God, we pray for the many
who are trapped by growing burdens of debt,
who see no way out, and who despair for their future:
give them courage to tackle the problems they face,
clarity in taking decisions which will turn their situation around,
and faith that, as they cry to you in their trouble,
you will deliver them from their distress;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(from the Episcopal News Service)
A priest once told me he thought that, for Episcopalians, there was an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt be nice.” Sometimes we church folk think we need to be nice and polite, even a bit witty, so that we don’t have to talk about the not-so-nice, impolite, serious and more challenging things in life.
Take the Ten Commandments, for example. Today lots of us heard them in church. The first four are about our relationship with God; the last six about our relationship with other people. Preachers place all kinds of emphasis on most of them. But you almost never hear a sermon about the last (Tenth) Commandment: “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
This commandment means, of course, that God wants us to resist the urge to want what other people have. When it comes to coveting, however, we as a consumerist nation in an enormous financial crisis have gone way past the temptation stage. We don’t just give in to the temptation of coveting. We have moved past wanting what others have, all the way to expecting it, demanding it, even feeling entitled to it. We want what we think we need – and we want it when we want it. I don’t know about you, but I have come to believe that our consumerist coveting is perhaps the most seductive sin and sickness from which we need to repent and recover.
Compulsive spending and debting are, I believe, the manifestation of that covetousness run amok. Some say it is also an addictive behavior; others don’t. In any case, there is help. For those who want to consolidate and learn how to manage debt, I have had good experience with Consumer Credit Counseling Services in several cities of this country. In Frederick they are located at 103 West Seventh Street, near the corner of Fairview. Their local number is 301-698-0006, and their regional office is in Rockville, MD (www.cccswdc.org).
If your problems with money are indeed part of an addiction, perhaps you can also find help in the wisdom of the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Step #1. We admitted we were powerless over…(in this case, compulsive spending or debting) – that our lives have become unmanageable. Step #2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step #3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood (God)” (“The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition, p. 59).
Debtors Anonymous (www.debtorsanonymous.org), a 12-step recovery program modeled after AA, currently has no local meetings, but there are fifteen to choose from in the metro DC area, with the closest one in Germantown, Maryland. Go to their website and select “find a meeting.” For local AA meetings, visit their office at 2 East Church Street; call 301-662-0544; or go to www.westcentralaa.org
Christians find the God of our understanding in Jesus Christ. But where’s Jesus in our country’s current crisis? Is there any Good News here? I am reminded of the suggestion that, before we can hear any Good News, we need to acknowledge the bad news. Barbara Crafton suggests where the Good News of Jesus might be found amidst our bad-news financial fiasco in her blog reflections on today’s Gospel reading:
RAGS TO RICHES, RICHES TO RAGS
Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?
— Matthew 21:42
This is the righteous inversion of power for which human beings long. It lives in the fairy tales we tell our children: poor little Cinderella elevated over her awful stepsisters, orphaned Hansel and Gretel prevailing over the wicked witch. We read it in scripture: Joseph, betrayed and outcast, elevated to headship over all of Egypt’s wealth; Moses, defenseless in his little boat, plucked from danger by a princess and raised in a palace. We love it when the rejected one becomes the most important one of all.
The words are already old when Jesus speaks them: he is quoting Psalm 118. When Christians use it today, we mean Jesus himself, stripped of everything, stripped of his very life, and then gloriously risen from the dead. But he is telling his parable before those events take place, and he’s not talking about himself here. Jesus means people outside the community of Israel, people who are not “chosen.” People with whom an observant 1st-century Jew will not even eat. The people his people reject. Do not think you are entitled to a special status where God is concerned. God is free to choose and choose again, free to bless without borders. Don’t be too sure just who is in, especially if you think it’s you.
We can rest in the love of God, but we can never rest in our own chosen-ness. The moment we begin to believe in the inevitability of our own triumph, that moment marks the beginning of our decline.
We are experiencing this in a cataclysmic way at this very moment: businesses that were “too big to fail,” a market that would just take care of all our bad decisions by absorbing them, growing bigger and bigger, debt that need never be paid, that could just grow and grow — all these chickens now seem to be coming home to roost. We seek to delay our own moral reckoning by accusing others — It was Wall Street that did this, we tell each other. And certainly, greed abounded there. But it lived in us, too, showing itself in our enormous houses, our multiple huge cars, in the huge sums of credit card debt we accumulated because we had forgotten how to say “no” to ourselves. Our actions have not been unrelated to what has happened on Wall Street. Treating our own greed for more and more as if it were an entitlement, we have made it easy for corporate greed to victimize us.
God will not save me from the consequences of my own unwise or unrighteous actions. Sooner or later, I will pay for them. And God will not punish me for them, either: the world will take care of that. The fact that I am a person of faith does not mean I have inherited immunity from the law of cause and effect. There’s no such thing as a free lunch for me, either, not here.
And if I fail to govern myself, someone else will govern me.
(This reflection comes from Barbara Crafton’s “The Almost Daily eMo” from October 3. If you go to her website www.geraniumfarm.org, you can also find “Ways of the World,” a helpful blog on financial stewardship by business economist Carol Stone.)
Finally: you can ask for help by replying to this blog. Your reply will be held in confidence; no replies to this article will be posted. Simply let me know how I can help and tell me how you’d like me to be in touch (phone number, e-mail address, etc.). If I can do nothing else, I will pray for you.