Friday, January 27, 2012

Crises in the making

So are we in a "great depression" now or not? I really don't know. I'm not a finance person, and I'm terrible with numbers. However, I hear stories every day now about how people have had to change eating habits, switching out meat for beans and legumes... how houses are being lost along with jobs that should have provided security for workers for years to come... how vital medications cost so much that people simply can't afford them. I think the answer is that we're certainly in A depression, but whether it's as great as the one in the 1930s I don't know.

I think the question I need to ask is, does it really matter? There are hundreds of thousands of people out of work. Food banks are over-stressed with new applicants. The wait to get into the unemployment office goes around the block and takes over two hours to move into the building. There's a lot that we could focus on that is negative, that will sap our strength and our faith. Focusing on the negatives doesn't do anything for us, and in fact might be part of the problem we're currently experiencing as a nation (and as a world!).

What is positive about this? Well, families are getting back together. You might not think about the joys of living with your parents when you're 40 years old but those joys are there. People are helping others more, mindful that the next person might be worse off than they are. Secret Santas paid off lay-away accounts at WalMart for those who would have had no gifts for their children. Backyard gardens (and now front yard gardens!) are sprouting up all over, because seeds are cheaper than tomatoes.

The world is in turmoil. We in North America are better off (even our poorest of poor) than people in many other nations. There's a vast difference between poor here in America, where the poorest are able to ask for monetary help and often get it, and the poor in less developed countries, like Africa. Our poor are very rarely so thin that their bones show and their bellies bloat.

It may simply be time to tie the apron strings a little tighter, make the penny scream a bit louder. I know that's how it is in our home. We can't afford to buy filet mignon like we used to, even for special occasions. We can't afford to pick up a new movie every Friday to watch with the kids. Often we can't afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and have to make do with frozen or even none at all. Yet we always make sure that we have enough food in the house. The bills are paid, just barely at times but still paid. It's tight, but we are able to work hard to make it fit a little less snugly.

I think the main thing we need to work on, on ourselves, is to let down our pride. We have to be able to stand up and do as this fellow from the 1930s is doing: advertise ourselves. We must be willing to do any work we can get our hands on, and not just look for high paying employment, even if that's what we would prefer to have. The work issue is a tough one, when we're bombarded with images of welfare recipients living better than we are (yes, that is a stereotype and yes I know it is not true of all, or even most welfare recipients... but it is the loudest group unfortunately).

I have read posts lately about people who raise their own food and store it, helping out others who haven't been able to purchase vegetables for their kids. One blogger talked about how she would "find" $20 bills behind people in order to help them out, knowing they would not take money from her while standing at the cash register. Another discussed the embarrassed folks cruising the beans aisle at the grocery store, trying to figure out how to feed a family on food stamps and cold air.

We might have to work harder. I bake bread now, a skill I was hesitant to learn and which I now am embracing whole-heartedly. It's sure not easier than picking up a loaf of nice crusty bread at the local store, and it eats up a whole afternoon once a week, but the results are healthy and filling, and I'm not afraid to send my kids to school with a sandwich made of it. Bought in bulk, the price of home baked bread is a clear savings.

We're planning out the garden, too, and how we'll feed ourselves this summer and beyond. How many seeds do we need, and can we trade something for them rather than paying? Yes, it means we'll have to be out there planting and weeding and harvesting, and then preserving. It's more work, hard work. It's work that pays off, though. Next winter we won't have to buy canned tomatoes, because we'll have our own again. Do you know how many cans of tomatoes and how many bags of frozen beans you need for a whole year? That's what you ought to consider growing this summer!

How are you going to cook your food? The kind of cooking we might be used to (fancy sauces, expensive ingredients) have to be put away in favor of the recipes our grandmothers and mothers knew. There are plenty of websites that have Depression-era recipes for us to learn from, and a good used book store (or Kindle/Nook free books!) will provide cookbooks with plenty of inexpensive alternatives. Learn how to buy bulk macaroni and make  your own baked mac'n'cheese. Learn how to cut down on meat, and how to prepare inexpensive cuts.

Perhaps this new Depression will be a turning point for our country. Perhaps it will cure our ever-expanding waist lines and halt our obesity epidemic. Perhaps it will stop our wasting and spoiling. I think it will have to, if we're to survive.

You might be asking yourself why I'm writing about this on my spiritual blog. I believe that we are undergoing a spiritual ailment, as a world. It isn't so much that our spirits are causing the financial problems, but that in walking away from faith based (any faith!) lives, we give in to the false idols of money, commercialism, over-indulgence. It doesn't matter to me which god or gods you worship, which church or synagogue  you attend, or how many times you bow down each day. What does matter is that you BELIEVE, and that you hold onto that belief and that faith as the cure for the depression (financial, emotional, spiritual) that we're going through.

Will faith make your job pay more? Nope. Will belief cause your fridge to suddenly be full of good food? Not at all. But faith and belief, in something or someone, will give you the strength to carry on until you find the better paying job or complete school, will allow you to hold your head high as you ask for your bag at the food pantry. Remember that the person next to you might be a computer programmer out of work, or a single mom desperately trying to finish her high school degree so she can do better for her kid.

More and more people at the welfare offices are wearing suits and ties, as the financial problems trickle upward. When you meet them in the food stamp line or at the local shelter, don't disparage them. Understand that they, too, are displaced and looking for help, and perhaps their pride is getting in the way of their journey, too. Be kind... because to be kind is to help both them and yourself.
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