1/30/2012

We are not our budget, but the budget is ours

The Executive Council, on which I have the honor to serve for a few months more, just spent three exhausting days working on a draft budget to send on to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee. The report of that meeting can be read HERE
One of the difficulties with the process is that we all agree that the budget is on some level a theological statement or that budget discussions are a theological enterprise. The problem is, of course, that budget cutting seems like an exercise in a theology of scarcity and budget discussions begin to sound unseemly, involving a lot of sausage making. Death and sausages do not a pretty Theology make.

It is almost impossible not to see the defunding of a particular program as a statement about its worth. This is particularly true of programs that relate to justice issues. How can we note believe that a reduction in staff or program funds signals the sense that this or that area of work is simply not all that important.

Vestries have to deal with this all the time. Do we give to the Food Bank or hold the funds for youth ministry? Either way one or the other worthy program feels devalued. Out of a long string of "balancing the budget" processing, even the most seasoned person begins to be unbalanced! Over the three days of meetings I came close to losing it, as did others. But we stuck it out.

One of the issues that the whole process raised for me is this: why do we think that being a line item in the budget gives life and not being there is death? Lots of activities that are below the radar or over the rainbow don't get line itemed, and God willing, they don't get administered and overseen. Many of them are central to the Faith and quite appropriately none of the business of regulatory agencies in the church.

I share the sentiment of the President of the House of Deputies, who felt that although we had done good work, we none the less caught up in too much business a usual. She said, "We have worked hard and faithfully during this meeting, but I think the budget we have passed is captive to an ethic of survival of the institutional church as we know it."

True indeed. Part of that captivity is the sense that we are defined by the budget, rather than defining the budget's place in our thinking and faith. When people are so defined by their work that that is the sum of who they understand themselves to be we say that they have misplaced their personhood for some other thing. They have in some sense become captive to a false god.

It is hard not to get bummed out in the budget making process. It is easy to buy into a world of scarcity, of falling resources.

Still there is comfort in the fact that God's Justice and Mercy is not a budget item, and that bread and wine for the table are a local expense, and that Jesus is just all right with me and can't be bought or sold.

Even those things cut from the budget will, if they are needed by God, show up, by God.


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