Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Where do you place your trust?

I must say this election season is the weirdest one I've ever experienced ... evah! McCain runs out of money in the primaries ... then comes back ... then picks a total unknown for VP running mate ... then the banking crisis hits ... debates are off ... debates are on ... bailout in the works ... bailout tanks ... surreal interviews with a VP candidate.

Can I take a break, go down the rabbit hole and have some tea with the Mad Hatter and Alice? Please??

Unfortunately, the anxiety which was already present in our society has reached fever pitch. I just finished reading Edwin Friedman's last book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. I highly recommend it for anyone in a leadership position (hint, all parents are in a leadership role with kids ... get the book!). Friedman talks about the emotional processes and symptomatic behaviors of highly anxious systems. Whether it's an anxious family, an anxious congregation, or an anxious country ... behaviors in those anxious systems are very similar.

Anxious systems seek to avoid pain to the extent that their leaders will run from anything which may cause pain in the system. The leaders will also adapt their functioning to the most immature member in the group. Whether it's a parent who caves in to their overindulged child, a pastor who gives in to a member who threatens to cut their pledge if the pastor doesn't do what they want, or a president who tries to push through a quick fix to cover up the failed policies of his administration - they all exhibit highly anxious reactive behaviors.

The first thing we need to do to combat this whole financial crisis is to calm down. Yeah, sounds like an easy platitude. But I'm entirely serious - everyone needs to calm down. Take a breath and slow down to get some perspective. I'm personally glad to see the congress battling this back and forth rather than cave with a quick fix that could likely do more harm than good.

Will there be pain in the short run? Yes. But some short term pain to produces a long term solution that will work is worth it. While I think Phil Gramm's characterization of the American people as a "nation of whiners" is wrong, I do believe that we have become a nation paralyzed by fear of pain and the loss of security. Friedman says fear of pain and fears around our security have stifled the creative spirit.

Our early Christian brothers and sisters were not paralyzed by fears around security and pain. They lived in a very precarious time where starvation, disease and death were everyday occurrences. They spread the Gospel even in the face of persecution and possible death. Just imagine if Paul had been as worried about his own personal security as we are. Do you think he would have planted so many churches? Sure, he probably would have lived a longer life than he did (he was beheaded in Rome for being a Christian), but would you be a Christian if he had taken the safe route?

I think our fears and our worship of security are false idols. We worship them instead of God. We let our anxieties control our decisions rather than trusting God's plans and purposes. I have observed that some of the most anxious people are those who are living on the edge - maxed out on their credit cards, living in a home with a mortgage payment they really can't afford, trying to live way beyond their means, one paycheck away from disaster. Who do they trust? Who do you trust?

I think this financial crisis is a wake up call for people of faith. Where have I been placing my trust? Has it been in my ability to accumulate the stuff a consumerist society says I must have? Has it been in my ability to earn a lot of money? Has it been through buying a home I really can't afford but makes me look prestigious? All of these are forms of idolatry - a sin of misplaced trust.

It's time to reexamine our priorities and be honest about whether or not we have put our trust in the wrong things. The good news is Jesus Christ gives us a pathway to repent and return to the LORD.

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