RESPONSE: May 2018 ISSUE

Loaves and Fishes People

Mission study author Susan K. Taylor shares her experience writing What About Our Money?

Loaves and Fishes People
A woman participates in a regional training in Tempe, Arizona, for leaders of Mission u, a transformative education event

Every Sunday offering in our worship services is a loaves-and-fishes miracle. Each of us contributes as we are able — one person's metaphorical scrap of fish and another person's metaphorical hunk of bread — and it is blessed by God to nurture God's realm in our world. In a culture that hammers us with messages of fear that we can never have enough, passing the offering plate is an act of faith, and the response is a miracle.

As a financial professional, I think a lot about money. Money is a bit of an obsession. But I'm not obsessed with money itself; I'm obsessed with the dream of what people of faith could do with the power of our money — both the money we give and the money we don't give. Imagine what we could do together to support our churches and mission, support our planet, create health and well-being for God's people next door and around the world, and help provide low-income housing and job-creating businesses. Obviously, no one person can accomplish this alone, but as we grapple with the spiritual dimensions of money in our lives, we can become loaves and fishes people, people of the miracle of collective response.

Talking about money

In light of all God's kin-dom has to gain, it's exciting that United Methodist Women has risked opening a conversation about money. Money is a difficult topic that can feel deeply personal and sometimes threatening. But I can't imagine a better place to have that conversation than within the United Methodist Women community, exploring together from a grounding of faith and a history of love in action.

United Methodist Women invited Faith and Money Network to write the mission study on money because, for more than 40 years, FMN has been equipping people to build honest, just, community-centered relationships with money. You can get a sense of FMN's mission at www.faithandmoneynetwork.org. I have written several resources for FMN and was offered the challenge of the United Methodist Women mission study. As with so many worthwhile projects, if I had known how much work it was going to be, I might not have agreed to do it. I have a full-time job, a mother with advanced dementia, young adult children and other responsibilities-a common life story for women. But the topic of What About Our Money? A Faith Response is the work of my heart and the focus of much of my adult life. How could I say no?

I began exploring the intersections of faith and money as a teenager in the 1970s while performing in a musical theater production about the Shakers, a communal Christian sect that was largest during the 19th century. The Shakers are known primarily for their graceful furniture and their practice of celibacy, but they were much more. Faith shaped every aspect of their lives, from spiritual and business leadership by women and men equally to the perfection of their crafts — because God sees the joinery in the back of a drawer as well as the front — to their art and worship and crop management. Their entire communal life and economy were based in relationship with God. I was captivated! I couldn't imagine that people could take their faith so seriously. Because the Shakers were long gone from Kentucky, where I lived, I began seeking out my contemporaries who intentionally lived their faith.

The search took me to a church near Atlanta, where I slept one night a week in a church's small shelter for people who were homeless. As the mother of a young adult daughter now, I can't imagine how worried my parents must have been, but I didn't fear anyone at the shelter. I saw people with no resources and no backup. At that time, I was moving past a costly relationship, with my parents' financial help. At the shelter, I met a man with a similar story, who, without family backup, had landed on the streets. Shared resources made the difference between his outcome and mine.

Where faith and money meet

Brokenhearted over the economic injustices I was learning about, I decided to figure out what we can do about poverty. (Not naïve at all, right?) I earned a Ph.D. in economics. But it became clear that although formal economic thought offers the world a useful framework for many questions, it doesn't address the true heart of an economy — its people, relationships, the health of the planet. These aspects of an economy are, at their core, spiritual issues. So once again, the question became, "Where do faith and money meet?"

For almost 20 years I have partnered with my husband in a financial advising and investment management firm focused on doing justice with the money we save and invest for the future. Each client brings her or his own relationship with money to decisions. One child of the Depression cannot acquire enough money to feel secure, while another child of the Depression is exuberant with far less because she has more than she ever imagined. One person checks her accounts every day, while another doesn't even think about his accounts between check-ins with us. For all their differences, all our clients are strongly committed to investing in ways that weigh in on the side of justice and environmental sustainability.

Where do our churches come into the equation? Money pervades our lives and culture, and yet most churches have barely begun to think about money's weight and control in peoples' lives, all too often allowing people to struggle, alone and in silence. So, it was with gratitude that I heard that United Methodist Women was stepping into this difficult conversation, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to add my experience and voice to this spiritually crucial conversation. I can't wait to see where it leads.

Writing the study was hard work. As one of my early editors said, "I love having written." And I do love having written What About Our Money?

The women of United Methodist Women are diverse, and money issues can look very different depending on our family history, current circumstances, education, race, sexual orientation, physical and mental health, and a hundred other factors. United Methodist Women's editorial team was graciously tenacious in reminding me to broaden the text's perspectives. Yet I still suspect that every reader will find points where they feel unrepresented and unheard.

Writing this study was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed diving deeply into what the Scriptures have to say about money. Through interviews, I met some caring, committed women doing amazing work in the world. I learned about United Methodist Women's many projects of mission and justice, pursued with faithfulness for so long that they seem ordinary. But such love in action is not ordinary. It is heroic.

Finding balance

The editorial team and I intentionally balanced personal and systemic money issues. In my work with people around money, I have seen some people focus on systemic issues until they let themselves off the hook for the aspects of their money lives that they could have changed, improving their lives and lowering their stress. I've seen other people focus on the personal until they felt they could never do enough, accepting blame on themselves for things far outside their control. Either extreme left people disempowered and hopeless about money. It's up to each of us to recognize where we are — what's our piece of the work and what's not, what's feasible and life-giving. That balance changes, of course, as our lives change, as we grow in spiritual maturity around money, and as we develop a community around us to share the conversation and next steps.

My prayer is that What About Our Money? will be of genuine support and hope to women making connections between their faith and their money. This aspect of our spiritual journey can be well worth some effort. There is the joy in cultivating solidarity with people in different circumstances from our own. There is ease from anxiety in keeping money in perspective where we can. There is freedom from the toxic grasp of greed to be found in giving, in cultivating a sense of enough, in standing with people who do not have enough. There is hope in imagining a way of living economically that does not weigh heavily on the health of the planet. There is both power and mercy in the ability to see and address the structural systems that constrain people's lives and well-being.

Many interesting and important money issues could have been added to the study, and each issue that was included merits a study focus of its own. My goal was to raise a few key ideas and think them through in a conversational way, hoping to spark a process that readers can adapt to their own lives and values, trusting their own experience and wisdom. In connecting faith and money, the same question can be applied in most points of decision: What does love- the true love of God and self and neighbor — look like in this situation? Love is the faith response.


Susan K. Taylor, Ph.D., is a partner in Just Money Advisors, vice president of Faith and Money Network's board of directors, treasurer for Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, and author of United Methodist Women mission study What About Our Money?

 

Posted or updated: 5/4/2018 12:00:00 AM
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