I am definitely not the first person to notice this. Whenever someone in a Church mentions money there is a collective tightening of stomach muscles which, if repeated every Sunday morning, could technically qualify as an exercise regime. Christians don’t like to talk about money. Or hear about it.
The roots of this discomfort are many, and deep. Culturally, it’s not something people in the UK discuss openly. Biblically, most mentionings of money are in relation to the dangers of excess. Societally, we know we are wealthy, and spending the equivalent of a week’s food budget in a developing country on one grande hazelnut latte with soya milk doesn’t feel particularly Christ-like. Money is pushed back to being a fact of life, but one best left unspoken. One thing I have come to learn in all my years as an introvert is that refusing to speak about something only makes the problems worse.
But that silence is being broken.
Writers like Justin Welby, Graham Beynon and Rob Parsons have all written about the relationship between finances and faith. Joining this conversation is Kris Vallotton, with his new book Poverty, Riches and Wealth.
Dedicated to “born losers” and those “ imprisoned by life’s circumstances”, Poverty, Riches and Wealth challenges the reader to see wealth as something not purely denoted with a £ or $; a hard feat for anyone brought up experiencing a lack, or abundance, of money in their lives.
At just the age of three, Kris’ father drowned. In a time where the American social welfare provided so little sustenance that the breaking of the cycle of poverty seemed an impossible task for many, Kris and his mother were forced to move into the projects. There Kris learned two things; one beneficial, one not so much. In the projects he discovered a deep bond of community that grew to replace the absence of material comfort. People didn’t have much, but they had each other.
But he also found in in the projects a relentless loathing for the classes above them. “We all despised wealthy folks, railed against big business and blamed Uncle Sam for our deprived
condition” Powerlessness was the coal to that engine of rage. Powerless against the system of entrenched poverty; powerless against big businesses that exploited others; powerless against the death of his father that landed him in such a place.
But then came a change. At eighteen Kris joined a church. With that there was an expectation that all this raging against wealth would be replaced with something altogether more transcendent. It was not a long-lived expectation:
“[I] soon discovered that God’s noble people also despised wealth and actually had the same mentality as the people I grew up with in the projects. Despite the fact that we all yearned for a heavenly Kingdom with gold streets and pearl gates, and that we knew our heavenly Father was rich beyond comprehension, we still gravitated toward poverty like a tick on a dog’s behind!”
He was faced with Biblical interpretations that enshrined, even idealised, poverty as a form of nobility. “We made Jesus poor, forgetting that He was the architect of heaven and Creator of the earth”, Kris writes “We viewed His disciples as homeless transients wandering from village to village [...] eking out a meagre existence from a few coins dropped in the offering by a widow or two.” There were some who broke away from meagre means, never to be seen again. This was almost seen as the Church was losing a soul.
Yet this never deterred Kris from hard work, but it did fix in him a spirit of sacrifice and frugality. Wealth was painted with danger; that the human heart was a land of limited size, and there was only enough room for either wealth or Christ. Not for both.
Kris Vallotton felt, in the most palpable sense, an embarrassment of riches.
“I really had two primary fears. First, I worried that we would be thought of like the guys who abused the faith message and seemed to measure their spirituality by the stuff they owned. [...] Second, I was concerned that people would think we were mismanaging the money they donated to our ministries and were using it for our personal gain.”
This personal conflict came to a head when a total stranger insisted on paying off his house; an amount which came close to half a million dollars. This sparked something in Kris, the feeling he should find out what wealth really means. Beyond the riches, beyond the kind of prosperity people name their boats after, to the meaning of the word that relates to God’s lasting Kingdom, and not man’s temporary one.
His book is a dive into what God’s definition of wealth is, and where man’s definition has crept in to try and replace it. In reading it you may have to shelve some of the discomfort you feel when discussing money. But if you can do that, you may just discover a new way to view wealth that makes a real change.
Poverty, Riches and Wealth by Kris Vallotton is available to order today.
April 25th, 2018 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon