Geranium Farm Home     Who's Who on the Farm     The Almost Daily eMo     Subscriptions     Coming Events     Links
Hodgepodge     More or Less Church     Ways of the World     Father Matthew     A Few Good Writers     Bookstore
Light a Prayer Candle     Message Board     Donations     Gifts For Life     Pennies From Heaven     Live Chat

Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lay and Skilling: Prayers for Criminals

Sunday morning in church, I heard myself offer out loud an Intercession for "Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and their families". At the coffee hour, a friend said to me that reminded him of a story told by the former Rector: while in seminary the aspiring priest had had a falling out with one of his classmates. His spiritual advisor recommended that he pray for the guy. "But he's a creep," Warren replied (or words to that effect). "Which is exactly why you need to pray for him," responded the spiritual director. I was thinking of a similar incident: one of the chapters in Mother Crafton's Yes, We'll Gather at the River in which she talks about two parishioners who couldn't stand each other; she convinced them to remember each other in prayer. Maybe just the name was enough. Soon, they were able to speak cordially and visit casually. There was some healing.

So we pray for criminals. They need all the help they can get -- they obviously didn't have a clue what they were really doing. Don't get me wrong: we certainly pray for their victims too, but that comes more easily to mind, I think.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Lay & Skilling Convictions

What a thing to feel cheered by: the conviction on all but a handful of charges for Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, former executives of Enron Corporation. These men, who together paid at least $60 million for the defense of these criminal charges, will likely spend the rest of their lives in federal prison.

We can tick off a list of some of the harms wrought by this one episode of greed and lying: thousands unemployed in Houston alone, plus the job losses at other affiliates and at the major accounting firm that went out of business as the scandal unfolded. Pensions lost to the valueless stock. Arts organizations and other charities in Houston, even some who had not been direct beneficiaries of Enron largesse, have struggled with lost funding over the last five years, and a philanthropy publication reported recently that they are only now regaining their former strength.

I wrote in my opening article here that it was just this bad behavior of the Enron people and others that prompted me to seek a way to speak to and within the church about business. Last week, we prayed together for God's blessing on commerce and industry.

Is there a blessing we can find in this mess? Actually, there are two we can name this morning. First, law and order prevailed. Lying and cheating lost and will be punished. Rich heavy-weights, highly influential and politically well-connected, could not stop the expression of truth about what they had done. Stock prices rose in the hours following the announcement of the verdicts, and surely one of the reasons was that the institutions of justice dealt a heavy blow to this wrongdoing. You have to be able to trust "audited" financial reports, and this verdict goes a long way in showing the worth in that.

Secondly, even as some Friday press reports asserted that the Enrons are representative of "mainstream companies across the business landscape", we pause to think instead about the millions of fine, well-managed companies that make this country go. A glance at IRS tax return data shows that in 2003, there were more than 5.4 million business corporations. Many businesses are unincorporated, and another source tells that in 2000, there were some 17 million of these. The "mainstream of the business landscape" is filled with a multitude of owners and managers and employees who produce, deliver, fix, maintain and recycle the goods and services we use every day. But who are the "owners, managers and employees"? Ah, we are. To be sure, we don't do it all perfectly. But we try, and the vast majority of us try to do better all the time. We are American business, and we are blessed. Aren't we?

Monday, May 22, 2006

"Pennies from Heaven": A Gift for the Young Givers

Isn't "Pennies from Heaven" a delightful idea? What a charming way to help children learn giving, stewardship and helping the rest of the world!

Last September, I was in Chicago at another annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). A program innovation there was discussion of education, including early-childhood education. Now, why should business economists care about that? Further, one of the speakers was James Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 2000 for his work on this topic. I went to find out "why" and to listen to him!

Heckman and other speakers highlighted development in young children; little kids are the most responsive of anytime in their lives from birth to age 5. Forming solid roots during those years is crucial in influencing their later thinking and behavior. The implication then becomes straight-forward: an effective early-childhood experience will reduce the need later for remedial school programs and for law enforcement and correctional efforts. These scholars were reporting on statistical work they have done to establish this as scientific fact. And for business economists the lesson is simply put: money spent on good early-childhood education helps the children be better students and workers and it saves funds that might have to be spent later on the other retro-repair-type programs.

Other psychology studies have shown that young children know quite a bit about money and about the poor. In an intriguing book, The Psychology of Money, Adrian Furnham and Michael Argyle cite work from many countries around the world. They tell that kids as young as 5 and 6 are already "aware of the distinction between personal desires and ownership"; thus it is necessary to interview still younger children to find out when "egocentric ownership attributes" emerge in development. They also explain that when sharing things, pre-schoolers share more readily with those they recognize as poor than as rich. Society has perhaps already taught them that the poor are deserving. The little kids are touched and may feel empathy with them.

At the same time, both the NABE speakers and the book authors traced changes as children grow older. Among at-risk kids, the NABE speakers were concerned about recidivism: the advantages gained in earlier training will fade. Furnham and Argyle explain that as kids grow, their attitudes change toward a more individualistic approach to money matters. So reinforcement of the early, more social approach is desirable, through thoughtful parenting and just such programs as "Pennies from Heaven". Kids and finances, a new topic for me (I'm not a mother), will occupy us again: Allowances and family finances and "but everybody has one!" The Psychology of Money has a whole chapter titled "Possessions": fascinating – and not just about kids' stuff. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

God and Business: an Opportunity for Prayer

When Christians gather, as we do here, they frequently begin their time together with prayer. And so do we. This next week is even a recognized Prayer Book occasion for our purpose: lifting up business and our work. The Sunday, Easter VI, is often called Rogation Sunday. The three weekdays following are "Rogation Days". Traditionally, many of us have been familiar with these days as the time for farmers and fishermen to pray for God's blessing on the crops and the boats. Along with prayers for that intention, the Prayer Book includes one "For commerce and industry". Below, after this introduction, we'll pray it here.

The compilers of the current Prayer Book had great insight as they broadened the scope of Rogation Days. Modern society, of course, is no longer centered on agriculture and fishing. So this can now be a time to ask ("rogare" = Latin for "to ask") God's blessing on all our work. Moreover, we not only can do this, we ought to do it. God is already and always present with us in our workplaces as well as in our homes and churches. We are perhaps too caught up in the busy-ness of our business to notice. More, just as in agriculture and fishing, God really stands behind whatever we are able to accomplish in our work. From the churches' point of view, all the tangible and financial resources they have to use in implementing their ministry come from the production of business and industry.

Kenneth Adams, writing some years ago in The Church Times, puts this very directly:

"We pray for good relationships in industry and for the just distribution of the fruits of the earth, but we do not pray for that activity which is the reason for the existence of those relationships and which produces the 'fruits' which we pray maybe justly distributed.

"We pray for what flows from industrial production without praying for industry itself and for all those who engage in it. We pray for the unemployed, but we fail to pray for the activity which will provide them with employment or which will produce the surplus wealth to allow them to be employed in other work."

"We pray for the hungry and the homeless, yet we fail to pray for the better industrial production which alone will produce the food and build the houses. We are glad that we can give grain to the starving people of Africa, but do we give thanks to God for those who produced that grain and for those who designed and manufactured the ships and aircraft and vehicles without which that grain could never have been delivered to those who need it?"

These comments are cited, in turn, by Canon J. Fletcher Lowe, Jr. in The Living Church. Canon Lowe's article also includes some inspiring liturgical commemorations and appropriate hymns for Rogation Sunday. Some of his points about the real-world ramifications of attributing a spiritual element to work bear greater exploration, and we will revisit this commentary. In the meantime, it is available on the National Church website, under the auspices of the Office for Ministry Development. Find it at

Finally, all this said, we cannot forget the original purpose of the Rogation experience. We are dependent on God for our food. Period. And while agriculture now accounts for a minuscule portion of American jobs and American production, we would be totally lost without it. We still need to pray for the crops and the boats. And so we shall (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 258-259):

I. For fruitful seasons:
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II. For commerce and industry
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And a hymn, No. 611*:

"Christ the worker, Christ the worker, born in Bethlehem,
born to work and die for every one.

Blessed manchild, blessed manchild, boy of Nazareth,
grew in wisdom as he grew in skill.

Skillful craftsman, skillful craftsman, blessed carpenter,
praising God by labor at his bench.

Yoke maker, yoke maker, fashioned by his hands,
easy yokes that made the labor less.

All who labor, all who labor, listen to his call,
he will make that heavy burden light.

Heavy laden, heavy laden, gladly come to him,
he will ease your load and give you rest.

Christ the worker, Christ the worker, Love alive for us,
teach us how to do all work for God."


*From The Hymnal 1982
Words: Ghanaian work song
Music: "African Work Song". All copyright 1969 by Hope Publishing Company.

Additional source: Price & Weil, Liturgy for Living: the Church's Teaching Series. The Seabury Press. 1979.

Monday, May 15, 2006

We're Up and Running

In just the couple of days since Ways of the World went live early Saturday morning, a number of you have sent us supportive comments. We're glad to hear from you and we thank you for your interest.

A couple of you asked about economic development and globalization. One quick response is that I'm a supporter, along with Mother Crafton, of Episcopal Relief & Development and other organizations that utilize targeted development assistance and micro-credit. We'll work our way toward more discussion of those issues in the next few weeks.

Thank you again for writing. I think we're going to have an interesting time together!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ways of the World: An Introduction

We all interact with business and the economy every day. Back when I was in graduate school, I began to think I should teach in a junior college where I might help "ordinary people" better understand business and economics. Then they could make better decisions in their own lives and see more clearly through politicians' rhetoric and businesses' P.R. Life took me down a different path instead: a long, sometimes arduous and frequently rewarding career as a Wall Street economist.

Then, in 2001 and 2002, two events brought me back to my earlier perspective. On the morning of September 11, I was sitting at breakfast in the Marriott hotel in the World Trade Center with some 250 other economists at the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, which was being held in New York for the first time in over 20 years. We were listening to a presentation by the president of a leading investment firm. All at once, the building shook, there was a loud boom and we all jumped up and ran out. In the aftermath, among a multitude of thoughts and feelings, I realized that if there was anything else I wanted to do with my life, I should set about doing it. [Over time, I'll share more with you about that momentous event.]

Just a few months later, still actively grieving this national tragedy, we began to hear news of another kind of tragedy, a business debacle of major proportions. A number of large companies and their accounting firms were producing false financial statements. No peccadilloes here, these managers were committing massive fraud. Now, a great strength of American society is its adherence to the Rule of Law and its careful preservation of property rights. These guys were flaunting all of this. They also tarnished the many decent, honest, hardworking businesspeople I knew from my own career experience.

What struck me – in my heart – was that these people were also leaders in their communities: board members of hospitals, arts organizations and, most of all, active church members. Hypocrisy, of course, has been around forever, but I began to wonder if there might be some special outreach the church could make to them. Maybe I could find a way to spread knowledge about these issues so the church might minister more fully to business leaders and to all of us who do business and finance in our daily lives. We are all stewards, caring for the things of this world, and our actions have repercussions far beyond our own doorsteps.

Enter The Geranium Farm. Here, in this new feature called "Ways of the World", we'll talk about business and consumers and stewardship. We'll raise questions: how can kids understand about finances, how did gas prices get so god-awful high? Isn't it dangerous if foreigners start dumping our debt? What about the burden of our own personal debt? And so on. We can provide some answers here and we can seek out sources for others. We can talk about current events and perhaps I can offer some perspective you don't get from the media. My own ideas for this grow by the day and Mother Crafton has already added to them herself. Please, you too participate: make it a forum!

I am grateful to Mother Crafton for providing this opportunity and this platform. I hope – and pray – that this work lives up to her trust and indeed helps you understand more about the "ways of the world".

A disclaimer: the material we present will not ever be meant as investment advice or to address specific individual questions on investments, taxes or other purely personal business matters. We do not know which way stock prices are going, and economists are notoriously poor managers of their own assets!

Copyright © 2003-Present Geranium Farm - All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any materials on this web site for any purpose
other than personal use without written consent is prohibited.