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Money, Money, Money, Money

There is a fascinating historical connection between money and organized religion. I’m not just talking about the huge sums needed to build the great temples and cathedrals of the world, or the famous gift possessed by religious leaders from 10th century prelates to modern televangelists for getting believers to open their pocket books in the name of the Lord. This is something even more literal:

About the same time that the Roman Empire began to falter and fade, Christianity began to really take off in Europe. Weaker, smaller countries couldn’t support the same huge armies and major infrastructure that Rome had, and so a lot of things changed in the way that people lived their lives and did their business. One of these changes was that they began to find alternatives for all those Roman coins in circulation. With no one minting them anymore, it made sense to look for other options, and the stuff they were most commonly used for – for paying taxes to the government, and for the government to pay wages to soldiers and other employees – wasn’t as necessary. All that gold and silver was still worth something, of course, but better to trade it to someone else for a horse, or a piece of land, or a contract for some of their wheat crop next fall, rather than have to sit on and protect something that was inconvenient, attractive to thieves, and actually something you could eat or make much use out of.

A lot of those disused coins ended up being traded to abbeys and churches – the centers of the rising Christianity – where they were generally melted down and made into crosses and statues and other adornments for the grand shrines and cathedrals that were then being built. Precious metal that had been a liquid means of commerce became instead a solid symbol of eternity. Similar trends took place in India during the rise of major Hindu and Buddhist temples there, and in China as Buddhism became established there. (In my understanding of this history I am completely indebted to David Graeber’s excellent book Debt: the First 5,000 Years.) All of this posed a challenge to ambitious kings and

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queens, who wanted to field the large armies and build the sorts of empires that required the minting of coins. So these monarchs would find some pretense to seize holy sites, to take possession of gold crosses or silver menorahs and melt them down, reconverting them into hard currency.

Money can be many things – it can be a symbol, it can be an obsession, it can be a tool of corruption or oppression. But it is also a store of value. It measures – very imperfectly – somebody’s work, or something that someone wanted that someone else had. In the world that we inhabit, it is inescapable. So because we cannot get rid of it, at least for now, it is up to us whether we will use it to build empires or cathedrals. Whether we will use that stored value in the service of consumption or community.

We are now beginning our annual canvass season – when we are each asked to reflect on our commitment to our spiritual community, and to make a pledge of financial support to it. So in the month of February, we’re going to be talking a lot about money: what it means, or can mean, what place it holds, or ought to hold, in our lives. Your congregational leadership have already filled out their pledge cards, and now is your opportunity to do so as well. All of this is leading up to our celebratory service on March 2nd, when we will complete the collection of pledges and consecrate our trust in and support for our beloved community. So happy money month! May this time of intentional focus on what we have, lead to a greater appreciation for it, and a greater sense of intention in what we do with it.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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