reflections on an economic downturn

If you’ve been listening to the news, things are getting a little rough out there. Banks and car companies are going under, unemployment is going up, layoffs are abundant… our economy certainly could be better. I don’t like jumping on the “this is a crisis” bandwagon, but it’s certainly getting a little shaky.

I don’t really believe that free-market capitalism is the best economic system, so part of me thought that something like this might be coming. I thought that one day we would realize that a system based on constant growth and abundant natural resources, with little concern for the environment, would eventually break down. I don’t know if people are really questioning our capitalistic economy right now, but we are definitely questioning parts of it as things seems to be unraveling. Where will we land? Will we recover or come out looking like something else? I’m not sure yet.

This is the first economic downturn since I’ve been financially independent from my parents. It’s the first time I have my own investments, job, and expenses to consider when things start heading south. And things are starting to hit close to home. I’ve been looking for a job for several months, and for the first time since I was 14, I can’t find one. I’m still being a little picky and looking for the “right one” but all the places I want to work are not hiring. They just don’t have the money coming in to hire new people. My husband’s company is on a hiring and raise freeze, so even though he was told he would probably be promoted or have a raise by now, he’s frozen into his current position indefinitely. Even his Christmas party was canceled to save some money. I’ve stopped looking at the mail from our mutual funds… it’s not pretty. And today I just got an e-mail from the president from my seminary saying we are in a budget short-fall and that some cuts will have to be made to make it through. I wonder what that will mean for the rest of my education. So many things seem to come unraveled so quickly when the economy stalls.

I’m not too worried right now, but I wonder if it’s because I have faith God will provide or because I still have quite a few safety nets if anything goes wrong. We have savings, so it’s ok (for now) that I can’t find a job or my husband can’t move up in his. We have family that can provide for us in an emergency situation. We both have a college education and some job experience, making it easier to find jobs that can support or basic needs. A lot of people don’t have these economic safety nets and this economic downturn is leaving them in a desperate situation. I think only when all of our earthly “security” is taken away can we really find out if our faith was in God’s provision.

I wonder what the church’s response should be to this. We don’t seem to support or live out an economic alternative, so when an economic downturn happens the church has to deal with the consequences of it just as much as everyone else. Yet, if we had some sort of economic alternative, perhaps we could provide more of a source of hope and well-being and resources in times like these. Not that we cannot even if economic times are rough for us. If we have faith in the provision of God, we can continue with radical generosity and hospitality, even when those things seem foolish in the face of scarcity. We can refuse to hoard or hold on tight to what we have, even if they are our last sources of earthly economic security. Yet, if we lived out an economic alternative, perhaps we could better love and care for those most hurt by the economic downturn in times like this.

I’m still pondering this, and I have some ideas. But for now, I will continue praying for our daily bread and continue trying to trust in God’s generous provision that surrounds me but often goes unseen.

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