Money money money money, money
Money money money money, money
Money money money money, money
Money money money money, money
Money money money money, money
Money money money money, money

Some people got to have it, yeah, some people really need it
Listen to me y’all, do things, do things, do things, bad things with it
Well, you wanna do things, do things, do things, good things with it, yeah, uh huh
Talk about cash money, money
Talk about cash money, dollar bills, y’all, come on now, yeah, yeah.

– The O’Jays

Some humans may not need — and may in fact try hard to deny the importance of — money in their lives. Not me. I have run an architecture practice for 35 years. This means people, a place, credit lines, and things that need money. Including me.

Every two weeks Pay Day is a PTSD trigger for me. This Tuesday I had $968 in my business account, with some accessibility to my credit line but perhaps 20 outstanding billings to clients that, if paid, would be like a deep neck-rub. As you might expect, a few checks came in. All those automatic insurance, credit card, mortgage payments were covered. We ate out last night.

But money, or more likely its absence, is a metronome to almost every human life even when faith in God should render it toothless. My fears of monetary failure should be completely obviated by Jesus — who tried to argue this to a rich guy 2,000 years ago:

“Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:22-24 NIV)

Money is at the root of human life. Of course I am morally, legally, and, hell, spiritually bound to pay for what I have spent — my employees’ time, my Internet, my interest payments. But there is more than a fiscal transaction in all the cash flow.

Forty years ago I was not good with church. I had not attended through high school and college. I had a great time wracking people up on the football field, having the third pitcher of beer, loving some wonderful women. Money was a zero-sum game.

My life in early adulthood was hand-to-mouth, and money was so far away that it was never seen as something I could accumulate. No wonder ABBA had this hit:

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain’t it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That’s too bad
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn’t have to work at all, I’d fool around and have a ball

Then, suddenly, marriage, and then, well, reality could not be denied.

If I was to put my life into making things (buildings, books, a profession), I had to decide whether money would be one of those things I made beyond what was needed. In truth, without money, not much gets done in the physical world. Kids are not nourished, buildings do not get built, writing goes unread. So I had to broker deals to earn money to do what I did.

But I knew that God gave me all of this. I did not broker that deal. He sent no bill. I owed him nothing, and I was given everything. Everything. Except money.

And many other people have no money, either. They have to work to survive, but some want to do more than survive. They want to give. They want to make money mostly so that they can give to others. Sometimes that need to give means building things to make that giving a better reality.

If they have no money to build, and I could make enough money helping other people build, then I could help those who had no money build what helps them give.

So about 30-40% of what I do as an architect starts out as pro bono work. If what I do helps raise money, I ask for what can be afforded for my office. So about 20% of what I do is fully free and about 20% of the work has enough money availability to cover my hard costs. The 60-70% of my work is for retail clients, priced competitively, and I collect about 95% of what I am owed. I never have much left over.

That is a choice. I get it. But the results of every choice are either dealt with, or you opt out. I cannot opt out. In these last 35 years over 1,000 payrolls have been met, no one has been laid off, all my payments are made. It is brinkmanship, every week.

For most, money is not a vehicle for doing Good Works, and for me, personally, money often becomes the object of my efforts by necessity. For almost everyone I know, especially post-Great Recession, that necessity is in a frenzied reaction to the threat of fiscal performance.

Because in all of the inevitable transactions, quid pro quos, bottom lines, the joy of riches and the failure of being broke becomes the judge of you, me, almost everyone. You lose a job and you — you, not the circumstances — failed you. You feel inadequate when you do not have enough money to do what you want to do.

That means America is politically flirting with the love-of-money answer. You may be inadequate, but America is rich, and we can all use our money to escape judgment. Right.

But God does not care. Jesus continually said money was just a way to love God. In a lifetime of ever-threatening fiscal performance I think of this from Luke:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (21:1-4 NKJV)

The world says this is a loser’s rationalization. Sure, why not. But yesterday I encountered a small church that needs a design to raise money to engage in their neighborhood, and since God gave me whatever I can do, I can help do that. My mites have never been mine; they all have been given, but they are what I have to give. So I give my time and pay my employees to make that design happen. And for about 20 other projects, now, in my office.

It is never enough, any way that I see it.