Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wallis on fasting

My money fast begins this coming Sunday and lasts 21 days until Easter. This was not such a good week of preparation for me, maybe because I thought of all the things I would be trying to refrain from buying beginning next week and impulsively bought some of them. Ughh.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is doing a food fast this Lent in sympathy with the vulnerable who would be negatively affected by proposed U.S. budget cuts. Read about it here.

In Sojourner's weekly electronic SoJo Mail, he includes a number of quotes about fasting from Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

Here are some amended quotes he mentions (I have changed the word "food" to "spending" and made some other changes in order to apply the quotes to our money fast):

"Fasting must forever center on God. … If our fasting is not unto God we have failed" (54, 55).

"More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us" (55).

"We cover up whatever is inside us with spending and other good things, but in fasting these things surface" (55).

"Fasting reminds us that we are sustained 'by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' (Matt. 4.4). Spending does not sustain us, God sustains us" (55).

"Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them" (56).

"This is not excessive asceticism; it is discipline and discipline brings freedom" (56).

"In many ways the stomach [our appetites] is like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence, but needs discipline. … You are to be the master of your stomach [appetites], not its slave" (57).

You can sign up for Sojourner's SoJo Mail here.

Tomorrow, another guest blog from Alicia! Watch for it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Jesus is hard to figure out. You think you can nail him down on some topic or another, then you read something else in the Gospels and end up confused again. You can't nail Jesus down (which, by the way, might be a good title for an Easter sermon ... or a grunge band).

Jesus talked a lot about money. Some say that Jesus talked about money more than any other topic, although I am not sure. Some of his parables about money aren't really about money; he just uses money as an illustration to make a larger point. I've read several books by die-hard capitalists who try to use Jesus' parables (such as the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19) as proof that Jesus was a capitalist. I think they miss the analogy Jesus is making. Jesus isn't actually talking about money every time he uses money as an illustration.

If the Gospel of John is right, Jesus and the disciples had a "common purse" or a treasury (John 12:6). Judas was the treasurer. So presumably Jesus and his disciples used money. Presumably people like Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod's steward Chuza), Susanna, and many others, donated the money for their common purse. (Luke 8:2-3)

The only place that I can think of in the Gospels where Jesus actually spends money, or orders it to be spent, is the strange story in Matthew 17:24-27. Here Jesus instructs Peter to catch a fish and tells him he will find a coin in the fish's mouth and that he should use that coin to pay the temple tax.

I can't figure out how to interpret this story. Either Jesus was doing a miracle in order to pay the temple tax or else he was being ironic, saying in effect: I am as likely to pay the temple tax as you are to find a coin in the mouth of a fish you randomly catch in the sea.

I don't know. I'd like to hear an edifying interpretation of this odd little story in Matthew.

Another time Jesus makes a pointed observation about money is when he is asked about paying taxes to the empire. The common coin in those days was the denarius, as someone reminded me this week. The denarius was actually minted by the emperor and had his image on it. It literally was made by him and belonged to him. He is the one who stood behind its value. So Jesus says to give back to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to give to God what belongs to God ... which is our very selves since we are made in the image of God.

What would Jesus do about having and spending money? It is my sense that Jesus used money but was not at all attached to it. Jesus obviously enjoyed life. (You don't report miracles of making wine about someone who is an ascetic.) He enjoyed parties. He certainly frequently advocated giving money to the poor.

But it is hard to nail him down.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guest blogger -- Alicia Gutierrez

I decided not to do the money fast, mostly because I dealt with similar issues recently when I decided to switch jobs and work part-time. But, hearing the sermons has allowed me to reflect on the changes I made when I found myself with less discretionary income.

The money fast discipline that resonated most with me is the idea of shopping as entertainment. This was something I used to do frequently; it was easy because I worked in Friendship Heights, a mecca for all kinds of shopping. During lunch breaks or after a particularly stressful day I would shop for shoes and clothes. Or sometimes it was books and cards. Half priced Christmas cards in January, I'll take them, even if they would likely be forgotten in a drawer come December.

Now I rarely shop for entertainment. My new hobby is simple and free - walking my dog. We have walked the streets of Logan Circle everyday for the last couple of years. I have come to appreciate the beautiful and not so beautiful aspects of the neighborhood I call home. Our long walks also encouraged me to pick up a dormant hobby, photography. Since I usually don't print my photographs, this is also free. In addition to being a creative outlet, it's something I contribute to Foundry and other organizations that I believe in.

Giving up shopping as entertainment has literally gotten me out into the world, embracing and appreciating everyday in a deeper and more meaningful way.

(Thanks, Alicia! If you have thoughts to share, email me at dsnyder at

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Guest blogger -- Michael Talon

Growing up in a family where money came and money went tainted my view of the place that it should have in my life. We were what you would typically call “well off” yet constantly without money for simple things. Like most kids I grew up swearing that I would never have to deny myself anything; if I wanted something I was going to buy it. Needless to say things didn’t necessarily work out that way.

Heading into Foundry with my partner, I wasn’t aware that Lent was upon us or even that there were things the congregation were about to begin doing to honor the Lenten time. I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and for me this new world of Christianity is eye-opening and sometimes conflicting in my soul. However, that morning when Rev. Snyder began to speak about the money fast, I was taken to a place where the feeling of the congregation took hold of me. This was something that intrigued me and sent me from that service looking for guidance and information on money, our views and most importantly how I could simplify my life.

I read a published report by Dr. Roger Henderson, a researcher from the UK, called “Money Sickness Syndrome”. It was sent to me by a good friend of mine who knew that I was looking at this Lent as a new spiritual experience. There were multiple points that he brought up as to how we can become sick with a syndrome that we are unable to diagnose or treat externally. This “sickness” is one that leads us all back to a place of unrest, failing hearts and minds and most importantly the ability to ignore the important things in life. This syndrome can even create an atmosphere where we turn a blind eye to the very issues that Christ was enabling Christians to help.

One of the points he recognizes is that it does not matter where on the income scale we live we are all susceptible to this syndrome. Do we feel the need to concentrate on our money and the keeping of it or making more? Are we unable to separate our happiness from the pursuit and use of money? Do we use the spending of money in small or large amounts as a crutch to get us through periods of others success or our own failures?

These questions are the ones that I personally took to heart. We must always as Christians test out our faith and rely on the spiritual bond we have with God during all trials. I believe that this time of Lent is one where I will need to feel out my faith and as Peter said, “cast my anxieties out upon him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) The question I wish to answer, and one that this published report helped me realize, is am I ready to trust God as I attempt to live my life free of the anxiety of money?

(Thanks so much, Michael.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Achilles Heel

I am very glad I did not just jump into the money fast. My plan is to prepare for the first half of Lent and then actually do the fast during the second half of Lent. I will begin Sunday April 3.

I've already cut out Starbucks and started brewing my own tea (which has actually also led to a cutback on my consumption of caffeine). I've also pretty much refrained from impulse purchases. I am not buying prepared food from the prepared food counters at Whole Foods but food staples (which seems to have coincidentally led to a cutback in calories consumed).

Lunches out, however, are my Achilles Heel.

I needed to have a relaxed conversation with someone yesterday. We met at a restaurant halfway between where we live and had a very important conversation.

Today I am meeting with someone from another city for lunch at a restaurant near his hotel. Where would we meet if we didn't go to a restaurant or coffee shop?

My plan was to prepare lunches in advance and invite people to my office, but twice this week the geography would not have worked. What do I do? Prepare bag lunches and invite people to eat them in my car? I don't think so. A park bench, depending on the weather, would be better but still odd.

Anybody have any ideas?

I hope to be posting a guest blog tomorrow. Please watch for it. I would love to have more guest bloggers. Just email me your blog and I'll be happy to post it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Weightier matters

Every year I listen to the podcasts of the sermons from Memphis' Calvary Episcopal Church's midweek Lenten services. The speakers tend to be excellent. (I consider it the second best preaching series next to Foundry's Summer in the City July series.)

Walking home last evening I listened to the podcast of a sermon by Marcus Borg, the author of such books as "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time."

In his March 17th sermon on the temptations of Jesus (see, he talks about the United States having the highest percentage of people who self identify as Christian -- somewhere around 80 percent.

Then he gently talks about two ironies -- that the most Christian nation in the world depends so radically on military strength (as I recall, he says the US's military is equal to the next 17 countries' militaries combined) and that the most Christian nation in the world has the largest income inequality of any of the developed nations of the world. He says that, in comparison to other developed nations, our income inequality is off the charts. And, he says, the gap is growing.

How does this happen in the most Christian nation on earth? he asks.

So while I am paying attention to how often I buy tea at Starbucks or magazines at Busboys and Poets in preparation for my money fast April 3-24, Marcus Borg reminds me that I am called to be an agent of justice, not only to practice personal morality in the way I spend money.

It made me think of Jesus' pointed reprimand to the religious folk of his time from Matthew 23:23 -- "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others."

Personal responsibility in the way I spend the money that I am a steward of is no substitute for working on behalf of justice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What are the rules?

Wow. Just anticipating the money fast has changed my spending habits in a dozen little ways. I am carrying water with me to the gym instead of buying it there. I am not eating out nearly as much. I am making tea in my teapot rather than buying it at Starbucks. I am not buying more gym clothes when I am getting no where with preparing a sermon. All these little changes are adding up to more money than I would have imagined.

I am now two weeks away from the fast which I will do April 3-23. I am going to try to follow most of the rules for a financial fast set out by Michelle Singletary in her book "The Power to Prosper." However, everybody should decide for themselves what their fast will be like.

On Sunday I said in one of the services that I would be trying to fast from prepared foods and TV dinners. Someone send me a message saying, "What? No TV dinners? You keep changing the rules!"

Please feel free to make your own rules. For me, buying food in its more elementary forms (rather than ready to eat) seems to be a reasonable part of the fast so that's what I am going to try to do. I mean, I am not going to bake my own bread or go catch my own tuna fish, but neither am I going to buy food ready to pop into the microwave and eat.

I also want to begin doing more thinking about money is larger systemic ways. Some of our Lenten groups are studying a set of papers called "Faith and Finance: Christians and the Economic Crisis" put out by Sojourners magazine. See The resource includes papers by people like Walter Brueggeman, Ron Sider and Adam Hamilton.

In his essay Adam Hamilton quotes Jesus: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink ... But strive first for the Kingdom of God."

Maybe that ought to be rule number 1 for the money fast. Maybe it is the only rule we need.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Buying time

I've been assuming that one of the things money is good for is to buy time.

If you can afford to pay somebody to clean your house, you save the time it takes to clean house. If you can afford to own a car it saves the time it would require to take the bus or the train or even to walk. If you can afford to buy a dishwasher, it saves the time it would take you to wash the dishes by hand. Buying vegetables at the store saves the time of having to raise them ourselves.

The question is whether saving this time has made our lives richer. This is what I am going to ask us to think about during worship tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I'm not sure I can do this

One of Michelle Singletary's suggestions for a money fast is that you fast from all window shopping, including internet window shopping. "Don't window shop," she writes. "A major objective of this fast is to stop using shopping as a form of entertainment."

Yesterday I was walking through a section of Dupont Circle I don't often happen upon. I noticed two restaurants I was not familiar with. I stopped to read their menus.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that reading menus in restaurant windows is a form of window shopping.

Stopping to browse the magazine rack at Books-A-Million is a form of window shopping. Even Googling yoga studios and fantasizing about getting more serious about yoga is a form of window shopping, I guess.

When I think about it, lots of my spending is a form of entertainment. Lots of my entertainment is thinking about things to spend money on.

The money fast is just for 21 days, between April 3 and 24 for me. I can do pretty much anything for 21 days. But fasting from spending or actively thinking about or dreaming about spending money is a bigger experiment than I had realized.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Freedom's just another word

During my walk to church this morning I was thinking about some of the college students I used to teach 25 or 30 years ago. The university was best known for its engineering school and many of the students who took my classes were engineering students. When we got into conversations about their futures, there were a group of students who'd tell me their plan was to work hard until they were 45, make lots of money, and then enjoy themselves the rest of their lives.

They were always male. I can never remember a female student having this particular dream for their life. The guys told me they were studying engineering but they did not particularly enjoy engineering classes or the kind of work engineers did. They were often from working class families in the near suburbs and the kind of salaries engineers earned in those days looked like a lot of money to them. They figured if they put in 25 years making that kind of money they'd have it made for the rest of their lives.

I had a standard response when students told me this. "What is it that you plan to do after you retire from engineering at 45?" I'd ask. Sometimes students knew, and then I'd ask them if they'd every thought about trying to make a living doing what they really enjoyed doing. Rather than working for 25 years at a job you don't like to make enough money to spend the rest of your life fishing, have you researched whether you could make a living as a charter fishing boat captain or in the state fish and wildlife department?

More often, the student didn't know what he wanted to do. He didn't really have a dream for what he'd do after he quit engineering. What he was looking for was financial security so he would have the freedom to do whatever he felt like doing the rest of his life.

I doubt those students' life plan worked out for many of them. Engineers' salaries turned out not to be as much money as they thought it would be in the middle-class world they were entering. Lots of them probably fell in love and became parents and discovered that retiring at 45 was a feeble dream compared to the joys and challenges of parenthood. Some probably discovered that, by the time they got into their mid-30s or 40s, the dream of financial security had faded and been replaced by a longing for significance and meaning.

I hope those students found happy lives one way or another. I just doubt that many of them found happiness via the path of becoming rich enough by 45 so they would not to have to work anymore.

Money is a weird thing. Part of the purpose of Michele Singletary's book and her money fast is to help us think about what security, happiness and freedom really are and how we find them. Part of her point, I think, is that there are two ways to prosper -- one is to increase our wealth and the other is to purify our desires.

The life plans of those students from years ago reminds me that it is probably not a good idea to have a goal of accumulating money unless we really know what we hope to buy with it. What if it turns out that what we wanted we could have had for free? What if it turns out what worked 25 years to buy can't be bought?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Planning ahea...

I don't care when my work day starts. It is okay if my first meeting is at 7:30 a.m. or at 10 a.m. I just want plenty of time in the morning to read the paper, check my email, putz around, find my keys, and do all the little things it takes to feel prepared for the day.

No matter when I need to leave the house, I am almost always rushing because I've filled up my morning time with all these kinds of things. So I do not usually take time to think about meals for the day. I usually figure I'll just grab some food when I need it.

Except now I am preparing for a money fast. April 3 to 21, along with some other Foundry folk, I will be trying to not spend money for anything that's not absolutely essential.

Yesterday morning I realized that I had a meeting in one section of the city that would be ending at about 12:15 and another meeting outside the city that would be beginning at 1:30. Normally I wouldn't think ahead but just stop somewhere, a supermarket with a salad bar maybe or a convenience store, and grab some food.

But, in anticipation of the fast, I decided I should prepare a bag lunch to eat between my meetings yesterday so I would not be unnecessarily spending money. I made a sandwich out of whole wheat bread and lunch meat and squirted some mustard on it. I found a sandwich bag. I found a left-over plastic container and put some broccoli slaw we had in the refrigerator in it along with some cherry tomatoes and a squirt of balsamic vinegar. I grabbed a bottle of spring water.

It took me maybe five minutes (less time than stopping at a convenience store), cost maybe $2.00, and was probably healthier than the food I would have bought otherwise.

Wierd. What I don't want to bother doing is taking the time and energy to plan ahead. I'd rather spend a few more minutes with the newspaper and just rush out the door and deal with food as I go through my day. What does this say about me?

And it is a reminder that most of the world does not have this luxury.

PS -- I have a volunteer to be a guest bogger! Thank you, Michael. If you'd like to be a guest blogger (so it is not all about me), just email me your blog and I'll post it. Or else, if you'd prefer to blog directly, let me know and I'll ask my techie friend Katie if she can figure out how to let you do that.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh, how I love Stabucks

Out of all the money I spend, the money I spend at Starbucks makes the least sense … and it is the spending that I most dread giving up when I do the money fast. On my way into my office at the church every morning, I love to stop at Starbucks and buy a cup of hot tea. It costs $2.70.

Sometimes in the afternoon, if I think I need a break, I take a walk and buy a second cup of tea for $2.70.

I've done this for years. My Starbucks gold card is dated 2003.

I drink my tea black. I pay $2.70 for tea bags and hot water.

When I first started buying tea at Starbucks, the baristas would motion me to come close and then they would whisper to me: "You know you can buy a box of tea bags and make your own tea. It would only cost you a few cents."

"You just boil some water and pour it over the teabag," they'd say.

This happened several times. Even the Starbucks' employees were trying to help me not spend so much money at Starbucks.

So I know this. The way I spend money is not purely rational. Sometimes it is not rational at all. So I suspect there is something I can learn about my heart and soul by paying attention to the way I spend money.

I expect that until I start the money fast April 3 I will continue to buy tea at Starbucks. Don't be surprised if you see me there. After the fast, I expect it will be the first place I will spend money Easter morning.

But in between April 3 and Easter, as I contemplate the ways I spend money, I hope that the money fast will teach me something about my relationship with God, my relationship with my own soul --maybe even something about my addictions and idolatries, my relationship with others, and especially my relationship with the poor.

(From my sermon today.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Easy go ...

I was scheduled to have lunch with a fellow pastor the other day. We were lunching at a restaurant named Eatonsville, across the street from the U Street Busboys and Poets.

I got a phone call that my friend would be 1/2 hour late. I was already at the restaurant. I asked the waitress if they had a newspaper I could read while I waited. She said, no, but there is a bookstore across the street at Busboys and Poets.

I went to buy a newspaper and the store's magazine rack caught my attention. I love magazines. I noticed a magazine I used to subscribe to. Actually I wrote a short piece for them once. I decided to buy the current issue.

Then another magazine caught my eye. A Foundry member used to be a staff writer there. I hadn't read that magazine regularly for a couple of years now. I bought it too.

So I walked out of the book store with a newspaper and two magazines which cost me about $13.

I've enjoyed reading the magazines.

But, boy, it really is easy to spend money without hardly even noticing it. Were I not preparing to do a money fast I would not have given it a second thought.

A number of us at Foundry are preparing for a 21-day money fast between April 3 and 24. One group isn't waiting until April but has already begun their fast. Most of us are using the first half of Lent to be more aware of our spending habits and patterns and then will fast from spending money for anything but the most essential items for the second half of Lent.

It is a spiritual experiment, and we invite you to think about joining us. If you do, leave your thoughts and comments here. Or comment even if you don't.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A question about eating out

In the last two days I've had four meals in restaurants ... two breakfasts and two lunches. Why do I eat out so much? How did I come to eat out this much? Is this a good use of money?

I am preparing for a 21-day money fast between April 3 and 24. I am using the first half of Lent to be more aware of my spending habits and patterns and then I will fast from spending money for anything but the most essential items for the second half of Lent.

Here are the four times I've eaten in restaurants in the last two days.

Meal out number 1 -- Ash Wednesday we have a tradition of staff members who participate in the 8 a.m. service of going out for breakfast afterwards. I participated because I like hanging out with other staff members.

Meal out number 2 -- Ever since the beginning of the year I have been taking a different staff member out to lunch once a week, just to talk and to ask them what they think Foundry is doing well and what we might do better. I had one such lunch Wednesday afternoon. It was a great conversation.

Meal out number 3 -- Yesterday morning I had an early breakfast with a consultant who had counseled me during a time of transition a couple of years ago. He suggested breakfast because he wanted to keep in touch and talk to me about a new project he is working on. He is a good guy, and very smart, so it was great to spend time with him.

Meal out number 4 -- Weeks ago I had scheduled lunch with another pastor who is also working to end homelessness in DC. We have met several times and every time we meet we meet over lunch. I am not sure why. I do it because I think this is his preference but I've never really asked him. He may do it because it thinks it is my preference.

I have a beautiful office at the church. Why do I have so many meetings at restaurants and coffee shops, I wonder? Meals out are really quite expensive. I try to order healthy meals when I eat out, but the truth is that restaurant food is rarely as healthy as food Jane and I prepare for ourselves, so I am not sure eating out so much is very healthy either.

If I have lunch meetings scheduled during my money fast, I plan to invite folk to my office and to bring a pre-prepared lunch from home that I've prepared myself from basic ingredients I buy at the supermarket. I don't have any idea how to handle breakfast meetings.

Conversations over meals or coffee are more relaxed, I think. They are more relational and less task oriented. I assume this is a good thing, but it isn't cheap, especially if you go to any of the restaurants near Foundry.

Is it just me or do other people have lots of meetings over meals and in coffee shops? Does anybody have any ideas about why we do this? Is it a good use of money? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

OMG, I've forgotten how to get money.

OMG, I've forgotten how to get money. When I do my 21-day money fast, April 3 – 24, one of my commitments is to use no plastic – no credit or debit cards. I will be spending money for food staples, gasoline, and essential toiletries. This means I will need some cash.

I've forgotten how to get cash without going to an ATM or getting cash back at Whole Foods, both of which require using a debit card.

Michelle Singletary, whose book "The Power to Prosper" introduced me to the idea of a money fast, argues that we spend money with less awareness and consciousness when we use plastic. She cites research to support her contention.

I certainly will not give up my debit card permanently. It is too great a convenience. But I will give up using it for 21 days as part of this spiritual exercise.

As Singletary points out, counting out cash to pay for something is a different experience than putting it on a card. Counting out cash to buy a new TV with cash would be a very different experience than putting it on a card. She cites research that shows that people spend more money on meals in restaurants if they pay with a card.

So how do you get your hands on money if you don't use an ATM? I remember years ago standing in long lines at a bank on a Friday afternoon to deposit my pay check and get some cash. But that was a long time ago. And I don't get paychecks anymore. It is deposited directly into my account.

I asked some of my co-workers if they knew how to get cash without using a debit card. One person who uses a community bank says she just walks into her bank and they give her money. I doubt Bank of America would do that.

Someone else told me there should be withdrawal slips at the back of my checkbook. I think I remember the drawer we keep our checkbook in.
I am going to have to figure out how to get my hands on some cash without using an ATM.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, I am beginning my preparations for a 21-day money fast beginning April 3 and ending Easter morning April 24. Some Foundry folk are joining in the fast.

During the first three weeks of Lent I will be keeping a record of all the money I spend to become more aware of my spending. During the last three weeks I will be trying not to spend any money, other than for the basics of life -- food staples from the supermarket, gas for the car, offerings and charitable giving. Also, I will use no plastic – neither credit nor debit cards.

I will basically follow the rules laid out by Michelle Singletary in her book "The Power to Prosper." Her list of things we can purchase during the fast includes: essential foods, medicines, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies. That's pretty much it.

Then she adds: "Let the Holy Spirit speak to you on what is and what isn't allowed while you fast."

So I plan on keeping my appointment to get a haircut unless the Holy Spirit says otherwise.

Today already I have spent lots of money that I will not be spending during my money fast. I stopped at Starbucks on my way into work to buy a cup of tea. I went out with some of our staff for breakfast after our early Ash Wednesday service. I had lunch with a co-worker.

During the fast I will make my own tea. When I invite someone to lunch, I will prepare lunch for us that morning and invite my guest to have lunch with me at the church.

The purpose of this fast is to see how money affects my relationship with God and others. I am realizing already that money is a great convenience.