As a Dungeon Master to the Stars who has been Born Again as a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, let me begin with the words of another whip-wielding master, a man who turned the tables on the money changers, and whose way of life was more humble than any Dumpster and whose ability to think on his feet would have put his competitor and fellow trickster, Diogenes, to shame. His thoughts on seeds.
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
[30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?] 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Mat 13:24-30 [+ 36-43]
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
Luk 8:5-8 [+ 4,11-15]
[4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:] 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
I am reading piles of books and articles on how to help a client with philanthropy. Some show how a gift can be contextualized in the donor's financial and estate plan. Some emphasize the importance of a plan connecting a gift via a logic model to a desired social result. Some contextualize the gift within the donor's family, how it helps pass on family values, or helps raise healthy children. Others stress that some families are multi-generational dynasties where philanthropy is part of a complex picture with parents, grandparents, and cousins related via many entities (trusts, foundations, businesses, wills, prenups, divorce settlements, family councils and assemblies). Some relate giving to the donor's values, or community tradition, such as religion. Some bring the nonprofit into the center of the picture and see giving under the aspect of fundraising. Where given so many perspectives, so much potential analysis and planning, does one begin?
I notice that most of the leading books and articles on constructing a giving plan make use of two main carryovers from the world of business: The form of a business plan (from vision to strategies to tactics, or from principles, to policies, to plans), and the language of investment. (investing time, money, and talent.) One bottom line. Two bottom lines. Three bottom lines. But always the language of finance, accounting, and business. These ways of looking at the world, of pulling all that matters under the master metaphor of money and markets, and then managing it all via hierarchically organized plans, is relatively recent and may blind us to another wisdom, one revealed more readily with metaphors or parables drawn from agriculture (culture/cultivation).
The apple seed within one apple, among many branches, among many trees in an orchard contains not only another apple, and another apple tree, but many orchards.
What is the seed of social change? Are we the sower, the seed, the mighty mustard tree, the barren ground, the weed choking out the wheat, or the harvest?
Jesus, like Diogenes, or Socrates, or such Stoics as Seneca and Cicero, is using language not to inform, but to transform those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. (Many do not hear, and many are meant not to hear for Jesus is speaking under hostile Roman eyes, his life at risk.) His words are like a seed that falling in a crack in a boulder grows in the dirt there and splits the stone open. Socrates, likewise, likened his own work as a moral philosopher to that of a doctor, as did Seneca and Cicero, and about all the other Hellenistic Philosophers. Usually the doctor analogy goes to the point about curing moral disease. Socrates, though, with a straight face said he was the "midwife" to his male interlocutor's soul. There the seed when it grows must split the self wide open in birth. If we take this point to heart, that we are but the rind, and that the seed lives or dies in us, and that it will ruin us in the process if it does live, as St. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus, then the machinery of planning and investment outlined above seems not only sterile but a monument to vanity.With such Planning the Pharisees built Temples and the Romans built roads, aqueducts and the Colosseum. Seneca, reminding us that life is short, exhorted us: Cultivate humanity. Rather than talking of "investing in heirs," or "investing in human capital, social capital, and intellectual capital," or planning for bottonline results in line with our vision and values, perhaps we should begin with seeking that tiny mustard seed, the tiny speck blowing across the client's financial statement, a little thing we brush away with the back of our hand, so it falls on the wooden floor, or the carpet, an almost invisible thing that, had it been properly cultivated, might have given birth to another world entirely, conquering even death, perhaps.