One mile in the opposite direction from the cottage, we would walk to Icescroop’s Farm with empty milk jugs to proposition the farmer, for fresh cow’s milk. Fresh, unregulated, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, milk. Heavy now, to slow the journey back to the cottage.
For the four children:
A hearty walk.
A lengthy chat.
And the game making habits of unsupervised children.
Plus the successful purchase of 2 gallons of “fresh milk”! One mile from the cottage, in one direction, was the penny candy store. The four of us would walk the dirt road and traverse over wooden slat bridges with pleasing echoes over rocks in creeks, and then out onto the paved road and past the nature museum with its snakes and racoons and pond habitats. Each of us with 10 cents. We were rich!
Just one penny would get you 10 little red licorice Swedish Fish, or 3 bubble gums or a gigantic Lolli pop with a tootsie roll inside, or you could just get a whole fist-full of straight long tootsie rolls, all in a nice brown paper bag sleeve for the journey back.
For the father, I suppose:
The purchase of a couple of hours of peaceable ‘down-time’.
Relief, from these same 4 children out on their errands.
This was August in my childhood summers at the cottage in Ligonier. The Allegheny Mountains, in Western Pennsylvania. And today is the nostalgic first of August.
So, I’m thinking about the notion of
Penny candy. Unpasteurized milk. Unsupervised children for the refuge and relief of a widower.
It’s debatable, all of these: Healthy or unhealthy? Safe or unsafe? Reckless? Careless? Idyllic?
What is something worth?
What do you make of something?
How do you do your accounting?
And I’m thinking of two (out of a whole bunch more) sacred texts that demonstrate the practice of assigning value, which seems to be a random kind of thing, in the sense that we get to decide if something is valuable. Or not.
There’s the ‘shrewd manager’ of Luke 16, to whom the rich man says:
“what is this I hear about you? Give me an accounting, . . . because you cannot be my manager any longer.”
So, with new purposes in mind, he simply changed his accounting.
The value of 100, becomes 50.
The value of another 100, becomes 80.
Randomly assigned value. Weights and measures and tender in the market place.
The other story is that of the prophet Amos, who condemns his people because,
“the measure of an Ephah, you make small.
the value of a shekel, you make great.
And you sell the poor for a pair of sandals.”
YOU are deciding this. You make it. You change it.
Who decides the value of a thing, or a place, or even of a person or a people?
Who decides value? We do.
By simply changing the weights and measures.
Make it small
Make it great.
Make it five tenths, or
Make it eight.
Assigning Random Values.
Who gets to decide value?
Who gets to decide that children can be caged or young women can be sold?
Who decides that one acre of land, south of I-20 has less value than one acre of land on Peachtree Street in the heart of the city?
Who decides fair market value, or the price of and place of affordable housing?
Apparently, WE do. The people. The populous.
We assign the value.
We mark it. Name it. Change it.
The shrewd manager in the parable knows in his heart of hearts what has true, deep, real and long-lasting . . . even ‘eternal’ value, and that is: to be welcomed in, so he changed the value of other things to make it happen.
That’s the heart of it for me.
He uses all of his shrewd cleverness to secure a place for himself at the table, and to be included.
In the end, he would scramble in through an open door, that he, himself, opened, and he would be welcomed into to their eternal homes.
Who knows how he was squandering the property owner’s property?
Maybe he was buying himself new shoes, or maybe he was inviting all the tenant farmers to meet after work on Thursdays, “drinks are on me!”, at the owner’s expense, or coffee and pastries after the Sabbath’s end. Who knows?
But what would happen when he was ousted?
He would be welcomed, loved. Included in the community.
The everlasting value of household, of friend and family, of spiritual community.
The one essential thing, shrewd and dishonest, or pristine clean,
is to assign value that increases value,
to assign value that increases the love.
It is to be as shrewd as the dishonest manager in the direction of restoring value, where there is no value, opening a door where the door is otherwise closed.
It’s a funny thing to think, that increasing the kingdom of God, sometimes requires assigning value, in a free-wheeling kind of way.
We get to decide. We get to assign value. We get to change the world. For the good.
If we choose.
We get to change the transactions that happen on the street,
and in the power houses,
and in the marketplace,
for the good.
His master commended him, Jesus said, because he was more shrewd than the children of light.
We get to assign value, that will increase the love, open the doors, extend the welcome,
and set another place at the table in the kingdom.
Simply because we use our power, for good, in a clever kind of way.
We can do that.
Penny candy, unpasteurized milk, children running wild.
Assigned value? “Heaven on Earth and the Kingdom Come”!
At least in August.
Every summer of my growing up.
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.
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