A Holy Week Theme: Money Changers and Temples

Managing money has always been political. And always will be.

A measure for credit unions:  “The extent to which we apply social values more than mere monetary profit.”

FDR and Credit Unions: “Push This”

Temples and Money:  Old and Modern

Cleansing the Temple

by Malcolm Guite

Come to your Temple here with liberation

And overturn these tables of exchange

Restore in me my lost imagination

Begin in me for good, the pure change.

Come as you came, an infant with your mother,

That innocence may cleanse and claim this ground

Come as you came, a boy who sought his father

With questions asked and certain answers found,

Come as you came this day, a man in anger

Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through

Face down for me the fear the shame the danger

Teach me again to whom my love is due.

Break down in me the barricades of death

And tear the veil in two with your last breath.



Love on Valentine’s Day

Esther Howland invented the greeting card as a Valentine Day occasion.  Her greeting cards are works of art. A sampling of them can be found at Wikimedia Commons  Search media – Wikimedia Commons.

This beginning of this holiday tradition is described in an excerpt from the Jefferson Educational Society, Book Notes # 31, Love Poems for Valentine’s Day:

“The story goes that while working in her father’s stationery shop she received a Valentine card from a competitor. She thought it simple and unattractive. Saying to herself, ‘I can do better than this,’ she did. She set up a small factory in the third floor of her parent’s home, hired some women she trained in the arts of paper cutting and origami. She soon outgrew the space, opened a factory and in the process created the American greeting card industry.”

After cutting and pasting my own Valentine’s cards for my mom and teachers in grade school,  the day became more personal in high school.  In English literature classes poetry, especially sonnets, were introduced as  the language of romance.  Two examples.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her husband Robert Browning:

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet #43)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Sonnet #  116   by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments; love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his heighth be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

—-If this be error and upon me proved,

—-I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

A Sonnet Upon Departing

As a memory of high school  poetry exercises and first love, I received  the following sonnet from my girlfriend when I left home in June 1962 for a summer ranch job  in Wyoming.

The sadness which I knew was drawing near, 

And which I feared would grow as you had gone,

That sadness now has come, yet with my tear 

Shines half a smile, like fog at early dawn.

No longer do I dread your last goodby,     

Your parting kiss, your hand’s sweet lingering touch,

A bond will now transport my longing sigh 

To you, dear heart, who’ll surely long as much. 

So happy am I just to think of you,     

Remembering half a hundred joyful days, 

Anticipating half a million new,   

When you return, and laughter skips and plays.     

I’ll miss you, darling yes, but now instead 

of grieving so, I’ll dream of what’s ahead.





“So Much Happiness”

I received this poem  as a thank you for a donation.  Good way to begin your day.

If you need a real laugh to get going today, scroll to end and watch this climactic scene from an opera.

Not sure it was scripted this way.

Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

A Caring Act and a Poem Decades Later

This poem is a story.  A moment when the author was a young boy on an army base and his father deployed.  A life changing event in  160 words.

Someone cared; the boy responded then with his only coin; and decades later, in this poetic remembrance.

Gratitude nurtured with a single act of kindness.

I add the author’s explanation at the end.

To the Young Second Lieutenant Standing Behind Me in Line  by Rob Greene

(at the Keesler AFB Post Exchange in 1987 (Biloxi, Mississippi)

No one looked after me or my brother back then, no CPS,
no Social Workers, the SP’s couldn’t be trusted,
the off-base cops even worse.

When the P-EX mini-mart clerk told me
I wasn’t supposed to be there
and had to leave my Pork & Beans

and bread on the counter, you caught up to me in the parking lot,
my items in your tote bag.
I got caught stealing a sleeved stick of butter

the week prior, but today had returned
with the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin I found in the gutter. All I had was that and my pocketknife for opening cans and gutting fish,

the reason my privileges were revoked.
I wish I had answered your questions—What’s going on?
Why can’t you shop here? Where are your parents?

before darting off into the night with the can and bread,
dropping the piece of money at your feet.

Greene explains how this poem came to be:

“This memory from 1987 came back to me in 2020 and I had to process it, so I made this poem. The female second lieutenant represents all those who tried to help me and my brother Chris at that time. I am especially grateful to the Santiagos on Keesler Air Force Base who first spoke to our father, who had just returned from a year-long assignment in Belgium so he could find us kids, who were living in squalid conditions on the streets of Biloxi for one long year.”


A Poetic Thought Upon the Eve of a New Year

This poem by Jim Moore was written during the pandemic.  It references those experiences that give hope as we navigate the “light and darkness of our days and nights.”   A meditation for entering the New Year.

The Need is So Great

Sometimes I just sit like this at the window and watch
the darkness come. If I’m smart, I’ll put on Bach. 

I’m thinking now of how far it always seems there is to go.
Maybe it is too easy that I speak so often 

of late last light on a December day,
of that stubborn grass that somehow still remains green 

behind the broken chain link fence on the corner.
But the need is so great for the way light looks 

as it takes its leave of us. We say
what we can to each other of these things, 

we who are such thieves, stealing first
one breath and then the next. Bach, keep going 

just this slowly, show me the way to believe
that what matters in this world has already happened 

and will go on happening forever.
The way light falls on the last 

of the stricken leaves of the copper beech
at the end of the block is something to behold. 


The Power of Traditions: Balancing the Old and New

Holidays remind us of past practices, events and stories that have made us who we are as individuals and a country.

But they can be confusing.  For some may view these breaks from the working calendar as simply nostalgia, irrelevant to the present, without  the correct lessons to carry us into the future.

Traditions are hard to maintain. That’s why holidays can help. People and cultures change. The song Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof presents this challenge “keeping balance” between past and present mores within a family and in society.

Credit unions were constructed around tradition.  The founding stories tell of the sponsor group of employees, in a community,  or with members of church drawing  upon their existing “common bond” to create a novel way to improve their collective lives.  In the process they evolve their separate institution, forming a culture of service and a reputation of trust.  They develop their own traditions.

Holidays Recall Stories that Matter

The current holiday season is always special. We rewatch movies that capture the Christmas spirit.  The Inn on 34th Street, Holiday Inn (introducing the song White Christmas), the movie White Christmas, and Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life have a staying power sometimes missing in contemporary Hallmark channel versions.

Whatever a film’s lasting  artistic expression  they all still share the same human story of redemption.

Literature classes in school recite Twas the night before Christmas, or Christina Rosettee’s poem in The Bleak Midwinter (set to music and now widely sung anthem by Gustaf Holst), or other works such as Ring Out Wild Bells from Tennyson and Old Christmas by Washington Irving.

Dickens story of Scrooge is staged again in cities large and small throughout the US. Its themes of personal hardship and insensitive wealth accumulation still speak to us.

Christian religious services begin with Advent.  These four consecutive Sundays’ candle lightings celebrate love, hope, joy and light all in preparation for Christmas day.

Commerce rebounds. It starts with Black Friday. Retailers from department stores to car dealers all offer specials to draw in consumers. The holiday is filled with special sales offers.  Giving Tuesday reminds that life is more than just getting.

The Power of Traditions

The faiths celebrated at Christmas and Hannukah from which these literary and secular manifestations emerge, are stories of ancestors defining their beliefs in actions that inspire current generations.

These faith practices and commercial activities create traditions repeated over  generations. From the lighting of the National Christmas tree to attending midnight mass, people remember.  Whatever their circumstances they  honor the values, spirit and sacrifices that are meaningful in their lives now.

These holiday traditions, sometimes with public parades and spectacles, reinforce meaning and renew hope. Or they  can become a neglected past unrelated to current purpose.

Credit Unions Coping with Traditions

The story of who the credit union is, is communicated by its culture and in the marketplace via a brand.  The founding story is summarized on web sites showing the pioneers who began with no capital, only a desk drawer with founder’s shares, and the desire to serve members with loans.

Every organization must  innovate and move away from prior practices to refresh or sometimes “start over” to remain relevant.  New churches are founded outside current denominational structures to offer a different expression of faith practice, or recover what some feel is a faith lost.   In movies this commercial effort is called a sequel.   Even Scrooge’s stage story has been adapted to 21st century business settings with contemporary casting.

When Traditions Are Discarded

Both religious practice and commercial organizations must grapple with the reality of remaining relevant and potentially losing the power of their story.

Credit unions compete in open markets.  No more protected FOM’s. Members change, so do their needs.  Markets go through cycles.

In most coops the majority of funds are held by older generations, long standing members, many of whom do not borrow.   Management seeks new members often with no previous connection to the credit union and its distinction versus other financial options.  Just another consumer choice, perhaps attracted by price.

Examples are “indirect” lending for autos, student loans, and commercial participations where the business borrower may not even be in the credit union’s geographic market.  No local advantage needed,  just price.

Sometimes this balance of change and tradition is political.  Some wish to conserve the best of the past versus progressives who believe that success was built on limits and concepts that no longer reflect current needs and market realities.

Choices and Beliefs

There is still one commonality whatever the balance between past and present circumstance. The choices each of us make in our professional or personal lives express our values, the beliefs we hold about life’s purpose.

Whether religious, commercial or just lifestyle driven, traditions are efforts to connect within oneself and externally, with others, through shared experience.

Whatever business strategy or “innovations” are introduced, and prior efforts ended, the results are presented as the new rituals for success.

The biggest error is erasing past connections.  It is becoming more common today upon merger or the launch of a market expansion effort to rebrand and to reject past names, associations, and even partnerships in the search for growth.

To dismiss the past as no longer relevant to present circumstance negates shared purpose. Past experience no longer lights the future.  It is stepping off a cliff not knowing how far down is; or taking Christ out of mas.  This may appear a necessary and innovative relaunch for future success; but more likely not. Without a past, there can be no future.

Rebuking tradition without principles is a dead end. For values are the core of cooperative design. With no past, the future becomes a shot in the dark. Survival becomes nothing more than a financial contest attempting just to stay up with overall trends.

Washington Irving’s Old Christmas stories from 1876 remind us of the binding power of tradition.

“Of all the old festivals,” Irving wrote, “that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment.”

This “solemn and sacred tone” is accessible all year round to those who respect the legacy of  prior generations that established their current opportunities.

It also adds to  life’s enjoyment.

Christmas Trees for 3 Cents Each!

The newly cut tree is a universal symbol of this season. The song O Tannenbaum, (O Christmas Tree) celebrates the evergreen as nature’s symbol for this special time of year.

Some families venture out to tree farms to chose their own  center piece for home decorations.

For most who want a live tree, the most common option is a local tree lot—a  temporary stand run by a church, scouting group, volunteer fire fighters as a fund raiser and community service.  Or  shop the  Home Depot or local nursery’s selections.

A common reaction to  this year’s tree buying  is price.   People are surprised at how much this four-week home decoration costs.

“It was $250, and I didn’t even pick the largest one,” observed one home-owner.  An NCUA board member has posted about the price of trees on social networks  to illustrate his awareness of inflation.

Consumerism and Christmas: “The trial by market everything must come to

This is not a new topic.  In 1916 Robert Frost wrote a poem in the form of a playlet, or dialogue between two characters.  One is a person from the city seeking to buy trees wholesale; the other is a country person who grows these on his property.

The  visitor wants the trees for resale in the city.  The country man doesn’t want to sell.  After walking the back slope and estimating the number of trees around 1,000, the visitor offers a price of $30, about 3 cents per tree.

Frost’s contrasts these two perspectives of the trees’ value, both fully present today.

Frost’s Christmas Card

For many decades Frost wrote poems as  his Christmas greeting.  At this poem’s end he refers to the practice by saying:  “I can’t help wishing I could send you one (a tree), in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.”

Following the poem, I compare this offer for a tree crop with today’s prices. But is this  really about the cost of trees in 1916? Or, as he writes:  “To look for something it (city life) had left behind and could not do without and keep its Christmas.”

Christmas Trees


(A Christmas Circular Letter)

 The city had withdrawn into itself

And left at last the country to the country;

When between whirls of snow not come to lie

And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove

A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,

Yet did in country fashion in that there

He sat and waited till he drew us out

A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.

He proved to be the city come again

To look for something it had left behind

And could not do without and keep its Christmas.

He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;

My woods—the young fir balsams like a place

Where houses all are churches and have spires.

I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment

To sell them off their feet to go in cars

And leave the slope behind the house all bare,

Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.

I’d hate to have them know it if I was.

Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except

As others hold theirs or refuse for them,

Beyond the time of profitable growth,

The trial by market everything must come to.

I dallied so much with the thought of selling.

Then whether from mistaken courtesy

And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether

From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,

“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,

You let me look them over.”

“You could look.

But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close

That lop each other of boughs, but not a few

Quite solitary and having equal boughs

All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,

Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,

With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”

I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.

We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,

And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”


“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”


He felt some need of softening that to me:

“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant

To let him have them. Never show surprise!

But thirty dollars seemed so small beside

The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents

(For that was all they figured out apiece),

Three cents so small beside the dollar friends

I should be writing to within the hour

Would pay in cities for good trees like those,

Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools

Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!

Worth three cents more to give away than sell,

As may be shown by a simple calculation.

Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.

I can’t help wishing I could send you one,

In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.


Three cents and Today’s Christmas Tree Purchase

A first class stamp for each of Frost’s Christmas cards would cost 2 cents to mail in 1916.  The buyer offered a penny more for each tree.  Today a first class stamp purchased  singly is 58 cents.

I doubt the wholesale price of trees is under a dollar anywhere as this simple inflation comparison might suggest.

But is price  Frost’s concern? As he can’t “lay a tree” in each card,  is the poem his gift for each reader?

Might this greeting be an example of how he wishes all would appreciate this season?

It is not about the price of trees.


A Special Week of the Year

This last week before Christmas feels different.

Whether activities are secular or sacred, the sense of time becomes more acute.  For some this holiday creates stress; for others, heightened anticipation.

Whether it is Santa or the Three Wisemen bearing gifts (or Amazon or FedEx), there is a  belief bigger than the presents themselves.

In this time of awakening, my posts will be more reflective.  Why does this annual holiday season seem to matter so much, year after year?

Robert Frost’a poem, The Aim Was Song,  is about our effort to understand nature and ourselves.  Poetry is the “song” which he composes.

Before man came to blow it right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong:
It hadn’t found the place to blow;
It blew too hard—the aim was song.
And listen—how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough for north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,
The wind the wind had meant to be—
A little through the lips and throat.
The aim was song—the wind could see.

Thanksgiving Poem

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

Elections. And Truth?

This poem published in 1901 is about the  legendary Muskogee orator and chief, Crazy Snake, who led resistance to federal allotment of Muskogee lands.

The author, DeWitt Clinton Duncan, was born in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia in 1829. A poet, short story writer, and essayist, he was an attorney for the Cherokee Nation and a translator of Cherokee law, as well as a teacher of Latin, English, and Greek.

The opening line is an allusion to line thirty-three of William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Battle-Field,” which reads “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again”—an idea which this poem sharply contradicts.

Which “truth” will rise today?

“Truth crushed to earth will rise again,”
   ’Tis sometimes said. False! When it dies,
Like a tall tree felled on the plain,
   It never, never more, can rise.

Dead beauty’s buried out of sight;
   ’Tis gone beyond the eternal wave;
Another springs up into light,
   But not the one that’s in the grave.

I saw a ship once leave the shore;
   Its name was “Truth;” and on its board
It bore a thousand souls or more:
   Beneath its keel the ocean roared.

That ship went down with all its crew.
   True: other ships as proud as she,
Well built, and strong, and wholly new,
   Still ride upon that self-same sea.

But “Truth,” and all on her embarked
   Are lost in an eternal sleep,
(The fatal place itself unmarked)
   Far down in the abysmal deep.

Let fleeing Aguinaldo speak;
   And Oc̅eola from his cell;
And Sitting Bull, and Crazy Snake;
   Their story of experience tell.

There is no truth in all the earth
   But there’s a Calvary and a Cross;
We scarce have time to hail its birth,
   Ere we are called to mark its loss.

The truth that lives and laugh’s a sneak,
   That crouching licks the hand of power,
While that that’s worth the name is weak,
   And under foot dies every hour.