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Lorna Dueck

A little gospel for bailout beggars Add to ...

Executive producer, Listen Up TV

Bailout is a contentious topic for Christian thought to wrestle with. At an early crisis in the story of God and the human race, God tells his human friend Adam that he's going to have to increase his productivity if he's to survive.

As Adam ventured on his own enterprise, there was no magical money tree, no printing press to issue trillions; in fact, God warns Adam that access to money will not be the natural order of things. No exemptions from the divine selection of struggle.

GM, Chrysler and all bailout beggars are darn lucky this is such a secular state. They won't need to worry that this moral root will impugn their hungry gaze toward government handouts. No parables of Jesus will be applied to their plight, gosh no, that would never do in polite Canada. Economists under pressure will keep inventing new strategies, and the church, well, it's been a long time since 16th-century monks, priests and theologians influenced economic theory with their rationale on the dignity of the human person.

But if the Department of Finance figures are correct, we are a nation where churches outnumber bank branches by almost 3 to 1 (23,427 Christian churches, 8,000 bank branches). If, as the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy reports, 5.4 million Canadians are attending church each week, this must be the most invisible national pastime we've ever known. Surely the entrepreneurial imagination must wonder what we could withdraw from the church during this time of unprecedented economic challenge.

First, we'd find some religious leaders are grappling with their own spiralling economies of hope. The new Canadian bestseller The Ego Boom explains how our inflated egos created the debt crisis. Equating self-esteem with what we could buy on credit is what launched the mess, say authors Steve Maich and Lianne George, and they conclude that places of authority were either too chicken or too greedy to tell us otherwise.

Hungry for relevance, the church got sucked into the demise. The authors write: "The You Sell has become so powerful that the only way the church can compete is to adopt it ... catering to the demands and 'felt needs' of churchgoers as consumers, rather than challenging the integrity of a self-interested lifestyle."

Recasting Christian teachings as more me-centred and less God-centred, warn Mr. Maich and Ms. George, leaves people more anxious and less equipped for reality. The fact that it takes two writers from Maclean's to deliver this indictment on spiritual culture is a wakeup call that we weren't fooling anyone pretending that Jesus's words were easy.

Second, we'd find there'd be much value in holding classes on family financing, job searching and career planning in church. This is the place whose textbook, the Bible, gives advice on money four times as often as it does on prayer. More than 2,000 verses, which Christian author Philip Yancey says can be summarized into three basic questions: How did you get it? What are you doing with it? What is it doing to you?

In the course of learning together, we'd discover that the church is full of capitalists and socialists. We wouldn't agree, but at least we'd be expanding solutions on issues that cause every family anxiety.

Finally, we'd find not just bailout but real rescue - salvation even - from the fear that broods over us. Some of the most usable Christian writing for modern times came out of the 1980 recession when a Maryland pastor, Eugene Peterson, saw his calm Presbyterian congregation panic over their failing fortunes. That fear led this scholar in both Hebrew and Greek to translate the Bible into street language, in a Bible called The Message, so people could understand and feel what God's story of rescue really means. With 11 million copies sold, it shows he struck a nerve.

"Saved is a big word for us," he said. "Do you know what that word means in Hebrew? It means 'space.' Give us space. Salvation is a prairie. All the fences are down. All the doors are opened. Salvation is entering into largeness, God's largeness."

Imagine if we could think with that largeness, instead of the fearful smallness that Adam was strapped with on his encounter with financial viability. Imagine if all the doors were opened on possibility because my financial future really isn't all about me.

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