Assets and Liabilities

“Generosity is a spiritual disposition, not a quantifiable percentage of income,” said author James Hudnut-Beumler in Generous Saints. Generous people are grateful to God, affirming that “they know their worth comes from God, and not from money – not from money earned, hoarded, spent to purchase things, or used to exercise power.” 1

As I re-read these words, I’m struck by the powerful impact of such knowledge: that our worth has absolutely nothing to do with what we do or don’t have in assets and possessions. I think of the people I’ve known personally who are truly homeless, those who have routinely eked out the rest of the month after the end of the paycheck, and those who have plenty of money to go on trips abroad or buy the latest versions of cars or electronics.

Maybe this is a good time to do the related exercise Hudnut-Beumler proposes: to construct a statement of one’s worth – apart from the things we possess, not according to financial assets and liabilities. Draw a line down the middle of the paper, he says. On one side, list what you have and value: relationships, skills, knowledge, habits, and practices that help define who you are and what you have to offer other people. On the other side, list the debts you owe other people and God, including how you acquired or received the “assets” on the other side of the line. Discuss your statement of worth with someone else who has also completed the exercise. What have you learned?

In this process, did you have any “residuals:” items of value that did not come without incurring a debt in some way to someone else?

I didn’t think so, either.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1Generous Saints: Congregations Rethinking Ethics and Money (Alban Institute, 1999), pp. 9-13