You know what happens in an asthma attack, right? The problem is that the person keeps breathing in . . . in . . . in . . . and can't manage to breathe out. And of course that's really serious and if it's bad enough they can die of it. You can also die of constipation, which is a similar problem but in your gut. Breathing in and also breathing out, consuming and eliminating — you need both halves of the dynamic, because balance is what wellness is. Yin and Yang. We walk a tightrope through this world.
It is a sort of currency, a flow. Human society also runs on this — yes, "runs" is the right word, a flow. We harvest, we sow; we receive, we give; we gather, we scatter. That's the way of nature, which was created by God, so it's also the way of grace, the way of blessing.
I am very interested in lowliness, humility and simplicity. I find rich veins of spiritual power in the small hidden tracks and the little places under the hedge. The springs in the Valley of Baca that Psalm 84 talks about, the house martin under the eaves, the sparrow in the attic of the house of God. Frugality is an aspect of this, and it belongs to the way I have chosen. If you give away a considerable amount of what comes to you, it stands to reason you don't have a big lot left, so you have to know how to make it stretch and make it last.
John Wesley wrote about this, in a glorious sentence in either his journal or a sermon (I forget which). he said, "I endeavour to wind my bottom round the year, " which made me stop and say, what?
In Wesley's day, of course, bottom meant something different from how we use it now. It derives in translation from the Latin word, dignitas, also translating as "substance". It meant, what you had, your substance, what you'd got behind you — which is how it came to mean how we use it now. My bottom is what I have behind me.
Wesley earned a fair bit from his writing, but he gave away a lot and also begged in the street in support of the poor — he was one of the original chuggers, I suppose. He kept things low on purpose, living on a small amount himself for the sake of sharing and generosity. He breathed in, but he also breathed out, he kept his spirit healthy. "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can," was Wesley's maxim.
By "save all you can", he meant not "hoard" but "refrain from spending"; and this is where I take issue with him. Because, how can one person earn all they can if another person is saving all they can? It isn't logical.
This winter I wanted a good hat, a warm tweedy one, with a snug fit so the coastal winds don't blow it away when I'm walking down the street. I also wanted a rain hat with the same snug fit. Happily for me, a woman has just opened a hat shop in Hastings Old Town, so I was able to purchase both. And very expensive they are too, by my standards. But, look, they're both made in the UK, and the firms (Proppa Toppa and Peak & Brim) who make them sell them online for no more than the woman in Hastings has them in her shop. I guess she gets a discount as a retailer making a bulk purchase from the maker, but she's not adding on much of a margin in what she charges her customers — and she has all her overheads in running a shop to cover before she even starts to pay her electricity bill at home and put food on the table in one of the most expensive countries in the world.
If I followed Wesley's maxim, saving all I can, I'd certainly not have bought a hat from that woman. So then what? If nobody buys her hats, the woman goes out of business, the shop closes, the women making the hats go out of business, and we have a whole new set of women living in poverty for Wesley to support by begging on the street for money for the relief of the poor. And who's going to give him the money to relieve the poor if everyone's gone out of business because nobody will buy what they make and sell? Including Wesley himself. How can he relieve the poor if everyone's virtuously following his maxim and decides to save money by not buying his writing?
As a writer myself, I know this dynamic firsthand. My fellow Christians often say to me, "I've read all your books. I got them from the library / borrowed them from a friend. I couldn't get the last one so I had to buy that myself." I don't comment, but can they not see the implication of what they are saying? It dams the flow, stops the currency, quite literally.
About twenty years ago, I wrote a book called The Clear Light of Day, which a lot of people have enjoyed. Lion Hudson first published it in the UK, then David C. Cook bought the UK rights as well as US rights to publish it internationally — and they paid me the best royalty advance I ever had as well as giving me the most amount of free copies to give away of any publisher I ever worked with. Sing "hey" for David C. Cook!
They wanted a sequel, and asked me to write a piece about it to go in the end of the book, which I did.
From then and right up to the present day I've had people writing to me asking, "Where can I get the sequel? I want to read it."
Here's why you can't: not enough copies of Book 1 sold. Simple as that. Unless Book 1 sells, there will never be a Book 2. Publishing is a numbers game and the books have to balance, and no publisher on earth will place a bet on what they know won't sell.
Christians who only read what they borrow from friends and the library are ensuring beyond all doubt that there is no money in writing Christian books, that the Christian bookshops vanish from the high street (they have) that Christian publishers go out of business (many have), and that Christian writers can't make a living. Many authors of Christian books aren't writers. In fact a goodly proportion of them are seriously bad writers who need a lot of help in creating a publishable text. What they do have is a large public ministry as speakers or ministers, or else they are in some way prominent as public figures who happen to be Christian and have an interesting story to tell. Some publishers won't publish anyone unless they promise to buy 500 copies of their own book; they won't take the risk. The writer has to support the publisher as well as herself. Very, very few people can make a living out of being a Christian writer per se, because of the culture of frugality in the church. If Wesley were alive today, we'd have to beg in the street to support him, if he was trying to do what he did then and live by writing his pamphlets.
So that's why the sequel to my novel never itself saw the clear light of day.
There has to be a flow. Charity and giving are an important part of our discipleship, but so are earning and spending. Earning money is a lot more dignified (that word again: dignitas, "bottom") than being the recipient of handouts, and whatever else charity and welfare benefits do, they certainly ensure you stay poor. Society flourishes on currency, on earning and spending, on goods and services both provided and bought.
Part of the health of this dynamic lies in choosing to pay for people rather than things. In my lifetime I've seen a steady rise of folk choosing the inanimate over the living. The bread-making machine instead of the baker, the vacuum cleaner instead of the char; cutting out the services provider and the middle man – with the same object in view as Wesley had, to save money.
I like to learn from videos on YouTube about living frugally, because as a Christian writer it's a skill I need to grasp firmly! I find it disappointing that they all seem to rely on others giving to them ("buy my t-shirts, give to my Patreon account"), so they can accumulate wealth without giving to anyone else. That's fiscal constipation. They want to dam the currency to create their own enormous pool. It does create a pool, just as they hoped, but what they don't seem to understand is it also creates a desert. A stream is better than a pool. If you keep the flow going, then everyone benefits, not just yourself.
Life is richer, more joyously textured, when we pay people for what they do well. When the writer is paid for writing and the dressmaker for clothes, the milliner for hats, the baker for bread, when people eat out in restaurants and hire a gardener, then the money goes round and society doesn't expire through spiritual asthma. That's the way of blessing.