My social media feed has been purged to the point that I only see a few viewpoints that are different than my own. To that end, I’ve only seen one or two messages about how someone paid off their student loans so others should too. What I have seen are many, many, internet friends reporting that they have paid off their student loans but are happy for those who need their debts forgiven. And because my feed is filled with religious types mostly of the Christian-Presbyterian variety, I’ve seen dozens of citations of the prodigal son being forgiven. The most popular from the Twitter account @JesusOfNaz316 stating “The older brother grew angry. ‘I worked hard to pay back all of my loans! But this son of yours, you forgive his loans!’ The father said, “My son, you’re debt free! But we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was buried in debt but now is forgiven. He was dead but now is alive.’” This is usually shared with their personal story of why they think forgiveness is okay for other people, even though they don’t need it. And to someone who needs this forgiveness, I see that you are not the self-righteous older brother in this parable (thank you for that). But do you see that you are the self-righteous narrator, pointing out the self-righteous older brother? If not, take it from this self-righteous debtor… none of us are looking great here.
As a person hoping that my student loans will be forgiven (and I’m relatively sure they will be with the help of the Presbyterian Foundation and People of Joy, ask me about that program later if you are a PCUSA pastor with student loan debt) I want to write as someone who is carrying debt and shame. While forgiving my student loan debt will be a financially significant moment for me, what I’m most looking forward to is letting go of the shame of having this type of debt. I need debt forgiveness. But more than that, I need to let go of the name tags I’ve placed on myself that I wear into financial meetings at my church and at the Presbytery; those name tags say things like, dependent, debtor, liability, failure, incompetent, etc. So, I’m picking sage from my garden and hanging it to dry, so that when my loans are forgiven, I can burn away the shame and see those labels float away in the cleansing smoke. And even as I am preparing for forgiveness the shame has less weight. If you see me at one of those meetings and notice that I’m happier, more talkative, more connected, check my name tag, my real name is there: Beloved.