“A checkbook is a theological document; it will tell
you who and what you worship.” – Billy Graham
I never thought I would be quoting Billy Graham, but I agree with him on this idea. Our checkbooks (or computer banking software) can reveal much about our true selves and our true values. Where we spend our money speaks volumes about our priorities and principles. The two are far more connected than we might like to admit. We often think we can or should separate sacred religion (or spirituality) from the profane and mundane realm of our everyday finances. But our religion is, or can be, the standard that informs how we spend our life energy, and the money which we gather in living our life.
Dan Hotchkiss in his book on Ministry and Money makes the point that money has no intrinsic value in and of itself. It is only an instrument of convenience (barter) which allows us to exchange and/or store our labor. Piled up in the mattress it has no value. Its only value is in what it can accomplish, what it can purchase, what it can help us achieve. Of course that is not to dismiss or denigrate money. It is certainly helpful and desirable. But only in as much as it helps us to be who we want to be, and to create the world we want to live in.
So how do we go about deciding how to spend our money? I think there are three areas to consider. First, what is my discretionary income? What is left over after I have met the necessities of life: food, shelter, health, etc. These “necessities” may vary from individual to individual just as much as income varies. Some of our choices may be simpler, and some more complicated. But we all have some amount of discretionary income we can allocate beyond the more obvious necessaries. Second, what other interests call to us? What secondary needs do we have? Many of us choose to spend our income on companionship, vacation, education, etc.; those things which enrich our lives, bring us comfort and fulfillment. These choices also vary widely from individual to individual. Some things on my list might not make yours, and conversely. Third, what are my priorities?
This is by far the hardest part, and is often non-conscious. What takes precedence over what else is often impulse rather than discriminating spending. I may think I am living my priorities and principles, but when I look in my checkbook (or at the Quicken pie chart) what do I see reflected there? What do I spend on affirming and promoting the inherent dignity and worth of every individual? What do I spend on dinner and a movie?
I don’t mean or want to be judgmental. What I hope is to invite you to be discerning and deliberate, more conscious and considered. Too often we spend our money without due diligence. Perhaps we can accomplish more and create a kinder world if we spend more thought on how we spend our money, and how that reflects on us. What better time to stop and think than now as we begin our UUCD Annual Stewardship Campaign? How shall you commit to being a good steward of our spiritual community? Where does UUCD fit in your list of priorities?
Someone recently wrote to me: I think stewardship means taking care of something that is important to me personally. Once a week I have a place to go to decompress and regroup. I have a community that I can talk with; I have a community that I can sometimes disagree with. Keeping that community together takes a monetary commitment. I am satisfied that I can make my fair share contribution.
Your fair share may be different than anyone else’s. It depends on discretionary income and the necessities of life. Those vary from person to person and from home to home. Please consider though how your priorities are arranged not in theory, but in reality. Emerson once wrote:
“A person will worship something – have no doubt about that. We may think our
tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts – but it will out.
Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are
worshipping we are becoming.”
So I invite you to check your checkbook as a theological document and consider what it says to you about your value system and what is of worth to you.