A Penny for your thoughts

Christabel McCooey is SPEAKs lovely new Fundraising Officer - here's her wisdom and reflections on funding the spiritual revolution

Hello lovely Speakers,

My name is Christabel, I’ve recently been drafted in as the new Fundraising Officer for Speak. It sounds like quite a formidable title, but I can assure you that I have no magic powers in this area. You will no doubt have to bear with me for a period of fumbling around blindly before I can start bringing in the serious funds and provide the steam for your brilliant ideas for change.

This new role has necessarily got me thinking a fair bit about money lately and actually, whether I give enough away myself. As a student, I feel slightly justified in being quite frugal (bordering stingy?). I think to myself that I’ll be more generous when I’m earning bigger bucks and no longer dithering at the condiments aisle over whether to buy Sainsbury’s Basics ketchup or my beloved Heinz.

However, a few weeks ago something strange happened. I’d forked out on an Oyster Card, the monthly season pass, for around £80. Too many times had I been drifting in the jet stream of a sea of commuters, only to be flashed with the ominous red ‘Seek Assistance’ message at the barrier, having to then beat my way through the pile up of indignant commuters behind me to top-up. So I was happy about this purchase. I was also very aware of my natural tendency to lose important or valuable things. “It’ll be fine” I told myself, “I’ll keep it in the inner pocket of my bag”.

So anyway shortly after this purchase, I went out to dinner with an old friend. I had a good time. At the end of the night we said our good-byes and I went back to the tube station to go home. I get to the barriers and – shock, horror, the inevitable - yet baffling - disappearance of my Oyster card after only TWO days. Despite it being in my safe pocket, no less. Had I over-hid it, like an anxious squirrel unable to find its stash of nuts for the winter? No, it simply wasn’t there.

I was quite peeved to say the least. I got home using my retro old standard Oyster card with its last remaining £3 on it. And when I got home, I’m ashamed to say it, but I began to strike something of a bargain with God. I said “Look, this isn’t ideal. I just bought that card you realise? What a waste of £80 that was! Think of all the better things I could’ve spent it on! Now it’s festering away in some unknown netherworld of abandoned Oyster cards. In fact, God, you who can ‘do all things’… you may have bigger things on your plate but if you give me back my Oyster Card, I promise I will spend half of what it’s worth – forty pounds – on anyone and anything except myself”. I know you are not supposed to haggle with God. I know. And to be honest, I thought it was a lost cause.

However, the next morning I woke to an email from my dinner friend saying, “I don’t know how it happened but I randomly found your Oyster Card in my pocket this morning! I’ll post it back”.

How on earth? We didn’t do a pocket exchange or have any close encounters for that to happen. How. On. Earth. But how wonderful! Then I remembered my promise. It would have been shamefully easy to forget about it but I didn’t. And for the last few weeks I have been giving away £40 in various forms to various people: buskers at the tube station, whether they’re wailing to a CD or playing the clarinet; Big Issue venders, who tell me not to take life too seriously; buying a cake for my friend. The other day, whilst waiting outside a shop, a grizzly faced man approached saying “Got a spare pound, love?” Instead of my usual pained grimace and feeble shaking of my head, I said: “Why yes! Here! Take two!” grinning maniacally. He looked quite aghast but took it nonetheless.

And so, even though £40 is not really much money at all in the grand scheme of things, it’s been surprisingly fun giving it away to anyone or anything except myself. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected and I haven’t missed a penny of it. I realise how little I really pay attention to where my money goes or how and why I spend it on the things I do. Since moving to Brixton, I have made a point of buying as many groceries and everyday items at the independent markets to try and rebuild the human connection with products and food that I have lost from shopping in vast supermarkets and faceless superstores. It takes more time to think about these everyday choices now and they are not so automatic and easy to make. But isn’t that the point?

This week has also added a new twist to my thoughts about money and the impact it has on our lives. Starting the final leg of my training to become a human rights lawyer, I knew that I would be met with various intimidating people telling me not to be idealistic; to dilute my vision for change and to think about all the competition out there. Almost every day I’ve had well-meaning but cynical people say to me: “Oh, it’s all well and good doing what you’re passionate about, but you won’t make any money that way. You need stability and a steady income. Especially, as a woman who’ll have a family eventually. You’ll have to do something else”.

It’s only very recently that I’ve realised what an insidious attitude that is. The fear and paralysis that it can potentially muster is so subtle that it can almost be mistaken for kindly common sense. But it is the crusher of dreams and the robber of clear vision. How many key change-makers in history would have accomplished what they did if they let fears about money be the sole driving factor behind their choices? We are not called by God to be restrained by practicality and the world’s standards of success and normality. If we have a strong drive inside us in whatever area of our life, small or big, all we can do is simply trust God to provide for our little bit, when the time is right and when we are ready. And to hell with what people think about it.

As you know, ‘Speak Week’ is fast approaching. It would be great to hear what each Speak group is planning to do or if you need any ideas for fun things to raise awareness about the cause. “Seeding change” is a particularly relevant campaign in light of all this money talk. It is rare to find a pure and uncompromising voice challenging the issue of Agribusiness around the world and the far-reaching impact our choices about food can have. I pray that we will all stand firm, even in our fragility, during these next weeks. It can be a solitary place striving for positive differences, but I believe it will pay off in dividends.

Also, if there are a specific few of you who, like me, have been pondering about money and giving lately but aren’t quite sure where to start or haven’t had much of a nudge in that direction yet, then I can only humbly and sincerely suggest that you become a regular giver to Speak or to any other cause that is close to your heart for that matter. I think you may be surprised with the results.

(Click here for details about how to become a regular Speak donor).