Vol 5, Num 8 :: 2006.04.21 — 2006.05.05
When my husband and I started a fair trade store in Three Rivers, Michigan, we did so for many reasons. The cultural values that would support fair trade seemed to already be budding in this small town. A few passionate people seemed eager to enable and support the project. Rent was cheap and the historic buildings lovely. I had experience with fair trade vendors. And a monthly stipend for my managerial work would certainly be helpful financially. We proceeded to gather resources?capital?toward a grand opening day.
The word “capital” has come to connote money, but having started a business (one that’s currently struggling), I’m rediscovering firsthand that money is only part of the capital needed to maintain any institution, but an interesting symbolic measure of how well an institution is meeting the community’s needs. In fact, we’ve been able to see a correlation between our income and our stewardship of human resources. For some time, we’ve needed to gather a board, recruit and train new volunteers, and establish a regular rhythm of educating the community about fair trade. Our failure to do these things is part of what contributes to “lean” months and our success in doing these things not only makes the store more financially stable, but makes our work more rewarding as we engage with individuals who return the capital of encouragement, of joy, of money and of time.
My failures in this area are rooted in my attitude that there isn’t enough of me to go around. This is arrogant, isn’t it? I tend to assume that when I’m out of time or money or energy, I’m backed into an inescapable corner, when I’m really just failing to recognize that such resources don’t end with me. The resources of others pick up where mine leave off, and likewise, my resources plug into those of others. When we depend solely on ourselves, the possibilities are limited. When we share resources with others, the possibilities are endless. My “capital” is not my own, finite supply, but part of the boundless capital shared by humanity and supplied by an infinite God.
I also have a tendency to get caught up in lamenting our current life of financial poverty. In my most self-pitying moments, I tend to ask, “If there’s supposed to be value to what I’m doing, then why can’t I make a living doing it? Why are we still poor?” Such questions place not just symbolic power with money, but make money the very measuring stick with which I judge the rightness of a decision. I am truly “poor”?socially, spiritually, financially?when I try to be completely self-sufficient and stress out about all of the resources I don’t have to do the tasks before me. I am “rich” when I assess all of the many kinds of resources available to me for doing God’s work and live joyfully into the reality of abundance.
Somewhat ironically, this realization frees me to pursue a living wage for the work I’m doing?not for the sake of security or consumption, but to steward the abundant financial resources of the body of believers toward the end of allocating more of my own resources to writing, preaching, and other activities I’m uniquely called to. I’m also freed from the need to pinch every penny for fear of what tomorrow will bring?which, as my husband can tell you, I have a particularly difficult time living out; I can certainly identify with Cain’s inclinations.
I still have a lot to learn with respect to capitalizing on the resources available to me, both from my own personal stores and from the community of friends and strangers that surrounds me. But becoming invitational and being able to ask others to contribute their resources without shame is something I’m working toward. I need to learn, re-learn and un-learn to be able to embody the reality of abundance in the Kingdom. Most of all, I need to learn to accept the gift of manna.