The Common Good

God's Provision in a Recession

A few summers ago, my son brought a little white plastic birdbath to my dad's house and set it up in the back yard. Dad kept the birdbath clean and filled with water. "The birds should put me on the payroll," he joked. We enjoyed watching them come and splash in the water. We enjoyed watching their bird etiquette. Last summer the little birdbath broke. It tilted so that it could no longer hold water.

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My dad's neighbor had a large heavy stone birdbath in her back yard that she never used. A few days ago, my son asked if we could have it. "Of course," she said. "You did not have to waste your breath asking." With some effort, my son rolled the birdbath from her yard into Dad's yard. I rinsed it and filled it with water. I carried the water in a large bucket half full. Water is heavy. As I carried the water the few steps from the spigot to the birdbath, I thought of the women around the globe who lift buckets full of water on their heads and carry them for miles to use to wash, cook, and clean. There is no reason why they ought not to have running water.

The birds are back. They come in late afternoon and enjoy a refreshing dip before going their way. God has provided for the birds through us and through our neighbor. At the other end of the yard the garden is growing very well. (We soaked the okra seeds and planted them. The okra is coming up.) We are harvesting cucumbers that are more than a foot long, some as long as 17 inches and 8 inches around. We have given them to neighbors and friends. We took cucumbers and string beans to church to give to my dad's pastor. There is not recession in the garden. Everyone with whom we share our harvest is happy to receive the gift.

The economy is stagnant. Unemployment is still too high. Some people have lost hope and have stopped looking for work. Congress is playing politics with unemployment benefits. But when I look at the garden and the fruits of our labor, when I see the birds splashing in the birdbath at the close of the day, I glimpse the meaning and method of God's provision. It is our willingness to share. The problem with our economy is not that there is no money. The problem is that banks that have money are afraid to lend it. Businesses that could expand and hire people cannot get capital. It is a crisis of faith. Too many of us are afraid that we will lose what we have. The generosity that can allow us to pull ourselves out of this recession requires faith.

We do not serve a poor broke God. The notion of recession makes no sense within the context of faith. The Bible is full of stories of God sending provision morning by morning. Jesus blesses a few fish and a few loaves, and everyone present is fed. An open hand that gives also receives. Recession or not, the song we sing in church at offering time is right. You can't beat God giving, no matter how you try.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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