"In the future, perhaps, finance will come to terms with the fact that the dollar is not the sure thing at the center. Nothing is. And if we let go of faith in the dollar, just a little bit, if we embrace the fact that the world is more mysterious and chaotic than we could imagine, then we might find — like artists and physicists have — that a world without certainty can be richer, in all senses of that word, than a world with false convictions." This quote is from Adam Davidson's money column in this week's New York Times Magazine, ironically (?) titled 'In Greenbacks we Trust'. I suppose I should not be surprised that he chose to call out physicists and not clergy when speaking of those who deal with uncertainty, since so many of us in the faith business bend to the pressure of having to seem certain about what we believe.
But Davidson touches on something I have always held to be true - collectively, we seem to believe that money is 'real', in a way that we don't acknowledge that God is real, or love is. Because we can count money. Because money gets us food and shelter and things. And yet, the value of a dollar, or more likely, the value of a number on a computer screen, only means something because we believe it means something. Whole economies, the lives of individuals and communities, rise and fall because we all decide to believe, or not to believe, in the value of currency. This is what Davidson's article explores. Economics is a matter of faith.
And frankly, it is a matter of faith in our own power, and how we share it; our own sense of value, and how we see it in people and things; and our own sense of fear, especially fear of not having enough. It is a closed system of human ingenuity - which is remarkable, as far as it goes, but it also has its limitations. I am often bemused by the fact that American currency says 'in God we trust' on it. I wonder, if we trust God, what do we need money for at all? Wouldn't sharing our abundance and caring for our neighbors be a whole lot easier if we didn't have to constantly wrangle over who has more and what it costs?
Yes, of course, this is highly unrealistic, given human nature. And yet, it seems to me that our communal faith in currency only goes so far, even in today's world. Maybe especially in today's world, where it seems that whole economic systems are getting jumpy with worldwide insecurity. As far as I can see, underneath this is a prevailing sense that there is something more, something stronger to believe in.
Practically speaking, crowdfunding and microloan sites like Kickstarter and Kiva let us channel our money and share our resources for greater good - something we must believe in because they are flourishing. And this points to a sense that we really do have faith in a larger system that values love and care and beauty and goodness beyond anything we can construct or put value on ourselves.
Some of us call this the Kingdom of God. And it is more real, even, than the 'real' world that limits us to what we can prove rationally, what we can count.
This Lent, my husband and I are engaged in the discipline of not spending money unless we have to. No more eating out. No going to the movies. No buying of 'stuff'. The only things we purchase are food and gas and toiletries and other necessities, and we pay our bills. It is not because we don't like stuff - it is amazing how many cute shoes I have seen since Ash Wednesday! - or think it is bad to want to live comfortably.
It is instead an exercise in our dependence on God, and our gratitude for the relative luxury we live in. And even deeper than this, it is a reminder of the real world of the Kingdom of God, where our citizenship truly resides. It is a chance to consciously value and share the love that undergirds our family, our community, and our world. It is a witness to our faith in what is beyond the dollar, and what is on it.