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True Value

In the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines, there is a small cluster of islands called Yap. The people of Yap have an ancient form of money that dates back as much as a thousand years. This system of currency is made up of stones called rai: carved disks of limestone, each with a single hole in the middle, like a doughnut. In fact, the smaller wheels are roughly the size of an actual doughnut, but the largest and most valuable can be twice as tall as a grown adult and weigh thousands of pounds. That’s hardly convenient for day-to-day transactions, which may be part of why the Yapese use more conventional paper money now for that sort of thing. But the rai remain ceremonially very important, and are still used for major exchanges of wealth. (You can see a picture of one of the larger rai stones here.)

These stones aren’t native to the area; mining them required dangerous trips by boat to other islands and the real risk of sinking on the way back. Size is part of what makes a rai stone valuable, but not all of it. The story of the stone is even more important: how hard was it to obtain and bring back to Yap? How long has it been in circulation, and who else has owned it? The largest stones require many people working together in order to move, and so that only happens rarely. More often, people agree to exchange one of the stones as part of a land purchase or other transaction, and the owner changes while the stone remains wherever it was before. The story of the rai is essential to what it is worth, so actually having it in your hands or on your property is less important for owning it than being known as a the latest piece of that story.

Here where we are, our primary means of

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exchange is far more fluid and anonymous. Relatively identical bills, nondescript checks, and the utterly insubstantial numbers of computerized accounts allow us to buy this or pay for that. The lack of weight (both literal and metaphorical) to our money makes business efficient, but it also means that no use of money is more or less meaningful than another. That is

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unless we take the time to slow down and consider the true value of the money we’re using, and the purpose we’re putting it to.

We are now in the midst of our annual pledge season, when all of our congregation’s members – and many of our friends as well – take up the question of what we will promise in financial support to our congregation in the coming year. If you haven’t already collected your personalized pledge card at church, you can still do so. March 3rd will be our Covenant Renewal Sunday, when most of us will formally turn in our pledges for the year, but if you can’t make it then, there will still be able to collect your card and make a pledge in the following weeks. If you’d just like a blank pledge card to fill out, you can contact the church office for one.

Each of our households has to make its own calculation as to what our degree of support will be. So I encourage you to have that conversation, with yourself or your partner or your family. As you do, I would ask you to think seriously about what the value of your resources are – what went into them, how much time and effort were needed to make them possible – and what the value of our community is to you. Allow what you care about, hold dear, and benefit from in First Parish to be your guide in deciding what you contribute towards its continued work and existence. This is the season when we all get to become a part of the story of our congregation, some of us renewing that connection, and some of us making it for the first time. Its an important part of the functioning of the church, but it can also be an important spiritual discipline for each of us; a reminder of the true value of the things that shape our lives.


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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