“The Spirituality of Money” 10/8/2017

One of the most hopeful and encouraging things I have seen recently was a video showing a group of Black Lives Matter activists who showed up at a pro-Trump rally at the Washington Monument, and were invited to take the stage and speak for two minutes. The gracious invitation was wrapped in Enlightenment rhetoric echoing Voltaire’s iconic remark: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And then Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, took the microphone. He spoke clearly and succinctly about what Black Lives Matter stands for. “We are not anti-cop,” he said, “we are anti-bad-cop.” He spoke about freedom, equity, and rights, garnering many affirming cheers from the pro-Trump crowd. And he closed his remarks saying, “If we really want to make America great, we do it together.” Again, the crowd cheered. The leader of the rally shook his hand.

This incident was not free of tension – far from it. The risk of the encounter falling apart or turning violent was real. But leaders of both groups held the space for peaceful interaction, calling upon those present to live the values of peaceful protest they espoused. And it worked.

At the Unitarian Universalist congregation I served as interim in Santa Barbara, California, we organized and hosted a forum about the wall Israel built between itself and Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan. The featured speaker was the Palestinian daughter-in-law of one of the church’s leaders and long-time members. We invited the community, and reached out intentionally to local pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups in town and on the UCSB campus. The speaker’s mother-in-law deftly facilitated discussion after her initial presentation and slide show. It got charged and sometimes heated, but remained peaceful and respectful thanks to the skilled facilitation. The role of Unitarian Universalists as bridge builders, able to call our neighbors into a space of respectful dialogue across profound differences, was never before my eyes so successfully fulfilled.

We should be able to fulfill that role often, in encounters large and small, planned and spontaneous, if we are living true to the faith we profess: that love should be our guide, justice our aim, and diversity our strength. There is more love and more truth to be revealed among us out of the grace of our differences and the faithfulness of our ways of relating to each other – the care we enact and the covenants we keep. That’s the particular gift of our tradition. Throughout our history, we have been a people building a new way.

Spirituality can be thought of as a state of readiness. To be spiritual is to have a cultivated inner resource of skill and strength to meet life as it is, come what may, without losing your love of neighbor and self, without losing hope, without losing your bearings as you live out your values grounded in love and working for justice. Your personal spiritual practices – how you start your day, how you tend yourself and your business, how you connect with others, how you reflect at the end of the day – should be having the effect of keeping you ready to meet life as it comes in a state of open-eyed and open-hearted love. None of us achieves a perfect performance, but we can all work to be and do the best we can. A person who lives that kind of commitment is spiritual.

The spiritual ambience of a church community is produced by its members’ readiness to meet each other as we are, to seek to understand one another deeply, to care for each other, and to commit to walk with one another in covenant to be our best selves and support one another’s spiritual growth.

And so I come to my subject this morning: the spirituality of money. The best financial counselors approach managing money as a discipline guided by the aspirations you have for your life. Who are you? What is the best self you are striving to be? What and who do you love? What difference do you want to make? The answers to such questions shape your financial strategy.

Also, a clear-eyed assessment of your resources and risks. When we talk about the church’s expectations of members, I always say there are four: come on Sunday as often as you can, volunteer to help with the church’s maintenance and ministries as you are able, make a financial contribution within your means, and work on your spiritual growth. As often as you can – as you are able – within your means – recognize the limits of your resources and of the risks you are willing and able to bear. Your involvement at church should support you, not drain you or put you at risk. The church’s mission is to support families – families of all descriptions and sizes, including families of one. Your household should be better for your connection to us.

Through good stewardship of your household, you build your way of turning making a living into making a life. You build a resource of financial strength to meet life as it is, come what may. Like spiritual practices, financial practices involve building certain skills, and should strengthen you to meet life’s financial dimension without losing your love of neighbor and self, without losing hope, without losing your bearings as you live out your values grounded in love and working for justice. Your household financial practices – how you budget, how you tend yourself and your business, how you meet obligations, how you reflect on your financial practices and habits – should be having the effect of keeping you ready to meet life as it comes in a state of open-eyed and open-hearted love. None of us achieves a perfect financial performance, but we can all work to be and do the best we can. A person who lives that kind of financial life has grasped the spirituality of money.

Just as the spiritual ambience of a church community is produced by its members’ readiness to meet each other as we are and support one another, so the financial life of the church is shaped by its members’ stewardship of their own households and readiness to support the church’s financial requirements. Just as we do in offering care and spiritual support, we aim to meet you where you are respecting your resources and skills, your need for confidentiality, and so on. The spiritual ambience of the church community, in matters of money or anything else, benefits from our collective capacity to meet life as it comes in a state of open-eyed and open-hearted love. Come what may, we strive to move forward together without losing our love of neighbor and self, without losing hope, without losing our bearings as we live out our values grounded in love and working together for justice, within and beyond these walls.

Traditionally, our churches have mainly relied on members’ annual pledges of financial support to fund their maintenance and ministries. Typically, pledges are supplemented by fundraising activities, such as our annual Christmas Tree Sale. First Church leaders have been working hard at building new ways of funding our ministries. In particular, we have looked at ways to make our assets earn for us. For the last few years we have staffed our building rental ministry to increase our capacity to earn rents and to serve community groups who have come to feel that our space is safe and sacred to them, too. We have begun to talk about how that reputational asset – that our neighbors see us as a place where justice work happens – can also bring us income in the form of gifts from neighbors who appreciate our role in New Orleans civic life. Beyond these ways of leveraging our assets, we are developing a program for planned giving that you have heard some about already last month, and will be hearing more.

In all of these new ways of getting income, there are opportunities for volunteer service. Chelsea Brauwn, our rental manager, only works part-time, and would gladly accept help from volunteers willing to help with logistical or planning tasks associated with building use and rentals. We could use a team of creative thinkers with some experience in approaching donors for large gifts, or in writing grant applications, to help us develop our ideas about gaining income from the larger community. And help with maintaining systems and records is always welcomed by the office and the Finance Team.

Come on Sunday as often as you can, volunteer to help with the church’s maintenance and ministries as you are able, make a financial contribution within your means, and work on your spiritual growth. Those are the church’s expectations of members. And this morning I am inviting you to work on your spiritual growth in relation to money. Because there is no aspect of life that does not have a spiritual dimension, no aspect that should not draw on a spiritual source for its balance and well-being.

Spirituality is a state of readiness, of skill and strength to meet life as it is, come what may, without losing your love of neighbor and self, without losing hope, without losing your bearings. Your personal spiritual practices – in every aspect of life – should be keeping you ready to greet life with open-eyed and open-hearted love. None of us achieves a perfect performance, but we can all work and help each other to be and do our best. A person who lives that kind of commitment is spiritual. A community that lives that kind of commitment is a church. May we be truly spiritual, and always ready to love. So may it be. Amen.

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