Hey everyone. Here is a video version of this week’s blog. For links and such, consult the written format. Thanks for reading and listening!
I had another Disney experience last week. Someone heard I was in Florida and said something like, “You’re kidding! Rod and Gwen do not seem like Disney people.” I assure you, they are right. But I sure met a lot of “Disney people” while I was away. One nice family from Kent had a plan for ten days in the parks! Ouch!
I do not go to Disney for Disney. I go for five-year olds. We committed to take each grandchild to Disney when they turned five and I have not regretted that decision for one minute. I just got back from a trip with the half-Elsa and half-Minnie pictured below. This is the same birthday girl who was jumping with delight to see Elsa on her Festival of Fantasy parade float and whose birthday badge was spotted by her hero, who then mouthed, “Happy birthday” right at her! Papa got choked up.
I always learn a lot on my “field work” excursions out of my blue, Northeast bubble (where it is quite a bit colder, btw). This trip was no different. When I was not thinking about where to find restrooms in the Magic Kingdom, I was in wonder that this many people have enough money to do the wildly expensive Disney experience.
The economy did not send people to Disney
My new, unexpected, best pundit friend, David Brooks, recently gave me some reasons for why the parks near Orlando are so crowded. He says, “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime. The G.D.P. is growing at about 3.5 percent a year, which is about a point faster than many experts thought possible. We’re in the middle of the second-longest recovery in American history… If you were born in 1975, you’ve seen the U.S. economy triple in size over the course of your lifetime. The gains are finally being widely shared, even by the least skilled….The median usual weekly earnings for workers who didn’t complete high school shot up by 6.5 percent over the past year.”
The “recovery” should be making people feel great, right? Bill Clinton was famous for having a motto that helped him win the White House: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He wanted to remember to maintain his personal sell out to capitalist bondage as he was helping to teach our children to sell their souls as well. His winning strategy has been key to all the political playbooks ever since. As a result, we are up to our necks in economic microdata and even prominent Evangelicals defend Trump’s inaction on the Khashoggi murder by suggesting the country needs to protect its business deals with the Saudi’s other magic kingdom rather than protest assassinations!
But Brooks accurately notes that the economy is hardly what normal people care about the most, Clinton notwithstanding. A few minutes on the bus to Disney will prove that people will spend whatever it takes to get what the economy has ruined: relationships. Disney has discovered how to package up the relationships people want and sell them to us. I think we might have an experience similar to the day we bought at a Disney park at Fern Hill Park. But it was exciting to have my little Elsa creating the “snow” (so she said) that Disney Hollywood pumped out for the “holiday” show. We need to be together.
Money is not, again, making us happy or holy
People have more money, for the moment, but they are far from happy. The economy won’t make you happy! Jesus did not add “Stupid!” But I suppose he could have. Because we humans, in general, have a history of being rather stupid when it comes to what we think will save us. The U.S. Empire promised our big, fat, rapacious, world-dominating economy would save us. But it seems Trump has finally convinced many people such a promise is as faulty as they suspected.
Brooks notes that “about 60 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country. Researchers with the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index interviewed 160,000 adults in 2017 to ask about their financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose and connectedness to community. Last year turned out to be the worst year for well-being of any since the study began 10 years ago. As the recovery has advanced, people’s faith in capitalism has actually declined, especially among the young. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively, a lower rate than in 2010, when the country was climbing out of the Great Recession.” That’s not a big surprise: college debt, gig economy, unpaid internships, hugely expensive health care, high housing costs, tax cuts for the rich – Thanks “economy!”
The crisis we feel is not just the economy (I will not add the contemptuous “stupid.” and if you hear it in your brain, you should resist). The bigger problem is the crisis of connection. The following has become common knowledge (except, maybe, in Congress). Brooks says, “People, especially in the middle- and working-class slices of society, are less likely to volunteer in their community, less likely to go to church, less likely to know their neighbors, less likely to be married than they were at any time over the past several decades. In short, they have fewer resources to help them ride the creative destruction that is ever-present in a market economy.” That’s the crisis.
“And they are dying.” Last week, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. This is an absolutely stunning trend. In affluent, well-connected societies, life expectancies rise almost as a matter of course. The last time the American mortality rate fell for three straight years was 1915-1918, during World War I and the flu pandemic, which took 675,000 American lives. And yet here we are — a straight-up social catastrophe.” It is a crisis of caring and sharing, led by the most immoral president ever and his collaborating Senate, characterized by a flood of opioids, guns and video games ready for purchase by eager teenagers.
The economy can’t sell us a solution to the crisis
Circle of Hope was designed as an antidote to the sociological, psychological and spiritual decay that even pundits are starting to talk about. Just call us a “tribe of covenant partners in Christ” and you can see, in every rarely-used word in that phrase, that we supply quite an alternative. As Brooks notes, many young people are bereft of the support structures they need to persevere in school and get the skills to help them survive — we provide them as a matter of course. The natural, organic system of our church provides the so-called “soft skills” that Brooks says the economy can’t locate: leadership, communication and collaboration. The society is awash in technical capacity but people can’t bring themselves to answer personal email (I know, I write them!). We can figure out how to program our phone-app-run thermostats but rarely listen to our voicemail, if anyone still records one. We are sold a lot of ways to connect, but many in the society are having a terrible time getting connected.
Brooks concludes by saying, “Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself. Moderate Democrats were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments. The progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s. The Danes and the Swedes take for granted a cohesive social fabric [that hygge] that simply does not exist here.” The country is experiencing a lot of wrongheaded stuff! We all need a “cohesive social fabric” — but the “economy,” as presently dominated, won’t give it to us even if we fight for it, mainly because it is not interested in cohesion, society or even fabric, unless it is being sold by the bolt.
We know all that. We are among those people who are more alone than ever, as well, of course. We struggle to know our anonymous neighbors and have a tough time “volunteering” for our own church and sharing with our own covenant partners in Christ! We are not immune to the social catastrophe the “economy” continues to exacerbate. Lord save us! — the “economy” is dithering about whether it should sacrifice profits to save the world from climate change disaster!! We know all this and we are all this, to a degree. But we are also bravely on the front lines with whatever gifts we have to build an alternative.
OK, I was on the “front lines” in Orlando last week. The big disaster I faced was when they cancelled the last, giant show they had planned for 3000 of us, or so, because of technical difficulties. But, in the middle of waiting for that catastrophe to be announced by a pre-recorded message, I played a lot of rock/paper/scissors, with a giggling five-year-old. It’s not the economy, it’s the relationships. It is not the money, it is the love. It is not the magic kingdom of the American dream, it is the kingdom of God represented by normal people filled with the Spirit. Those truths are easier to hang on to when a child is hanging on to your hand or a cell mate is hanging on to their faith for dear life in your living room. There is an alternative being created in us every day.
At the memorial for Gwen’s mother, I read a portion of John 14 and this was part of it:
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?
Generativity is right before out eyes.
Does it also seem amazing to you that Philip and the rest of the disciples are often unable to see what is happening right before their eyes? Contrary to all the evidence, when Jesus tells them something, they want more evidence. I wish I could not relate to that.
I have experienced so many wonderful things in the past week that bubbled with generativity! They had the Father in them. They were like Jesus showing me the Father. God has been so evidently at work! Yet in each instance of joy and creativity there was a choice to make, because there was also a whisper of judgment and a way to see the situation otherwise. I saw Jesus. But he had to ask me, “Don’t you know me? Don’t you believe the Father is in me?”
List where you have been able to soak it up.
Maybe it is just me, but you might be going through similar challenges. So I thought I would encourage you to list where you have been able to soak up generativity. I make lists and I tell stories, 1) so I don’t lose track of my blessings in some morass of self-centeredness or self-condemnation, 2) so I don’t devalue God by ignoring grace. Today, I have a long obvious list. There were many moments last week that were pleasantly generative.
- Touch. 1) When Michiko came up out of the water after her baptism, we spontaneously leaned in and touched our foreheads. 2) My grandson lolled on my lap for a good part of the Love Feast.
- Retreat. I was away with the men last weekend. I had nothing to do but encourage and be encouraged, to soak up the Spirit and the energy of seekers.
- Direct address. A person went out of their way to talk to me and not about me when they were worried about what I said. This is one of the most countercultural things Christians do.
- Stories. The stone was repeatedly rolled away as people spoke at the baptism and the Love Feast.
- Laughter. 1) The cooks at Cosi crashed their tools around so loudly when our cell was talking we could not stop laughing. 2) When Oliver and Nat were dancing on the ottoman to tunes from Beauty and the Beast, that was memorable.
- Connection. Sixty or so children and State Representative Jordan Harris were at the building for a Childs Elementary art show. It was riotous and full of joy.
Don’t undermine your list, soak in it.
I think many of us gravitate toward seeing the dark side of most situations. A touch can feel painful. A retreat can feel lonely. A direct statement can be frightening. Stories can create envy. Laughter can seem like an interruption. Connecting can be tiring. We could have Jesus promising us eternity and need one more piece of evidence to feel good. Jesus could tell us he is going through death to bring us into life and we would be distressed he is dying. We are like this.
I say you should make your list and try not to even think about all the reasons your list is dishonest, tainted or troubling. Just soak in the generativity. If there is a drop of goodness coming your way, if you can see even a rivulet of grace flowing through the past week, let it reach you, get wet. I think we are in an ocean of God’s favor. It would make sense to take off the wet suit of fear, shame or whatever it is and feel it. This is me unzipping.