Rector's Blog: We Sold Our House
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Last Fall I was sitting in a presentation at our Annual Clergy Day and had no intention of having my life changed. My preference would have been to simply survive the day and get home before Cincinnati’s version of traffic hit. But that was apparently not in the cards for me. Our presenter was named Jennifer Harvey, who is a college professor, Christian pastor, parent, and author. She is a White woman who has written multiple books to other White Christians about the part we can play if we are interested in building towards a racially reconciled church and world.
During her time with us, Dr. Harvey made the argument that we cannot hope for real racial reconciliation without committed material reparations, and then she had us do an exercise on our own. She asked us to reflect and journal for a few minutes on what each of us found attractive about the idea of reparations and what were some of the possible difficulties or drawbacks of such a practice. She asked us to do this personally: Not asking what this would mean for society, but what it would mean for me to commit to something like this?
So, I went to work, and I wrote down some of the things that I thought were interesting or attractive, what good things it might mean for me, etc. Then I started on the list of things that were potential drawbacks. Do you know what I realized was the biggest deterrent for me to even consider any kind of financial reparations? I couldn’t afford it! I realized that our household spending was such that one extra expenditure – even for a cause I might believe in – would not be possible. You’re wondering right now a few things: 1) You’re wondering if I’m about to get into a big conversation about reparations. The answer is not today. 2) You’re wondering if it’s true that we couldn’t actually afford it. Let’s talk about that.
We DeVauls have been house-poor for the last few years. We came here from California, and everything seems cheaper, and oh my, the square footage you can get here! And we bought a house that we figured we could afford. And in the strictest sense of the word, we can. I mean, we make our payments. We got furniture we like to fill the rooms, and we can pay the utilities. And also, the house is where most of our money goes. We do not save money right now. We do not give away anywhere near 10% of our income to the church, or to anything for that matter. We don’t take big vacations. We give what we’ve decided we can. We pay our bills and raise our kids and hope everything works out.
That day in that presentation as I reflected on the reality of the way I’m living, I asked myself a simple question: Am I ok with this? Am I ok with saying I believe in using my money to help others, but spending so much on myself that I cannot really do that? More questions emerged: If I cannot afford to help others now, will I ever be able to? Does this mean that only rich people can help others? Or can all people find ways to help each other, and make a difference in each other’s lives? What is my part? What needs to change? Things got real for me very quickly.
I sent my wife a message. It began, "I'm gonna say something crazy."
Long story short, we decided to sell our house. We’re moving next week. We did this for the express purpose of aligning our spending with our stated values. We believe in giving money to others. We believe that should be a part of our budget. We believe our giving to church should be a fixed percentage of our income. We were not living in a way that made that feasible. So, we had to change the way we lived.
If I’m sounding super-righteous right now, it’s not how I feel. This has been a hard decision. We decided to sell a house we like very much. Our first house in Cincinnati. We had to prepare to put the house on the market during this pandemic. People have wondered if we were actually ok, if we were broke or in trouble. We have wondered ourselves if the sacrifice would be worth it. And, of course it’s not all done yet, and we’re not quite on the other side of all this. I could still back out. I could still screw it all up or find other ways to spend the money we save. And there’s no clear answer – other than the peace that we feel.
And that’s the part I really want to talk about today. I’m telling you this story because the decision we are making – for all its difficulty and struggle – is one that is bringing us peace. A budget is a moral document. A person’s budget reflects their real priorities. If we want our priorities to shift towards a deeper response to Jesus, we have to make changes in our budget. These things are not separate. And I can no longer lead this Church with any kind of integrity if my budget does not prioritize giving. The great news is the decisions we’ve made in the last year are making our values come to life: they are no longer ideals sitting on a shelf to point at or aspire to. We are making commitments that are drawing us into deeper unity with Redeemer and with our neighborhood. This is a source of great joy. This is a new kind of peace for us. We are excited to live into this.
In the coming month, I will be writing to you about how you commit to Church of the Redeemer. I will not be asking you for a specific amount. I will not be asking you for a special gift. I will not be asking you to sell your house. I will be asking you to be attentive to where Jesus is in your spending, in your budgeting, and in the commitments you make. I wanted to tell you this story today, so you’d know the journey I’m on, so you’d know that anything I ask you I’m asking myself too. The Church we share is a place that unites us – it’s a holy connection we share. I hope you will join me in this conversation and join me in this work of self-reflection and commitment. We are in this together.
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