Strolling up to the deli at my local grocery I didn’t expect a conversation about the recession with the kind man plopping my tofu burger into its plastic take-out container. But that is what I got, an informed opinion about how the store was no longer carrying some items that hadn’t been great sellers. Some of the clientele weren’t pleased about these cost-cutting measures. According to my guy the store was maintaining, and that was about it. I mentioned that maintaining didn’t seem like such a bad thing to me, but he only shot me a confused look, as if I didn’t understand how dire the circumstances about which he spoke really were.
Checking my emails an hour or so later I bumped up against the bold statement that the Southern states are suffering the most impact from rising gas prices. Honestly, I didn’t look further to discover the reason why. Reading more about these sorts of things doesn’t make much sense when I can’t control other people’s car choices or driving habits. But I have heard rumblings from many folks that echo the deli counter attendant’s belief that people feel they can’t get ahead anymore, that they are treading water, maintaining, and don’t see much hope of that changing any time soon. For the first time in our history we in the United States are looking at the real possibility that the next generation may not be economically better off than its predecessor.
It may be a good time to remind ourselves that money isn’t everything, particularly since we live a very privileged life compared to most of the rest of the world. Economic increase, personally and nationally, has become our heritage, but also our obsession. Focusing so heavily on our needs for more does not bode well, no matter what spin we want to put on it.
But even in the midst of our recession-based angst there are a few things that remain stable and clear. One of those things is potty training.
I am not presently teaching, nor have I ever taught someone else how to manage toilet use, but I did speak with a woman at my local bookstore who was about to begin the process with her own child. She was looking for resources because he had shown signs of being ready to go for it. I stood in amazement before this serene, obviously capable woman, wondering aloud how one knew these mysterious things, let alone how to transfer such knowledge on to another human being. She said, simply, that children want to grow.
That’s all there is too it, really. It isn’t about profit margins, dividends, economic swings and debt management. Kids have it all figured out, something we adults have lost somewhere in the shuffle, that it’s all about wanting to grow.
Scripture tells us that Jesus welcomed children to sit with him and learn, despite the best efforts of the adults around him to keep the children at bay, lest the master’s patience be tested or his attention be drawn away from really important matters affecting the rest of the world. Luke’s gospel recounts the story. “Now they were bringing even infants to see him that he might teach them: and when the disciples saw it they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18:15-17).” Children aren’t always the best behaved creatures on the planet, but most often they do their best to pay attention, listen and follow what the grown ups are saying. Children are also usually excited about life, eager to know more, build on what they already have stored up in their brains and create glorious adventures to carry them forward. How could Jesus not want to be around that kind of energy and joy? Enthusiasm is contagious, brightening each life it touches and envelopes.
Scripture also tells us of Jesus’ best moments of clarity and purpose regarding the stories he told the adults when their turn came to hear what Jesus had to say. Parables, confrontations over points of religious law, sermons expounding on familiar teachings, healings performed among crowds of people and individual encounters with fellow travelers, called those who paid attention, listened, to grow beyond what they already knew and into something more. But unlike children, who seem to have a natural inclination to reach out and stretch themselves into new shapes and sizes, not all the adults who were privy to Jesus’ offerings wanted to grow.
The rich young ruler is a good example. In the verses just after Jesus welcomed the children, Luke’s gospel recounts this interchange between Jesus and a would-be follower. ” And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. ‘ And he said, ‘All these I have observed from my youth.’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24)!” This fellow clearly was eager to please, but only to a certain point. His beliefs had limits that were quite obvious, even to him as he waked away, very sad at not being able to have the life he wanted. He was unwilling to let go of his need to be wealthy, sacrificing his entire life to hold onto his possessions. His faith apparently receded into the background as he walked away from the man he hoped to follow.
Perhaps the recession, real or imaginary, isn’t the most horrible thing that could happen to us. Our financial well-being continues to attract our attention, as well it should. We live in a world in which we need to manage our material wealth with care and consideration. But what we make, have and store up for future use may not need to be our central concern. Reattaching ourselves to that remembrance of wanting more, visioning our future and stretching to bring ourselves to those hopes with pure joy, that is the stuff of which Jesus spoke This is faith, this wanting to grow, and faith is recession-proof.