I tend to be the type of person who when faced with a fear will try to read up on the subject so I have better understanding of what is happening and thereby reducing my fear levels. I figure knowledge equals personal power and therefore can and will help me navigate whatever fearful thing I am experiencing.
This current economic crisis has suddenly propelled me to try to understand a subject that held very little interest for me. And, as a minister who will be pastoring people who are deeply affected by this crisis, it is important that I understand what is going on. [The fall out will affect all of us in some manner as this crisis unfolds.] As I read about such strange banking products as credit default swaps and commercial papers I am a bit awe struck by the level of greed our capitalism has brought us.
When I read that even the buyers and sellers of credit default swaps did not even understand how that product worked, I begin to think people are a bit crazed in their quest to make money. Our society has given up quite a bit in our desire for more money. The people who work in these industries work incredibly long hours sacrificing family and community relationships to enable the possibility of early retirement or retirement at a comfortable level.
So the question how to thrive in these uncertain times is an important question. I think we need to first come up with a broader societal definition of what determines thriving. It is too narrow a definition to have financial worth to be the only criteria for thriving. That is like a plant that has received too much fertilizer but not enough other supports like sun, water, and soil so it grows tall and straggly, and eventually unable to bear the weight of itself.
There needs to be a balance. It is this balance that I think America is in need of finding. There is a need to find what is essential to living a fulfilling life and to seek that first. [While typing this I am reminded of a song I used to sing, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” and while this might work as an interpretation of what I wrote, I would mean it only in the sense of the Beloved Community or the Realm of God that Jesus states is already within us and waiting to be lived out in our daily lives.] While it was a TV show full of glorified nostalgia, The Waltons highlighted the means in which one family, albeit fictional, thrived during the depression era. The show focused on family values. A phrase that needs unpacking since it too has been glorified and idealized beyond human reckoning. Family values, as I refer to the term, means placing emphasis on the relationships we hold dear. It means making a commitment / a covenant to the relationships we deem valuable.
It means developing a means in which we will be together and support one another in ways that will honor our inherent worth and integrity. It means developing a means in which we strive to be in right relationship with one another. It means finding ways to be with one another that does not place the family or individuals into financial harm.
For example, while it is a wonderful family experience to go as a family to Disney World or Busch Gardens or some other amusement park, if doing so means placing that on a credit card that you will pay off over the next several years, then it is placing the family into financial harm. Find another activity that will also be a wonderful family experience that will not negatively impact your family’s over all health.
It also means developing community values. Become involved in your church community or town community by volunteering and working with other people to help improve the world in which we live. It might mean spending a day with others cleaning the environment or serving food at the local soup kitchen or becoming a big brother or big sister to a child in need of an adult mentor. And despite what Sarah Palin has said about Community Organizers; organizing the community around a local concern, whether it is affordable housing or developing neighborhood parks is a powerful and responsible means of displaying community values.
More importantly these activities build on relationships. They break down the walls that people have erected against one another because of our fear of not having enough money, enough oil, enough products, enough what have you. This is not the time to be pointing the fingers at this political party or that political party because frankly we all created this mess. Yes, even you and I, because we bought into the lie that having more money is what mattered most. We bought into the lie that money solves all problems.
So while I hope and pray that our leaders are able to find solutions in order to reduce the impact of suffering within a crisis that seems to be unraveling at the seams at an incredible pace. We can pull together and begin to place into balance what is essential to thriving which is not money but rather fostering love and compassion in our relationships with one another. We will need to do this if we are to thrive during what ever comes our way.