On Tuesday, the voters of Burlington voted to approve a large number of ballot initiatives. Three gun safety proposals passed easily, as well as a redistricting measure. And as for our tax money? We voters agreed to use almost ten million dollars in borrowed funds to fund business development along the waterfront. We decided to spend $12 million to purchase a hydroelectric power plant. In fact, we even decided to raise our own taxes. When it comes to the economy and green energy, or money and power, Burlington has shown that it cares deeply about these things. Actually, everything passed except for one item. The school budget. We only have so much money you know. Resources are not infinite. So out of everything up for approval, the schools came up last on the list.
It wasn’t just in Burlington. School budgets were rejected for Bennington, BFA-Fairfax, Colchester, Georgia elementary and middle, Grand Isle, Milton, Montpelier, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Underhill Central and Underhill ID, and Westford, with more results still coming in. Burlington school superintendent Jeanne Collins said in an interview, “What I’m hearing is that we can’t afford the programs that are put in place. We’re going to have to re-prioritize and make some changes. That’s what democracy is about.” And it’s true. If we want to give less to the schools, they will have to cut programs and make do with less. After all, it’s our money.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse from the book of Matthew (or was it Luke?) gets quoted a lot during church stewardship seasons. And it gets quoted at other times as well. In fact, it may be one of the most quoted Bible verses ever, because, well, it’s true. “Put your money where your mouth is.” This verse, from the bookies of gambling, is a related call to action, that tells us that you can say whatever you want, but it’s how you spend your resources that really let us know where your values are.
Sometimes I don’t know where my heart is. Life is so busy and fast-paced these days that it often just seems to go by without any intentional participation needed. How am I spending my money? What are the things that I value? Do my actions match up with my words or my thoughts? This is probably a good thing to know about oneself, so I decided to look at the admittedly small amount of disposable income available to me, so I could see where it was going. It turns out that one of my main treasures is my entertainment center. When I get some gold doubloons, they tend to leap right out of my treasure chest and into the hands of happy retailers who are selling movies, music, video games, Netflix accounts, or streaming/downloadable media. I probably knew that already. My family is also a treasure of mine. Stuff for my kids or my wife ranks even higher on my list, from clothes, books, and toys, to babysitters, movie tickets, chocolates, and surprise pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I definitely knew that. If you had to ask me what my greatest treasure in life is, I would reflexively say “my family.” But it isn’t true. Not if I agree with the wisdom of the Bible. No, my greatest treasure is a burrito.
That is a slight exaggeration. I would also have to include cheeseburgers. Looking back over the past year, if I had saved all of the money I spent at Chipotle, or Boloco, or Five Guys, or ordering pizza when I am too lazy/distracted to cook, I would have no financial worries at all. It all happens so gradually, you know? I never sit down and order 40 burritos, but little by little, over time, my treasure, and my heart, end up wrapped in silver foil and full of barbacoa. And if you presented me with this budget at the beginning of the year, I would have rejected it outright. “You want to spend HOW MUCH on burritos?!” I would have said, tossing the papers into the air as I slammed my fists on the desk dramatically. It may seem okay day to day, but on paper it’s just no good.
As I look at my annual burrito budget, and think about the future of our local schools, my thoughts are naturally drawn back to my church. How important is it to me? What is the difference between what I say about it, and what my resource distribution says about it? I don’t know the whole story of the how the building came to be. I’m sure someone around here does. I know the date, and some names, but that’s it. What I want to know is, whose idea was it to build the building? How did they raise the money for it? Did they hire all outside workers, or did members pitch in and work together to construct it? What was the feeling like, on that day when the doors opened and the congregation walked in for the first time? Did it feel like they had built something together? Because that’s how I want to feel. I want to feel like I am a part of a community that does things. I want to worship together, and I want to work together. I want to know that we all have some skin in the game. I want to paint a room next to someone I wouldn’t normally sit next to, and then sit down together, exhausted, and marvel at the thing we accomplished. I want to give something of myself, not only because it feels good to do so, but because my heart and treasure are so deeply rooted that I have no choice in the matter.
I have a friend who, in her spare time, dresses up as a pirate and is hired to attend various pirate festivals, renaissance faires, and other such events. She loves it, kids love her, and her Facebook fanpage is growing. She posted yesterday morning about a gathering in Penzance, where they are trying to set the record for most number of pirates in one place. “The spirit is terribly willing, but the booty runs too low…” she sadly commented. And you know, I immediately started thinking of ways to fundraise that trip for her. You see, love is infectious. And so is hate. When people see you truly putting your heart into something, it says something about you, as well as the thing you love. And when people put up signs saying “Vote yes on #2, #3, #4, #5,” it’s not hard to see that there is a number missing.
One of the best uses of the Bible, as far as I’m concerned, is to reveal uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? And how far are you willing to go for it?
Blessings to you all.