Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thinking about America's economic woes

Over the last year or so, the number of beggars has increased in my city. There always were some but nothing like the numbers there are now. At literally every major and some not so major intersection, there are beggars. It breaks my heart to see them. I tend to believe their need is genuine because would people really expose themselves to that level of humiliation were it not absolutely their last resort? What is a Christian response?

What I would like to do except it is beyond my means, is to put together bags of basics such as cans of pop top chicken or tuna, juice, fruit, cookies, plastic flatware, napkins. Maybe also some travel sized toiletries. I live well below the poverty line for a single person myself, so I just can't do it. But I throw the idea out there for you, Gentle Reader. Maybe you are in a better place than to extend this small bit of comfort.

It's not enough, though, now is it? What is our Christian duty to God and our neighbor? It seems to me that each of us must undertake work, probably painful, to examine our relationship to wealth, money, possessions. And by "we", I mean all who call themselves Christians. We must allow the Holy Spirit in. Otherwise I fear we are all the rich young man whom Jesus loved but had to watch him walk away because the man loved his stuff more. I think this will hurt if we allow the Holy Spirit to have Her way with us.

But here's a simple way to start: how much do you spend at Starbucks in a year? I can't claim to know the prices there, but let's say a person spends $5 a day 5 days a week for a weekly expenditure of $25 a week. Multiply that by 52 weeks and it is a staggering $1300.00 a year. What is that same person buys lunch those same 5 days a week and it costs $10 a day. That adds up to another $2600.00 And what if that same person gets a mid-afternoon Starbucks every day, which would be another $1300.00. That's $5200.00 a year.

It's not my place to say whether or not this person should or should not do this. But isn't it a worthwhile question? Especially if that person also claims s/he cannot afford to tithe. My point is that we Americans can be very non-thinking when it comes to what we think we deserve. My point is that we embrace our luxuries at the expense of other Americans who lack the means to thrive. How can a Christian really justify it? Only through denial and a refusal to face up to one's own individual responsibility.

We also have to shake off all political rhetoric and oratory and just look at the facts. I am no economist but I am an observer. What I have observed is that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is no longer extended to every American citizen. I suggest part of why that is so is because we have changed the definition of happiness so that is more dependent on externals than it is on the person within. As if what we can buy is going to make and keep us happy.

I would welcome a list of facts and figures such as comparing where we are today to where we were 25 years ago. Has the incidence of homelessness increased? Has the dependency upon food stamps increased? How long is the wait to get rental assistance? What are the employment figures?

Frankly, I don't know enough to know all the questions one should ask. But there is a reason America is in an economic crisis and the reasons are bigger than whether or not the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans were extended. I suspect that if we were to simply compare facts and figures, allowing for population growth or decline, we would find that it started about 30 years ago when I new approach to our country's economics was implement. I suspect that we will find that it is very very horribly true that the rich are getting wealthier and not only are the poor getting poorer but the number of poor increased and will continue to increase.

We Christians must look anew at all the Bible says about wealth and money and the poor. We must allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hard hearts, to make all of us, rich and poor less greedy. What we need is conversion of life, Conservatio Morum, to conform ourselves to the Bible. Rather than trying to make the Bible conform to us.

Were we to do that we just might find ourselves moved to compel our politicians to so change things so that every single American has a roof over their heads, food in the home, means to prepare it, decent affordable medical care, clothing proper to the climate, heat, water, whatever is necessary to thrive.

And maybe that starts with giving up those $5 coffees and $10 lunches.


  • At 10:09 PM, Blogger Soozcat said…

    My faith tradition practices regular fasting. At least once a month -- though it can be more often if an individual desires it -- we fast for at least two meals, and donate the money we would have spent on those meals to the poverty-stricken and others in need.

    But that kind of fasting doesn't have to be followed to free up the means to help others. As you've outlined, choosing to give up a $5 latte just once a week would free up $20 for charitable giving by the month's end. There's so much that could be done with just $20.


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