James K.A. Smith has written extensively on how our hearts are—often unintentionally—formed by our habits. What investing habits are we participating in that may be subtly shaping our view of money?
French philosopher Simone Weil once said that “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
In many and various ways, contributors to the ECFI Journal have emphasized that faithful investing requires intentionality; that is, paying attention to what our investments are fueling and being alert to the ways we can participate in cultivating good in the world by empowering enterprises seeking to increase human flourishing.
Lament offers a powerful way of paying attention, and that’s what makes this uncomfortable spiritual discipline an aid to investors.
I’m not speaking of the more familiar kind of lament: that which emerges from our own, inward suffering (as important as that is). Rather, I’m talking about what is sometimes referred to as prophetic lament. This arises when we are paying attention in two directions—upward and outward. Prophetic lament emerges when we’re actively heeding that which breaks God’s heart and mindfully alert to the cries of our neighbors.
Even though the Trinity is an eternal community of joy, Scripture tells us that God laments. In Genesis 6:5-6 we are told that God grieved upon watching humankind’s pervasive evildoing. In Isaiah 63:10 we see that the Spirit is grieved by human rebellion. And in John 11:35, Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ grave, grieving over the reality of death that sin introduced into God’s good world.
Growing closer to our compassionate Lord involves a willingness to let our hearts be broken by the things that break God’s. The apostle Peter speaks of “sharing in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). That deep concept undoubtedly includes multiple layers of meaning, but surely lament is one. Christ grieves over the world’s pain and unrighteousness. As his disciples, we are invited to participate in that groaning. When we willingly choose this painful path, when we draw close to Jesus’ own anguished soul, our own hearts expand. InterVarsity’s Sarah Shin explains that as we enter the Father’s heart through lament, “the chambers and rooms of our hearts” are enlarged to reflect the bounteous house of the Father.
The practice of prophetic lament also connects us more richly to neighbors in pain. We are all tempted to turn aside from others’ suffering; after all, we may feel we are already bearing too much of our own. Moreover, the sheer volume of misery in the world is numbing. And the way in which we receive word of the world’s woes can contribute to that desensitized feeling. Watching the TV news, we’re exposed to a 60-second report on the horrors of famine or war someplace far off, followed immediately by multiple, high-volume advertisements for mundane products like floor cleaner, dog food, and toothpaste. How is our brain, much less our heart, to process such strange juxtapositions?
In prophetic lament, though, we slow down to name, with specificity and raw candor, particular griefs arising from injustice. We may not be able to name a discrete victim, but we narrow our focus to a distinct group in a definite place or situation. We raise a sorrowful plea to God to act on behalf of residents of a specific war-ravaged city. We pray feelingly for a particular oppressed people group. We lift up these persons to God with Psalm-like prayers: How long, O Lord, will these have to suffer? Hear, O Lord, their cries! Do not hide yourself, O God, from these in trouble! Such words on our lips deepen compassion in our hearts, moving us from merely being aware of others’ pain to joining them, at an emotional level, in that pain. In short, lament forms us into better neighbors—better because our hearts become softer toward them.
Choosing to practice this kind of lament is not easy. It’s also uncommon in our culture and in much of the American church. Congregational worship leans towards praise and celebration. That’s not bad, but it is insufficient, given the prevalence of lament in Scripture. Theologian Soong-Chan Rae observes in Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times that “we live in a cultural context that upholds triumph and victory but fails to engage with suffering.”
But I believe lament is a needed practice for investors for at least three reasons.
First, the anguished cry of “How can this be?” is a necessary precursor to redemptive action. It is those who lament who long intensely for change. Lamenters develop a fire in the belly to act in response to the pain. Investors who intentionally engage in lament become investors who are eager for God to use their capital in ways that address the world’s brokenness.
Second, lament helps us nurture the heart posture for a relational involvement in whatever the redemptive action is. Personal lament is always very specific. We name and bring to God the unique dimensions of our wounds and hardships. Similarly, the trajectory of prophetic lament is toward specificity. In this practice, we intentionally move from awareness about “The Poor” to concern about a particular group of vulnerable people (e.g., single moms living in the nearby homeless shelter). We move from knowledge about the harms of industrial pollution to compassion for a particular village whose residents are sick with cancer because of it. “Issues” become less abstract, and our hearts begin feeling emotionally connected to those affected by them.
Third, lament helps our hearts shift to an “impact-first” posture over a “return-first” posture when it comes to the investments we deploy in response to the situations over which we are lamenting. Motivated by our heart affections, our first priority will be to relieve suffering, or create opportunity, or design effective safeguards that minimize the chances of the injustice being repeated. We may still be very interested in the return of our capital (perhaps in order to re-deploy it toward another redemptive initiative) but we will not demand a high financial return if that could compromise the restorative good we’re longing for.
God grieves and is angered when human beings exploit one another. Practicing prophetic lament, we agree with God and allow our hearts also to be broken by exploitation. One way to express our solidarity with God’s heart in our investing practice is to avoid investing in corporations that profit from human addictions. Companies involved with gambling, pornography, or tobacco can generate high financial returns specifically because they benefit from people becoming addicted to their products. Such a dynamic is repulsive to our compassionate Lord. I believe spending even a small amount of time in lament over the innumerable scars and miserable ripple effects produced by these forms of addiction will make the idea of being enriched financially by them unthinkable.
There is no shortage of human woe in our fallen world, and we can quickly become overwhelmed by just how many neighbors near and far are suffering. But the emotional energy required by prophetic lament will drive us, necessarily, to narrow our focus to only a few situations or causes. God superintends this process, pricking our hearts with particular concerns and/or orchestrating circumstances through which we become personally aware of certain needs or injustices—and not others. Typically, this happens through the ways God intersects our lives with the lives of real people in need (as opposed to the crowd of faces we may see on the nightly news). It may also unfold as a result of the specific neighborhood God calls us to live in, the particular missions focus of the church we’re part of, or the issues with which we become familiar as a result of the field in which we work.
By choosing to lean into prophetic lament for these particular neighbors (at home or abroad), we will be stirred to better understand their conditions through research and dialogue. This then creates insights that can inform our financial investments.
For example, through God’s providence I’ve had a couple personal connections to the issue of safe water. One is my former involvement in international Christian relief and development, through which I learned about the desperate need for safe water in a community of families living in and around the Guatemala City garbage dump. Another is a personal friendship with a family living in Flint, MI. That city’s water contamination woes were thrust into the national spotlight in 2014. These connections have motivated two of my investments, one in the public markets and one in a crowd-funded private equity deal. I own shares in a publicly traded mutual fund that is composed of companies engaged in positive water-related activities in the U.S. and abroad. I also own some equity in a start-up company whose business model involves transforming contaminated industrial wastewater into usable water.
Elsewhere in this Journal I’ve written about other-centered investing. My selfish heart continues to struggle with that notion. Often when I’ve thought about the words “lament” and “investing,” what I’m focused on is my sorrow over some part of my portfolio that’s decreasing in value. But I’m finding that the practice of prophetic lament is gradually forming my heart in a more Christ-honoring direction. It reminds me of God’s passionate concern for the suffering and of his invitation to join him in his mission of restoration.
I used to think this was relevant only to my charitable giving. But I’ve come to understand that “my” investment portfolio is also his. While the purpose of investing includes more than addressing the specific pains God brings to my awareness and sphere of action, it is not less than this. The practice of lament is helping keep that truth alive in my heart.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.