Thursday, October 23, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
All of us need to reach out
“No brakes!” I’ll never forget my mother’s shriek as we drove south on Main Street in Cleveland, Miss. Our 1961 beige Buick LeSabre was a wonderful car, the first we’d had with power steering, power brakes, air-conditioning, a push-button AM radio — all the features that made the ’60s an era when big cars and super-highways were before us! It ran like a top, except for that day.
But on that day the brake fluid had seeped out of a tiny hole in a transmission line, and when Mother pressed the pedal, nothing happened, hence her frightened cry. Fortunately, we were approaching the one “hill” in our flat Delta town — the embankment for the railroad that ran through the center of town. Mama was not going fast (fortunately, she only did that on the highway), and the ascent up to the railroad crossing made it possible to apply the emergency brake and bring the car to a stop. It was an adventure for me to tell about at school the next morning!
I have the sense that her cry “No brakes!” may apply to our whole world right now. There is uncertainty about the election, and people are nervous about the economy. Gasoline prices are down at least temporarily, but that is only a sliver of relief in an environment where just about everything we have to pay for is increasingly expensive.
Reading the Church of Scotland magazine every month lets me know that even in the far corners of the United Kingdom, there is a sense of unease. Ron Ferguson, one of the columnists for the Scottish publication, tells how things used to be when one went for a loan in Scotland’s bygone era: “The bank manager saw it as his job to keep his clients out of debt. Dressed in sober suit, often silver-haired, he — and it was always a he — would summon the malefactor to a meeting at the bank.
“The encounter was not simply a friendly chat between consenting adults. It was a meeting between unequals. The old banking scene was a feature of Presbyterianism’s Scottish heyday; moral and fiscal rectitude, laced with a hint of divine judgment.
“Getting into debt was not just unfortunate: it was a sin. Some privileged people were allowed to borrow a bit of the filthy stuff, but only after a seventh-degree grilling and a character check that would have eliminated most of the saints.”
Nobody wants to go back to that kind of financial astringency, but I wonder if we have taken too lightly some of the biblical and common-sense principles of monetary responsibility. They are worth recalling. But the present economic crisis also affects people who tried to do the right thing. Not everyone was gambling with the stock market — people who saved and invested carefully, putting money in their company retirement plan, for example. And others have worked hard, only to see their jobs eliminated while the CEO left the company with a “golden parachute.” A great sense of injustice hangs over the whole mess.
The law prevents us from getting into more debt than we can handle. If this happens, we are declared bankrupt. There is no safety net for nations, however. And some of the poorest countries are caught in the crisis. UNICEF is estimating that 9.2 million children are dying each year because of preventable causes — a situation aggravated by the world debt crisis. With the increase in the cost of oil, the price for shipping basic foodstuffs and medicine to the third-world has cut back the amounts that can be imported.
Have the “brakes” failed in America’s economy? Are the ‘must have it now’ years over for- ever? That remains to be seen, but the last phrase of the blessing many of us learned as children now comes to mind with increased focus: “and, Lord, make us ever mindful of the wants and needs of others.” All of us need to reach out when and where we can.
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