Love is an act of imagination
We can create a world that we love
Last of my three part series on hope, faith, and love.1
Last week, the NY Times released a series of articles about France forcing Haiti, under the threat of military invasion, to pay former slaveowners for the “property” they had lost after the country revolted and declared independence.2 Some highlights
In 1825, the French forced Haiti to pay the families of former slaveholders for the freedom of their slaves.
The 150 million francs debt was 30 times larger than Haiti’s budget.
France forced Haiti to take loans to pay the debt… from French banks. Thus the debt enriched French banks and French slaveowners.
Depending on how you calculate it, paying off the “debt” siphoned tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in today’s money from Haiti to France.
For anyone with any social consciousness, these articles illustrate how, as a current FF1 student put it, “money is a huge part of the violent capitalist system.”
So how can one participate in the capitalist system and still feel OK about it?
I don’t have any “answers.” I’m not sure there are “answers.” But I tell this to my students: It may be helpful to separate your concerns about the violent capitalist system from “money.” Capitalism and its horrors are an economic system, which at the bottom of it are a society’s political agreements. Money on the other hand is simply a system of accounting, a store of value, and medium of exchange. If you can separate your disagreements with capitalism from “money,” you can see that the problems of the world aren’t an excuse to be bad with your own finances.
If you can separate your disagreements with capitalism from “money,” you can see that the problems of the world aren’t an excuse to be bad with your own finances.
“Money is feminine”
Lynne Twist, one of my heroes, describes money as feminine, as innocent as water. It is what we ask it to carry is toxic. To see this, let’s use a little imagination. What if the “reparations” money flowed from the French to the Haitians for enslaving them instead of the Haitians to the French for “losing” their slaves? With those billions of dollars, where would Haiti be now? Here we see that money can be used in life-giving ways, or life-destroying ways. It’s our geopolitics, the exercise of raw power, and the poverty of our souls that are rotten, not money.
I always ask my students to imagine having a lifelong relationship with money. Imagine money is with us our entire lives, whether we want it to or not. Because it’s true. Often money is helping us live the lives we want. In my latest cohort, money is a partner in helping my students:
be on sabbatical for four months
do house projects and move on creative goals
subsidize their close friend’s rent
pay for rent
pay for dental emergencies and other ER health care for loved one
go see family on the east coast
get groceries, eat food from around the world in restaurants
save for the future
When we see that money has provided for our needs in so many prosaic and ordinary way, maybe we can love money. Not transactionally, not capitalistic/consumeristic, but the opposite of resentment or grasping for more, which is gratitude. If you have a sense of grace and gratitude for your relationship with money, you’ll feel more wealthy with however much you have. On my friend’s wall:
“Help others with”
Money is the thing in your life that you trade life energy for, which you can then:
spend on your current needs
store for your future self, or
help others with
So here’s the thing with financial freedom: once you have enough (lagom) for your current needs and stored for your future self, you can help others with your life energy, your time, and your money.3 You move from using money to meet your egoic needs to the spaciousness of serving your True Self, your atman, that deepest thing in you that is paradoxically also universal in us all.4
A lot of my current work is imagining how money can be used by everyday people to heal communities. Last week the Catholic Sentinel wrote an (flattering) article about my efforts to create “God’s Economy”, an economy that works for everyone. A few quotes (by me!):
“We live in a society where money flows up to the wealthy, meaning increasing income disparity. Could we build a side economy where money flowed down to the people who need it most? Could we build a side economy that healed, which helped all people have enough and created a sense of wholeness for all?”5
“Prosperity is really about sharing, collaboration, and generosity. There is no way to create a more inclusive society without creating a more inclusive economy.”
“Money should serve the community, not the reverse. At some point when you have enough, you want others to have enough. Having more is not going to make me happy.”
The previous year, I started the Jubilee Fund, where we gather $100,000, paid $100,000 worth of friend’s credit card debts, and in turn those people agreed to pay $20,000 for 5 years at zero percent interest to direct aid reparations funds.
I don’t know if these two ideas will work. Actually, I’m sure they will work, under a set of very specific circumstances:
When people feel like they have enough
When people felt like they are enough
When people realize that real wealth resides in a set of community goods that no individual can own: a sense of safety, of being seeing and acknowledged by loved ones6, and of inherently mattering to others in a way that our individualistic society doesn’t promote.
Love is an act of imagination
When Lynne Twist says that money is like water7, she means that it can carry our intentions to create a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. I don’t want to destroy machines or monuments but use my time and remaining life energy to offer an alternative to how we’re living now. Love is an act of imagination and I want to imagine a world where people steward their money/life energy lovingly to their True Selves. Vicki Robin says, “Most people’s money problems are actually connected to a lack of fundamental direction in their life.” That’s why this newsletter is called Money and Meaning, because when you get down to it, money is meaning, simply a coined form of your attention and what you decide to do with your one wild and precious life.
I’m reminded of a quote from minister, entrepreneur, and author Cameron Trimble:
At the same time, we are fearlessly willing to stand up and stand in for those our culture might oppress. When we live consciously aware of our power to shape our world for good, we live lives of meaning. We are our own most fully human and fully sacred expressions. We are whole. . . We have an opportunity in this moment of our great transformation. We can approach this time as survivors, desperately clinging to our structures and ways of being. Or, we can see ourselves as pioneers, setting out in the face of the unknown to discover new ways to live faith-filled lives. The inevitable decline of our structures gives us the chance to let go of what might hold us back from that adventure. Nothing today will be the same ten years from now. Why not architect the kind of faith movement we want to see twenty-to-fifty years from now? What do we have to lose?
The world twenty to fifty years from now is being created right now, both in the structures we live in, and in your own personal finances. I believe that you can use your money to create your most fully human and most fully sacred expression. Money might be part of a violent capitalist system, but as a carrier of our human emotions and intentions, is doesn’t have to be. Love is an act of imagination, and by loving the future and by loving your future self, you can create the world you want to see.
I’ll end this post with a quote from another hero of mine, Richard Rohr (I got to meet Richard and Lynne at the same time at the Modern Elder Academy Soul of Money workshop!):
“We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve "the problem of evil," yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is the "problem of good." How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results.”
The real question is why we have the instinct to include everyone, why we take joy in seeing others feeling safe, happy, and loved. There’s something in us that celebrates people receiving community goods. After meeting our personal needs (both present and future), let's just do that. Let’s lean into that urge and spend our time, energy, and money doing that. That’s the way we’re going to heal our economy and create the prosperity that comes from inclusivity.
That verse you always hear at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Because as my friend Vicki Robin says, life energy, time, and money are the same. If we understood that, we would never talk about spending our “disposable income”
In so many ways, the ills of our world are people not understanding what is enough and hence continuing to destroy everything in order to meet their limitless egoic needs.
Think of the France-Haiti history in the context of whether money is flowing uphill or downhill.