Living FREE: An Interview with Mark Scandrette

Mark Scandrette

Mark and Lisa Scandrette are co authors of the book, FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters most. Lisa is an educator and textile artist and Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE: A Center for Integrative Christian Practice based in San Francisco. A sought after teacher he is also the author of SOUL GRAFFITI and Practicing the Way of Jesus. Together they have raised three children and live in an old victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

KW: What led you to write FREE?

MS: We want to see people become more free to spend their time and money on what matters most. So many of us have good dreams about how we want to live: seeking God’s kingdom, pursuing justice, doing meaningful work and investing in our relationships. But for many of us these dreams are frustrated by school loans and consumer debts, less than meaningful work and patterns of hurry, worry and overspending. Sometimes we try to solve immediate financial challenges without addressing deeper soul issues like gratitude, trust and contentment. It’s also important to consider how our choices effect the poorest people on the planet. The book is based on seven steps that connect spiritual disciplines, global needs and practical skills about time and money.

Seven years ago Lisa and I started leading workshops on simplicity where we invited people to take practical steps to become more free. Some have gotten out of debt, others have learned to live with less fear and more contentment, and many have developed the courage and skills to pursue more meaningful work and service. The book puts that learning journey into a book form that includes a group study guide and 8  free online videos.

KW: What has living in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world, taught you about resources, priorities and money?

MS: Sixteen years ago we had the improbable dream of moving to San Francisco to raise our three kids, start a faith community and care for needs in an at-risk neighborhood. We knew that to do this sustainably would require focus and discipline. It has helped us to have clear goals in mind, to prioritize our time and to live by a careful spending plan. But what has shaped us the most is learning to live with a sense of abundance, trust and radical contentment. The steps we describe in Free allowed us to choose meaningful work, live on one income and have one of us stay at home with our kids. Through a bit of luck and a lot of grace were were able to buy and pay off a home in this expensive city while never making more than an average teacher’s salary.

Living in a city with great wealth it’s easy to look around and see many people who are better off financially that we are. But gradually we’ve learned to take a more global outlook on our abundance. If you make more than $34,000 a year you are in the top 1% of global wealth.

KW: What one thing do Christians tend to miss the most about Jesus’ life and teaching that keeps us from the freedom Jesus would have us experience in life?

MS: We live in one of the wealthiest economies on earth. Yet many of us feel crunched for time, stressed in our finances or perplexed about what makes life meaningful. Our culture is driven by a sense of scarcity, fear and an unquenchable quest for more. If we don’t make conscious choices to resist these impulses, the force of a materialistic and consumeristic society will make most of our decisions for us. The scripts we’ve inherited about material prosperity are wearing us out, robbing our joy and destroying the planet. We’ve simply got to find a version of “the good life” that can be shared by all.

We believe the teachings of Jesus can help us make better choices about how we spend our time and money. Jesus invites us to look at what we have through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity and to use what we’ve been given to do good. This is why he told his disciples, “sell your possessions and give to the poor– because we live in a world where our Creator provides everything we need to be fulfilled. As Jesus said, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” (and I would add, consumptive experiences).  We have enough and we don’t need more to be fulfilled in this moment. Much of our striving, hurry, financial pressures and global inequity come from our misguided beliefs than more will make us happy.

KW: What advice do you offer parents on helping teach these principles to their children?

MS: We think its important to help children develop a sense of abundance and generosity from an early age. When we pray at meal times we give each person a chance to share one thing they are grateful for today. We started giving our kids part of the family budget to manage when they were 6 or 7 years old, (their allowance, clothing money, gift money and a portion of our charitable giving), so that they would begin to understand how to value and plan their resources. When we have to say “no” to a purchase, we take time to explain the the decision and the trade offs we sometimes have to make between spending and other life priorities. Although we want to be generous with our kids, we have them save up and pay a portion of major purchases like camp, cameras and computers. As they hit adolescence we began having regular conversations about things like ethical spending practices, debt and investment. But the most important thing you can do for a child is to model contentment, hard work, celebration and generous living.

KW: Who is a hero of yours that lives a life worth emulating? Can you describe what attracts you to his or her life and faith?

MS: We have been inspired by people like Saint Francis, Sister Claire, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor and George Mueller who took incredible risk to love people and trust God for the resources they needed on a daily basis. Spiritual seekers since ancient times have pursued voluntary poverty and simplicity, knowing that preocupation with “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” can keep us from being fruitful and fully alive.

KW: What are three practical tips for beginning to live Free

1. Name what matters most to you. Spend some time alone or with the person you share life with clarifying what is most important to you. We have a 5 sentence purpose statement that helps guide decisions in our family that includes God, relationships, serving needs and living simply and creatively.

2. Value and align your time. Create a “time budget” and consider whether how you are currently spending your time reflects what you say is most important. If not, consider how to make changes. How you spend your time is how you spend your life.

3. Create a spending plan. Calculate how much you earn and spend and make a detailed plan for how your earning, spending and saving can be managed so that you are free to spend your time and money on what matters most. In our faith community we share our spending plans with each other once a year to encourage and support conscious choices.



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