How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pledge Drive
Rev Douglas Taylor
[Note: this sermon is largely based on a sermon by Rev. Webster Kitchell Howell called “Money Talks” which can be found in the book The Abundance of our Faith published by Skinner House Books]

My wife said to me “Well, I for one have never heard of that movie and I bet a lot of other people haven’t either.” She and I were laughing together this week about my title for this morning, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the pledge drive.” My wife expressed her opinion that this was perhaps the worst sermon title I had ever dreamed up. And that’s saying something. The movie in question is a 1960’s classic satire by Stanley Kubrick staring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. Its full title is “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

My title was meant to poke at our annual anxiety about money. Nobody should learn to love war or bombs. And it can feel like no one is ever going to love pledge drives either. But what would it look like for us to really find this annual process to be one of the best pieces of our congregational year? Every year we do this pledge drive, and speak of the great value of our free religious faith and the power of this community and how it is good to support it financially. Over and over we say this each year. I’m looking for new way to say the same old wonderful stuff: that money is an expression of our value.

And yet, every year I stumble through the process. And every year I grow a little anxious trying to think of just the right way to speak of something this important in the life of our congregation. So I thought it might be best to seek advice from a source whose authority on the topic of money is nigh undisputable. I dug a dollar bill out of my wallet and asked if it could join me in the pulpit for a conversation.
(bring a dollar out and place it visibly on the pulpit)

Douglas: “Money I am glad you could spare some time to talk with me this morning”

Money: “Hey, glad to have the opportunity. I get invited into churches and other places of worship a lot, but most of the time I don’t really have a chance to connect with people. I’m kept at arm’s length like a pariah or something.”

Douglas: “Oh! Well, I must admit I was not expecting you to jump right into the heart of the problem. I thought you would start out with a joke or two, like when I thanked you for coming to talk you would say: hey, money talks all the time, it’s just that the most common words it says are ‘good-bye’”

Money: “Yeah, that’s about your stuff. I don’t know those jokes.”

Douglas: “Oh! Ok, well anyway, I’m glad you agreed to speak with me because I have a problem that I think you can shed some light upon.”

Money: “You’ve got a problem alright, but not the one you think you have.”

Douglas: “Excuse me?”

Money: “Oh, I know you are going to ask me about how you can get the people in the congregation here to open up to a more abundant and generous way of giving. Am I right?”

Douglas: “Well, I suppose. I want to ask them to give joyfully and generously to fund some of the bold plans we have, but I also don’t want to stress anyone out or make anyone feel anxious or guilty or shamed.”

Money: “You think your problem is figuring out how to make all these people relax and enjoy the pledge drive with a positive and generous attitude.”

Douglas: “Uh, well … yes.”

Money: “But that’s not your problem.”

Douglas: “It’s not?”

Money: “Nope, not even close.”

Douglas: (pause) “Ok, I’ll bite. What is the problem that you can help me with?”

Money: “For starters, your sermon title.”

Douglas: (Sigh) “It’s a spin on an old movie title, a satire from the 60’s …”

Money: “I know, I heard you mentioning it at the beginning and I gotta say I agree with your wife. I’ve never heard of the movie either – and besides, you say it is satire. Are you really trying to appeal to the better part of people through satire? Really?”

Douglas: “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

Money: “The problem you need my help with is that you are very ambivalent about money. You want to know how to speak passionately about giving without sounding greedy – because you are constantly preaching about the evils of greed. The problem is that you are uncomfortable around me.”

Douglas: “This is certainly not the sermon I thought we would be delivering together, but since you brought it up: Yes, I do have some issues with you. Money, you tend to bring out the worst in people. You seem to feed on that spiritual dissatisfaction that gnaws at me, tempting me to think I can use you to become happier or more secure or express my feelings for others. But I know that you can’t bring me true happiness or truly express my feelings for others. So I try to avoid thinking about you: which creates problems with my personal finances. Yet when I do think about you my thoughts tend to be focused on how to get more of you.

You seem to take perfectly normal people capable of generosity and compassion, and by your absence you make us desperate and covetous – or by your presence you make us selfish and retentive. Money, you are at the root of many arguments between loved ones. You hold so much power over us, making us feel vulnerable and defensive. I don’t like the way I feel and act when you are part of the equation.”

Money: “Now do you see what I mean when I said your problem is not your pledge drive?”

Douglas “But the pledge drive is where it shows up. Money, you represent time and energy, of course. That is what we often try to talk about in these pledge drives. But you also represent power and status, and that is a little more uncomfortable for us to talk about. But it’s a trick because to be honest I must admit that being over-focused on money is trouble: the love of money is the root of all evil. And yet, here I am devoting an entire sermon to ask people to give more of it to us.”

Money: “But you’re missing something really important in what you just said. Yes, I represent time and energy. And I won’t deny that you instill in me a certain representation of status and power. But what you’re missing is that I also represent value.”

Douglas: “Well, obviously. The price tag on something is a statement of its value.”

Money: “But the value of an object is not limited to the value indicated on its price tag.”

Douglas: “Fair enough, there is sentimental value that has nothing to do with you, Money.”

Money: “Now consider: you are willing to use me to obtain something of value to you. So I represent power and status, time and energy, and most importantly – value.”

Douglas “You’ve made your point. But how does it apply to me or to our pledge drive.”

Money: “Someone once said, ‘At my best I use my money to communicate to the world my values. At my best I use my money to bear witness to my values.’”

Douglas: “Now that’s nice. I like that, who said that?”

Money: “You did, two years ago when you were telling these fine people that money is a tool of the sacred, that money represents a ‘divine interaction’ of values.”

Douglas: “Oh yeah, I remember that. I was talking about how money originated as a metaphor for divine valuation. Different people used different tangible objects to mark value and this tangible marking was the beginning of money. The really interesting part was that it was rooted in divinity – people understood that it wasn’t just bartering or trading commodities. Money began as a divine mark of value.”

Money: “Keep going, this is good”

Douglas: “Did you know that in Ancient China, they used tool-shaped pieces of bronze to signify value. And on one island in the Pacific (Santa Cruz) they used red feathers, while on another (Yap) they used huge stone disks.”

Money: “That is very interesting”

Douglas “In Nigeria they used copper rings, in Ethiopia they used bars of rock salt, and in Liberia it was pieces of iron wire flattened at each end.”

Money: “Yes I know. It is me you are talking about, after all. And today in this country you use cloth bills, metal coins, but mostly those thin cards of plastic with a magnetic bar. Unfortunately you’ve let me slip from being a deep metaphor of value to a mere representation of payment.”

Douglas: “That right there is the problem. As much as I tell everybody that you are a tool of the sacred, rooted in divine valuation, the reality that every one of us feels on a daily basis is that you are a tool too easily corrupted to cause suffering and injustice.”

Money: “Hey, at least you have free will to choose to use your life and your gifts as you want. I am, as you have pointed out, only a tool at your disposal. It doesn’t really matter how much of me you have, it’s what you do with me that counts. Does this help you know what to say to the people here this morning?”

Douglas: “Hmmm. I suppose it does. I still want to ask us to be generous.”

Money: “But why do you want them to give me to the congregation?”

Douglas: “Well, generosity carries its own reward. When we don’t let our anxiety and ambivalence about money determine what we do with it then the benefits are manifold! When we are generous, we are able to give with a sense that our gift creates not only tangible results but also intangible connections. Generosity flows from a sense of caring for that which we all hold in common – it is an act of compassion and gratitude.”

Money: “OK, but one thing I can tell you from my experience is that people are not often just randomly generous. People make choices about how they are going to be generous. And remember, if we’re trying to free me from the basest of claims, people should make choices based on their values. Right?

Douglas: “Right. Ok, money. People should be generous specifically in the direction of this congregation precisely because of their personal values and the way this congregation embodies those values in the world. Our congregation stands open to the promptings of the spirit, that ‘the bonds of love keep open he gates of freedom.’ People are generous because we are creating a community of acceptance and encouragement, of hope and justice.”

Money: “Right on!”

Douglas: “People here are generous because we create a community that honors the worth of every person; that stands up to society and says: Here we create an open and accepting community where theists and atheists, pagans and heretics celebrate together each Sunday.”

Money: “Preach it!”

Douglas: “Here we create a community where gay and lesbian, straight and bisexual, transgender and question people are all welcome and offered a blessing.”

Money: “Amen!”

Douglas: “Here we create a community where people work together to build a better world, challenging injustice and encouraging love and compassion in all things. Bound by words like “Interconnectedness, Transcendence, and Compassion,” we gather together to create the beloved community. And the pledges we make, the promises we offer of our money, serve to make plain the value we hold for the creation of such a community.”

Money: “Can I get a Hallelujah!”

Douglas: “Money, thank you for joining me here this morning. You helped me sort a few things out in my heart.”

Money: “I have only one piece of advice to offer that you didn’t figure out for yourself.”

Douglas: “Oh, what’s that?”

Money: “The best thing for creating generosity is gratitude. So, thank them. Thank them for letting me be sacred again. Thank them for using me to create the world they dream of. Thank them for using me to tell the world of their values.”

(folds money back into wallet)

Good people, I want you to know that the gift you offer is appreciated and is used to create a particular kind of religious community. Thank you for the promise you make to use your financial resources in this way. Thank you for helping to create a community that is open and welcoming to the faithful heretics and the religiously scorned, for the seekers and skeptics in need of a home. Thank you for making your money into a tool of the sacred, into a statement of our values. Thank you. The world needs faith communities such as ours. Thank you.

In a world without end
May it be so.