Recycling the Dollar – Rev. Eva Cameron

by Rev. Eva Cameron and Jim Paprocki, Worship Associate

The whole idea of preaching this sermon started last summer, when I visited my old childhood home of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Some of you may have heard of Yellow Springs; it’s the home of Antioch College, which is a pretty radical campus. I lived there from 1967 until 1978. And what I remember of it was that it was a small town with a lot of alternative people living in it. It wasn’t like other places in Ohio. We lived in a racially integrated community. And we cared about our town. There were things that were ‘us’ and there were things that weren’t ‘us.’ We had no chain restaurants, discount stores, or fast-food — except for the locally owned soft serve “Tastee-freeze” that was open in the summer. I remember it as a refuge for hippies. And, I remember that we took pride in the fact that the people over at the local Air Force Base hated us for our alternative ways so much they’d drop their planes low in the sky, causing our dishes to rattle in their cupboards as they flew by.

I haven’t been back much in the intervening years. And when I have been back, I’ve spent more time with visiting old friends than just soaking up the town. This time, we stayed longer; and I just sat on the playground of my childhood and remembered. I guess I started really thinking about the fact that Yellow Springs had a strong sense of identity when I noticed a box on a post in the playground. Going over to examine it, I discovered someone had created a place to store old grocery sacks, along with a friendly message to use them to clean up after your dog. Noticing that it was full of sacks, I thought about the commitment to come over to the playground and check the box every few days. I thought about the time it took to construct the box, find the materials, and dig the hole for the post. I began to remember, this IS Yellow Springs. Living in Yellow Springs wasn’t just living anywhere. We had pride in our town that we different from everyone else. We knew, growing up, that if we wanted it to be a special place, a place that was the way we wanted it to be, we all had to live that way.

We had a small downtown in Yellow Springs; it’s still a vibrant hopping place. I remember often daily trips to the grocery to pick up a few things. I was happy to see that that itty-bitty grocery was still there when I went back this summer. I can’t tell you how many of my neighbors have told me how sad they are that the grocery in downtown Cedar Falls is gone. One of my neighbors confessed, “Really, the fact that it’s gone is our fault. We didn’t shop there often enough. We got into the habit of going past one of the other, bigger grocery stores, and stopping in there instead. We just didn’t give them our money.” As he said that this fall, I was picturing the grocery store in downtown Yellow Springs.

Now, I’ve lived a bunch of places since moving away from Yellow Springs, and I’ve come to know that one of the things that pleases me about a grocery store is being able to get the things I like to eat — not all of them common items in a store in the US. So, I had to go in and check out my old store. I was amazed at what I found. That tiny place had everything. Not large quantities of anything — but you name it from mangos, to fresh hearty bread, to whole wheat tortillas, from good feta cheese, to fresh ground peanut butter, and awesome chocolate. I remember from my childhood days, it had stuff that at the time seemed normal; but now that I know more of the world, were probably unusual. This was incredible, and all fit into a store that you could breeze in and breeze out of quickly. All located only a mile or so from anyone’s home, because Yellow Springs is a tiny town. As I explored this tiny store, Irene at my side piped up, “How come we can’t have a store like this? I wish we lived here. This is amazing.”

It really is amazing. When I think about it, the death of small town grocery stores is just a normal occurrence. Bigger is better, and if bigger means you have to drive _ an hour to get there, well, that’s just the price of progress. It is the reign of Super Wal-Marts. It made me think again of what it meant to grow up in Yellow Springs. There was strong sense of who we were as a people, of what we valued, and we re-enforced those values in each other. Our small town paper, hand-set for years after everyone else had moved on to more modern ways, cranked out a weekly paper. Yep, weekly. That’s all the news we had. And even then, some of those news stories would just make anyone else laugh and laugh from the lack of news-worthiness of them.

But we knew what we had to do. Even back then, we’d tell each other, we had to shop in town if we wanted to keep our town. We had to fight off the fast-foods and tell them they couldn’t come to town. Right after I left, one managed to finally broker a deal to move into town. The people said they could only be there if only wrapped their products in environmentally friendly packaging. And only if the building wasn’t plastic. It was a big fight. But the people got their way. I believe that Recycling a Dollar — in other words, spending within a community to keep it vibrant is a Spiritual Practice. In many ways, it is the ultimate form of living our principles. Because in following through with a conscious decision to concentrate your purchasing power not only what it gets you, but where that power goes after it has left your hands, you are living our a concern for inherent worth and dignity of other human beings, you are living our a respect for the interdependent web, you are honoring the message of Jesus to live lives of radical love, you are honoring the message of the ancient Hebrews who call on us to create a sacred, blessed community of justice and righteousness. This is the holiday shopping season. I just read in US News & World Report that the average American will spend $857 dollars this holiday season. And so it seems a good time for us to pause and think about the possibility of recycling our dollars. Not just in this season, but in all seasons.

There have been examples that I have seen of this consciousness of recycling of the dollar. I’ve seen it in Yellow Springs, obviously. But I also noticed that the people of Salt Lake City (and perhaps all of Utah), were aware of the power of keeping their dollar within a system that they had constructed. I saw a powerful social network of support and living within their principles when I visited that town.

We saw African American communities in the 60s and 70s, during the Black Power Movement that were advocating separate but equal communities. Some of these communities thrived. And people felt pride in their ability to create the kind of life they wanted to have. One of the big set-backs in development in African American communities was the lack of access to funding sources from traditional lenders. But in Chicago, the South Shore Bank has done wonders by creating those lending opportunities. The average African American family’s net worth today is $7,000. Compare this with the $72,000 average net worth of white families. When researchers looked at why that was, what they found was it was primarily due to lack of home ownership. And when they looked at why it was that there were so few homes owned by African American families, what they learned was that it is primarily due to lack of availability and/or difficulty in getting a mortgage. Chicago’s South Shore Bank has now grown and is called ShoreBank. It is a community development and environmental bank that enjoys a proud heritage of serving Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. I quote from their website, “ShoreBank is committed to building stronger communities, creating a healthier environment, and helping its customers achieve financial success. When you bank at ShoreBank, you will experience friendly, expert customer service while also having the satisfaction of knowing that your deposits will have a positive impact in the community.”

“Theirs is an interesting story. In the 1970s, banks still continued to ‘redline’ against minority neighborhoods, even to credit-worthy residents. Inspired by their success running a minority business-lending program, ShoreBank founders, with backgrounds in banking, social service and community activism, decided to try an even larger venture. The vision? Buy a bank in a dis-invested neighborhood, and create complementary affiliates, focusing all of the resources on one neighborhood.

“Their big opportunity turned out to be South Shore Bank, a small bank in one of Chicago’s racially changing neighborhoods. After the bank lost more than half its deposits, its owners planned to abandon the neighborhood and move downtown. But neighborhood residents fought back. In an unprecedented response, federal regulators banned the move. Still determined to move, the owners sold the bank to ShoreBank. The year was 1973. In order to attract capital the neighborhood needed, the bank created Development Deposits for people who wanted to invest their savings for community development while earning a competitive rate. This helped ShoreBank reverse the normal flow of capital, channeling resources into underserved neighborhoods to power their revitalization. Today, ShoreBank is committed to building vibrant communities by providing financial services and information to create economic equity and a healthy environment. Headquartered in Chicago, ShoreBank Corporation has subsidiary banks in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Portland, Oregon, and Ilwaco, Washington. ShoreBank Corporation also has nonprofit affiliates in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Ilwaco, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and consulting services around the world.”

Don’t just let the words slide by your ears: another sales pitch for another corporation. Listen. Hear what they are saying. They gathered together in the spirit of social activism and have been able to help shape the lives of their region of the city for more than 30 years. In the process, they’ve impressed people so much, they are branching out. Teaching others about this technique.

This is a prime example of recycling people’s dollars and helping people to understand that they can shape their living environment in some major ways. I’ve been in Chicago over those 30 years, and the change around the South Shore area has been remarkable and dramatic. From looking worse that some 3rd world countries, a blown up urban wasteland to a vibrant community with businesses and shops, and homes that people have pride in. Another example of teaching the concept of recycling the dollar is the Nation of Islam. The NOI has a do-for-self philosophy that resulted in the NOI owning and operating hundreds of businesses nationwide, employing thousands of people. The NOI has purchased and now operates food-industry services, bakeries, and restaurants. It owns a large amount of farmland. It owns and operates hair-care shops. Some of these business ventures have been success stories. Others have been criticized as Amway-style marketing schemes that have not benefited most of their employees. So, yes, nothing is perfect. But the concept is still a valid one. It is possible to add a trajectory to your dollar, so that it spins back into your life in positive ways, even after it has left your hand.

Here in the Cedar Valley, we see the signs, wonderful bright colors encouraging us to buy local foods. And we also have our own scrip program focusing on buying locally, to support locally owned businesses. It gets a large financial boost from local businesses that support us buy giving us great discounts on the purchase of scrip. Ask about it at the scrip table during coffee hour, sometime. And consider this as another option in your holiday purchasing. Being part of the “Buy Local” campaign is helping to recycle the dollar.

Another movement like this is the Fair Trade movement. We have slowly but surely hearing more and more about the necessity of Fair Trade. From being heard about only in radical, post-hippie church basements from the most outlandish members of the church — to Fair Trade coffee being offered at our local Hy-Vee. We have seen the development of the concept of using our money in a way that has a moral compass.

I just heard Senator-Elect Brown of Ohio on National Public Radio Wednesday. He said that the new congressmen elected in the most recent election are interested in fair trade instead of free-trade. They understand that the solutions for all the problems with our economy, such as job loss and devaluation of dollar, are to be solved with the creation of new laws that address labor practices globally, that address living wage issues, that ask of us to be fair in our trade practices, and live like we care about justice. He said there has been an odd disconnect between immigration issues and trade laws. We can debate: how high the wall, how long the wall, how many agents. But, unless we fix NAFTA, and punish the employers of illegal workers not just the workers, we will never resolve this issue of immigration.

The interesting thing about Fair-Trade is that it is recycling the dollar on the grand scale. And we must think about that. Our dollars represent our energy, our life blood, and we often have the power to choose where we place that energy as it leaves our hands.

I discovered, in conducting research for this sermon, that the term “recycling the dollar” has been used by economists and politicians since the after the Second World War to speak to the use of US Dollars that have been used by the US government to maintain economy supremacy. It’s complicated, and I’m not an economist. But it was clear that our government has learned that using the dollar to cycle through a loop of paying for oil and giving out loans to 3rd world countries, they created a false strength. And it’s just now being said that perhaps this petro-dollar recycling was at the real heart of the Iraq war. Since just before we went to war, Europe had managed to convince Iraq to take Euros for oil instead of dollars, perhaps marking what might have been the end of cycle that has given us great power in the world.

As we think of fair-trade, we might think of this as just the opposite, Un-fair Trade. It shows the more you study it, how the use of money with or without a moral compass can drastically alter the effects that money usage has on a global scale. We know how much 3rd world countries have suffered as they have tried to pay us back for the money we loaned them. And, it comes to be that this was only funny money — not money which we created do to our own hard labors.

It is easy to think that this has nothing to do with us. But it does. We choose our politicians, and we will suffer the consequences of their actions. Not only that, but by feeling like we cannot make a difference, we become complacent in how we live our own lives. This explains suburban people driving around in SUVs. People who would generally be considered ‘good people’ by modern American standards of living a moral life. They aren’t thieves, rapists, or criminals—or are they? The dollar cycles around, what we spend it on, does leave lasting effect on other places. It is our primary means of exchanging energy of life. Just as plants use sunlight to create sugars and carbohydrates, capturing energy. And energy that cycles around and around on our global in a search of exchanges, from the food we eat to all our petroleum usage. Dollars do, too.

But it seems as though people are really used to ignoring where they spend their money. Or perhaps it is that they feel like their little bit of money won’t make the difference anyway. There is not much sense of hope; or that we, the people, can make a difference in how our town looks or feels. Sometimes it just seems as though it’s going to take a miracle to really see change like what we are talking about. So what’s “THE PRICE OF A MIRACLE”? Here’s a story about that:

Tess was a precocious eight year old, when she heard her Mom and Dad talking about her little brother, Andrew. All she knew was that he was very sick and they were completely out of money. They were moving to an apartment complex next month, because Daddy didn’t have the money for the doctor bills and their house. Only a very costly surgery could save him now, and it was looking like there was no one to loan them the money. She heard Daddy say to her tearful Mother with whispered desperation, “Only a miracle can save him now.” Tess went to her bedroom and pulled a glass jelly jar from its hiding place in the closet. She poured all the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. Three times, even. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes. Carefully placing the coins back in the jar and twisting on the cap, she slipped out the back door and made her way 6 blocks to Rexall’s Drug Store with the big, red Indian Chief sign above the door.

She waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her some attention but he was too busy at this moment. Tess twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise. Nothing. She cleared her throat with the most disgusting sound she could muster. No good. Finally she took a quarter from her jar and banged it on the glass counter. That did it! “And what do you want?” the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. “I’m talking to my brother from Chicago whom I haven’t seen in ages,” he said without waiting for a reply to his question. “Well, I want to talk to you about my brother,” Tess answered back in the same annoyed tone. “He’s really, really sick … and I want to buy a miracle.” “I beg your pardon?” said the pharmacist. “His name is Andrew, and he has something bad growing inside his head; and my Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So how much does a miracle cost?” “We don’t sell miracles here, little girl. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,” the pharmacist said, softening a little. “Listen, I have the money to pay for it. If it isn’t enough, I will get the rest. Just tell me how much it costs.”

The pharmacist’s brother was a well dressed man. He stooped down and asked the little girl, “What kind of a miracle does you brother need?” “I don’t know,” Tess replied, her eyes welling up. “I just know he’s really sick, and Mommy says he needs an operation. But my Daddy can’t pay for it, so I want to use my money.” “How much do you have?” asked the man from Chicago. “One dollar and 11 cents,” Tess answered barely audibly. “And it’s all the money I have, but I can get some more if I need to.”

“Well, what a coincidence,” smiled the man. “A dollar and 11 cents; the exact price of a miracle for little brothers.” He took her money in one hand and with the other hand he grasped her mitten and said, “Take me to where you live. I want to see your brother and meet your parents. Let’s see if I have the kind of miracle you need.” That well dressed man was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, a surgeon, specializing in neurosurgery. The operation was completed without charge, and it wasn’t long until Andrew was home again and doing well. Mom and Dad were happily talking about the chain of events that had led them to this place. “That surgery,” her Mom whispered, “was a real miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost.” Tess smiled. She knew exactly how much a miracle cost: one dollar and eleven cents, plus the willingness of one small person to try and make a difference. We may feel like our small bit of caring, our small choices will make no difference. But we never know. One dollar and 11 cents bought a miracle.

When we choose to put a little thought and energy into where we place our refuse and detritus of life, we call it recycling. Recycling is a deliberate attempt to influence the trajectory of things once they leave our own lives. We can choose. Shall this glass bottle end up in a land fill, which I will have to pay for? Or shall it end up in a glass factory being melted down for more glass production? The sole deciding factor in that equation is you. Although you may have no interest in either glass production or landfills, we have learned that we ought to care enough to take the extra step to recycle. To cast our moral energy into the system, and make sure that glass gets used again. Doing this is not just for economic reasons, or environmental reasons, it is because we want to see ourselves, define ourselves as this kind of a person. And part of the success of recycling in this country, has been because people have been willing to talk about it, to create programs that share this new idea of what it means to be human in our society. So much so that a very small, odd ball program of the 60s’ hippie movement — which, by the way, we participated in, in Yellow Springs Ohio — has grown to one that is seen all over the world, big cities, most small towns, college campuses. It’s certainly not perfect. It’s still a work in progress. But we have seen change in our lifetimes. We have seen big change.

Jim: There is one thing about Catholicism that has stayed with me throughout my life. It is that we commit ourselves to enriching the lives of those around us. The essence of being religious should be that we have a moral responsibility to build our community. We should not focus on the existence of God or the trinity, but rather on what we do with our lives. I find it very instructive that God asks on the Day of Judgment, what did you do toward other people in your community? I find myself asking whether I have truly done those things I need to do to make the world a better place. People search for years in order to discover the secret of life or the meaning of life. If you know the secret of life but don’t share it with anyone, then understanding life becomes meaningless. I really think the meaning of life has to do with how committed you are toward enriching your neighbors and your community. But, I have to admit it isn’t easy. I don’t do a very good job when it comes to recycling the dollar. For years, I have enjoyed shopping at Wal-Mart. We began shopping there because their prices are lower, and it became very convenient. I know I could make a bigger economic impact if I made a conscious decision to shop elsewhere. So, to the extent that I refuse to change, I’m part of the same old problem.

Eva: But you would shop on 4th Street, Waterloo, if we revitalized it, worked to get funding sources, worked to figure out some businesses to plant, worked to find business owners? Because, you’d understand the need to give them your money?

Sure. What’s really interesting is that now I have the time to focus my energies toward making a difference. I would like to see whether it’s possible to bring ShoreBank to Waterloo. I would like to see whether it’s possible to create more options than shopping at Wal-Mart. When I was working, I didn’t have a lot of time to even think about those things very much. Now, I find myself thinking about that question quite a bit. When you are faced with a medical illness, you begin to think about your legacy and whether your life has made a difference. It no longer becomes when you can do something, but how can I do it now. Someone one said, “You need to become the change you want to happen,” or words to that effect. I think that is very true. When I was working, I didn’t have a lot of time to work toward devote to some of these things. Now, I do but I’m still struggling with becoming that change.

Eva: This leads into perhaps the biggest question of humanity. Once we’ve noticed something is wrong, how do we solve it? How to we get from where we are, to the dream? How do we energize people to feel they can make a difference? How do we change the world??

By observation, we notice that change cannot happen unless enough people are not blind to the pain/suffering/problem that is occurring. This ‘removing the blindfold’ happens as people begin to talk with each other, and realize they are not alone in their thoughts. We feel very disempowered and weak, but eventually, with enough public discourse, we can see the scales tip. Look at this current war in Iraq: Some of us have been thinking it’s a poor idea since the beginning, but now it is a major topic of conversation all over the country. The people have voted; it is clearly something that has entered public discourse at a very different scale than were we were four years ago. It’s been fascinating to observe the media people this week discuss whether or not to call the war a ‘civil war,’ publicly working to define what a ‘civil war’ is, and very carefully proceeding.

Before action can happen, we must have intention. Before intention, we must move people beyond apathy. Before we can move beyond apathy, the conversation must be strong, the words need to be worked out, the edges explored, and people need to feel they are not alone. Being alone. Not talking about what we care about. These are the greatest enemies to our chance to make this world the way we dream of it being. We must talk, not only among ourselves, but work to raise the dialogue over and over in the community. In our community.

Jim: What do I want to see happen from this sermon??

Eva: I guess, one thing I hope for, is that people will think differently about the money they spend this holiday season. I hope they will think about recycling their dollars, so they help build a world that we want to have here in the Cedar Valley. And, they will think about building a global economy that we can be proud of. I hope people will stop and think as they give a gift as a token of affection to someone who has plenty already. Where is this dollar going? Who made this product? Is it fair-trade, or made using slave labor? Was it made in a factory in China, or by a local artisan? Is going to contribute to their well-being, or make them less healthy? As it was made, did that damage the environment? If I can’t afford to buy something that is local or fairly traded, should I buy anything at all?

It is easy to get caught into the trap of ‘needing to buy a little something’ or even a ‘big something.’ Be aware. This the Buddha would ask of us. Be mindful of your actions and the consequences they bring to others. The Christians have been saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” which is a cute way to say that Christmas shouldn’t be about wanton materialism — but about spreading love.

Jim: I know, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. When I was a kid, people weren’t willing to shop at 5:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. So, what do we need to do to get back to these “old fashioned” values?

Eva: Ultimately, I’d like to see two downtowns that are vibrant and serve people’s needs with goods, products and services that bring people to them happily. A trolley that connects the dots between the downtowns and Crossroads too, that people want to use. Local neighborhood shopping would also be a vital sense of connection, and would build neighborhood pride. In Chicago, each neighborhood in that big city had a name, stores, an alderman’s office, some ward captains that help make sure everyone got out to vote, and so much more. Even in that big place, there were small enough units to feel cohesive. I think we need to build that sense of cohesion.

“It’s a dream”, you think. “And it’s your dream, Eva”. But yes, we must start with a dream. And we must talk about that dream, and honing it into something that we can carry forward with energy. Not that it will be perfect, but that it will have a DNA that will survive a change of personalities and changing times. We shouldn’t just live here, we should dream of what this place could be, should be, and being the some of the most progressive people in town, we should push our agenda. My experience of Yellow Springs tells me that it can happen.

The big question is how to we begin to start that ball rolling? And I think the answer, is using our loving hearts, our open hearts, our radical acceptance, and our love of dialogue, to get some conversation started among a wide variety of people here in Cedar Valley. So that the conversation isn’t just with the city planners, the county Board of Supervisors, or some others. It becomes something that we can talk about as everyday average citizens. Something that we talk about not just with a sense of defeat and sadness — “Isn’t it too bad that all the shops on 4th Street in East Waterloo are gone.” “Isn’t it too bad that the downtown Cedar Falls no longer has a grocery store?!” But rather, we talk about the best and brightest plans for our home. We gather ourselves in to a people who have a real pride in this Cedar Valley, and in their own little pocket of Cedar Valley. People whose vision isn’t of defeat and submissive: Well, that’s progress. Or well, that’s just a poor, black neighborhood, it’s bound to look that way. Or my small little $1.11 isn’t going to make any difference. It can. It does.

Let’s us so live as our actions speak loudly of what is in our heart. Let us so choose, as we understand our actions have lasting impact in this precious web of life we are nestled in. Let us remember to let go of our life’s energy, including our dollars, in ways that bring goodness, justice, and hope to all — but especially to our own precious home.

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