Money

It's the Equality, Stupid

... that quaint period, the thirties, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them, or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy. —Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie (1945)

Have we learned the lessons of the Great Depression now?

We are once again, in Tennessee Williams’ memorable image, having our “fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.” And the reason is that many of us have, once again, “failed our eyes.”

The lessons taught to the socially and economically sight-impaired in the 1930s have been forgotten or willfully denied, producing conditions in the present decade very much like those in the 1920s that led to the Great Depression. In the ’20s, as in recent years, tax cuts for the rich, in combination with anti-union practices and a lack of regulation of markets, yielded increasing wealth inequality. The extreme gap between rich and poor meant that more money went into speculation (by the rich) rather than consumption (by everyone); consumption is what keeps the economy healthy. Mass consumption and the economy were propped up, but only temporarily, with an unsustainable amount of consumer credit—until the speculation bubble burst and the credit ran out in 1929.

Who most completely failed their eyes? Who are those responsible for creating the conditions that led to the economic meltdown that began in September?

Fundamentalists.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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A Pastoral Strategy for Hard Times

Many Americans are angry about this financial crisis, angry about a rescue plan that seems to bail out Wall Street more than them, and frustrated with the lack of clear solutions being offered by politicians. But underneath the anger, there is a deeper level of fear in America right now. I am hearing that fear across the country. How will this affect me and my family? What will happen to my retirement funds, to the college account for my kids, to the value of my home? Am I going to lose my home or even my job? As the immediate crisis turns into a longer and deeper recession, these questions will only increase. A continued rise in unemployment and foreclosures, along with shrinking investments and credit, will bring more pain to ordinary Americans.

Recently on CNN a financial consultant re­port­ed that some of her clients are already living in their cars. I could feel the fear gripping many Ameri­cans. A friend of mine, a financial planner now engaged in intense daily conversations with his clients, left me a simple voicemail—“Pray for me.”

It’s not often that most Americans are worrying about the same thing at the same time. The last time might have been just after 9/11. But it is increasingly clear that most Americans are focused on the same thing right now. The collapse of Wall Street, the deepening economic recession (the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression), and the clear threat of another depression have become the overriding foci of public conversation. Every other issue is perceived as a distraction.

For Christians, there are deeper questions that should be asked: What is a Christian response to a deepening economic crisis like this? What should people of faith be thinking, saying, and doing? What is the responsibility of the churches to their own parishioners, to their communities, to the nation, and to the world? And where is God in all this?

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Holy Insecurity

For Catholics and mainline Protestants, the weekly Sunday texts are assigned through a lectionary, with readings arranged in a three-year cycle. Thus, on any given Sunday, millions of Christians hear the same passages of scripture in their congregations. Although some Christians find this a constricting spiritual practice, I am often surprised at how relevant the texts can be—even in a moment of crisis.

In September, a few days after Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson first started crafting a bailout for the spiraling Wall Street crisis, the assigned texts were Exodus 16:2-15 (God giving manna in the wilderness to Israel) and Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the generous land­owner). As they were read from the pulpit, I literally gasped as the stories told of a God who provides for God’s people in the most trying of circumstances, giving food enough for the day.

As I glanced around the suburban parish, I saw plenty of worry on people’s faces. On the surface, these were comfortable churchgoers. But, after the last several months of economic battering, I knew that there was anxiety enough to go around. Soaring gas prices have cut into our paychecks, falling home prices cause us concern about equity nest eggs to pay college tuition bills, and never-ceasing cutbacks in insurance coverage are surely at the basis of our prayers for good health.

Now the stock market collapse threatens whatever money these nice Episco­palians have saved for retirement. I know how easy it can be to poke fun at suburbanites. But these are the people whom my grandmother always called “good Christian folks,” those who have played by the rules and lived with integrity. Now they are watching their security and future disappear. I leaned over to my husband and said, “I am really glad I’m not preaching today.”

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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