Notice that the title of this post isn't "My favourite book of 2004". Iím far from being on top of every book that came out in a given year to be able to make any comment on that. The book that made the biggest impact on me this year, written by Toronto psychotherapist Stephen Jenkinson, was actually released in 2002 and is called Money and the Soulís Desires. I ordered it for a satisfyingly ironic bargain bin price when it popped up as a recommended book on the Chapterís website near the end of last winter. Iíd been meaning to pick it up since I heard Mr. Jenkinson, on a repeat of a CBC Tapestry show. In my mind it bears a lot in common with two other books that deal with the meaning of money in western culture; Virginia Woolfís A Room of Oneís Own and George Orwellís Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Those were books that dealt with what money can mean to artists (something I have struggled with and continue to) and although Stephenís book has things to say about this too the ideas in this book are applicable to everyone
The book explores our common myths about money, what we fear about it, why it makes us happy and its history. In doing so it introduced me to a bunch enlightening ideas that Iíd never considered before but seem so obvious now; the way that the financial knowledge in many families is often controlled by one individual who feels it best that the rest of the family remains blissfully ignorant such concerns, and the family that goes along with it. Iíve dealt with this many times in my job; have had wives and husband proudly declare to me that their spouse is the only person in the family that manage the finances, and they donít know, and donít want to know, anything about it. He also talks about the connection of money and sex- isnít it weird that the idea of a son or daughter finding a bank book in a fatherís dresser may be just disturbing to him as the concept of their child finding a dirty magazine? Sex and Money are both topics that parents often avoid. Denial gives these topics help give them their weird power of us
The book even introduced a new word to my vocabulary, which struck me as kind of strange that Iíve never heard before, given the fact that Iíve worked at a bank for the last three years. The word isÖ
Definition? (I apologize if you already know this) the practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest. Hereís what the book has to say about it:
Usury is trouble, inevitably, in a homogeneous culture, because the spirit of usury(self interest) is contrary to the spirit of community (mutual obligation). So says the Law of Moses. And because the practice of usury itself is hostile to the spirit of brotherhood and to the community it is banished outside of city walls.
So, itís okay to lend money to your friends as long as you donít charge them interest. People who arenít your friends, you know, strangers, outsiders you might call them, go ahead, sign them up for that department store Credit Card, the Bible says that itís okay. Jenkinson points that the important change in attitude around usury came in the New Testament, when Jesus broadened the concept of the "Neighbour" to include all humanity(which probably explains why Iíve never heard the term at work before).
What I took most from this book ties in with the the concept of giving and money, and what Jenkinson has to say about this seems particularly relevant at this time of year. He describes the typical Office Christmas Party:
Everyone draws a name so that everyone is included and that no favourites are allowed. And why is that important? Because indebtedness in relationships is almost intolerable in our culture, and most people scramble to get the account to zero as soon as possible Ė or they hold a mighty grudge if the account is not balanced in a timely fashion. These are not gifts, they are weights in the tray, balancing the relationship to nothing. The giver may have honourable motivations about reciprocity and grace in awkward situations, but that is of no consequence here. The desire to keep relationships simple, balanced, and unencumbered is not honourable. It is fear-driven, futile and impoverishing of all who participate.
The fundamental message of Jenkinsonís book, like Orwellís "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" is that itís not particularly holy or artistic to even helpful to ignore the reality of money. Money is magical in its ability to mean different things to different people, and exudes strange and often terrifying power over us. To deny this because the issue of money seems Ďuglyí or Ďearthlyí is to miss an opportunity to become fully engaged in the web of interaction, exchange an indebtedness upon which all human cummunity, and all of our real spirituality, is based.