I just spent the weekend on a retreat with The Urban Servant Corps in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The USC has been described as "The Real World" for do-gooders. The volunteers sign on to live in intentional community for one year while doing social justice and advocacy work at non-profits (homeless shelters, outreach to sex workers, English as a Second Language clinics, Legal aid etc..); in solidarity with their clients they also live in voluntary poverty for the year. Their expenses are covered and they get $75 a month for a stipend. For the most part these are young people who have just finished college. I fell in love with these guys. I was there to talk about emerging church and to learn from them about their experiences. The weekend was spent at a Lutheran Church and everyone just slept on the floor or in pews.
I have an old friend who lives in Santa Fe who allowed me to stay in the guest house of her father's property which she recently inherited. It ends up that this place is pretty famous. It's called The Carlos Vierra House, named after the artist who designed and built the house from 1918-1920 as a demonstration of a new style which Santa Fe is now famous for. It is for sale for $3.2 million dollars in case any of my readers are looking for a cozy little property in the American Southwest. I also got to see my friend's house outside of town which she is going to great expense to create as sort of a modern design opus (her home includes an adjoining chapel).
I'm still trying to process the distance between the two experiences of voluntary poverty and voluntary wealth, especially in light of Lent and my desire to look at my own habits around spending money. I'm not purchasing new personal possessions during Lent and am giving away one possession per day. Before you start thinking that I'm too spiritually healthy just know two things: first, this has been harder than I anticipated which means that I buy stuff for myself a hell of a lot more than I realized going into this deal and second, that I have failed. Not hugely failed, but failed nonetheless. I bought this Mary Magdalene magnet that says "Patron Saint of Fallen Women", and an icon of the Trinity. These purchases were justified as business related expenses. How funny is that? I guess what I'm getting to is that I cannot feel smug about tithing or living simply because when it comes down to it, I love stuff as much as the next gal. Just because I give away more than 10% of my income doesn't mean that I then am justified in buying whatever I want with the rest, moreover it doesn't give me permission to judge how others spend their money. Perhaps I could get away with the latter if I lived self-sacrificially, but in reality I don't.
I'm trying to remove the language of justification from my vocabulary. Why did I buy a 30 gig iPod last year with my birthday money (plus $80)? Because I deserve it? Because I tithed first and the rest is mine? Because I'd been wanting one for so long and since I waited it's justified? No. I bought it because I wanted it and I was indulging myself, pure and simple. Was it wrong to do so? Maybe not, but it sure as hell wasn't a virtue, which the previous justifications try and make it out to be. I guess I'm learning this Lent that I want to not only be more honest about why I spend money on myself but to also just do a lot less of it., this would mirror my values more. I never feel empty or regretful after giving money away, but I do after wasting it on stupid stuff, it's kind of too bad that I really love the stupid stuff! I want to be more like my sister who seeks to live extremely frugally so that she can be extravagantly generous. Gimme some of that!
Forgive me when I think that I deserve the abundance of wealth in my life. (we both know that If I did get what I deserve I'd be pretty screwed) Help my to not mask indulgence as virtue. When I am tempted to judge the wealthy gently remind me that to almost every other person on the planet I am the wealthy.
In Jesus' name,