In my previous post I said something about the deep fear that appears to be propelling much of the opposition to Obama administration initiatives on health care and economic recovery. I see that fear acted out locally through outbursts of accusatory anger from persons who, in years past, would have held themselves above that sort of behavior, at least in public. I think that what we are dealing with has more to do with deep psychology and spiritual maturity than anything else. Behind every angry, accusatory outburst is a story, and it seldom has anything to do with the immediate target. It just happens to be convenient.
What I see driving these outbursts, at least for the time being, is wealth, or more precisely, money. Money can be a measure of power, and together money and power can be very seductive, disorienting one’s moral compass and eating away at one’s soul. Whether we like it or not, to have money is to have control over our own lives, the environment around us, and sometimes over the lives of others. Having it gives us a sense of security against the vagaries of the future. But it’s more that a sense of control for some people. It’s power: the power to be superior, better, higher, more important. For most of us, to lose money is to lose a sense of control over our lives and environment. The more money we lose the more control we lose. For those heavily invested in the sense of power they get from money, heavy losses mean loss of self, of ego, of meaning of life.
I suspect, but don’t know, that such persons are more often men than women. I am certain that they are persons accustomed, at least in their own minds, to calling the shots. They tell others what to do and expect it to be done. Using cash as a tool, they intend to direct the use of their largesse, often with the expectation of some kind of reward such as obedient loyalty, lavish gratitude or at least a brass plaque. They do not gladly suffer those whom they see as their inferiors and who will not cooperate. Oddly enough, at bottom, they are persons of enormous psychological insecurity and spiritual immaturity.
In a recession like this one, the illusion of control and power is rudely stripped away from them. The markets are ignorant of who they are and don’t care to know. As individual persons, they are utterly irrelevant to the national economic ebb and flow. Self-satisfaction at the brilliance of their self-made wealth is destroyed in gyrations of the Dow, and there is not a thing they can do about it. Well somebody has got to take the heat. Not them of course, but somebody wasn’t watching. Somebody didn’t realize that they are among those who are not supposed to be affected like the masses. Somebody, paid by them to do their bidding, was supposed to keep that from happening and somebody screwed up.
Those minor megalomaniacs may be the extreme, but they are not alone. On the milder side are many more ordinary people who are also losing control and damn angry about it. Consider, for instance, the elderly (not me of course, I’m only 66). No matter what their condition in life in younger years, they lose more and more control as they enter into true old age. Others have taken their places in the councils of the community. Their opinions are not sought, their friends are dying and no one asked their approval for the transfer of leadership to a younger generation. Their bodies no longer respond to their demands. Doctors, pharmacists, family members, and sometimes bankers and lawyers now make decisions for them that they used to make for themselves. They have to trust without being able to verify. It’s a very vulnerable place to be. It’s hard to maintain trust under such conditions, and anger might be the only way to express that frustration.
You and I are not exempt. I confess to my own occasional anxiety over money, and whether my retirement investments will recover their value. Younger friends with growing families have their own anxious agendas: can they meet the bills this month, is my job secure, can I find a job, will my 401k be worth anything and all the rest. But Christ calls us in another direction. What we treasure is where our heart will be and we are encouraged to treasure the love of God and the discipleship of being followers of Christ more than cash. We are encouraged to consider the lilies of the field and lay our anxieties aside. Echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Paul encouraged the church at Philippi with these words:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The problem is that they can sound like so many useless platitudes unless our understanding of them is grounded in faith. It was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn when I was a young man with a young family. In those days I taped a copy of Matthew 6:25-34 to the refrigerator door. I looked at it every morning before leaving and told God that I hoped it was true, but I could sure use a little concrete evidence. Now I have over forty years of concrete evidence, and frankly I’m amazed because at times I certainly did my best to get in God’s way, and my best was pretty good.