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Monday, September 15, 2008

Has Tuesday Finally Come?

All day that silly saying of Wimpy's from the Popeye cartoons of my childhood keeps coming to mind, "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today."

I don't know, but I wonder if it was funny 40-50 years ago because nobody would give anybody a hamburger today if you weren't going to pay them until next Tuesday. Now it seems that we have built our society on the expectation that we can have all the hamburgers we want and don't have to pay for them until the next and then the next and then the next Tuesday.

So has our Tuesday finally come as a nation or at least on Wall Street?

First it was Bear Stearns, then Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, then Lehman Brothers, and then Merrill Lynch (described as Wall Street meeting Main Street, USA). Where will it all lead?

I don't have a business or financial background so I can't fully analyze and extrapolate all that is going on, but it seems like there are some questions to consider and lessons to be learned.

A few of my questions today as Wall Street reels:

Is this as simple as greed?

Where was the leadership in these companies? What were their principles of operation that led them to this place?

What does this suggest to us as a church? Will anyone speak of it in worship this Sunday? Or any Sunday? (Maybe that's why I'm hoping some of you can lend your expertise in analysis, especially how that analysis might impact our faith.)

Clif Christopher is coming to the Minnesota Annual Conference on September 23 at St. Andrew's Church in Eden Prairie and I'll be interested in how he addresses stewardship in light of these economic times; things have changed economically since he was here last fall. How is it impacting your fall stewardship campaign if at all?

Furthermore, what is the unique voice of the Christian faith in these financial times?



Tail Gunner said...

How gullible do candidates think voters are to believe that a B.S. policy ("Borrow and Spend") is better than a T.S. policy ("Tax and Spend") when it comes to funding much needed social programs and infrastructure? If we cannot pay for it today, or at least come up with a viable payback plan which doesn't put the burden on future generations, then we should not be doing it. Oh, by the way, can I get an H.L. loan (Hamburger Loan) to be paid off by my grandchildren's children?

Anonymous said...

In addressing this issue from the pulpit, it seems to me the great danger is to become partisan politically--even without mentioning parties--as Tail Gunner did. To go after the greed of corporations or the greed inherent in Capitalism (which takes Original Sin seriously and operates on that basis) is to go after a straw man and is too easy. Besides, that simply gives vent to our political spleen and that of those who agree with us politically, and it will do nothing for those who disagree with us politically except to make their worship experience less than worshipful. (I personally believe this crisis has its roots in the deregulation of industries begun in the Reagan era and in the correlative attitude of "Get government off our backs." To mention that political perspective in a sermon, however, would amount to a political screed.)

Many people of all political stripes are quite frightened at the moment, and some are in the panic mode. I remember a parishioner who was suicidal as a result of the much less serious financial crisis in 1987. What I believe people now need to hear and will benefit from the most is not our political perspectives in theological garb, but our reminder that our faith and trust is in God, who will never fail us whatever our profound insecurities, and that the center that holds for us is Jesus Christ, not Merrill-Lynch or Lehman Brothers. Such times is truly a test of where and in whom our ultimate faith resides.

Duane Lookingbill said...

While there is a sense in which the word is one of delay -- we speak of living in between in eschatological terms -- this delay is not to merely push ahead what is then thought to be met with immediately upon death. Rather, the delay, in the sense of time -- as the kingdom is already/ not yet, so it is not too late to turn again and inherit the promised -- works to intensify examination of who, what, where, why, and how we are now, here. Isaiah is prophetic, counter to the convention that "there is no free lunch" (or look at the lection for Sunday about mannah); yet Jesus subverts the obliviousness of expecting to get something for nothing (again, see the lection for Sunday, or the Christian testament passim); and the church, by first being Church, can still show the joy with which our confessions of the failures in the logic of capitalism are framed. Maybe we should examine the fears, aversions, and guilt we have toward those who ask us for money; or investigate the powerful structures with, by, and in which you and I identify one another; Old Wimpy might just be a figure for the "insatiable" being countered by the "inexhaustible" grace of God.

Anonymous said...

Who can gather the data? What is the locus of the problem. Is it truly home loans?
In April I passed a tract of almost finished homes that were built in outer ring of Minneapolis suburbs. A relative noted that there were no buyers. Is this where the crushing debt is, "spec" or speculative homes?
This last Sunday my sermon point of intellectual stimulation was that political strategists know that they need an enemy to rally their troops. I noted that I had once been taught that Hitler did not hate Jews. There were simply the enemy he created to rally the nation.
It will take a profound preacher to to identify the enemy in this mess and envision what love for this enemy means (forgive 70 X 7) and finally discern and proclaim what the Holy Spirit is up in transforming us.
Joel Xavier (I will check anon. so I don't have to figure out google/blogger.)

Jeff Ozanne said...

I think the church has a three-fold calling

1) We need to set good examples by our own finances (like staying current on apportionment payments).

2) We need to educate people about good financial practices and encourage people to lead better lives in that way. In addition to education we need to continue to minster to those in need regardless of whose fault their plight is. Jesus never worried about whose sin had caused a problem, he simply worked to heal it.

3) We need to continue to preach that material wealth and worldly success are not the goal of the church or of Christians, but that we believe in a God who promises all of us something more. We need to recognize and preach that people need to focus on something more. Obviously that last bit is to people with money/house/power, not meant as pastoral care to someone who just lost everything in a failed mortgage. Anyway, those are my thoughts at present on it.

Anonymous said...

"You are a one person defense system against this culture, against Judah's kings and princes, against priests and local leaders." Jeremiah 1:18b-19

This call to Jeremiah I think is a prophetic one that we can take to the people in worshipping God. Calling them to walk closer to God sometimes takes pointing out the greed and/or injustice in this world regardless of who it may offend. Both parties have been part of allowing a system to exist that benefits those who have and ignores those who do not. The reality is the people in our pews benefit from this system, but also are hindered by it. To call them to recognize their larger connection to the culture around them is a healthy thing. When we allow greed to be king in this country we have to recognize that we will fall. This works true as a country and also is true for us as individuals. Before we can transform a country we have to begin as incarnational communities of love. The reality is our country has just moved how many of us as individuals move by - caring first about those we are most connectted with, allowing materialism to guide our consumer choices not God and looking for quick feel good solution instead of standing on something firm that will last for all eternity. We are in more then just a financial crisis, but one of our heart, mind and soul. So preach, preach, preach the incredible Good news in the midst of this "crisis."

Marj said...

The shift from pensions to 401(k)s, from insurance to invested Health Savings Accounts and the discussion of privatizing social security serve a systemic function in making us all vested (literally as well as figuratively) in the markt. The daily finance report on just about all news programs gives the gains or losses of various stock markets. However, the vast majority of us live from our wages/salaries, not from our investment incomes. One would think that the enconomic report of interst to us would be about wages and working conditions, not the stock market. This, to me, is indicative of the fact that we have all had just enough vesting in the system to be tempted by the illusion that we are players, but instead we got played. Like gamblers, we were sucked in by the thrill of the numbers rising. The benefit to working people is marginal at best, perhaps even non-existant. But by having the majority of people--working people--have the illusion that they have a stake in the system, the people who really do live off of investment income (the ultra-wealthy) were given a free pass to play all kinds of accounting games to create the illusion of rising stock prices. We all went along with this sort of thing because we were compromised by our tiddly participation--we were so eaily bought out, perhaps like Judas?

Perhaps this is an opportunity to question the whole growth model. Everybody in the mainstream wants to continuously grow the economy. The only arguements we have are about how to do that. However, I propose that we need to consider a steady stake economy-one in which we produce enough and remain at that level. Frances Moore Lappe doesn't get into this in Diet for a Small Planet, but her discussion of how the competetive economic system forces farmers to produce as much as or more than each other, which in turn gereates the need to consume it (grain consumed by concentrating it into meat--15 or more portions of grain to one portion of meat) and that in turn is destroying the environment on which the whole system depends is illustrative of the concept. See for more information.

Marj said...

One more thing: The ethical responsability of a CEO--his or her guiding prinicple--is to increase stock value. Within the corporate system, that is the ethical responsability of the CEO. The CEO is responsable to stockholders.

Maybe some restructuring could fundamentally change the CEO's responsability to providing quality products using environmentally sustainable practices and providing good wages and working conditions. How could things be changed to make those the guiding principles? New regulations? A new model for capitalizing businesses?

Dave said...

Bishop Sally, feel free to edit if too long

Recently I saw a headline trumpeting, and this is my paraphrase, "Wall Street Traders Turn To God". The gist of the article was that traders were getting hammered by the stock market down turn, failure of investment banks, the real estate turn down, and job losses (some even their own) that they were beginning to turn to God for help. To me it sounds as if they are lifting up 9-1-1 prayers hoping God will come and put the fire out and things can return to normalcy.

I imagine there are people who are probably saying there is a conspiracy someplace that is manipulating America's economy for their own gain or the downfall of the USA. There may be some truth to that, I do not know for sure. I know there has been at least one novel written by a major author whose thesis was America could be very vulnerable to a concerted attack on its economy. The book was written in the 1990s and is "Debt of Honor" by Tom Clancy. While the details of Clancy's fictional account are not exactly like the ones of today (as far as we know there is no attack on the economy) there are enough parallels that makes it somewhat prophetic. There are also other novels out in the world that talk about cabals and organizations that are out just for profit and will instigate wars, national instability in countires, sell to terrorists,and other questionable actions just to make money. They do not care if there is collateral damage to the inhabitants of where their profit focus is centered.

I also realize there are those who put the total blame of the econmic crisis on the Republican party, or President Bush, the investment banks, Congress, the Democratic party, & other organizations and entities. I have read about some world leaders who are even saying it is the failure of the unrestrained capitalistic economic model that is causing the havoc. I am sure there is plenty of blame to go around.

Regardless of whether or not there is a conspiracy, or failure of an economic model, or the politicians are using it for their own personal gain ultimately, however, I think this is a moral/theological issue dealing with greed and the love of money. I understand why the traders are praying, they are losing their shirts, and in some cases will possibly lose everything. Many of the traders saw the dollar as the most important item in their lives, and now they are realizing it may not be so. They are not the only ones.

At the same time the collapse of the financial markets cannot be laid exclusively at the traders or the executives feet. It is just about everyone who participates in a 401 plan, 403 plan, REITs, invests in stocks on the side, etc. This includes Christians. Remember the executives do not answer to God, but to the stockholders. Many of us have been clambering for a record return on the stocks we buy, and are upset when the percentage drops or the amount of profit isn't as high as it was last year. We have put our trust for the future in the traders' hands and not God. There is nothing wrong with preparing for the future, but there is something wrong with not paying attention to the ones who we trust to help us prepare.

How often have we heard about our complicity in this mess? Not very often I would reckon. We are willing to blame others-the excutives and traders, the banks making risky loans, the people who took out the loans, and so forth. How often have we written our investment firms/plans and said we want to work toward fair profits, not record profits that will end up being explotaitive? If record profits come from being fair all the better.

I believe it is Amos who reminds us that the scales need to be true scales. Are we guilty of using or condoning unbalanced scales. Maybe we need to be hitting our knees in repentance for our role in this. Maybe we need to recall Matthew 6 where Jesus reminds us that God cares for us and we need not store up our treasures on earth that are going to rust and fade away. Maybe this is a test to see who or what we really place our trust. It is not comfortable having to ask these questions of myself, but I need to do so. It also is not comfortable realizing I may have played a part in the crisis even if it is a little tiny role. Have you examined your role.

Just some thoughts. Feel free to respond.


Brent Olson said...

On a personal level, I struggle with remaining involved in a system that in many ways I find appalling. I have fully developed my thesis that my life gets worse as soon as I go past the end of my driveway. We have a wood boiler to heat our house, I'm looking into solar electric panels and we have a large garden and within a couple weeks we'll have a heated greenhouse. We have no debt and the the temptation is to simply pull into a shell and let the outside world fall apart as it wishes - but that would be cowardly, and un-Christian.

The simple truth is that while the urge to scream, "Dammit, I told you so!!!" wells up with some frequency, it is seldom if ever a productive course of action. To remain calm, and patient, thoughtful and involved is much less fun or satisfying but it would seem to be the only way to "Do all the good you can..."

Brent Olson

Marj said...

Here's a thought--read Ezekiel 34 (lectionary for Nov. 23/Christ the King) and think about how some pastors (not referring to clergy necessarily, but to people who had to power to control what happens in our society) have fattened themselves on the sheep they were supposed to be sheparding; have not been satisfied to graze in good pastures, but had to trample them for the sheep that would follow, and had to soil the water with their feet after drinking clean water. Look at the people who have been scattered as a result (do you see immigrants here as a result of happy circumstances or as the result of self-centered shepherds who have compelled them to leave home in order to survive? Where is the population of New Orleans?) Please, see the injuries that need binding, see the skinniness--in food, education, healthcare, security, family stability--see the sick, the lost. Please, don't ignore these people. They are too often invisible, but they are all over the place if you open your eyes. And see their circumstances for what they are--the result of selfish shepherding.

What is today's crisis stemming from mortgages that were not properly backed and into which borrowers were convinced by eager sellers to buy but a repeat of the Third World debt crisis that later led to IMF and World Bank "austerity measures" (read "clothe yourselves with the wool, slaughter the fatlings; but do not feed the sheep)?

If we're going to be real shepherds, we better start looking for the scattered, injured, lost, hungry, sick sheep and caring for them. If not, we'll have nothing but soiled water to drink and trampled pasture to eat. It our choice.

Don said...

Does anyone else out there think that we elders in the Minnesota A/C should vote at conference to reduce our salaries by 5 or 10% to show solidarity with the newly unemployed?

Individual pastors doing that is fine, but it would make so much more of a statement against materialism and compassion for the suffering of others, if we joined them in a reduction of our standard of living.