I find it really difficult to talk about money. For me it brings up all sorts of issues: fear, guilt, shame. When I think about money, I often have a tightness in my chest and I feel like I need to change the subject. So let me be honest up front: I am not always great with money. I sometimes buy things I don’t need. I don’t give away as much as I should. I don’t spend my money as ethically as I want to. I also have a lot of debt. It’s almost exclusively student loan debt. I went to a very expensive seminary because I knew I would need that school to open doors for me. Unfortunately I didn’t really understand student loans and took more out than I should have. I’m not sure how I will ever pay them back.
Why share all of this? Because when I think about what it means to live radically, so much revolves around money. It revolves around how much you spend (or don’t spend) and where you spend it. It revolves around how much you are invested in the system or not. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. I am envious of folks who can raise the money (and get away from work) to go on Christian Peacemaker Teams, or the folks that are able to figure out how to buy a house and turn their yard into a garden. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do those things (even though they are things that I value). So often when I read books about New Monasticism, there is never any conversation about how one gets the money to buy a community house. I want us to be able to have those conversations, to be able to talk about the ways that money affects the work that we are able to do.
Sometimes I think about what I feel called to do: I feel called to church planting, to running Camp Osiris, to trying to be more like Jesus. But I also have bills to pay and student loans to attempt to pay. How in the world can I do what I’m called to do? Sometimes I worry that I won’t have enough money for bus fare to get to work and back, or that I won’t have enough money for food. And some weeks I buy too many books because I just want to do something that brings a bit of joy.
I don’t like thinking that my worth is tied up in money. I want to believe that money means nothing, that it’s just paper. But then I feel so guilty when I get a phone call saying I am late on a student loan payment. Or I feel really bad that I bought the cheap vegetables instead of the organic ones, but I only had so much money to buy all of my food for the week.
I don’t have any easy answers here, but I think we need to start removing the shame around money. I have loved the work of the Strike Debt campaign which purchases medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then abolishes it. I think important conversations need to be had about the cost of seminary education (or about ordination without a master of divinity). I know, for me, I’m not planning on getting paid for church planting which means I’ll need to be bi-vocational. I am okay with that, but it does mean that money is more difficult (and my time is more crunched). It’s one of the reasons I am crowdfunding for start up costs: I don’t want us, as a new church, to be spending our money on things like church supplies. Instead I want to see us giving back to our community. But I can’t afford to buy church supplies out of pocket and so I look for people who believe in the work we’re doing.
I also want churches to be having hard conversations about how they are spending money. When I see some budgets I am shocked at what they are spending money on (especially when their clergy are either suffering to make ends meet or dealing with terrible health insurance situations).
Our relationship with money needs to change. We need to figure out ways to free ourselves from tying our worth with our wealth. Maybe that’s the first step we take toward living radically around money.
Can you chip in to support House of the Transfiguration? It’s a new, radical, Old Catholic community starting in Minneapolis.