of our commonwealth in faith. The Treasurer and Finance Committee shoulder important ministries having their place alongside Ministry and Counsel, Peace and Social Concerns, Religious Education, or Building and Grounds. We are accountable to one another within our congregations and our public service as we attempt to be both responsible and responsive.
Employment decisions can illustrate how good intentions lacking sufficient definition and direction break down in day-to-day encounters. Our congregation, for example, once decided to hire a part-time caretaker for the meetinghouse. What seemed like a mutually beneficial arrangement soon mushroomed into a nightmare as various constituents began piling on expectations of what needed doing. The caretaker was being paid for 20 hours of work a week, and expected to do 60. Bitter feelings were left behind, all the way around. Just whom did he report to, anyway? Who ultimately decided which task took precedence?
Whenever the topic of “intentional community” came up, Dover Friend Silas Weeks liked to take this a step further and remind us of what it was like to grow up in the ”unintentional communities that existed before the rise of automotive mobility: the milkman brought milk, the breadman brought bread, the coalman brought coal, and they were your neighbors – you had to get along with them, whether you liked them or not.” Perhaps that was another way of remaining aware of the shadow side of money or of Coyote’s full nature. Quakers have long recognized the importance of “speaking truth to power.” Let us not overlook the power of money, as we apply it in our own lives and communal endeavors.