06 January 2022

Zero-based budgeting for 2022

When I was studying political science in university in Ottawa, Ontario, zero-based budgeting was just beginning to attract interest on the federal level in Canada. Theoretically, the idea was simple: annual budgets should be rewritten from scratch every year. Instead of adding or removing a few percent from the previous years’ budget items, each line item had to justify itself anew. 

As it turned out, it was impossible to implement zero-based budgeting completely. The analysis required would probably have cost more money than the method would have saved. But some provincial and state governments and also some companies in private industry implemented some version of the idea.

As we begin a new year, I wonder if we could implement something like this in our spiritual lives.

Instead of resetting our expense-side line items to zero, we might do something like the opposite. We could re-set our grace levels to 100%. We could zero out our shame and self-recriminations, setting our guilt levels and repentance accounts only to the level required by truth. Same with lingering grievances over injuries caused by others: keep the data required for truth and healthy boundaries, and zero out everything else.

A long time ago, my wife Judy assured me, "You already have maximum points." I can’t exactly remember the context -- maybe I was doing something to try to win her approval. Whatever its origins, we have not forgotten the idea. After we’ve had an argument or something, I sometimes ask her, “Do I still have maximum points?” When she says, “Yes, of course!”, I know things are ok. Each of us often makes sure that the other knows they have “maximum points.”

My hope for you at the opening of this budget year, if you’ll endure my metaphor for bit longer, is that you’ll realize that you go into the new year with a grace balance of “maximum points” and a zero balance of toxic regrets and self-recriminations.

On the last Sunday of 2021, I gave a sermon at Spokane Friends Meeting based on this idea of zero-based budgeting. ("Zero-based budgeting" as a sermon title -- wouldn't that be about the exact opposite of clickbait in church bulletins?!) Afterwards, someone commented, "what about guilt that we should feel?"

As you might expect from a good Protestant, I thought right away of Romans 3:23, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (context). But do we assume right away that, even after putting our trust in God and believing God's promises, we should insist on clinging to that state? Repentance is a crucial concept in Christian spirituality, but it has everything to do with a clear-eyed assessment of ourselves before God, and a decision to turn our lives God-wards, making restitution where necessary, and nothing to do with a self-flagellating worm mentality.

Robert Barclay looked straight at the doctrine of innate depravity, and gave us Quakers what I think is a beautifully balanced approach -- without concealing either our predisposition (left to our own devices) to sin, or the hope of return to our original innocence.

I love the words of Anthony Bloom, giving us another way of looking at that balance -- inviting us to stand before almight God with awe as well as self-regard:

When we're in conversation with a friend, our husband, our wife, with those close to us, we try to speak truthfully and with due regard. And that's how we have to learn to speak with God. But when we are speaking with God, asking God for something, praying about something (though of course this doesn't cover every aspect of our prayer life), we must remember that we are standing before God's sheer greatness and glory.

But not just that. We must remember that a human being is not a reptile [in Russian, the word "reptile" is a participle of the verb to crawl on one's belly], that we stand before God in all the innate worth of our humanity. We mean a lot to God. When God created us, God desired us into existence. God created us, giving us life by God's power not just so that we might toil our life away, only to appear one day before the Judgment. God created us out of love. [From Conversations on Prayer; emphasis in original.]

But there's more. As we consider our opening balances for the new year, Paul reminds us that, in the body of Christ, we are each other's wealth. (Ephesians 1:17-19a; context; gender usage as in NIV.)

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Those riches consist, in part, in our sheer diversity of gifts and temperaments, including those who remind us to repent, and those who remind us not to overdo it! All our gifts work together, as Paul says later in Ephesians, to

equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [Ephesians 4:12-13, context. NIV]

In other words, when the eyes of our hearts have been opened, we all have maximum points ... together.

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Understanding January 6: "Armed flash mobs."

Diane Randall reviews the past year for Religion News Service.

Katie Prout interviews her neighbor Ann, who has lived on their Chicago street "for the better part of a century."

More from Greaseland: Lady Bianca, "Stay Right There."

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