On Sunday, I suggested that money is often a source of shame for both those who are without money and those who have it. It’s a remnant of our Calvinist faith and a product of the new prosperity gospel that suggests that God rewards those who have pleased him and it cuts all ways. Even more, the shame can cause us to look away, to not give time or energy or focus on our relationship with money. What we cannot look at will often define our lives in ways that we don’t wish it will, what is painful, what is shameful can leak out like toxic waste and poison so much of what we love. And money makes the world go around.
So here are my three perspectives about money that may help in our reflections on money. I have no answers, but growing in awareness helps us to find the questions and the way of integrity forward.
In 2008 when we were living in London, we hosted a Ugandan Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Mark Kiyimba. His congregation in Kampala is not only a worshiping community, but it also runs a school for orphans whose parents have died from AIDS. Mark was with us for a little more than a week, and on Sunday he accompanied my husband Peter and daughter to get coffees from Starbucks before church. Peter ordered three coffees and got two sweet treats and the total was around £15, almost $30 given the exchange rate at the time. Mark was stunned. ‘That could feed the children in our school for a week…’ he told Peter. We in the first world too easily forget that we live in great luxury as compared to most of the rest of the world. Even at our worst, most of us are blessed beyond imagining elsewhere.
First perspective: cultivate an awareness of the blessedness of your life.
Second is recognize that anything we have is only our possession for a short time in the context of the life of the world. There is nothing that you will have forever. Sooner or later, you will give it all up. You are a temporary caretaker of anything you have. So when we look at the world and its worries and troubles, when we see the flood of refugees pouring out of Syria seeing shelter and safe harbor, when we consider the lives lost to gun violence, when we view the chaos in our weather and know the future is so uncertain, the question we ask ourselves needs to be not ‘how much can I spare?’ but “how much of this can I afford to keep, especially when we know all of what is going on in the world?”
Second perspective: cultivate an awareness of the transitory nature of what you possess.
Thirdly, cultivate the practice of giving without attaching to the outcome. This is a really hard part of the practice. And when I say this, I don’t mean that you should not care where you give or to whom or if the recipient is worthy. There are plenty of organizations I won’t give to because they don’t support my values, but I have in recent years tried when I do give to release my expectations. A friend in Chicago helped me with this perspective back in the days that I worked with homeless teens there on the Northside. I think I had been complaining about needing to answer the question that I was often asked about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to give money to people on the streets. Bette reflected that she had stopped trying to find a way to make a rule about such things and simply paid attention to her heart in the moment. Did she feel like giving the change in her pocket? She gave it without a second thought.
In some measure it is the act of giving itself that we need to pay most attention to. What comes of the gift isn’t our business. A homeless man may use it to buy some fortified wine to dull the pain. Perhaps he needs it. Giving from our heart is the thing.
Third perspective: let go of the outcome, be in the moment, give from your heart.
Start by considering what is important to you, what you love most, and what your deeply held values are.
Collect 100 pennies.
Set a timer for 15 minutes, though you can take as long as you want.
Distribute the pennies into piles that represent the list that you made. Each penny represents one percent of your annual funds.
Observe how it feels to do this. Is it hard? Easy? Where did you get stuck in the process?
Once you’re done, consider the piles. Are they distributed as you thought they would be? Are there any surprises? One participant in this exercise announced at the end ‘Clearly, I’m not spending enough on books!’ Have you learned anything?