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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:

Sunday, February 22, 2009


When times are tough, the cheats get found out. We mentioned in passing in our previous post that yet another dishonest money manager had indeed got found out. Clients of R. Allen Stanford of Houston are apparently out some $8 billion, and even if all their funds are not lost, they have at least lost access to the funds while the investigation goes on. Press reports today relate that this is putting a squeeze on a number of Exxon retirees who live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the Stanford company has a large branch, and on the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, a small organization that doesn't have a huge roll of benefactors. But the Stanford company was one of them and presently owes $30,000 in an overdue pledge. A couple of New York Yankee players report that they can't use their credit cards this weekend because their assets are managed by a financial advisor who deals with the Stanford firm.

In the latest report on the Madoff Affair, the trustee who is liquidating the Madoff assets to try to get some money back for the customers told a meeting of them this past week that there was no evidence that any actual securities had been purchased by the Madoff management firm for at least the last 13 years. All of their detailed periodic statements read well, but were completely fictitious.

Then there's the case of Roland Burris, the Senator from Illinois nominated by the now deposed governor Rod Blagojevich to take President Obama's seat. It turns out, sadly, that evidently Mr. Burris had in fact tried to solicit funds on the governor's behalf while lobbying to get the nomination. Star-crossed, seemingly, and sickening at what should be a time of such triumph for all of those people. Burris's real crime here, importantly, is less the soliciting than the fact that he seems to have lied to the state legislature about whether he had done it. That reminds me of Martha Stewart's run-in with the law. It wasn't the possible insider-trading that sent her to jail; it was the fact that she lied to the FBI investigators about her dealings with other parties in the situation. I also realize that this dishonesty is no respecter of position: both business sorts and government types have committed it.

Simple honesty. Is this lost to us somehow? White lies. Big lies. Total fabrications. How did that happen? Can we work on it?

As Lent approaches in a few days, we looked for some prayers about being honest. We find lots of confessionals for having been untruthful, but not anything in the prayerbooks we have that asks specifically for guidance in pursuing an honest life. Puzzling. We need some prevention as well as remediation. We could talk about the importance of integrity and the dangers of greed. But I'm groping for something simpler and more fundamental. Simple honesty. Telling and carrying out the truth as best we can.

We did find something to hang on to. Long-time readers of these columns who have really good memories may recall John Chervokas. He is a retired advertising executive ("Please don't squeeze the Charmin!") who wrote Pinstripe Prayers, a wonderful little book of prayers for various business situations. The one he has for this one is a "Prayer for Ananias". We quote this below; it fits remarkably with many of the current circumstances. We also looked up the associated Biblical citation. The tragic story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira is told in Acts 5, verses 1 to 11. And then we tried to find when during the Church year this lesson is read on a Sunday. Perhaps it might come during Lent, we thought, yielding up a great and timely sermon opportunity. Alas, according to the website The Lectionary (, it is not included at all in the Sunday readings in the RCL, Roman, Lutheran or Methodist schedules. We did finally find it in the Episcopal Church Daily Office, Year One, the Saturday nearest June 15. What can I say. For the present, we'll just have to read it for ourselves.

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
Now, pray for "Ananias" of the 21st Century (the text is modified slightly to update the 1984 issues).*

Watch over Ananias in button-down blue;
I've caught him again saying that he cabbed
in from the airport
When I know he took the bus
And pocketed the [$20] difference.

Watch over Ananias with ingratiating smile
Who puts in for a lunch
He had with his sister-in-law,
Claiming that she might be a source
of new business.

Watch over Ananias whose "Miscellaneous" expenses
Have become an Accounting Department joke.
How often has he – and we – felt
That the company owed us a little something more
And instead of asking,
We take,
We fake,
We make
Like no one knows.

Watch over the Ananias in all of us, Lord,
So that the moral queasiness
We feel about things like [detainee torture]
and [climate change]
We may feel about putting in for phone calls we never made.

Obviously, there are numerous Biblical references to "honesty". If we have overlooked or been unaware of a specific prayer you know that addresses such basic ethics, please pass it along. Or send it to Joanna's More or Less Church.

*John Chervokas. Pinstripe Prayers. Originally published by Seabury, 1984. Now apparently available from HarperCollins. Listed online at and


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