The guest blogger this week is Rev. Dr. Emlyn A. Ott, the Executive Director of Healthy Congregations, Inc. www.healthycongregations.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember the chorus “money, money, money, money”?
Often misinterpreted as a song that celebrates the accumulation of money, it actually has another message entirely. “For the Love of Money” is an unadorned warning about the other, more sordid, side of the accumulation of wealth. It points out what people wind up doing to gain more of the green stuff: cheat, lie, even steal from their mother.
Songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff gave the O’Jays this striking statement about greed and financial gain. At the time, their song-writing skills were making them quite a lot of “money, money, money, money.” Recent religious converts, Gamble and Huff also were reconciling their spiritual beliefs with their lifestyle. They were curious about money’s impact on their own lives, and how it might ultimately change them. The main intention of the song is clear: Don’t let money consume or define you.
Emotional process theologian and Rabbi Edwin Friedman, the author of Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve, often reminded his students that “the issue is never the issue.”
How does that translate to money? There are layers under anything where money is involved. Money is the flash point. Money and stewardship are the focused upon “tip of an iceberg.” What lies beneath the tip of that iceberg? Relationships and the give-and-take between people encompass the larger body of ice that exists under the surface of the water. Because you and I associate money and stewardship processes with survival or avoidance of pain, it is easy for money and stewardship to be a focus of heightened fear. To observe what lies underneath the surface might just be the beginning of a spiritual awakening.
There is nothing boring about congregations and congregational life in the 21st century! The ability to observe what happens in communities of faith around money, stewardship, and mission involves allowing our curiosity to emerge. It involves engaging our thinking brains rather than our reactivity. Curiosity has a motivating power. Can we be curious about the intensity that surrounds a budget shift or a staff reduction? Any chance we can look at something in our own history or the history of the organization that might give a clue about what is happening with me? What would it be like to be curious about my own reactions to a budget that is not supporting something I hold dear or a key mission initiative?
Money and stewardship unleash the power of the automatic. I affectionately call reactive terms “the f words” – fight, flight, freeze, fuze, frenzy, fornicate, feeding and ph-armacology. “The f words” demonstrate the survival buttons that God installed in us. In the event of a threat, either real or imagined, mobilize! Help me feel better right now! And do it in a familiar way. Everyone has a favorite reactive style, and it doesn’t usually fall far from the family tree.
Raised with second generation immigrant parents, my siblings and I had access to resources that were unavailable to our parents. Our opportunities for education and easy “money, money, money, money” were a dream-come-true for our parents and grandparents. The result was so automatic that it could be an emotional systems case study. Our easy access created the tension of associating access to resources as “success” and the opposite as failure. It wasn’t until I faced years of tough struggles in church budgets, building programs, and losses of key stewardship leaders that I had to acknowledge that my automatic reactions did not fit my experience. It also did not fit with my desire to live into a faith defined by Jesus, where failure is also the beginning of resurrection and new life. I had to grow up.
Knowing what we believe about money and stewardship is important. Equally important is the ability to maintain our curiosity when what we believe and what we react to just don’t seem to match. Knowing your family’s story about money and stewardship helps to put the automatic into perspective.
The O’Jays remind us to observe better and without judgment. If we come to see that where our fears erupt is where a more mature family and a more mature church can emerge. Maturing congregations manage the conflicts, find differences intriguing and a sign of new life, and acknowledge that the grace of God exists in the places where the hidden is revealed.
Emlyn A. Ott
Executive Director, Healthy Congregations, Inc.
Interested in further reading? Check the website at www.healthycongregations.com