My friend Jen Fulwiler and her husband came over to our house the night we found my oldest son Anthony dead by suicide and ordered food for my family. We didn’t even remember we needed to eat because we were in such shock we had not even realized how hungry we were. Before she left she handed me a wad of cash that by God’s grace was given to her by her dad and said “money does not fix anything but hard things are easier with it” (I am paraphrasing) Right from the start I learned how right she was.
The money she gave me was almost the exact amount that I needed to pay the light bill which kept the lights on since they were going to be shut off the day after we found Anthony. On the day after my son hung himself in my garage, I was at the bank putting in cash Jen gave me so I could pay the light bill. If there has ever been a moment in my life when money and electricity seemed so meaningless and stupid it was that one. Then came the funeral planning. Again, money seemed so pointless and meaningless. My son was dead, nothing at all mattered to me next to that. Anthony’s suicide was the kind of problem money could not fix. But now that I have two years to look at in hindsight, I can see how the money helped cushion the blow of it.
This is why when people ask how to help a friend who has lost someone suddenly I always say to stock them up with paper goods, cleaning supplies, cash and gift cards. In the aftermath of death, nothing matters. Buying toilet paper seems so pointless when your brain is screaming “YOUR PERSON IS DEAD!!” at you.
But if I had said to a person burying a child with no money “money doesn’t matter” that would have come off as arrogant and clueless. Because money does matter. Money is how we pay for food, lights, gas so we can have heat, clothes to keep us warm and all the other things we as human beings need to survive. It is how we pay to bury our children. When people who have money and material needs met tell people who don’t have money or material needs met that money does not matter, it is a statement of ignorance and privilege. It would be easy for me to say “money does not matter” as a person who had plenty of money to make sure that I could have the funeral I wanted for my son thanks to the world sending me donations to do. A funeral that expressed my love for him without having to worry about cost. I could easily tell people that money did not matter to me because I didn’t have to worry about it when it came to Anthony’s funeral or the aftermath. As Jen told me, money made Anthony’s suicide easier to deal with even though it did not fix it at all. I would trade it all to have him back.
This is what I think about when I hear people who write or speak for a living and get paid to do it and have money to pay for their bills with that money tell other people that they do not do those things for the money. No, maybe money is not their motivating factor but they still get paid and still have money and material needs met that those of us who write and speak for small fees, or no fees, do not have met. It is easy to say that Jesus should be the only reason a Christian should write or speak when you are getting paid enough to cover your needs. If it is truly all about Jesus then don’t get paid and live off donations. The greatest evangelizer I know did that so I know it is possible to do. But do not say that it is not at all about money if you are getting paid and have your bills covered and have health insurance and are not working a day job to cover expenses while you write at 2am on a blog that makes you no money. Because that is just douchy. It is also not being thankful for the gifts you have like lights and health insurance.
Everyone has different circumstances and we cannot make blanket assumptions about other people’s motives or intentions. Not even when it comes to Catholic speakers and writers. Just because you see someone do or post something you feel is not Catholic enough does not mean that that person is not living their lives totally in obedience to Jesus. It just means that who they are called to share the Gospel with is not who you are called to share it with. And they have been given different gifts to do what it is that God has called them to do. This is what I call the “diversity of gifts”. The gifts needed to talk to strippers, gangsters, and prostitutes are not the same gifts needed to talk to teens or suburban housewives. We all have the gift to tell our stories of what God has done for us. Some of us have the gift to do that through social media or on a stage or in the secular world or in our everyday work life.
It is a Grace to be able to look at people who are in very difficult circumstances and be able to not see the mess but see a child loved by God. It is also a Grace to be able to speak to a crowd. Some people have two or three same gifts but then those two people can be totally different in other spaces. There is no ONE WAY to speak on the Grace of God. We can see this when we read the stories of the saints. The real stories, not the ones that people tell so that it looks like all the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong.
Right now the world needs to hear about Jesus from different people in different ways. I have tried to stop cussing or listening to pop/rap/hip hop music. I have tried to not watch reality TV or stop loving the Kardashians. But that is just not who I am. I am me. I have all the gifts that God wants me to have to do what He wants me to do. I am fearless when it comes to seeing God in all things secular. I can talk Jesus while in a dive bar taking shots with total strangers. I can have a full conversation with a hooker at 9am while drinking a beer with her without batting an eye. I feel more comfortable among strippers and gang members than I do in a Bible Study at my suburban parish. I am learning how not to be bitter at people who have not had the life experiences I have had (it is a very slow process that requires me to let go of my own assumptions) but I will probably always be more comfortable around people who seem so far from God than those who, from the outside, look like walking saints. My life has always been about duality and living in two different spaces, it is no different now that I have converted to Catholicism. I live in both spaces and I am starting to see that as a gift too. Just do not ever think that because I share Cardi B quotes or Ariana Grande music on social media that I am not living out the mission God gave me. In fact, do not think that of anyone. We are all on the same team.
We are all trying to do our best to live out the life God has given to us the best way we can, using the gifts He has given us while also paying the light bill. Sometimes we do that by preaching to the choir and sometimes we do it by going to the dive bar to smoke newports and take shots of Jameson preaching the Good News. And if you think that is not possible, you are not giving God enough credit. God has diverse gifts to give to us and sometimes we are lucky enough that those gifts help us pay our bills and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the gift is speaking pagan fluently. Who are we to say what God can or can’t use to bring His people to Him? God is much bigger than our limited view of Him. The best thing we can do for each other is asking each other “how can I help you?” or just shutting up and letting God do what God does.