When Dad first told me he wanted to write a book reflecting on his own struggle/experience/reflections with wealth and faith I thought it was a brilliant idea. Then he not only actually wrote it, but it was much better than I could have imagined. I’ve always known he was a good writer, and as someone that has always enjoyed
been forced to proof-read the families annual Christmas letter, been a sounding board for blog posts, and held a nostalgia for someday writing as much as he does (I’m an extrovert, let’s get real, it may never happen) – I’m really, really proud of him for not only accomplishing this but doing it so thoughtfully.
For the last 33 years I’ve watched my parents gracefully (and sometimes not so gracefully) practice generosity, be willing to go outside of their comfort zones, take on a posture of listening, and spend exorbitant amounts of money on wine and dinner parties. They know that at the end of the day money is not the answer. People – and love – are.
So, I sat down with Dad to ask him a few questions about his book. If you haven’t already, you can order a copy here.
My entire life you’ve been an example to me of balancing wealth with generosity. What made you want to write this book? Besides the possibility of making more money, of course. Oh wait, didn’t you say you were going to donate the proceeds to The SOLD Project?
It started with my blog. Questions about wealth, poverty, and how to navigate the tension between the two kept showing up in the posts. I’ve read a lot of books about generosity, stewardship, serving the poor, etc., but the authors seldom seemed to have really struggled with the tensions inherent in all of that.
So I thought, hey, I can do this! And that’s how the book came about.
Oh, and yes, I’ll gladly donate all the net profits from the book to SOLD. But don’t expect much — it’s not exactly a profitable venture!
I remember seasons that were incredibly luxurious and seasons where you scaled back a bit. Do you feel like there are natural ‘bumpers’ you set for yourself as you live a life of wealth balanced with a life of following Jesus?
I’ll humbly admit those “natural bumpers” are probably more the cause of the economy than my own internal regulator! I wish I had that kind of self control.
But yes, sometimes a financial adjustment is the direct result of a spiritual decision. I remember coming home from Haiti in the mid-90’s and not being able to eat properly for days. I’d seen poverty before, but something about that visit to Haiti really impacted me spiritually. We cut back and redoubled our effort to make a difference with our wealth.
You said to me once (and probably wrote it in the book) that you intentionally ‘take the long way home from work’ to drive through lower income communities. Talk to me about this, and why it’s important to you.
A core theme of Junkyard Wisdom is the value of breaking down walls between rich and poor. If we don’t make a conscious decision to break down the walls around us, we will forever be hanging out with people just like us.
Sometimes this happens out of pure habit; we don’t take the time to take the longer shortcut! So I would drive the long way home after work and go through more troubled neighborhoods, stop at the stores, buy my gas there, etc. It was a daily reminder that the shiny new world I could be trapped in wasn’t the whole story.
Why do you care? I mean, you really care. You’re one of the only people I know that will go from flying first class to sleeping in a cockroach filled hotel room in the same 24 hours. You don’t have to do that. So why do you?
Because I care about my relationship with God, and God cares about my love for my neighbors. Insulating myself in first class doesn’t draw me closer to God. At least not all the time. We need the cockroach infested hotel room to create tension in our lives. It makes us appreciate the wealth as it makes us compassionate for others.
The funnest example of this is the time you and I spent a day in the Klong Toey slum of Bangkok. Tough place, sad place. Then the next morning I fly (first class) to Singapore and check into one of the nicest hotels in the city. I sat at the bar drinking over priced wine and watched beautiful people drive up in their Ferraris.
I’m not saying we should all do that, but we need that kind of whiplash to remind us what it means to be fully human, filled with the Spirit, and able to navigate through all cultural settings.
You have the ability to be generous in a way that many either can’t, or choose to not, be. First, why generosity (besides tax breaks) and second, how do you choose where to give?
Generosity is a spiritual gift. We often forget this and see it as just a budgetary decision. In the same way that we might work on expanding our hearts through prayer, fasting, study, solitude, etc., we can also expand our hearts through generosity.
We choose to give mostly on relationships. While I appreciate people who create metrics for their giving and want every dollar to be efficiently used, at the end of the day our giving is about loving others. Giving not only helps us express that love, it allows us to create even deeper relationships with the leaders and the people they serve.
You talk about ‘helping’ at the same time as you talk about ‘forgetting’. I think this is brilliant, because our non-profit culture has told us that we are the ones that can help the poor, forgetting that the poor can often help themselves, we just don’t take the time to listen or participate. Can you unpack what you meant when you wrote this a bit more?
This actually goes back to that hotel bar in Singapore. As I sat there reflecting on the slum and how it contrasted with the wealth around me, I wrote in my notes, “It’s not that we don’t love the poor or that we don’t want to help. It’s that we forget the poor.” We so wrap ourselves in wealth — those walls again — that it’s easy to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap.
Then if we don’t actually serve, but just write checks, we never fully understand the best way to be a change agent. I had to learn this hard way over and over again. So I summed it up in three simple rules:
- Viciously attack ego.
- Shut up and listen.
- Value community.
What do you hope is a takeaway from the book?
First, do not let wealth insulate you from the brokenness of this world. The world is much like a junkyard; the parts are more valuable than the whole. We treat people like we treat those wrecked cars in the junkyard. The world is a broken place, and we have to break down the walls to embrace the messiness.
Second, wrestle with wealth. Not just a once a year time of reflection at a retreat, but daily. Each decision should be made through a prism of generosity, service, obedience, and thanksgiving. That makes financial decisions a spiritual issue. Wrestle with it. Embrace the tension and allow your heart to be vulnerable.
Third, build relationships. Now that the walls are down, and you are wrestling with your financial decisions, seek out people who are different from you. Then keep doing that your whole life. And God will show up in the midst of the community you build.
Roy, all sarcasm aside, I’m so thankful you’re my Dad. Thank you for teaching me to live in duality. I appreciate you and Mom to the moon and back.