You wrote "Devotions for Debtors" because you, like many Americans, were in debt. How big a problem is it?
Every day the news gives huge figures. And I’m not completely out [of debt] either. I wrote the book, but I haven’t completed the cycle. Because it’s so easy to get in debt and it’s so hard to get out of it. And there’s a mindset that goes with getting out of it like, “if I tear up my credit cards, will I still be able to get the Internet?” People have a lot of unanswered fears about trying to do it.
You're not talking about student loans or mortgages, right? You’re talking about impulse buying.
Sometimes it isn’t even impulse, sometimes it just seems like it’s the only way. That’s the biggest falsehood in America, that there’s no other way. That you’ve got to get in debt to be an American.
Your book offers biblical passages and spiritual support for debtors. Is the implication that being in debt is a spiritual failing? Is being a shopaholic a sin?
I can’t speak for all shopaholics, but for people like me, the major sin is lack of trust in God---that I won’t get what I need, God won’t give me what I need unless I go in debt for it. That’s a real fundamental problem in a lot of other sins. People commit sins because they don’t really believe God is going to help them.
Your book says that when you start facing up to debt, your vision of God changes. In what way?
The minute you start trusting, your relationship with God changes. The more you can relate to God, the more God’s image changes in your mind. It’s one thing to have a judge, and it’s another to have a friend.
I felt that God was with me in the effort to get out of debt, offering me solutions to things and reminding me that I didn’t really need something.
What kind of solutions?
Like having things refinanced. Because of the ["Devotions"] book, we got a much lower interest rate on our home mortgage. We began to feel powerful rather than helpless. There are people who need almost like a 12-step program where they have to admit their helplessness over shopping. That is not my problem, but I sure know a lot of people who have it.
Powerlessness is an American illness right now. We feel powerless over the government and over money. I know lots of people who no longer vote. "Why bother? It’s going to happen the way they want it to happen anyway." And it’s the same thing about money—"I can’t control it." The terror of layoffs and jobs ending may have made people think they have to buy everything now. "I’d rather buy it quick before I lose my job or something."
They should ask for wisdom and for a sense of having enough. I mean, the definition of what’s enough anymore is really pretty expanded. There has to be the individual response, "OK, I’m not going to do this anymore."
Of the Bible verses in your book, which ones have helped you most in your struggle?
Maybe the most important was the very first one [read the devotion], "don’t take a staff, don’t take any extra clothes." Because that means you’ve got to get down to the absolute basics of what you need and you’ve got to trust God for the rest. The idea that you could travel that light is really freeing.
What are other spiritual suggestions for debtors?
I’m learning how to get rid of stuff. I’ve always had a rule that if I buy a book, I have to get rid of a book. The same thing with clothes—if I buy a garment, I try to get rid of one. I find that very freeing. To say to myself, "I don’t need this, I don’t want it, I’m getting rid of it."
I give money to beggars, too. In fact, I am getting to be fairly famous around this town, for handing money out my window to people with signs. I am a member of a lay religious order called the Order of Saint Aidan. I took my vow of, they don’t say poverty, they say simplicity. I took the sixth chapter of Luke literally: it says to give money to anyone who asks you.
I’ve got to say, I’ve never missed any money that I gave away. Ever. In fact, I think God really replenishes it, though I don’t want to do it for that reason. But I usually find money in my pockets and purses that I think God’s sneaked in there.