Thinking about 7: Part 4

We'll see if there end up being seven parts about 7 by Jen Hatmaker. I wouldn't be surprised.

I've always loved John Wesley's financial advice: "Make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can." But spending money is obviously unavoidable, and it's helpful to think through the ethics and principles of how we do this.

As Heidi commented on the last post, "spending money does keep a lot of people employed." While the field of economics is most definitely not my forte, I understand this at least a little better than I used to.

We started getting our house cleaned every three weeks about a year ago, thanks to a wonderfully generous baby shower gift certificate from the Moms in Faith group. I felt a little ambivalent about such a luxury, but we quickly discovered that we loooooooove getting our house cleaned. It gave us a clean house, more time for other things, and perhaps most importantly, it removed the almost constant anxiety (and subsequent crankiness) I felt about our house not being clean enough. It was, in short, totally worth continuing after we'd used up the gift certificate funds. Given our undying love for professional housecleaning and our tighter budget, we recently decided that we wouldn't discontinue the service completely, but we should stretch it out to four or five weeks between cleanings. I suddenly found myself experiencing a new guilt - having to tell our dependable and hardworking cleaner that she has been furloughed.

So I get that spending money can be a very good thing for the economy. But I also get that our economy is rife with excess and injustice.

There are ways to spend money that perpetuate the bad, like buying cheap clothes that were manufactured in sweatshop conditions and donating them to Goodwill when their poor quality causes the fabric to fray or pill less than a year later. (If you think donating clothes [like we did Saturday] is a purely helpful practice, read this recent article in Slate.)

But there are also ways to spend money that are socially and environmentally responsible. We have a long, loooooooong way to go on this. Especially during tight times, it's hard to make the decision to buy the more expensive fairly traded product. That's one of the reasons I'm glad for the CSA model for our vegetables; having made the decision - and written the check - to buy this organic, locally-grown produce at the beginning of the summer, I don't have to comparison shop. Because I tell you what: when I'm standing in the market getting sticker shock over how much pricier the organic strawberries are, the conventionally-grown pint does cartwheels into my shopping cart.

Another thing. I think it's easy to paint oneself into a corner and start believing that any sort of nonessential expenditure is inherently wrong. It's true that the money we spend on luxuries could often be spent more altruistically. But it's also true that we need beauty.

While there are plenty of ways this applies to me personally, I can't help but think about the stained glass windows at church. We are currently in the process of replacing several windows with replicas of the original windows that were designed by the architect (George Grant Elmslie). There was nothing wrong with the windows that are being replaced - they simply weren't the original ones, and many people found them to be aesthetically and theologically out of place. Gifts were given to cover the cost of the restoration project. Last spring, the congregation had to vote whether or not to accept the gifts and replace the windows. There were diverse opinions about it - and wow, let me just say that what could have been an ugly conflict in an unhealthy congregation was a marvelously civil discussion. While some folks questioned the appropriateness of spending a large amount of money on our building when people are hungry, we had to remember that we weren't deciding between mission and stained glass windows. We were deciding whether or not to accept donations that were earmarked for a specific purpose.

I personally supported the project. I thought that there is something to be said for employing craftsmen. In a bum economy, how many stained glass artisans have steady work? As for the deeper question, on the one hand, when you look at the treasures owned by churches - art and artifacts and architecture, oh my - and look at global poverty, you might be justified in issuing a hearty "WtF...?!" But I don't think the answer to injustice is the vilification of art as a shamefully bourgeois extravagance. Again, we need beauty.

We also need to glorify God. And I hope that ultimately, we aren't doing this for our own edification but as a means of glorifying God. Just as the ministers endeavor to prepare faithful sermons and authentic prayers, just as the musicians offer up anthems of praise and thanksgiving, just as the youth group travels hundreds of miles every spring to build houses for people in need - so too, can't excellent architecture be offered as a means of worshiping God? 

I think so. To throw yet another disparate image into this mix, I'm thinking of that extraordinary quote from Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." That is running to the glory of God.

In the book, Hatmaker talks about how there is a time for fasting - but there is also a time for feasting. Perhaps the stained glass windows are a feast. (And all the construction dust we're dealing with right now? Definitely a fast.)

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