Values series: love and money

I turned on the car radio the other day and heard this electrifying refrain…
“think about love
(think about money)
think about justice
(think about money)
think about children
(think about money)”
(Life would really be better if you paused and turn the excellent soundtrack on, so you can enjoy the Afro-funk soundtrack while you read on.)

That juxtaposition of love and money struck me deeply. I felt so surprised.  White people don’t sing songs about love and money.  Why is that? Come to think of it, polite white people mostly don’t even like to talk about money. It’s one of those really personal topics we avoid, like politics, religion and sex.

The song goes on…
“better think about your future, and don’t forget your past
think about unity
(think about money)
think about you and me
(think about money)
think about righteousness
 (think about money)
think about positive vibes
(think about money)
think about togetherness
(think about money)”
I love those leading values: unity, togetherness, righteousness, children thriving, love.  They’re a lot of the values that we want, as white people, in interracial relationships. The point (and the title) of the song is “2000 blacks have the right to be free” and it was produced in 1980. And today, aren’t those still the values we want, as white people? Fela Kuti was saying, basically, the obstacle to achieving those precious values is money.

Loving children… and money. Of course, it’s out of my deep love for my own young adult children that I want to help them pay for college. I want them to have a chance to choose jobs without worrying about student loan repayment. And when I really pause to think about it, I want this for every child. There are a lot of children in my city that don’t have enough to eat… because of their parents’ income.

I went to a meeting the other day with a Rabbi I know, and I learned that the MacArther foundation (the folks who give away the “genius grant”) have a new competition going to fund $100 million for a game-changing social healing proposal.  It was reported to me, that one of the front line folk working with the poor in my own city said simply, “most of the poor folk I know, just need money. Let’s give them grants.” [In my city, the poor people are mostly black and brown folk.]

I lost my own job not too long ago, and when beloved spouse [white, European] and I [white, American] redid our household budget, we discovered that on half our former income, we can still pay our mortgage, buy food, and even… give away some money. Talk about white privilege. It’s different, sure, and as I pray and think about the future, my biggest concerns are helping our last young adult child with college and how can I myself avoid being poor in my old age. I’m not worried about regular bills. Talk about white privilege. So I declined a job working with rich and middle class people (because it did no social good). I’m still unemployed and I’m trying to figure out what all this means, spiritually, ethically, and economically, in my family’s life.

I’ve been rereading a book Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote, Strength to Love, copyright 1963. In one of the essays, he takes the role and tone of Paul writing an epistle to America. “Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but you have failed to employ your moral and spiritual genius to make of it a brotherhood (138).” And he didn’t even have social media. He goes on… “America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses and given luxuries to the classes… God never intended one people to live in superfluous and inordinate wealth, while others know only deadening poverty. God wants all of his children to have the basics necessities of life, and he has left in this universe ‘enough and to spare’ for that purpose (139).” The reason that essay is in a book about love, is that it takes strength, to think about money.

However, if we truly love, we will think about money… who has it, how do we share it, what do we do with our own money. A mentor of mine once told me, whenever somebody comes for spiritual guidance, she asks to see their checkbook or bank statement. Because – that document, with their calendar, tells the most about a person’s actual values. Her point was that personal budgets are moral documents. They reveal how much we love, as well as who we love.

Dr. William Barber is making the point right now that state and federal government budgets are moral documents. Among other things, Dr. Barber is picking up on Dr. King’s heritage with his call for a revolution of moral values. His charge is to “reframe the moral conversation in our local communities. Economic justice, criminal justice reform, equality in education, healthcare access for all, equal protection under the law – these are the moral issues of our time!” Did you notice he starts with money?

Jesus said once, that we can’t love both God and money (Luke 16:13).  Perhaps, we can’t love our neighbors deeply either, unless we are free from the love of money. Perhaps, polite white people don’t usually talk about money because we don’t have to. We have plenty of it, so we rarely have to think about what would happen if our income were cut in half, or if our spiritual mentor asked to dig into our finances. What would it be like, if you and I let our deepest spiritual values shape our daily financial choices? I’m asking, as white people, what is our economic role in humanity’s shared destiny?  What is yours, personally?  What if we all thought… about love, and about money.


One thought on “Values series: love and money

  1. Thank you Paula!
    Let’s take her post to heart, and see if we can put it into action:
    1. What if you decided to make talking about money more normal? Think of one friend you can share some of your musings on your financial priorities this week?
    2. What if you asked a few white friends why talking about money is taboo for our ethnicity but not for other ethnicities? Why do they think that is?
    3. Ask a friend, “What if you had to cut your budget in half? Would you survive? How?”
    4. What if we made money more connected to love, to friends, to justice?


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