Ruth Vernell Lawson Durham

December 15, 1939 – November 2, 2021

Mom young
When She Was Young…

Eulogy – November 9, 2021

Ruth Vernell Lawson was born in the image of God on December 15, 1939 to Shorty and Enza Lawson in Pennington Gap, Virginia. In her first year her parents moved to High Point. Shorty was a truck driver and Enza stayed home.

Today we gather to honor her life. Her whole life.

Mom was an only child. As much as anything else she might’ve changed about her life, she always wanted brothers and sisters – more family around. Most of her lifelong efforts at having as much family around her as possible, as much of the time as possible, was a continuation of her never ending effort to fulfill that desire.

Later, she had a step-brother, Butch Reddick. Every time I ever asked her a question about her early life, if Butch came up, she always spoke fondly. She was grateful for anyone else she could consider family then. Even though they were both older by the time it was official that they were stepbrother and stepsister, they already knew each other and Mom already respected Butch. Butch was the only sibling kind of relationship mom ever had. She clearly treasured the ways Butch showed up for her over the years. Even still – today.

Leaving Home

Part of what is true is that the early home mom grew up in was full of conflict. So much so that mom left home at sixteen. She eventually got married, dropped out of school, and went to work – mostly because she wanted to be in a more peaceful home.

That didn’t work out either, and mom’s first marriage ended. Her own parents divorced sometime after she moved out. Even though she’d already realized her own sanity meant that she couldn’t live together with them, the reality of them apart still broke her heart.

Pots and Pans

I remember when Sherry and Judy and I all first learned any of this – or at least when I did. I think it was news to all of us. Back in the early ‘80’s Hope Chests were a thing for young southern girls. This long drawn out process of accumulating a chest full of things you might use in a home once you get married – and then Hope you get to use it…

Sherry and Judy were both in that phase and all of their friends were too more or less. So every time one of their friends bought something from a high pressure salesperson, that salesperson got recommended to all their friends too with some sort of super insider discount if you act right now. You know how these things work. For a few years it was just a steady onslaught of people trying to sell mom various highly priced housewares for Hope Chests.

So that’s where we were. Mom had relented and agreed to sit through a presentation from a slick cookware salesman. I was there because I wasn’t old enough to be anywhere else and I remember how impressive this stuff was. By my memory it would do nearly everything but clean itself. I think the guy even hinted that if you used it just right you wouldn’t even have to clean it. I mean, we all knew he was lying about that, but the stuff was impressive.

Over The Line

We were all sitting around admiring the fancy cookware near the end of the presentation when it was getting close to time to fish or cut bait. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife:

  • The salesman was mentally calculating a discount to offer to turn this presentation into two sales for two daughters instead of just the one he’d booked with.
  • Timing being what it was, I think Sherry was farther into this process than Judy at that point. If I recall correctly, this particular visit was focused on her. So, naturally, Sherry was anxious about whether mom was nearly four figures worth of impressed enough to write a check that day.
  • Judy seemed REALLY hopeful that the Salesman’s already hinted at double purchase discount would come in persuasively.
  • Mom, as was usually the case when someone was trying to talk her into spending money, was superbly unimpressed with the whole thing.

By this time, of course, mom had a solid decade or two herself as a fairly successful direct sales presenter. And, well, at least this kid tried. I think even the three of us had been to enough Rubbermaid parties with mom to know that this guy had some work to do. I’m sure he got better…

In a final play to push the sale over the line, the salesman said something about the cookware being long lasting. He hinted that Sherry and Judy would want to pass it down to their children. At some point in the silence one of them, or maybe both together, arrived out loud at the playfully obvious question, “Hey – Mom – why didn’t you get any really nice cookware that you could pass down to us???

Yeah Mom… Why?

That brought chuckles of, “Yeah, mom… that would solve the problem today. You could give yours to ONE of us and we’d only have to buy ONE set today instead of the TWO sets we’re REALLY going to need to get TODAY!” I think it may have been Judy trying to drive that last point home, but I don’t really remember. Mind you, I’m a purely uninterested bystander in all of this. But, it got REALLY entertaining as it went on.

The tension in the room REALLY broke when mom answered the question. After another beat of silence mom just said, “Well, I DID get a really nice set of cookware the first time I got married but when you leave in a hurry, you don’t worry about packing up pots and pans…”

I think mom instantly regretted letting THAT cat out of the bag. We were all three eyes big as saucers and jaws on the floor like, “Oh yeah – no, THAT’S a story – and we wanna hear it!!!

Mom was suddenly much more interested in hearing the rest of the young man’s presentation. “Now that’s enough of that… We need to pay attention and let this man finish.” Of course we got it out of her later. Whatever she was willing to share.

I can’t know exactly what that moment was like for anyone else. For me though, as the youngest, it was the very first moment where it dawned on me that mom had had a whole life of her own. And, that a lot of it, at that point, was still before we all even existed!

That’s A Lot…

That was her start in life. She was a truck driver’s daughter from about as far west as you can get in the tip end of Virginia who had dropped out of school and survived two broken homes by the time she was in her early 20’s – mostly alone. That’s a lot to carry just starting out.

Ruth Vernell Lawson was not the type to stop though. She was not the sort to sit down or settle. Or, accept the idea that things were going to turn out any way other than some way that would be OK. She completed her GED and was working downtown when she met Ed Durham.

Dad had had his own misadventure with a brief starter marriage that hadn’t worked out. He’d married a high school sweetheart before responding to the draft. He went to Izmir, Turkey to get married housing details worked out so his bride could join him. Instead, he got a “Dear John” letter that said, “Dear Ed, I’m not coming to Turkey. And, this whole thing isn’t really going to work out because I’m not waiting for you to get back either.

Dad was just back from all of that when Mom saw him at a little place near her office. He frequented a lunch counter around the corner from the school he was working through. She saw something in the Son of five generations of dirt poor sharecroppers who had just done 2 years in the Army and was about to go into business for himself.

Mom was maybe, lowkey, sort of a stalker…?

One day, one of us observed that it sounded like Mom had sort of, maybe, kind of stalked Dad a little bit – and had maybe lured him in without him ever really knowing they hadn’t just accidentally bumped into each other at lunch. I mean, she had him staked out and had pretty much decided what was going to happen and how it was going to go. All she had to do was help him figure it out.

Mom’s reply to the question about whether or not she’d “stalked” him: “Well, I only chased him until I decided to let him catch me.” He never knew what hit him and he spent the rest of his life dead level grateful it had.

They Pulled It Off

And that right there, friends and neighbors, was Ruth Durham off to a start at making a life for herself that would be OK.

Hugging Mom
First hug post vaccination

As Mom worked to make a family around herself, I came along last in that story. The Fourth of mom’s children. It’s only information for me, but it was an actual experience to some degree for Sherry and Judy that Mom lost a son, stillborn, before I was born. Maybe he was the easy brother…

Most every day of my childhood I, we, were more or less sheltered from all that had been so broken and so hard for these two people who just wanted everything to be OK. As monumentally phenomenal as our Mother was, nobody is trying to pretend that she or Dad either one were perfect, or that they did everything just right. But, you’ve got to look at it on the whole.

Year after year, day by day, step by step, together – they did every single thing they could to make everything OK. And, more or less, they pulled it off as well as they could’ve possibly known how to do. They hid all that was hard and give us the best they could no matter what it cost them.

Welcome to the Party

Life around Mom was always some kind of party. No words can do that justice – you had to be there. If you ever were there to experience part of Ruth’s party, you knew you were always welcome back from then on. But, I can’t describe it with words – and that takes a lot for me to admit. But, you really just had to be there.

We all had that gift. We were there for the party. In whatever way you were a part of Mom’s life, Mamaw’s life, Ruth’s life. You got to be there – here – for the party.

Bobby, you sit with us as family today too. I want you to know how grateful I am for that. You have been a deep and loving part of so many phases of our lives. You put up with me as a young RA and were one of the many who helped mom and dad raise me.

I am so grateful that you were also a part of this phase of our lives too and that you brought Mom so much happiness in her final days. Thank You so much.

Everybody Has A Job To Do…

Listen, everyone has a job to do today. Some of the most recent memories of mom’s last days are not the best ones. Everyone’s job now is to search for all the very best memories you have. Keep the ones you need to from the hard parts – and let the rest go. Your job today is to begin the never ending labor of love of nurturing the best of all your memories of Mom, of Mamaw, of whoever Ruth was to you.

Now – there will always be a temptation to second guess all the “what ifs.” What if mom had listened to folks asking her to slow down and be a little more careful? What if we’d insisted more firmly? What if this had been different, or that…?

No. Listen, If you thought for one skinny minute that the woman I just described to you was ever gonna sit down, slow down, settle down, or ever do anything other than live every second of her life exactly how she wanted to – well – you’ve lost your ever lovin’ mind. I don’t know what else to say to you on that point ‘cause – I mean – I’m not sure you’ve been paying attention so far if that’s where you are with Ruth Vernell Lawson Durham.

Here’s What I Know is True

Mom at Recital
Mom enjoying a recital

Here’s what I know to be true: My mother’s last clear thought that she held in her mind was of walking into a room filled with people she loved, and who lover her, to do a thing she enjoyed as much as any other – they were going to play cards.

I wish she hadn’t had the fog she endured in her final days. Even in her most lucid final moments of clarity at home, that was about all she was able to say about it all amid her snippets of memories – that it was all just a blur.

Perhaps there’s a kind of Mercy in that.

Her last fully clear, fully held, fully owned in her own immediate experience, absent any fog of confusion, thought – was of walking into a room full of people she loved to do a thing she enjoyed as much as any other. I’m not going to have any trouble at all finding peace for her in that.

Shuffling off the Mortal Coil

I’ve made a long practice of not trying to pretend to know anything about what heaven is like. I’m not going to start today. However, if we were to let ourselves speculate about what might be most fitting for Mom, [shuffling a deck of cards on the pulpit…] I imagine the experience might have been something a lot like making that last step into a room full of people she loves, sitting down at a table with Daddy, Shorty, and whoever else is available to play – maybe some of their friends from back before they even had us kids.

As Shorty might say, “It’s your turn ‘Dude.’ Here – this deck’s ready.

[place shuffled deck on pulpit]

Dealer’s Choice.

Is Money Evil?

Honest Question

Is money evil? This was a straight up question. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to write about it on my own. I know that my biases on the question are strong. Strong enough for me to respect that others may not care to hear them. But, I was asked, so…

TLDR: Is money evil? Like, inherently evil? No. And, I still don’t trust it as far as I can throw an unfolded dollar bill.

I don’t hate money, or fear it. I just don’t trust it.

No important decision I’ve ever seen handled was made any less fraught with confusion and conflict once a lot of money was added to the conversation. Even when a lack of money seems to be the problem at hand, getting the money to seemingly solve a problem always brings next order complications – or obligations – of its own. Sometimes the outcome is worth the added complexity. Sometimes it’s not.

Life is the same. Money doesn’t make it any less complicated. Money just changes the nature and scale of life’s complications – and the scale and consequences of mistakes.

Why Money?

Here’s a “Brief (and fascinating) History of Money” from shells to bitcoin by the folks at Britannica. It’s a pretty simple version of the story. It pretty much focuses on the question of how long stuff has been used as money to symbolize, and simplify, the exchange of value. This version doesn’t cover any of the parts about how money is a primary way of concentrating social power and control. It also doesn’t tell how money is a primary tool for exerting concentrated power over longer and longer distances. Those were necessary tools for early empires to become larger and more oppressive.

It’s not that money DID any of that. It’s just that none of it could’ve been done as efficiently without money as it was with it. Is money evil? No. But, it is always a tool under the control of the most powerful in any society.

There isn’t really a point in history that any of us can point to when people in power ever looked out for people with no power as much as they looked after themselves and their own interests (like keeping power…). Given that history, I don’t really trust power or most positions that wield it. Since I don’t really trust power, and money is an essential, primary tool of the powerful – well, you can see where that goes.

“Not All Money…”

Yeah, I know. The counter arguments to my gloomy retrospective on the history of money’s sordid roles in corruptive power are fairly obvious. Money also facilitates the efficient organization and distribution of resources for lots and lots of good. That’s all true too.

There is a fairly well oiled not-for-profit machinery that does its dead level best to use as much money as it can to do as much good as it can around the world. I used to be part of it. For several years I carried around a laptop and an electronic fob that would generate randomized access codes. I could log into a system that would let me transfer millions of dollars to any bank account in the world with fewer than four or five clicks and ten or twenty keystrokes. In seconds.

Most of it was money I helped manage in endowments for this or that good cause. For a couple decades I routinely drove around on back roads from visits with interesting people with $10,000, $50,000, $100,000, and – a few times – $1,000,000+ checks to take back to a business office and recorded as gifts to whatever organization I happened to be working for. The last $1 Million run I got to make was on my motorcycle through the North Georgia mountains. It was a beautiful day that marked the final gift of two beautiful lives.

Over time, I’ve seen a LOT of money do a LOT of good. All of those counter arguments about the “good” that money makes possible are all valid. So, there’s no need to recite them all.

Yeah, but most money…

Even though it’s true that it often takes a lot of money to do a lot of good things, and that people who do good can usually do more good with more money, I still don’t trust it as far as I can throw the paper kind. Being able to get money and do good things with money, even LOTS of it, is NOT the same thing as CONTROLLING money.

No no, stay with me. I’m not being conspiratorial. Money is controlled. That’s not a weird theory of deep, dark secrets, it’s just a description of the fact that money has rules. It’s not just free to roam out in the wild all willy-nilly, and people aren’t just free to use money any old way they please.

Wait? Who controls money…?

It’s all pretty much out in the open. First, laws regulate how we use money in every day life. Then, financial institutions of various kinds manage all the money. Of course, all of those institutions have various requirements for who can access their services.

See? There’s no wild theory. It’s just true that there are controls on money, who has access to it, and how it gets used. Even if the controls are mostly normalized in our day to day experiences, the fact that we don’t necessarily feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

In a sense, that means we all control money. I mean, to whatever degree you give our currently configured Democracy any credit for successfully putting the hands of the people on the actual levers of power. You could say “we” control money about that much too. So, probably not much…

In the long run, those who scramble to get as much money as possible to do as much good as possible are not controlling money. We’re just using money, but it’s not ours. How you use a thing you are not in charge of can be changed on you at any time. If you are dependent on that thing, that can be catastrophic.

I know, I know. “Due process, yada, yada.” “The rules can’t change that fast…” Really? C’mon. The rules change in the dark hours of the morning in the halls of Congress and corporate board rooms all the time. Tell me I’m wrong…

So, no. I don’t trust money. I don’t hate it, or fear it, but I don’t trust it.

Well, is money evil or not?

No. Money isn’t evil, it’s just a tool. However, it IS a favorite tool of the powerful and their empires which have, in the long arc of history, been consistent purveyors of all manner of evil. Usually against those with the least money and power to resist.

Let me be clear. I’m NOT suggesting we’d be any better off if all of the do-gooders who USE money were suddenly in CONTROL of money. I’ve never been in the camp of those who would like to see the establishment of a Christian Empire.

One of my most important windows of understanding on the Christian Gospel is that it proclaims the ideal of abandoning the empire way of trying to organize ourselves in the world. It never proclaims the goal of establishing an earthly Christian version of empire. I’m not saying we, the Church, haven’t bent things that way routinely throughout our history – but it’s not what the Gospel proclaims.

Insofar as money is a favorite tool wholly owned by the powers of empires, and insofar as I am opposed to the empire way of living in the world as matter of faithfulness to what I understand to be the Jesus way of living in the world, I am not able to be a fan of money. While money may not be inherently evil, it sure is wrapped tight at the core of most all the evil I’ve ever known anything about. I’m surely not able to call it good in any essential way.

Dismantling Systems of Injustice

So, what do we do with money? Well, as much good as possible as often as possible. There are several attributions for a favorite old quote from a preacher who was questioned about whether or not they had any moral qualms accepting money that had been put in the plate by bootleggers, gamblers, and other presumed scoundrels. In reply the preacher said, “Not at all. The Devil’s had that money long enough. If they’ll give to me I’ll do some good with it.” Another powerful saying says you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. I think they might both be right.

Other Gospel stories come to mind. Walter Wink’s reflections on Jesus’ teachings on responding to evil have rearticulated among another generation of peace activists the previously accumulated wisdom of forerunners like Bayard Rustin and Ghandi who also taught non-violence.

Wink observes this third way in Jesus’ teachings to turn the other cheek to force a second strike to expose the injustice of the abuser, or to strip naked to shame a creditor who actually has the gall to demand your cloak to cover a loan you can’t pay. He calls it a third way of non-violent resistance. I call it economic jujitsu.

Even though the tools aren’t ours, folx probably should use any power or money that comes our way to accomplish as much good as we can. Of course, that’s not a vague wish. It’s important to be clear about what it might look like.

Economic Jujitsu

If the systems of power and finance in which we live bear down most weightily upon, are are least available to the powerless, then what sorts of economic jujitsu can shift that leverage? How can people who have historically had the least ownership of the money they use have more power over their own economic resources? It’s not easy, but there are things that can be done.

People with money can:

  • Invest in helping renters own the homes and property where they live (you could literally just buy a house and sell it so someone who can’t afford a mortgage. Yeah, there are things to think about, but you could figure all that out and just do it…).
  • Deposit that money in banks owned by communities typically underserved by commercial financial services.
  • Lend money on generous terms to people who are starting a small business. There are lots of large, easy options: Accion International, Kiva.org, Grameen America, and Oikocredit.
  • Give money outright to people working for legislative and policy changes. Same for any other work that empowers people without ready access to the levers of power – or money.

This is barely an ample illustrative list. With a little effort, you may also find good local community develop investment options that focus on helping more people own some of the money they use. Let’s not kid ourselves though. None of these things is going to dismantle the powers and forces of the empires. They still own the lion’s share of the money and make the rules for its use. That’s OK, we’re not trying to take over and replace the empires. We just need to keep them unbalanced.

Spread It Around

If part of what gives money so much of its potential for evil is the way it concentrates power, then that’s part of what has to be undone. There’s an old joke about money being like manure. (Note: you can also tell this joke about Baptist preachers.) “If you spread it (them) around enough, it (they) can do a lot of good. If you pile enough of it (them) up in one place though, it (they) can stink to high heavens.” There’s no lie here.

“Good” people aren’t in a competition with “evil” people to see who can get the most money. If we consider the Third Way of economic jujitsu, our Way lies in NOT using money the same ways empires do. Let’s not pile it up in ever bigger piles just to use it to earn more money.

We can figure out ways to spread it around wider and wider and over and over again. Yes, I know that investing in the stock of any average business indirectly creates jobs and that’s also the classic way of thinking about spreading the wealth around. Left to their own devices though, I don’t trust markets to offer those jobs in reliably humane ways. I’m talking about spreading more of our money around in ways that let more people own more of the money they use. Ways like the illustrative mentions above – and whatever other creatively generous ways you come up with to give people a little more leverage amongst the empires as they try to keep their balance.

Is money evil? Probably… I mean, no. No, money isn’t inherently evil.

However, it does have a devilishly consistent history of being on the scene when evil happens.

I still don’t trust it as far as I can throw an unfolded dollar bill.

I can do whatever I want. – OK. What will you do?

Today was a first.

For nearly two decades of my life I regularly experienced what I came to regard as a sacred privilege. I got to listen to people and assist them as they were answering the question, “What will you do?” around their accumulated wealth. Most of these conversations were about how to accomplish something good in the world. For some that was a question about what to do in life, for others it was about what would happen with their stuff after their life. Usually it was a mixture of both.

Surreal every time

During that time I got to see people wrestle with hard questions – for years sometimes – then sit down and sign away millions of dollars in a few strokes of a pen. Surreal every time.

Beginning in my early 20’s I had professional roles that routinely put me in those situations through my early 40’s. Even since then, when I work as an interim pastor, similar conversations happen. They’re less frequent or focused, but the same.

Back then, everyone I ever had those conversations with was a solid 15 to 20 years older than me. Often enough they were 30 or 40+ years older than me. They were in the stages of life when those questions tend to become more persistent.

Can we talk about that?

This morning, it was refreshing – and surreal all over again – to hear myself having that conversation for the first time ever with someone in my own generation. Someone saying essentially, “I’ve reached the place in life where I can afford to do what I want and I want to make sure it’s good. Can we talk about that?”

Absolutely. Of all the conversations, this is one of my favorites.

What will you do to do good?

When I was paid to raise money for not-for-profit organizations, I raised nearly as much for other organizations as the ones I was paid to represent. Often enough, the person making the gift appeared to care more about some other way to help make good work happen. I could rarely bring myself to talk someone out of something like that,

By the last phase of my professional career I worked for a foundation that raised and managed money for multiple organizations. It was the closest I came to being an unbiased advisor in my earlier professional context. But, still, there was a context. Now I get to participate in the conversation completely unbeholden to the interests of any organization(s). That feels good.

It’s a conversation worth having and, for me, it’s had best in the wild. The privilege to participate is surreal every time.

Cosmic Capitalist Job Creators?

Customers are the real Job Creators. Neither capitalists nor the capital they own create jobs. Capital chases returns from investment in the labor of others.

Cosmic Flexing

Billionaires have been showing off in space; savoring the most far flung of their lifelong dreams by launching $100’s of millions of dollars worth of hardware skyward for a little fix of something only they can afford. Folks have had opinions on it all. Those opinions have run the gamut across two primary poles.

  1. Selfish Pricks – They could’ve spent the money they accumulated on the backs of exploited workers more beneficially and responsibly by solving any number of dire human problems on a planet that is showing legit, tangible signs of becoming a dumpster fire.
  2. Hey, Show Some Gratitude – We’re lucky there are folk able to pursue these exploratory dreams on behalf of the rest of us and we should be grateful these cosmic capitalists are creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of people while pushing the boundaries of human possibility.

Cultic Capital Confusion

First – no one has convinced me that the hopefulness of that range of perspectives is in any way mutually exclusive. There’s enough money on the table collectively in this case to fully and fundamentally address a multitude of current human needs AND explore the horizons of human possibility. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s enough money though.

cosmic capitalist job creators
Opinions ran the full spectrum, but they did tend to bunch up over on this end.

What I am convinced of is that the assumption that these capitalists are job creators flounces past a well worn confusion about the nature of capital, and capitalists, in the job creation equation. Too many of us are unquestioning, even avid followers of the Cult of the Capitalist Job Creators.

Pro-Tip: It’s a false religion.

Inert Capital

Pile up as much capital as you like. It won’t do anything at all on its own. I’ll wait…

I’ve watched real live capital at work up close in the wild. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have had a front row seat for the show. I once share executive and fiduciary responsibility for turning a $20 million pile of capital into a $40 million pile of capital over about a seven year period (during two of the worst stock market crashes we’ve ever experienced – ’03 & ’08).

At no point was a single penny of the capital I helped manage the instigating factor for the creation of a single job. It was an important factor for facilitating job creation, but not the instigating factor.

We even invested a portion of our capital in what is known as micro-finance. That is the financial system of institutions that fund and manage small loans to families and individuals (mostly women) in very poor communities. With amazing rates of success they use those loans to create businesses that will expand their capacity for stability and self determination. Even then, we didn’t cause any of that. We were investors seeking returns from the labor of others.

We sought out the best labor we could find in which to invest. Good labor. Sustainable labor. Self-owned labor.

Still, we weren’t job creators. We were rent seekers; investors seeking returns from the labors of others. I’m not even saying that’s inherently bad, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t job creating.

Just Add Labor

Meanwhile, until you apply some labor a big old pile of capital won’t make a single thing or create a single job on its own. There’s no inherent magic in the use of capital that creates any sustainable jobs. The key word is sustainable. Temporary jobs go away when the capital runs out.

Customers are the Job Creators

Only customers can create permanent jobs. Not that “permanent” is ever really an accurate word for a job. Sustainable is a better word. Only CUSTOMERS can supply the ongoing revenue that makes jobs sustainable over time without depleting capital. Customers are the only thing that transforms the use of capital from being a hobby, an experimentation, or pure vanity into a potentially ongoing business.

Capital owners may create the perception of being job creators. It’s a temporary illusion though. Without customers, their pursuits, and any jobs they may have created along the way, will eventually evaporate.

How much of the future of our economy should we base on cosmic capital in search for customers? How many families should stake their well being on temporary jobs rooted in the self-satisfaction of the whims of the wealthiest few?

The Privilege of Power

The rules and laws that govern how we participate in the economy also shape who has access to opportunities. They also shape the kinds of opportunities available, and the feasibility of those opportunities being available at all. Our rules and laws are dominated by the belief that favoring the interests of the owners of capital is best for everyone involved.

Capital is the least essential and least exclusive ingredient in the sustainability equation. Labor has to be particularly suited to a task by skill and experience. Customers have to be particularly satisfied with a product that meets their needs. When it comes to capital though, pretty much any old capital will do.

Why then do the policies that make up our social economic equation tilt so far in favor of the interests of the owners of capital? Why do the resulting policies so often serve to the detriment of workers and customers? An example may help.

You know the contracts customers are required to sign just as customers of most cable, telephone, utility, and financial services companies, right? These contracts usually include default mediation clauses. Customers forfeit their right to sue a business when they sign those clauses. The business is protected from legal recourse even if it fails to live up to its agreements. That’s quite a privileged legal advantage just for owning a pile of capital.

How do the least exclusively essential players at the table always seem to end up running the game?

The Job Creation Myth

Only religion is powerful enough to bestow the kind of social leverage that allows the least significant minority to run the table. For decades now rent seeking capitalists have set about with billion dollar bullhorns proclaiming the mythic mantra that the owners of capital are job creators and worthy of veneration. The religion has many names, or sub-sects: Rugged Individualism, The American Dream, and Trickle Down Economics just to name a few.

All share a core reality that rent seeking investors profit the most when workers, or customers, are desperate enough to accept low wages and high prices just for the privilege of using capital. The proclamations of this dogma usually subsist in holding up anecdotal success stories as representations of what everyone has waiting just around the corner. All we have to do is just keep worshipping at the grindstone on the capitalist’s altar.

Reminder: By any name – it’s a false religion. The quantifiable outcomes of the increasing wealth disparities that result when the rules favor capital rather than workers or customers have never matched the marketing promises belted from the bullhorns.

Balancing The Job Creator Power Equation

Recognizing CUSTOMERS and WORKERS as the true, enduring Job Creators is the most important first step to demystifying our collectively misplaced faith in capital and its owners. Naming them as such helps us see differently whose needs and interests should be prioritized for the greatest enduring benefit.

Have whatever opinion you will on the personal vanities of the billionaire space race. Just be careful if any of your perspective rests on the idea that the supposed status of “job creators” exempts billionaires from any form of scrutiny for how they participate in our civic economy, or from accountability for the outsized influence their actions sometimes have on the rest of us.

Capital will always seek returns. It won’t always seek the best interests of the customers or workers upon which it depends. That will almost always be a cost-benefit decision.

Prioritizing the well being of customers and workers will be best for everyone in the long run. I’m betting the owners of large piles of capital will be fine either way.

Is Your “Business” Really A Charity…?

If your business model depends on paying employees minimum wage – or anything less than an actual living wage – you don’t have a viable business.

Living Wage Earning Employees or Donors?

What you have is a charity to support your hopes and dreams. Your employees are your donors. They show up every day and give you more than they get back to support your “business” – and your lifestyle. All while they struggle to make ends meet.

They probably didn’t agree to that because they were EXCITED about underwriting your personal dreams. More likely, they agreed because they couldn’t find anyone else who wouldn’t also take advantage of their need for income to entice them into working for less than a living wage.

You’re pretty lucky to have a gig like that. If your donor/employees had to be let go during quarantine, they’ve had time to reflect on this. Perhaps they reached a point where they decided they can no longer afford to support YOU like that. They may have even decided they have to go find a deal that takes care of them too. How you respond to that is all about your character – not theirs.

The Least You Could Do…

The least you could do is thank them for their previous support as they go. Blaming them for being lazy and not wanting to keep working in your unviable personal charity that you call a business isn’t a good look.

My farm is not a viable business. We give everything away and have no sales revenue. From time to time I ask people to give money to support me and the farm. The reality is that if I spend enough of my time making the farm “work” I don’t usually have enough time left to earn all the money it takes to support me and the farm.

At least I’m honest about what’s going on here.

Spare Me…

Oh, and PS: spare me the lectures of not understanding what business owners go through. Yes. Yes, I do. I went to sleep each night through much of my 20’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for a real estate business I’d started. There was a wife beside me and a newborn across the hall. Seriously, spare me.

First Amendment Public Platform Victims: Ignorant or Liars?

Here’s a First Amendment review for the loud folk in the back…

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment, United States Constitution


The First Amendment only forbids the federal government from interfering with, or dictating citizens’ speech. That’s all it does.

The First Amendment does NOT:

  • entitle any citizen to a platform for speech.
  • require anyone to share their platform with you.
  • require anyone to listen to you.
  • protect you from the consequences of the things you say.

“Free Speech Rights” only mean that if you manage to get a platform from which to speak, the government can’t be the one to knock you off of it when they’re tired of hearing what you are saying. “Free Speech Rights” don’t have SQUAT to say about whether or not anyone else can.

Two Options

Any person experiencing the consequences of their own speech – by being told they are no longer welcome on a public platform – who then tries to claim their free speech rights are being violated, is telling you one of two things. There are only two options.

  1. They are utterly ignorant of the 1st amendment and you really shouldn’t listen to them on that topic.
    -or-
  2. They know exactly how the 1st amendment works and are utterly comfortable lying to you about what they are experiencing in order to manipulate your outrage.

    It’s always up to you to decide which one you think is going on at any given time. However, those are your only options.

Another Blog – Really?

Another blog? Yeah, I think anyone who publishes one of these pretty much has to answer that question – as many of them as there already are in the world. I’ve got control of three other blogs I already don’t write on enough. Seriously, another one? If that’s not a question you’re asking you might not care to read this.

Maybe you’re not asking questions about how best to emerge from quarantine either.
I am.

Or, you might not be asking questions about how to re-engage the world around you.
I am.

Since part of the answers to those questions when I ask them is a need, and a responsibility, to engage the world outside my solitude more often and more directly, I’m asking the questions out loud. You do you…

But why here? Why ANOTHER blog…?

The other blogs I have access too are all fairly specifically focused around their own conversations. Those are conversations that are important to me but, they’re not always the only conversations I’m trying to listen to.

Often enough though, the conversations I am trying to listen to don’t really fit in those specifically focused spaces and would risk just being a source of confusing distraction. So, I don’t write reflections about them at all. Then, I end up not writing for the more specific topics either because I’m distracted by the things that I don’t really have any place to put.

Yeah, I could open a text file, dump the thoughts, and save them on my hard drive without going public. That’s not what I mean though. I mean a place to put them where I have to own responsibility for them in the world. A place to put them that makes them real in The Neighborhood, not a place to set them aside.

Let me back into why that matters…

If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a Five. If you’re not familiar and would like to be, you can get the Wikipedia overview, look up The Enneagram Institute, read about The Enneagram at Work or, check out Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. There are others, but these are probably the best places to jump off.

enneagram five another blog

Fives are cerebral types focused on discovering and understanding. The Enneagram Institute describes Fives as Investigators. The Center for Action and Contemplation describes us as living in the Need to Know.

The hardest part of a patch-work-quilt of an economic strategy for life is that you have to keep promoting yourself to find work – and get paid – and have electricity – and tap water. As an Enneagram Five – and throw being a rather pronounced introvert on top of all that – umm, yeah, that’s pretty much the definition of a personal daily hell.

It’s sort of a cobbler’s-kids-always-have-bad-shoes, or a mechanics-always-drive-broken-down-vehicles kind of thing. The former professional life I lived of going to work and helping other people promote THEIR work so they could raise the money they needed to accomplish their purposes was really easy. Simple even.

Raising money by telling compelling stories and inviting people to participate in making them come true, or helping them become better, is not a difficult arcane mystery – it’s just fun. I enjoyed it enough to get good at helping other people do it. It was also a really nice steady paycheck.

Self Loathing In Public

Doing that for myself, promoting my own work, is a loathsome task for a Five and one that I’ve mostly avoided. There’s probably a fortune in that fact for a therapist somewhere. Good look getting it. I haven’t found it yet.

I haven’t found the fortune yet because I would really rather talk about other people’s good work than my own. Of course, that means I don’t always get enough opportunities to do enough of the things I get paid to do.

My primary source of earned income is from coaching a small handful of (mostly) newish, young ministers, and a random collection of others who find their way to me. It is both the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – and the best paying per hour with no driving – so, that’s nice. Let’s face it though, not a lot of people needed a coach to help them figure out a strategy for sitting through 2020 on their couch wondering what the ever loving hell was gonna happen next… So, that sucked.

The other significant source of income that helped me keep having things like electricity and tap water during a mostly WAY underemployed quarantine came through a Patreon page that supports the work of the farm and the podcast. What that really means is that it supports ME, so I can DO the work of the farm and the podcast…

It’s not a massive amount, but I wouldn’t’ve survived quarantine without it. Here’s the thing… As nice, and necessary, as it is to have income from Patreon supporters to help make all the projects work, I’d rather have more coaching clients.

On average, I earn more money from adding one coaching client to my roster, than I receive from adding 4 or 5 supporters on the farm/podcast Patreon page. I need both but, all things being equal, I’d rather have more clients.

Almost all of my clients currently find their way to me through contracts I have with this or that program at this or that university or organization. I don’t really advertise – at all. I get a small but steady stream of the clients they pair me with and keep flying under the radar into Solitude…

I could easily enough serve 2 or 3 time the number of clients I currently have – if I’d advertise. Of course, that gets us back to the loathsome tasks of self-promotion that I’ve mostly managed to avoid. I’ve also paid a tangible price for that avoidance.

I’m An Enneagram Five

Finding ways to thrive in isolation is one of my Superpowers.

Here we all are though – emerging from quarantine, having learned a few things about ourselves whether we meant to or not. Part of what I’ve learned listening to the Enneagram is that I need to do a more integrated job of “Fiving.” That means venturing out from solitude with a little more regularity to engage things that deserve to be engaged.

Here’s an excerpt from The Center for Action and Contemplation’s description of Fives from the links above:

“The essential core of the FIVE is the soul’s capacity to be illuminated and to illuminate, to make things clear. When you’re clear, the world becomes more transparent. You notice the littlest things. You’re more awake to everything. That illumination is exactly the same as what we call recognition. Whenever you have an “Ah ha” it’s not thinking, exactly; it’s a recognition of truth. It fills your whole body. We all experience that; if you’re a FIVE, you live for that. It’s your specialty.

The other side is what I call black light… If you’re present, there’s not only the illumination of the truth, but there’s the clearing away of the nonsense, the delusions, and our false beliefs and ideas.”

Russ Hudson in conversation with Fr. Richard Rohr

When Fives are being a better integrated version of ourselves we stop looking like Fives from the outside and start looking more like Eights – on occasion. We emerge from the isolation that we like to kid ourselves is some sort of Fortress of Productive Solitude and interact with the actual world around us that we’ve contemplating so relentlessly and engage it more consciously and consistently.

Let’s face it, that’s gonna happen in spurts. We Fives are never going to go at fighting the forces in the world that need fighting with the same from-the-second-their-feet-hit-the-floor-in-the-morning-until-their-last-dream-of-the-night kind of energy that Eights bring to the table when it comes to fighting fights that need fighting, but we’re usually gonna come out swinging when we do emerge.

We don’t ever really get finished enough with our never ending quest to understand – everything – to be presumptuous enough to just go around starting fights all the time. I mean it happens along the way but it’s not our general MO. Starting fights really shouldn’t be anyone’s MO – any of the time. Clearly, not everyone is one the same page with that.

Every now and then, fights come along that you can’t stand by and watch happen while people who are backed into a corner keep taking punches. You’ve either got to jump in and take enough punches for your Neighbor to get back on their feet to stand up for themselves, or get to safety. Or, you’ve got to flat out stop whoever’s throwing the punches. Fives are never going to go out and just walk the block, so to speak, like the Eights do every day.

I’m telling you now though, don’t make us come outside…

Eights. Yeah, I love me some Eights. The Enneagram Institute describes them as The Challengers. The Center for Action and Contemplation describes Eights as living in the Need to be Strong. Most of the friends, close or distant, whose work and lives inspire, encourage, intrigue, and impress me the most are almost all Eights – and are good at it. They’re not going to let shit go down on the block on their watch. God, I love ’em. You know, from a distance. From contemplative solitude.

Solitude As A Base, Not A Hideout

Even Fives can’t do solitude forever though. As noted, when we live into the best versions of ourselves we relent from allocating ALL of our energy to the internal quest and re-allocate some of that energy to engage externally – more. We start looking like Eights when we emerge as Challengers.

It’s not that we ever actually complete the quest to understand everything, but we do reach a point where the futility of EVER completing the quest into solitude becomes overwhelming. There’s just nothing left but to start putting together the shards of understanding you’ve been able to gather so far and shape them into some mottled, stained mosaic of a focusing lens and try to shine some light through it. Not so much because you think it will illuminate what the world needs to see but, because it’s the best you’ve got to light your own path as you make your way to Neighbors who are taking punches.

I’ve “emerged” in various ways all along. Usually in seasonal bursts before being seduced back into solitude.

  • I farm to provide food to local groups with sharing strategies that respect the dignity and agency of the folk who end up eating the food.
  • I podcast to encourage others to do their own version of whatever might best help end hunger in their area.
  • I serve an occasional congregation as interim pastor to help discern their best next steps.
  • As mentioned above, I earn my primary income as a strategy coach with some of best people in the world who inspire me every time we talk.

There are other things that need doing though; other ways to engage. There are other conversations to listen to – and ask if the people having the conversations need any help, like moving tables and chairs. Notice I didn’t say anything about showing up and trying to be helpful by leading conversations in other people’s spaces – or trying to refocus them on the things I think are important?

(Seriously, do I have to spell it out…? LGBTQIA+ people don’t need cis-straight people showing up telling them how we’re going to help. Black and Brown folk, don’t need white folk showing up telling them how we’re going to help. Folk who are poor don’t need rich people to parade their bootstraps… If any of us cis-straight-white folk with pretty boots want to show up and be genuinely helpful in other people’s spaces we need to come in listening for instructions, guidance, and invitations. Trust me, the other way isn’t genuinely or effectively helpful and isn’t appreciated.)

Yeah, this is my blog though. So, I’ll be the one speaking. Whatever I have to reflect on here will be less about what I think anyone else needs to hear than about what I’ve heard as I’ve listened. As a Five that’s what I do any time I get a minute.

Intersections

Listen. Ponder. Consider. Synthesize. Theorize. Ask questions. Scrap it all and listen…

This place will be a sort of front porch from which to walk out into the world from time to time. Or, a good place to have a visit with others who are out and about. A place to reflect on all the other conversations that resonate with my antennae.

I've got information, man. New shit has come to light.
The Dude Abides…

Feel free to come sit on the porch for a visit (I mean, there are some rules. We’ll get to those…). Some of what’s here is professional, and some is personal. As the Welcome page says, no matter how we’re connected, you’re free to look around and see what else is going on. We may even go for a walk around the block and see what we see going down in the Neighborhood.

Somebody’s gotta back up the Eights. They do this really cool thing once they see the same futility inherent in constantly Challenging and fighting that Fives eventually experience in their beloved Solitude. The Eights start to look like Twos from the outside. They starting shifting some of their energy from ALWAYS fighting the people who are doing the punching to offering the most tender care and kindness to the people who are getting punched. Some start earlier and do more of it than others, but they all have their moments. It’s a beautiful thing to see happen.

But, they gotta know somebody is gonna help watch the block…