Both of Gwen’s parents died in 2012. The loss changed our lives in significant ways. One of the greatest changes was financial. After surviving since we were eighteen by our own ingenuity and living most of our marriage in something of a voluntary poverty, we got slammed with a significant boatload of money to manage. Now, among the things my spiritual director and friends hear about, are the new experiences Gwen and I are having now that her inheritance from her parents has arrived. My director convinced me to embrace it and see where God is taking me now rather than avoid or resent the new reality.
The embarrassment of riches is upon me. For a year I have been keeping our new circumstances mostly to myself, just like you keep your finances to yourself. But, I recently rediscovered that I live in a pastor fish bowl and most people who were interested were peering right into my decisions. So I might as well talk about what other people have been talking about. While I am not sure you need to know everything about me; I’d also hate for my loved ones to get the wrong idea because I just left them alone to make things up for themselves.
Even before we received this windfall, I felt unspeakably rich. The $90K house we bought when we moved to Philly got Penntrified. When we bought it, our boys were all teenagers living with us, plus a single guy moved to Philly with us and a family of four moved in to help with our church planting effort. Later on we invested most of our savings in a building for Circle Counseling and it got gentrified, too. Then we used equity from our house to buy a home for Shalom House and even that building went up in value. Most of our investment has been in our mission. We were major donors to Broad and Washington’s rehab, too. As a boy who grew up with parents who were straight off hard-scrabble farms, I felt wealthy beyond my expectations. As a Jesus follower who had taken constant financial risks to fulfill my calling, I felt like the Lord had taken care of me very well.
Now we have even more wealth to consider — and I find that others are considering it, too. I am a little uncomfortable dealing with it in public, but God called me to have my faith in public, just like you, and I ended up a pastor to boot. So I hope what I do doesn’t make Jesus look too bad. It’s not that I think everything I do can be or should be an example someone should follow — but what I do gets noticed. As one of your leaders, you can discern whether what I do is imitating Christ and then imitate me. As far as how I handle our inheritance, I don’t think we have all the answers yet for you to imitate. But I am sure you will help us figure them out.
We have a couple of general principles we’ve been working with so far. We don’t trust the stock market and most retirement funds because we think they are run by the one percent for their own profit. I like to buy property and to see how debt free I can get it so that when the system collapses on its bloated self, at least we will all have some place to live. So we decided to put most of what we inherited in useful pieces of property. The properties also seemed like good places to store up some of the inheritance for the uncertain future of our grandchildren. Some of them might be in need later on. We have already decided on two properties. They are what I discovered many of you have been talking about
The first piece we bought with the new inheritance money was a retreat in the Poconos. It is on a gigantic swimming-pool of a lake on a little, wooded road called Hallowood Drive: the holy wood drive. We see it as a great place to contemplate, and we already laid out the outline for a labyrinth in a little meadow. It is also the clan’s vacation home and has a bed for everyone, if we can get them all together.
The second building we are working on buying has been condemned to rezoning and is expected to be redeemed on June 17. We decided to invest in another site for Circle Counseling, which has grown to full capacity in West Philly. It is at 1226 South Broad, just a block away from Broad and Washington’s meeting place. Not only will this allow us to engage new counselors (some we may have in our own network!), we may be able to incorporate some Christians who are doing a good work on their own and would like to join in with us. It also gives room for Gwen to create an institute to explore how Christians use psychotherapy and for us to provide a more professional level of spiritual direction.
When I was digging in to this story with my spiritual director, at one point his face kind of wrinkled up in puzzlement. I think I was expressing my fears about what spending money looked like to others. How I talked about it concerned him, and how he talked to me sort of calmed me down. Basically, I liked the righteousness of relative poverty more than I like this embarrassment of riches. But talking about where I find myself now made me remember Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” That goes for being rich or poor, too. Whether we are rich or poor, we belong to the Lord.
7 thoughts on “My own embarrassment of riches”
Thanks for your courageous transparency, Rod, and even more for how you and Gwen model responsible, vision-oriented stewardship of resources. I can’t think of a better way to invest temporal goods. And I’m eager to see with you how these investments grow into larger returns of what really matters – converting material wealth into spiritual treasure.
“Ditto” to Deb’s comment. Your sharing is very brave and an act of humility. You could have just considered yourself to be above it all, or beyond the need to explain/justify your family’s current circusmtance in your position as pastor, but you counted yourself as “one of us,” a trait to be imitated, for sure.
I love public discussions of money! I wish more people trying to do a little good were swimming in it.
Thanks, Rod. Deb and Marquita are right. You are brave. And you do imitate Christ, so I confidently imitate you.
I’m glad to hear Circle Counseling is outgrowing their digs and expanding their good work. That retreat place for your clan sounds very rejuvenating.
Wow! What a narrative to read, I feel honored and inspired by your own vulnerability, may God work its good work through and through.
Rod – thanks for the open and honest discussion. We are are honored you are leading us in this way, as some of us have professional type jobs and may one day be in the same pickle of how to follow a Lord who said, “woe to you who are rich,” when we find ourselves unexpectedly rich