This morning on CNN I saw a clip
of a Detroit church that had three SUVs up on the altar while the congregation prayed for the recovery of the auto industry. Another mega church called to the altar all the members who needed financial help, and then the congregation raised $50,000 on the spot to help them. I can’t quite imagine either of these things happening in my Quaker meeting. For one thing, if we put three SUVs in our meeting room there would be no room for the people, at least some of whom are praying for the demise of Sports Utility Vehicles anyway. As a congregation, we don’t collect that much more than $50,000 in an average year, and when we do help our members financially, it’s a quiet, confidential process. We do collect canned goods every month for the needy, but with the implied assumption that the needy are a few miles down Germantown Avenue and not among us. Still, the clips got me thinking about what our faith community’s response to the recession might be, or more to the point, what mine might be.
A writer friend whose work is about empowering people told me last week that rather than worrying about the recession, she was thinking of all that she has to offer people in tough economic times. It's a good question, so I’ve been wondering how my work might be “well used,” as Quakers sometimes put it. One of the central messages I try to convey in my writing and workshops is trust—trust in God and trust in one’s own ability to hear and follow God’s guidance. It seems a message especially needed now as people fortunate enough to have them frantically check their IRA balances, despite the fact that getting anxious about your retirement isn’t likely to help anything. News reports harp on job loses and low consumer spending, while people I know have been looking for work and pinching their pennies. It feels a bit smug to say, “Trust. All will be well”--especially to auto workers in Detroit--but it’s the message I’ve been given to share. Of course, trusting doesn’t mean that you sit back and wait for God to type your resume for you. The Wisdom to Know the Difference
after all is about doing what you can and letting go of a the rest. A few people have asked me if I’m worried that no one will buy my book
(which comes out next fall) because of the economy, but I have a sense that the opposite is true—that my message will be more needed in tough economic times, so I’m trying to practice what I preach.
Of course, it is easy to understand why people get anxious. Another CNN story this morning was about a town that is turning off its Christmas lights in response to the recession, but this reminds me of another message which Quakers have to offer—that old testimony of simplicity, which means many things to many people. To some it means old fashioned frugality, not buying more than you need or can afford, a message that does seem timely, or a bit overdue, to be frank. To some limiting consumption is connected to a concern that our earth cannot sustain the levels of consumption considered “healthy” for a capitalist economy. For these Friends, turning off the Christmas lights and retiring the SUV are signs of progress, not omens of impending disaster. Another take on simplicity is that it is primarily a spiritual practice. Simplifying your life means having your priorities in order—not wasting your time, money, or emotional energy on things that are not essential. It seems to me that all these views of simplicity could be helpful to the country now as we look at our spending priorities, as families and as a country.
And then there is compassion. After initially laughing at the SUVs on the altar, I was humbled to think about the lives of the people in that church and how much they depend on auto industry jobs. Transitioning to a greener economy will be painful for many people, and not necessarily the folks in my congregation, so we shouldn't be too smug about it. It would be nice to think that all our Quaker simplicity gives us more money to share with others, but since we do our charitable giving so discretely, it's hard to know. We also tend to avoid conversations about class and money, so we might not even know what need exists among us.
I want to try to remember to bring canned goods to the collection next month, for I’m sure they are truly needed. But I also want to think about what unique gifts I am called to share and how they might be used. After all, it is supposed to be the season of giving.