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Cash Rules Everything Around Me – 3/3/2013

On a newsprint page from some years ago, six-year-old Calvin is playing a board game with his best friend, an imaginary tiger named Hobbes. It’s a game about real-estate speculation, high finance and the fickle hand of the market – a game about money, in other words. The odds have turned against young Calvin, and he is down on his luck and running out of the little pastel slips of paper the game uses for currency. The imaginary tiger seems on the verge of winning until Calvin reaches into the till, the rack of spare bills used in the game, and begins to pocket them. It’s just a tragic turn of events, he explains: dire circumstances have forced him to rob the bank in their game of monopoly. An argument about the rules ensues and the social contract holding the game together unravels until Calvin and Hobbes begin stealing from and defrauding each other and the board is finally upended.[i]

The comic is an exaggeration of the game, the game is a simplification of the world, but the kernel of truth remains: money is a damnably powerful thing. The global economic crisis we faced four years ago and are still reeling from is only one numbingly obvious example. We live in a world in which little pieces of paper – or the bits of digital information that hold the promise of them – can be exchanged for just about anything, for better or worse. It is also a world in which people get sick and go hungry, suffer the cold and the heat and the absence of opportunity, all for the want of those same scraps of paper. The brutal cuts to the national social safety net that went into force on Friday will only make this more true. Parents can and do spend money on coaching and tutoring to get their children into the most prestigious pre-schools. In some parts of the world, the wealthy navigate their cities in helicopters rather than cars, to avoid being exposed to the crime and poverty at surface level. There are even companies now who will invest in your divorce, if they believe that you are likely to walk away with a large cash settlement, which they will then be entitled to a cut of.[ii]

Hip-hop super group the Wu-Tang Clan have an acronym for this: cream. C.R.E.A.M.: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. While Method Man, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck were speaking to a specific reality faced in poor, urban communities of color, it describes a much larger predicament that all of us here are in. Money shapes so much of what we can and cannot do. It inserts itself into our most important relationships as a cause of conflict, envy, and resentment. No person and no institution can ignore it completely.

Yet, in such a world as this, the amazing thing is that people still find the courage and creativity to resist such a powerful force and to live their lives in the truth that profit is not the greatest good. To say, “Cash may rule everything around me, but it does not rule me. I determine what purpose sits upon the throne of my heart. I can choose to serve something greater than dollars and cents.” I believe that’s what most people would say, in fact. Few people other than Gordon Gekko[iii] want to think of money as being their highest good. To really follow that intention of a greater purpose requires living against the grain of the world. It means struggle, it means resistance, and anyone and everyone would falter if they tried to do that all by themselves. But when people find a meaning that they can share in, one becomes two, two becomes three, three becomes five and five, given the means and the opportunity to grow, becomes a community. A network of people connected to each other by and for their resistance to the prevailing culture and their determination to work to change it.

That is what we are about, as a congregation: sharing and practicing a set of values that set us apart. We exist not to damn the world, but to redeem it, for where cash rules now, love ought to prevail. And in fact, it can and does prevail, bit by bit – sometimes without anyone’s help, and sometimes only because of the work of the dedicated and determined.

Each year at roughly this time, the members of this congregation and many of its friends are called upon to decide how we will support the financial needs of our church in the year ahead. To strike our balance between the real and powerful force that reigns out there, and the hope and possibility of the force that reigns in here. It’s a question that my household faces just as yours does, and while I cannot tell you what your answer should be I can tell you what ours is.

My partner Sara and I believe in work that this congregation does: in Beverly and inside these walls, and most especially inside of our family and inside of ourselves. We also believe in what this congregation can become, and so we are committed to the present and future growth of the church. Growth in our sense of community and connection, growth in the programs and we offer, and above all, growth in the love we experience and put into action, together. It’s difficult to put a number on what this congregation gives us and what we want to give back. Our resources are limited. But when we spoke together seriously about this, while brushing our teeth – one of those stolen moments when both children are occupied or asleep – we did come up with a number that reflects what rules our hearts. This year we are pledging 5% of our income to support the church.

This congregation calls us out of comfort, habit, and despair and into hope, loving-kindness and the hard work of justice. That is what we want for ourselves and for our children and that is what we want for our world. So the pledge we make to support the congregation is a real piece of our livelihood; it is an amount that really matters for us, because this place really matters to us. Your mileage can and will vary. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that our lives are made up of our choices. More than what we profess, what we choose to do defines and shapes what is true for us. So as you make your decision, I implore you to make it based on the purpose that you wish to rule your heart.



[i] http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/Hobbes217/Calvin%20And%20Hobbes/Monopoly.jpg

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/business/05divorce.html?_r=0

[iii] The villain of Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, Wall Street.

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First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915

978-922-3968

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