August 28th, 2014
Moving Past Fear: Imagining What’s Possible With Your Giving
Out of the blue a friend said to me, “Roxanne, why have you never thought of studying theology?” Neither she nor I had any idea what possessed her to say that, but it was it was like getting hit over the head with a 2x4. I immediately knew this was what I was supposed to be doing. I had been with Sears doing everything in the early 80’s from driving a forklift, to working with McDonalds and Sears in the area of mergers acquisitions, then with Spiegel as a marketing director. Next, I started my own consulting company as a strategic planner and assisting with product development for companies such as LL Bean and McDonald’s. I had two kids in college, four cars in the driveway and a large house in Chicago. I was trying to make the numbers work on starting a second business. Deep inside, I knew I should be doing something different. The next thing I knew, based on my friend’s encouragement, I was applying to Catholic Theological Union, (CTU). Much to my surprise I was accepted but told I would need to start in two weeks! I closed my consulting business of ten years and gave all my clients to my competitors.
I took to theology like a fish takes to water. CTU is the largest graduate school of theology of it’s kind in the world with over 32 different religious orders participating. My colleagues were from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other countries. I was often the only American. My graduating class for my Master of Divinity was 53; three of us were women. Later, I went on to get my doctorate in Ministry. After receiving my M.Div, on a lark I applied for a position in a large urban parish. Unexpectedly, I got the job and hit the ground running working with parishioners on charity ministries and social justice issues.
After almost three years at the parish I was invited to teach at the University of St. Thomas where I taught for nearly 10 years. I encouraged my students to consider how our theological beliefs affect our ability to understand systemic injustice and to challenge cultural assumptions and practices that drive social injustice and offer alternative possibilities for change. The truth is it’s not a dualistic world; we don’t have a spiritual world and a physical world. It’s all one. Everything is completely interconnected and interdependent. I encourage them to understand that charity is a Band-Aid of a deeper systemic problem.
I love how it all comes together; my corporate background has been invaluable. It’s pretty hard to help adults understand systems of poverty if they don’t understand basic economics and how the economic systems work. I’m able to bring my training and understanding of how the business world works, how companies must create a profit, and how capitalism actually works in order to help people see where it doesn’t work.
Whether in the classroom or doing outreach, my mission is to educate people about what creates hunger and to understand the systems that create hunger and poverty. I also try to motivate and educate through my writings; Living a Luxury Life and other books, through my blogs on InnerPacific and through workshops such as Fill your Life with Fabulous and other topics that help people feel empowered to fill their own lives with the things that help them go deeper and add meaning to their lives. Help them become more of who they are meant to be.
I want to help people understand that poverty is something we create, it doesn’t just happen, that needing less actually makes you more secure. I love dispelling myths. People are surprised when Ananya Roy says, “I live in public housing,” which is true of anyone who gets a tax rebate from their mortgage. In the U.S. we spend $24 billion a year on public housing but we spend $78 billion on reducing taxes for people who hold mortgages. If we’re getting money back, we’re living in public housing!
If you asked me how to get started donating, I would encourage you to think strategically of ways to lift communities out of poverty and ways to help solve problems; to educate yourself, talk to your friends and people they know; Google the things you care about; find out what your personal passion is and how you can make a difference. Giving away dollars that make systematic changes is a long-term process; it doesn’t have the immediate gratification as giving to charity.
Perhaps one can give to both; support the immediate needs by giving to the local shelter or food pantry but take the next step; if housing is your issue, look into organizations such as MICAH- Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing. If feeding people is what you care most about, then you might want to look into an organization such as Bread for the World. Both organizations delve into the underlying causes, trying to get to the root of the issues and affect legislation. The main thing is find an organization, issue and approach that fits with your own interests. I’m a professor and educator, so it’s hugely attractive to me to help people think out of the box. For someone else it might be a different approach; basically if it’s interesting to you, you’ll want to learn more about what they do and how they do it, you’ll want to get more involved and stay connected, and you’ll want to free up your resources.
My search led me to Mary’s Pence. After becoming involved for several years, I was asked to be board president. Again, through my business background I was able to help them through a strategic planning process to determine how we could provide grants that are strategic, effective and have measurable outcomes. This was the birth of the ESPERA Funds, which are not micro lending funds but community lending pools that the women in specific communities oversee. I’m proud to say that there are over 500 ESPERA loans currently in operation in the U.S., Central America, South America, and Haiti.
I love what I’m doing and have great faith and hope in our future. Studying theology was nothing I would have thought of doing in a million years. It was as far away as it could be from the initial model I was originally envisioning for my life. You never know where life will take you!