Money matters


When I had a church in New England, my husband and I developed a friendship with the funeral director, so he often asked us to do services. It was an honor to do them, and it was really nice to get the check.

Brian was at home, taking care of our young daughter, and we were very grateful that we were able to have a parent caring for her. But the money got tight. We lived frugally (no cell phone, no internet, no cable, no new clothes, etc.). But it still seemed like every cent we had went on another bill.

But not the funeral money. For some reason, we always spent that money. We called it our “folk art fund.” We deposited the check right away and before it was gone to an unexpected house or car repair, we went to our favorite shops and spent it. We would laugh with the storeowners, who would see us coming and ask, “Who died?”

It was one of my favorite memories. At a time when we could rarely afford Christmas, we would hold a little celebration for ourselves every couple of months. And now we have a house full of odds and ends, little things that we picked up which remind us of those tender first years as pastors.

I had a deep internal struggle too, at the time. Actually, I still do.

I was trying really hard to be a good steward, in the sense that I was not buying things. I tried not to consume. Not only because we couldn’t afford it, but also because I was trying to be counter-cultural, to opt out of our debt-and-spend society. I always asked myself, “Is it a need or is it a want?” And if it was a want, it went back on the shelf.

But…I also could not deny it, buying things, in cold hard cash, gave me a certain pleasure. Purchasing something handmade and beautiful, a piece of artwork that we didn’t “need” was a really lovely thing.

It was about that time that someone said me, “One reason to have money is to enjoy it.”

It was a shock to me. Really. I thought of money as evil, the core of everything bad. As a clergy person, I was fighting against money, and for the spiritual things.

In Texas, a father, with two preteen daughters, who had just gone through an awful divorce, decided to give his daughters an “alternative gift” that Christmas. The daughters were living with their mom, and had rare visits with dad. I advised him not to go that route. The girls needed to know, in every possible way, that he loved them. It was an important moment in their lives. He needed to give the gift, because that’s often how we show love and affection in our society.

There are ways of going too far, for sure. There are times when we try to buy the affection of others. We don’t acknowledge that we’re consuming far too much of the world’s resources.

Yet, even as counter-cultural Christians must we give all of our gifts to the Heifer Project? Can we have some guilt-free room to enjoy the beauty of giving and receiving? Can we think of money as a spiritual thing–a positive spiritual thing? Can we learn to enjoy money?

photo’s by planeta


7 thoughts on “Money matters

  1. Love the folk art fund and see it as a redemption/resurrection making thing. You chose wisely.

    Abundant life, yadda yadda yadda.

    Really though, to spend every cent on utility bill and milk is soul-sapping. To support a local artist? Heavenly. Those little treats of life are critical.

    This is why I don’t mind when a father barely making it occasionally comes by for financial help and tells me he’s going to use a small part to buy something for his kids – like a McDonald gift certificate so they can have a “fun lunch.”

    Money is to enjoy. Plus some other things.

  2. Thanks for all the beautiful folk art.

    The magi and Mary lavished unecessary, expensive gifts on Jesus. So, since I grew up poor I always think that it is either/or. Having and using money is either good or evil. Yet, when I read scripture in total it has a mixed, contradictory message about money. I personally need to remember that a true gift is always meant for good.


  3. I agree with jan about the folk art. I think art and books (just another kind of art) are so precious. They feed the soul. And I love visiting your house and seeing your stuff. Knowing the story behind it is even better.

    I struggle with the alternative gift thing. R and I always used to do the hundred-dollar Christmas, making all of our gifts from scratch. Simple things–candles, a cookbook of our favorite recipes, baked goods. It’s much harder to make homemade toys for children though! Yet I don’t like the symbolism of “grownups get the loving-hands-of-home things, children get the shiny plastic crap” either.

    What I really would like is to make something for everyone, and if we see something in a store that a loved one might like, to buy that for him/her, without feeling like that escalates things to the point that everyone must get a store-bought gift or feel left out. Some years we’ll see something for Cousin J, other years it might be someone else.

    Sigh. Gift giving should not be so difficult.

  4. well, my husband is a musician (another kind of artist). Where would people like him (and folk artists) be if we didn’t recognize the value of their work? If we can, even in a small way, I do think that is a part of our stewardship. Because so much of what passes for “art” now is just massed produced for (Large Discount Stores).

    I think about the past, when our lifestyles were different, and many ordinary folks created folk art for themselves (quilts, etc). I want to have values that say things like this have value, not just things made by machines to kind of look like art.

    I know I can’t afford hand-made painted dresses at art fairs. We do have to live within our means.

    But art — whether music, fine art, writing, poetry, is something I value. And I think the fact that there are artists makes the world a better place.

  5. “see it as a redemption/resurrection making thing.”

    Yes! I always thought of it this way too. It became a celebration of the cycle of life, another way in which that person left his/her mark in our lives, and a reminder that his/her life would be transformed and molded into something new.

    RM, Little C’s actually starting to ask for big stuff now. IPod Shuffle, DVD player, American Girl doll. It kind of freaked me out, and I (of course) said she needed to settle on one item. But now that I think about it, it will be nice to give her one thing, rather than a truck-full of the shiny crap…

    Diane, this post started out to be on how the church should support artists…but it went somewhere else. I haven’t forgotten that message though. And I’ll write about it soon. Indeed, “artists make the world a better place.”

    May you get a room of your own soon!

  6. In the Episcopal Church (at least — maybe others, too) there was a tradition that funeral stipends always went to the parson’s wife to buy a new dress! Now that’s dated, but the same sentiment, I think — “death money” should be spent on something pretty and frivolous, something that will make the world more beautiful. In my retirement-age parish, Heifer, etc. are popular gifts, since they’re often given to grandkids who live at a distance. The kids get a kick out of having a flock of chickens or a goat given in their name, and good gets done. The material gifts are provided by parents, who are close at hand and know better what’s needed and wanted. For me gifts, the joy of giving and receiving, are for my most loved ones, or the ones I’m close enough to, to see their faces when they open the box! God really does love us and wants us to be happy. God gives us money to buy pretties, as well as to feed the poor — as long as what we give ourselves is in some balance with what we give to others.

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