Friday, September 26, 2008

Crash

I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know what's happening to America, or what the future may hold. But like a lot of other Americans, I've been thinking and praying a lot. And I've been doing a lot of wondering.

I'm starting with a couple basic assumptions. One can love and serve God and be employed. And when one is employed, one earns money. Money is needed to live. We don't barter in livestock and crops. We barter with money. And money, at least in the western culture that I live in, buys not only food and shelter, but also high-definition television sets and iMacs and the trip to Italy for one's 25th wedding anniversary.

In such a culture, one's relationship with money can become quite complicated. As a Christian I am taught that I should not store up treasure on earth, but that I should store up treasure in heaven. As a Christian, I am also taught that the love of money is the root of all evil, and so fairly routinely I ask myself questions such as, "How can you be more generous with what you have?" and "What can you give away?" because I am aware of how easily I can become ensnared by money and the false security it promises. As a Christian, I am also taught to emulate the industrious ant, who stores up something for the future (apparently not treasure, lest he/she/it should contradict Jesus), and to not emulate the sluggard who gives no thought for tomorrow. And as an American Christian, I also see quite clearly the folly of not preparing for the future, and as part of the Baby Boomer generation that has exemplified the "live for today and don't worry about tomorrow" philosophy more than any other, I see the stupidity of people, now aging, now retiring, who have not prepared for the future and who now have no idea how they're going to continue to live. They've squandered their money, and their hearts just keep on ticking.

How have I resolved that conundrum? I've saved throughout my working life, starting with my first paycheck from my first real job. And I've kept at it, paycheck after paycheck, for almost thirty years. I've invested in the stock market, because when one's retirement savings are tied up in a 401K account, as most working Americans' savings are, that's how one does it. I've lived within my means, purchasing cars and homes that I can afford, and paying off debts immediately whenever possible. I've turned down more lucrative job opportunities because I wasn't willing to trade time for money. And I've given more and more away as my income has increased throughout my career.

My guess is that my story isn't all that different from that of many American Christians. Obviously I've purchased things that I didn't need. I didn't need to go to Italy. But that certainly was a wonderful celebration. And I've watched, sometimes contentedly, sometimes not, as my neighbors bought more stuff, and I've wrestled nearly constantly with the notion of what it means to be a Christian in a land of plenty, and I've tried to surround myself with other Christians who will routinely challenge me on what it means to be a rich Christian who is called to love and serve the poor.

So now it may all come crashing down. I've realized a basic fact. My money in the bank has been a sort of security -- the security that life will continue much as I have known it. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. I'm fairly sure that I've been able to serve God during my lifetime, and that I would be able to serve God if life had continued much as it had before. And I'll be able to serve God if I'm flat broke, too, with the single caveat that I won't be able to give as much away. But there will be great regrets if the bottom is out of the tub. I'll regret it that I won't be able to pay for my daughters' college educations, educations that I've planned for and saved for. I'll regret it that I won't be able to pay for their weddings, if and when those days occur. I'll look at my life, at 53, and note the health problems that are already there, and wonder how in the hell I am supposed to keep working forever and pay the bills if medical science keeps me alive to the extent that the heart keeps on ticking but the rest of the body doesn't want to comply.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. Truly. That is the ultimate bottom line for me. But I hope you'll permit me some anger and frustration toward the greedy bastards who have gotten us into this mess, and who have proven conclusively that the love of money really is the root of all evil. And I'll hope you'll allow me a bit of grief and sorrow at what may be passing away. What I and many other people may be losing does not seem illusory. It seems real. And blessed be the name of the Lord.

3 comments:

RebelDeadHead said...

Very well said. As always, I appreciate your candidness and openness. As a fellow Christian who is trying to make it in the secular field of music journalism/blogging/cultural commentary, your thoughts are always appreciated.

-Joe Koch
www.figandmint.com

justbennett said...

Well said. Speaking for the next generation, I mourn for my peers who were never taught to save or stay out of debt. I mourn for my generation of Xers and Millenials who thought that having a credit card at age 15 was a good idea. Their parents gladly obliged. During times of plenty we stretched everything to the limit believing it was our natural right.

Anyhow, if it gets bad perhaps America will develop some renewed character.

Julana said...

Part of the responsibility lies with all those realtors who subtly pressure people to buy at the top end of the lenders' offers. They had to know they were putting some people under unbearable financial pressure.

We knew when we were looking for a house that the bank was offering more than we could comfortably afford. I know many of those realtors knew what they were doing, and are culpable. They watched this bubble build over time. They were tryiing to get all the commission they could. They gave the economy a million pricks with pin.

I just read recently how many of them have had to leave the field of real estate. No sympathy from me.