Removing shame around our financial status as ministers

Published: January 4, 2016

Recently I was asked my thoughts on why many of our students were not interested in participating in a weekend long retreat focused on financial well-being. The answer that came immediately to my mind was that for people who do not have a lot of money, sitting around talking about financial health is both unhelpful and even participates in instilling a sense of shame around a person’s financial situation. To me, it seems a lot like asking someone who is food insecure to participate in a two-day cooking class—what value is there in learning to make all kinds of interesting dishes when the reality at home is that ramen noodles and canned vegetables might be the best meal you get in a day? It’s nice to ponder all the future decisions I can make about money when I maybe, someday, will have some to make decisions about, but in the meantime it does nothing to alleviate the stress and burden that comes along with scrimping to get by, let alone saving.

I am not suggesting that retreats, workshops, and information sessions are not helpful. I am also not suggesting that we do not continue to conscientiously work toward educating folks about how to manage their financial resources both realistically and holistically. What I am suggesting is that even in our efforts to educate, it can be easy to betray a certain amount of privilege that does not consider the emotional toll that even the mention of these kinds of programs can have on people, especially those that may be most in need of them.

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Image from deborahsdescendants.com.

We live in a culture that constantly feeds us the idea that our human worth is equivalent to our financial worth. Since time immemorial, we have held people who have riches and wealth in such high regard that we dream and strive to be like them. Our Bible stories tell us how God blessed the patriarchs, and for some of us, our theologies include the idea that financial wealth is a sign of God’s blessing on us. It’s very difficult to not feel a sense of shame around a lack of financial resources in our current cultural environment. It’s even more difficult if we come from religious traditions that reify the idea that God’s blessings show up in the form of material wealth.

And yet, somehow we know that this is not true. We see the truth of it when we recognize that people who live in poverty have just as much intrinsic value as ourselves. We see the truth when we experience the most profound of God’s blessings, the presence of the Divine, in our most ordinary moments. The knowledge that all people hold the same intrinsic value is what drives us toward working for justice and social change—for leveraging out our resources so that all would live in comfort and good health physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

There is a lot of emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to be done around the topic of money before we can begin to see the people who most need the resource of financial literacy begin to participate in their own education. I think this is as true among the student population at Wake Div as it is for general society. It is often said that one of the best ways we can minister to people is to meet them where they are—to connect with individuals as they are in the present moment. I wonder, how often do we, as students, turn this ministerial approach inward and care for our own spiritual and emotional needs? Do we honestly acknowledge where we are in our relationship with money so that we might minister to ourselves, or allow others to minister to us, and begin to heal unwarranted feelings of shame? As we begin the New Year, I invite each of us, no matter where we are on the financial spectrum, to make a commitment to recognizing how and when we might be able to minister to ourselves and others around the shame that has been instilled in so many of us around money. Perhaps if we begin with talking about the spiritual and emotional aspects connected with financial well-being, it will be easier for us to participate in our own financial health.

fleiak14Anna Fleig
Second Year

Anna is originally from Seattle, Washington, but has lived under the beautiful Carolina skies for the last sixteen years.  She completed her undergraduate work in 2014 with a degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy.  Prior to re-entering the academic world, she worked in Accounting and Finance for 17 years, most recently with a regional real estate company.  She hopes to help others understand and navigate their personal finances in a way that empowers them to create and sustain a balanced approach toward financial health.