Y’know when you watch a movie and then you watch it again later and it takes on a new meaning? I re-watched Fun with Dick and Jane:
An update of the 1977 comedy, Dick and Jane are living the good life. That is until Dick (Jim Carrey) loses his job shortly after getting a promotion that convinced his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) to quit her job. The money is gone, and the house ends up in foreclosure. Dick decides to turn to a hilarious life of crime to pay the bills with his lovely wife by his side. Then together they decide it’s time to steal back what Former CEO Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) had stolen from them.
The first thing to go is their lawn-the sod gets repossessed. The electricity gets shut off. They bathe in the neighbor’s sprinkler system. They downgrade to a POS compact car. It was a really funny movie a couple of years ago. Now it is an uncomfortably funny movie. You don’t have to look too far to see the effects of the current financial crisis.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the financial crisis for a few months now. Things are getting pretty rough. I am in the telecom industry and work for a company that can fall apart at any moment. And I am not alone. I have many friends and former co-workers that are jobless. A couple of my friends just got laid off. A few years ago there were still jobs to be found…now it is somewhat different.
Most people, even though they live paycheck to paycheck, could survive for a few months. But then they get hungry. And cold. Or hot. And frustrated. And depressed. And finally desperate. Desperate people do desperate things.
Think about it. I mean really think about it. What if…What if you lost your job. Spouse loses theirs. Interview after interview, resume after resume. Can’t find a job. Or worse yet the ONLY job you can find a $10.00-13.00/hr job. Any job means no unemployment checks. Or unemployment runs out. No insurance. $10.00 per hour times 40 hours a week times 2 (mom & dad) equals…about $40,000 a year. That’s about 75% to 50% of what most of my friends at Embarq make in a year (with both working). Could your family make it if you lost 25-50% of your income? Even those jobs will fade when folks can’t afford to eat out or remodel or whatever.
One of my favorite radio programs, This American Life, on NPR, had an incredible episode a couple of months ago entitled, Bad Bank. They talked about a hypothetical bank-the smallest in the world, it has the owner’s $10 and a guy’s $90-he earns 3% for storing his money. Then the bank turns around and loans $100 to a gal at 6% for a doll house. This is called a balance sheet. $100 in the bank, $100 being loaned out. The bank profits 3% interest right? Except gal loses her job and can’t afford her doll house payments anymore. Now the bank doesn’t have the guy’s $90 to give back. The program stated that the top 3 banks in the US have a unbalanced balance sheet-if there was a run on those banks today they would fail. The banks want the government to know this, but not the average person! As a friend of mine pointed out, the FDIC insures deposits up to $100,000 right? Correct, and who pays that? The government, the taxpayers, you and I. And so banks are using that argument-give us a bailout now where folks can keep their homes, or bail us out later when we crash and burn and folks are homeless.
I live on a street that is full of duplexes. The short block has maybe 20-30 families on it. If half of them lost their jobs to the point where they could not pay their rent/mortgage and got behind to the point where they were getting evicted…if that happened over the period of a few months they would easily get escorted off the property by the authorities-some would get deported. And what would become of empty houses? Where would homeless folks go? Personally I have no family in the area. I have no friends with extra houses in the back yard. But what if that happened over the period of a couple of weeks? And multiply that times the number of neighborhoods around the city. It is a much different picture. There would not be enough police to force folks off the properties. There would be folks who refused to leave. There would be desperation, theft, anger, violence. Things could get way out of control very fast. Evicting squatters would be at the bottom of the list and the least of anyone’s worries.
OK, here it is, here is the heart of my thoughts: What is the role of the church in these financially stressful times? Does the church encourage their congregation to uphold the law and keep the peace? Will churches open their doors to people who are homeless? Open soup kitchens and clothing pantries? Offer transportation-carpools? Treat people with dignity and respect? Offer training? Assistance? Pull their monies together? Help single moms? Pay mortgages and rent? Stock food pantries? Pay for lights, gas, water, etc? Or be in a similarly depressing state? Will churches end up in foreclosures too?
One of my friends has been laid off-for a year. He paid his bills with credit cards. He is pretty upset that he did the responsible thing, went into debt and kept current and others are getting bailed out. And what about those that took out loans that shouldn’t? The ones that knew they could not afford it? The ones that depended upon the banks to deny them the loans. They should get bailed out? Businesses should be rewarded for failing? It doesn’t seem fair! The responsible ones are getting punished. That all sound reasonable…right up until you lose your job. And you suddenly become one who shouldn’t have taken out a loan. You become the irresponsible one. You become the failure. And you feel like you have no options.
I work with a guy at Home Depot (most likely a few guys like this), he has a wife and child. He works full time and he still qualifies for federal assistance. I mean he is doing things right! And he still can’t make it! He is still at poverty level.
Another friend points out that laws are man-made and that we should do what we need to do to take care of our families. What does that mean? Squatting? Stealing?
Another points out that God won’t give us more than we can handle. But I am afraid that this line of reasoning is “prosperity Gospel” and faulty. The truth is that God will never let anything happen to us spiritually to cause us to fall from grace-to break our spirit. I am afraid that money is another matter. Food, shelter, clothing, transportation-not spiritually guaranteed! Will my theology friends steer me straight? Or back me up?
Another says let’s go, the rapture is coming, Big Daddy is gonna take us home. However, history paints a different picture of suffering and poverty-Christians participate, and are not delivered from it. The plague, the depression, wars, martyrs. God’s people are continually delivered from their sins. Just not from the pains of this world.
And I am sure the list can go on and on. The economy isn’t really that bad…It is the worst ever. Tax and spending is the answer or not the answer. The President is too liberal. The Republicans are vetoing everything. But I don’t care about the President or our government or economists. I care about the church. What is the church gonna do?
Another one of my friends attends a church who wishes to move from a temporary setting (mobile church-they set up each week in a school or some sort of facility, then tear it all down and store it during the week) to an actual building. The pastor is continually asking for money for this endeavor. My friend asks if that is the responsible thing to do? The pastor is encouraging folks not to get “distracted” by the environment around them. My friend is a little uneasy about that. He sees people around him having a rough time. He doesn’t want them to become a distraction that gets ignored! He is considering giving to a charity.
What happens when folks stop paying tithe? Not because they don’t want to, or because they don’t have any money left after paying for food. But what if they don’t have money. Any money! What if they don’t have food? No place to live? No gas to travel?
I know it is a depressing and bleak picture. I hope it is all crazy talk. On one hand I say that things will never get that bad. On the other hand I see layoffs and low-paying jobs.
But…what if? And what will Christ’s church do? I hope pastors are paying attention. I hope they are thinking about preparing for a possible crisis. I hope Christians are thinking outside of their consumer society. Outside of their immediate family-you might not think you have extra room…but your friends may be eying your garage or basement soon. Heck, I might be eying your basement!
I would like to know what you think.
Here’s what I think I think:
The church has a real opportunity to be the church. The real test will be to see Christians taking in other Christians (and non-Christians!). Families! Will churches open their doors to the poor? The homeless? The filthy? The non-Christian? I hope so.
Will Christians do the right thing? I don’t know what I would do if I was facing eviction. I don’t know where I would go or what I would do. I have no family in the area. I don’t know who I would feel remotely comfortable asking for a place to stay-for a family of 6. Or a handout. Or a ride to work. I would really want to stay and become a squatter in my rented duplex-my landlords have a real nice house…until they need to downgrade to my place. I hope I embrace legal and peaceful options. I hope I remember who is my Father. I hope I remember you, my friends and offer to help you.
Will Cristian landlords reduce rent? Will Christian business owners take a decrease in pay? Will Christians continue to sacrificially give? Will Christian landlord evict families? Well, these are difficult ones that have no easy answers.
I hope most of these questions will not have to be answered-especially by me.
PS: Please send pics of your basement.