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By John Pierce

Someday I hope to meet Rembrant (Rem) Stokes. I’ve learned a lot from him already.

One of his Clemson University classmates of old shared with me a copy of Rem’s book, Cultivating Generosity: Giving What’s Right, Not What’s Left (LifeRich Publishing, 2013).

His writing has the structure of an engineer and the content of one who’s grasped the joyful importance of generosity.

A mechanical engineer, Rem spent many years designing telephone apparatus for Ma Bell and then worked for Motorola. He holds 22 patents.

He also invented the laminated coinage that the U.S. Treasury adopted in 1964 to save silver. His larger mission, however, is “the ministry of money.”

“This ubiquitous thing called money is woven into almost every aspect of our lives,” he writes in the book’s introduction.”

He challenges the notion that money is a subject not to be discussed. In fact, he says, the purpose of his writing is “to present a series of activities that will mellow the reluctance to discuss money, to help [church] members feel better about themselves and, ultimately, to cultivate generosity by indirection.”

Although I’ve led a non-profit organization for nearly 15 years, I confess to struggling at times to fully embrace the notion that asking for money for an important cause is not the same as asking for oneself. This book, which echoes the voices of others who have encouraged me through recent years, is most helpful.

This volume manifested itself over many decades — beginning in 1953 when Stokes, then 23, took part in his New Jersey congregation’s capital campaign.

“I learned in the anguished faces of hundreds of parishioners that it is a very unnatural thing to give up one’s hard-earned money,” he writes.

Like many of us, he was taught from childhood that some subjects should not be widely discussed: sex, politics, religion and money. But he notes: “One taboo after another has fallen … but not money!”

Good fund-raising strategies abound, he notes. However, success is more closely tied to “attitudes” than “mechanics.” Hence his willingness, even eagerness, to address in this book the importance of “cultivating a culture of generosity.”

His focus, therefore, is less on meeting organizational funding goals and more on helping individuals “come to grips with the psychological issues behind money behaviors.”

Stokes notes: “We are so willing to show off the trappings of money, but so reluctant to discuss it.” He digs into that reluctance.

He offers a three-part approach beginning with “Program Planning” — that helps members/participants to become more widely involved in the financial issues that are allocated to the various ministry programs.

The second part, “Gaining Control,” helps those who are willing to be more financially supportive but need to manage their money better.

“Overcoming Reluctance,” the third part, shifts the focus to attitudes about money. This is addressed through small groups sessions.

Stokes explores the psychological dimensions of money that most persons have never considered. Money, he notes, is often tied to a sense of worth.

“Very few other values — like love, compassion, mercy and justice — can be quantified,” he writes. “While they are infinitely more important to the social fabric of life, they cannot be measured. So money creeps in as a substitute measure of human worth.”

Money, he notes, has taken on negative connotations of being dirty, filthy and materialistic. He calls for new language that affirms its potential as “an agent of goodness.”

He makes this strong, good and challenging point: “If there is to be an approach to discussing money-related issues that is comfortable and constructive, it should come from the church… and if there is to be a spiritual content to money that promotes community building rather than self-interest, it should come from the church.”

To avoid a discussion of money, Stokes points out, is to avoid the larger mission of the church.

“Can the church address the real needs of people without discussing money — when the real lives of the people are wrapped up so completely in money?” he asks, pointing out that family breakdowns and other social struggles are often tied to the misuse of money.

These are spiritual — not just money — issues, he notes.

His clear and applicable guidance can be constructive in various settings — with the help of a “spark plug who believes in the process and has the motivation to keep the energy level high.” Or, even better, more than one spark plug giving attention to different aspects of the program.

While lacking the knowledge and experience to fully evaluate the particular approaches suggested in this book, I do find the values and attitudes to be righty placed and clearly needed.

“Somewhere we lost the cornerstone of our heritage,” he writes. “The one that is chiseled with the words: ‘It is better to give than to receive.’”

Rem Stokes is helping us recover that cornerstone — words from none other than the one we claim to follow and seek to emulate.

I appreciate Rem’s good words — and his kind and generous friend (and mine), P.L. McCall Jr., for sharing this most helpful resource. Cultivating Generosity is available from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and elsewhere.

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