The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don't Make Your Business Bad

I grew up in a family in which my mother prided herself on being able to manage her money, however little or much of it there was. (And my dad had the sense to put the finances in her hands.) She faithfully brought her tithes and offerings to the church. She gave what she could when she knew that someone was in need. She saved for the things she wanted, including our annual "vacation", also known as the church convention, and for a "rainy day." She paid cash for almost everything. And when she used credit, she always paid off the bill ahead of time. In fact, she had been so diligent when she was well that we noticed the onset of her dementia because she was no longer sharp when it came to finances. At her best, she handled her business.

I am not knowledgeable enough to say whether our national economy as a whole is healthy or what its prospects are. I do read about record highs in the price of oil, record lows in the value of the dollar, and immeasurable instability in financial markets because of the subprime lending crisis. We have no idea what the long-term financial implications of the Iraq war will be, nor do we know whether and how Social Security will survive the Baby Boomers' retirement and increased longevity. What we do know is that, to paraphrase an old adage, if America gets a cold then Black people will have pneumonia.

Meanwhile, there are too few communal conversations among Black people about money and wealth. And I have a particular concern about the (lack of) treatment of this issue within the church. We have to have conversations about money beyond "Will a man rob God?" during stewardship month. We need to talk about credit. We need to talk about budgets. We need to talk about money in relationships. We need to talk practically about how to buy a house you can pay for, and not just walk around your "dream house" quoting scripture about the promises of God. We need to talk about how not to buy a new car as soon as you pay the old one off. We need to talk about investments, and not just in the ministries of prominent preachers.

"Why in the church?" you may rightly ask. First, because Christians learn about all kinds values in the church. Second, because in the church there are a lot of problematic, erroneous messages about "seeds" and "financial blessings" that need to be debunked theologically and practically. Third, because financial stewardship of our forbears founded and sustained the Black church in the past, and our investment will determine its future. Fourth, because the church is our institution and we can and should make it a center for the empowerment of our people.

I began this post by talking about my mom because she taught me that money is something that you have to handle and manage. When I am tempted to overspend I still hear her caution "Don't make your business bad." I am heeding her advice (mostly). But I recognize that I and others need the tools and information to make our business good and prosperous.