Wednesday, October 7, 2009

With my apologies to R. Kelly and the cast of Cabaret

My Sunday morning adult education class is studying the topic of money. Those of you who know me well should be laughing hysterically now. But it's a money and faith class NOT a personal finance class. Whew! In fact, the book we are using as a launching pad for our discussion is entitled, Money and Faith: The Search for Enough. When I read through this book I always have that "Money makes the world go around song" in my head. Not the R. Kelly one, though now it's stuck in there too, but that song performed by Joel Gray and Liza Minnelli in Cabaret.

The search for who wrote that song so I could attribute it to them in this blog led me through the exciting world of hip-hop lyrics. Apparently R. Kelly's song is "higher"on the Internet search engines than 1960's musicals (what? you're kidding!) Anyway, his least the ones I can post in a nice blog written by a middle aged Episcopal priest, follow along (roughly) the same lines as the older ones. V-12s (big cars), honeys on the cell (you can probably figure this out, but lots of special lady friends, eh em), etc. The new hip hop lyrics and the lyrics from 40 years ago are of the same ilk: money, more than anything else makes the world go around. Of course the church works hard to hold up a different view even as the church, herself, (itself, whatever) needs money.

In the Money and Faith book (edited by Michael Schut, by the way) there is a section by David Boyle that reads, "When you stash money in the bank, they must keep around 8% of that loan on deposit in case there's a run on the bank--but all the rest is lent out again, many times over. In other words, most of our mortgages and bank loans are created, as if by magic (!!...exclamation points mine), by a stroke of the pen." "Money can be something that can be accidentally deleted by your bank just because someone sits on the keyboard..." (45-46).

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Dave Barry also writes an essay for this book, and it is, as you would imagine, hilarious. He writes, "We have the Tinker Bell monetary system...we see everybody else running around after these pieces of paper, and we figure, 'hey, these pieces of paper must be valuable [because we believe and clap]" (44).

You know I have no business commenting on international banking...for heaven's sake...I still write checks! (though I do some online banking) But I hardly ever let that lack of competency stop me from commenting on things. It is fascinating to me how fragile all of this is and as we are all seeing, the economic house of cards does indeed crash with a loud thud. And actually I guess I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often!

So, I'm asking you, what I asked my class. We have all entered into this arrangement, this agreement. I choose to believe that the paper I'm given every two weeks is worth something to the Visa card people to whom I hand it over. And I have to believe that when I type click on a few areas of my keyboard..poof...we have money in our savings account...that we could really really go and get and put into our hands if we wanted to some day. And I, like all of you, operate in that system. I choose to believe it's "real". And I lie awake some nights when I fear that I didn't actually send that check to Visa, and I worry sometimes that I didn't transfer enough into our savings, and what if Rob and I have to eat cat food when we're 80 and what if we have to make choices between a mortgage payment someday and my insanely expensive asthma medicine, and on and on and money makes the world go around..and help!

So what if I could also get as caught up in believing that I am a living member of the body of Christ? What if I could believe as strongly that the small wafer of bread and swallow of wine that I receive every Sunday really is the Body and by ingesting it I become part of that Body and carry it with me wherever I go? I'm not trying to get into a whole discussion about the "Real Presence" or transubstantiation or all that jazz of Eucharistic theology (some of you just hyperventilated when I used such a careless word as jazz right next to Eucharistic theology. No disrespect intended).

I'm just questioning why it is so darn easy for me to get caught up in money fears and caught up in systems that I completely do not understand and yet allow them to interrupt my sleep. At the same time I take somewhat for granted the power of relationship with God, the power of Holy Communion. I never lie awake and think "DANG! I get to be in relationship with God! Are you kidding me? That is so cool! I must wake up Rob and share this exciting news!"

I'm not advocating abdicating! How's that for catchy? I can't abdicate my responsibility to pay my bills, pay my taxes, get advice about how much we need to be saving to live in the future. But I'm practice getting as energized by the belief that God is present, God is real, God is known in myriad ways including in that bit of cheap wine and bread as I do agitated by the belief that I don't have enough money, that the money is running out, that I'm in fragile financial circumstances.

I don't mean this as any cheap rehash of "prosperity Gospel" that sells books and gets you on TV. God is not the big ATM in the sky..pray just the right way and you press the right buttons and out pops a $20. Faithful people live in poverty. I don't think that if I just pray hard enough or love the bread and wine more then magically my Visa card debt goes away. I do think that it's a short list of things that should keep awake a member of the Body of Christ. And I'm going to try hard to remind myself that my true identity has nothing to do with my bank account.

Money does make the world go around I suppose. But it doesn't have to define us, energize us, or control us. Money did not vanquish death, God did that. Peace to you on this (hot) October day! Rhoda
PS Fred Ebb and John Kander wrote the music and lyrics to probably knew that!