Earlier last week on NPR a story was featured about the Sundance Film Festival, that many of the films highlight our nation's economic struggles, both documentaries and fictional films. I recently saw Tower Heist in which the little guy gets robbed blind by the big rich guy and the little guy gets revenge. (Which incidentally involves a cool twist on Ferris Buehler's Day Off.) And many of us are swept up by Downton Abbey, in which a wealthy, landed family is thrust into the lives and cares of their working-class dependents during World War I.
Lately I have been reflecting about the power that money has in our lives, how most of what we do is motivated in some way by the pursuit and earning and spending of money. If I talk about stewardship and giving in the church, it seems oddly self-serving, as a good portion of a church's budget is spend on staff, especially clergy. Now that I am seeking a settled position as a pastor, I have to consider compensation, real estate prices in the area, and the fact that my oldest daughter will be in college in two and a half years, not to mention whether or not my husband will be able to find a job in the solar field in the area where I am called.
To me, it seems that money is a symbol of our inability to trust one another, that we will do what we say we will do, at the level of expectation of the one who requires our service or product. In the movie Phenomenon there is a brief interchange in which George (John Travolta) is repairing a friend's vehicle. The friend needs his truck but doesn't have the money to pay for the repair. George needs some solar panels installed but he doesn't know how to do it. A neighbor who does know about solar needs to have a well dug on his property, something the truck guy does for a living. So George proposes that the truck guy dig the well, the solar guy install his panels and George will fix the truck--all with no money changing hands, trusting that everything will wash out in the end.
Money is a system invented, produced and protected by human beings, often at the expense of another group of human beings. Like any source of power, those who have it have a difficulty time sharing it with those who don't, and yet this is the primary example of Jesus, Buddha, and others whose example of compassion and downward mobility mystifies the powers that be. And yet we in the church are beholden to this system of distrustful transactions. In fact, we accept it as part of the norm, rather than imagining another way.
Unless we start sharing the power of money in radical fashion. Think of all the places that money hides in a faith community, in your church: buildings, endowments, Communion silver, make your own list. Because that's where it will begin, locally. I know this is an unpopular view with some but sooner or later denominations will not be able to sustain themselves. Local and small is where it will be at. Coalitions between different faith communities and civic organizations and mission assemblies and grassroots organizations like Simply Smiles will be the model.
Money in and of itself is not a bad thing, but how we have organized economies has become systemically evil. The church is the workshop for the kingdom of God, for God's realm of justice and compassion for all and for the earth. Jesus spoke about more about money and the poor than he did about anything else. It's high time the church joined him.