November 1st, 2008Ponderingsby Jef Murray

Troubled times are coming. Just as Treebeard saw his world change, so are we about to see ours.

Right now, just before the elections in the USA, I see so many who are afraid. The old bylaws are broken: banks are going bust, world markets are whiplashed. Enormous crowds gather, hypnotized, hoping that a new leader will bolster balance sheets and forestall foreclosures.

You can feel it in the earth; you can feel it in the water; you can smell it in the air.

Bad times are not new. And elections will not change them. The fruits of foolishness must be born, and in a few years, the messiah elected today will be the ousted and disgraced demagogue of tomorrow. This is the nature of idol worship…what was once thought divine becomes
despicable. Hell hath no fury….

But, the flip side of the impotence of the elected is that we can all see where the real power lies, and that is with God and with each other.

The last long lesson of lack was taught to us in the 1970s, when I was in high school. Then there was no such thing as a personal computer, few folk had color TVs, and most new cars were compacts because of skyrocketing oil prices.

My family lived in the country, and since we were only able to pick up a couple of TV stations, we had to make a lot of our own entertainment. We read a lot, but we also gardened, raised dogs and rabbits, collected eggs from the wild chickens that ran in the pastures. We hunted and fished. We wrote stories and drew comics. We gathered muscadines to make jelly, and I tried my hand at making peach wine from the syrup my stepfather brought back from the school lunchroom. This latter attempt ended in a spectacular explosion, and my childhood bedroom to this day smells like fermented peaches when the weather turns wet.

But what I learned during the stag-flated seventies was that it was always more fun to _create_ than to _consume_, to ponder than to be pandered to. It was always more exciting to _give_ than to _get_. But from 1982 on, all the world seems to have forgotten these things. All the world now worships the idol of consumerism, and that idol, like the idol of the messianic politician, will fall.

The best and most important things in life do not require credit cards. They do not require big brazen bureaucracies and multi-billion dollar bailouts. They do not require the clever counsel of a new commander-in-chief.

The best and most important things in life are love of God and love of neighbor. And as the world changes and our credit cards are cancelled, we may find ourselves rediscovering both. We may learn how to once again trust in God to help us through the rough spots. We may learn how satisfying it can be to care for friends and family. We may learn how interesting our neighbors are once layoffs or the need to mow our own grass gives us the time and opportunity to get to know them.

We may, as a result of these changing times, rediscover what Frank Capra and Angelo Pellegrini once taught us: that lean years can be our happiest years, and that bad times can sift souls and feed one's faith.

The world is changed. The next president will disappoint and disillusion those who worship him now, as all false idols do. And the pain of lost homes and layoffs will certainly be real. But we will be the ones who decide whether these pangs are harbingers of havoc or of healing; of ruin or of rebirth.

May God bless you and yours in the lean and happy years ahead….

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  • February 3 2009 | by Mary Burr

    Good article. Good advice. I think we may be about the same age. I do remember the lean years of the 70's and still live the way I do because of it. I don't wish hardship on anyone; however, I hope younger Americans will be humbled to the point that they realize the that they are not just consumers.
  • February 3 2009 | by Penny

    I'm curious- why 1982?

    Very inspiring website. I'm glad I have discovered it. Jef, I see that you have advice on financial matters. Perhaps you could share with us sometime some basics since the times indeed are/will be a challenge, even to those of us who have tried to live frugally but are still having a hard time making ends meet feeling somehow we are caught in the demands of a nebulous company store.
    God Bless you.
  • February 17 2009 | by Jef Murray

    Thanks for the feedback on this article! Regarding financial matters, I was very involved with the Voluntary Simplicity movement in the 1990s, despite the fact that most adherents to that philosophy are very modern, very liberal, and for the most part unaware that most of what they are promoting is quite conservative and traditional.

    If you can stomach the modernist "save the world" spin, one of the best practical books out there for folks who would like to reclaim control over their financial lives is "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The book's core 9-step program is largely excellent, and following it is what allowed Lorraine and me to step back from full time employment and find the time and creative energy to write and paint/illustrate, respectively.

    Most importantly, the book helps you understand how/why you may have gotten caught up in the consumer mentality, and provides tools to help you dig your way back out. If I ever had the opportunity to review the book from a Catholic perspective, I think it might help make it more palatable for many of us who (rightly) distrust the liberal New Age mindset that is, unfortunately, closely associated with the book and its authors.
  • February 17 2009 | by Penny

    Does the message of the book take on by any chance, a practical way of applying the concept of Distributism promoted by G.K. Chesterton-of course it wouldn't intentionally, but are there any similarities?
    Thank you for responding and I will search out the book.
  • February 18 2009 | by Jef Murray

    Penny,

    Yes, E.F. Schumacher, who is the most modern proponent of distributism (see "Small is Beautiful", and Joseph Pearce's sequel to it, "Small is Still Beautiful") is quoted liberally in "Your Money or Your Life" (YMOYL), and the concept of subsidiarity exists in the book, albeit not explicitly.

    The biggest problem with YMOYL, from my perspective, is that it largely ignores issues related to raising a family. It's clear that the book is written by and for largely childless folk. That worked for me and Lorraine (who have many godchildren, nieces and nephews, but no kids of our own), but left a lot of issues out that would have been relevant to folks who want to raise a traditional family.

    That said, Amy Dacyczyn wrote a newsletter that was later compiled into a book called "The Tightwad Gazette" at almost the same time that YMOYL was first published. And although it focusses on saving money, it directly deals with many issues associated with raising kids, and is a welcome tonic to the child-free undertone of YMOYL. I do not recollect, however whether Amy dealt directly with Distributism per se. I also know that she largely avoided faith issues, despite the fact that, I believe, she and her husband are Christian.
  • February 18 2009 | by Jef Murray

    Penny,

    BTW, I never answered regarding 1982. That was the year that the stock market took off, resulting in a rally that did not really falter until 2000. It was during this protracted expansion that most folks began to think that the "good times" would never end, and that consumerism was the path to happiness.