Money may engender comfort, food and shelter, medical care, education, and opportunities for personal and community growth. But it cannot grant love, happiness, a sense of contentment, or a relationship with the Divine. In many ways it can entrap you, and divide you from a common humanity. In many impoverished parts of the world, joyful community exists, perplexing wealthier foreign visitors. As one Kenyan Quaker told American colleagues, “Because we have so little, we can be very generous.” As Jacob Needleman remarks: “Human beings are built to be in intentional relation with each other not only as biosocial mechanisms, but as creatures within whom there is the seed of an openness toward the source of all Being.” Rather than freeing you, a blind pursuit of affluence can close you off from such awareness and unfolding. Though currency can tempt you with the promise of many pleasures, it cannot buy you wisdom or the pleasures of reflection. It cannot buy you the Presence of God. It cannot buy you atonement or redemption. These are gifts to be enjoyed and shared in your spiritual fellowship. A cardinal sings at the window of our meetinghouse and then flies away. You repay in gratitude. I, too, see the smile on your face.
One thing about any financial future is that it is full of uncertainties. Nobody can accurately predict the course of the marketplace – not for long. Paradoxically, the more you try to be economically independent, the more vulnerable you become: you lose the net of community that sustains you.
As you invest and spend, ask: “How can I make a difference with what I have?”
Labor, capital, and raw materials come together in many fashions. Are there processes of lending that would yield a higher return than banks would pay, while still allowing the borrower to access funds at a lower rate than the bank would charge?
What imaginative financial interactions can we create to assist one another in achieving our dreams?
Whatever your denomination, ask how the type of work you do influences the way you worship. Then ask how it becomes an obstacle.
While American society is overburdened by a high productivity that concentrates on the creation of consumerism, it also overlooks many simple things it could produce to enhance life throughout the Third World: water pumps, sanitation, and access to markets, for starters. How can we apply relatively simple technologies to improve common conditions, and how can everyone benefit? Solutions that have worked for the United States, Europe, and Japan may be inappropriate for much of the rest of the world; indeed, in seeking to modify economic goals in the Third World, we may also discover more efficient structures for the industrialized countries as well.
Wendell Berry, in a “New Afterward” to the revised edition of his The Hidden Wound, looks profoundly into issues that are not being addressed in our American political debates. He perceives that “the root of our racial problem in America is not racism. The root is in our inordinant desire to be superior – not to some inferior or subject people . . . but to our condition. We wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything – of ourselves, of each other, or of our country. We did not enslave African blacks because they were black, but because their labor promised to free us of the obligations of stewardship. . . . They were economically valuable and militarily weak.”
Widely regarded for his essays pleading for ecology and responsible agriculture, Berry finds that racial slavery imposed on a heavy price on his own white Kentucky ancestors as well. When we attempt to separate our mortal and spiritual sides, as we do when we attempt to be economically and socially superior, we return to our earlier “render unto Caesar” dilemmas.
“And it should not be necessary to point out the connection between the oppression of women and the general contempt for household work,” Berry observes. “It is well established among us that you may hold up your head in polite society with a public lie in your mouth or other people’s money in your pocket or innocent blood on your hands, but not with dishwater on your hands or mud on your shoes.”
Remarkably, Berry’s line of thought leads him into areas we, too, have already examined: the importance of quality work and meaningful community. Here, then, is another answer to the LIBERTY stamped on our American coins!