In the “olden days when I was a girl,” the beginning of Lent was often met with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The focus was on penance and self-mortification. Typically we gave up candy and television, though my mother allowed us to enjoy both on Sunday and my brother, whose birthday often fell during Lent, got to eat the candy from his slice of birthday cake.
The focus of Lent has changed in the past 40+ years and now we look to see what positive things we can do during Lent, to enrich our faith and to help those less fortunate around us. With this change of focus in mind, I’ve been reading the newspaper, listening to the news on radio and TV and following the internet news on MSN.com in the past days and weeks. I’d like to share some gleanings from these sources obtained during the past 24 hours, with some thoughts about what maybe we should all give up for Lent!
The San Jose Mercury News reported today, February 24, 2009, that President Obama’s budget will include all government spending, including that for the military and the wars in which we are now engaged. The funding for war was never included in the budgets submitted by President Bush over the past 8 years, making it appear that total government spending was much lower than it actually was. (Hmm … I wonder how far my family would get if I left out a major portion of our expenses in my budget!)
Radio and TV news and talk radio shows: Critics of the proposed mortgage relief program are angry because they believe it will benefit people who “didn’t play by the rules” when buying or refinancing a home. They particularly condemn people who bought houses they now can’t afford or who got an adjustable rate mortgage whose payments have gone up too high, as well as those who are “upside down” on their loans because the real estate market has adjusted downward. (This despite the fact that lenders actively pushed such loans, encouraged refinancing into adjustable rate loans, and often left the self-employed with few options other than “stated income” loans for financing their homes as recently as 6 months ago.)
The SJ Mercury News again. As of 2007, 47% of senior citizens in California struggle to make ends meet. The Federal definition of a poverty level income was set at $10,000 annually in the 1950s and remains at that level. Nine to ten percent of California senior citizens fall below that income level. For the most part, these are people who played by the rules. Yet the funds to help them and those receiving disability payments from the state are being cut as part of the budget deficit solution here in California.
Again the Mercury News. Public funding for family planning prevents an estimated 2 million unplanned pregnancies per year, resulting in approximately 800,000 fewer abortions. For each $1 spent on funding family planning, $4 is saved in Medicaid costs for prenatal care for lower income mothers. Nevertheless, opponents of funding these services claim that such services are a “shameful population control program that targeted low-income families.” [ Troy Newman of Operation Rescue speaking of the attempt by members of the House of Representatives to include such funding in the stimulus package.] (One wonders if there is any similar outrage about the ability of middle and upper income couples to pay for medications and/or services for planning the size of their families. Do only those with money have a say for themselves in such personal decisions?)
Also from today’s paper. Currently (2008), 46.6% of health care spending was paid by governments, including Federal, state and local funds. By 2018, over 51% will be paid by government sources, with no increase in entitlement programs (Medicare/Medicaid), amounting to a cost of $2.2 trillion. About 45 million Americans have no health insurance and the number is growing as people lose the jobs that provided it. COBRA coverage is too expensive for many of them because they no longer have jobs. Private insurance is also too expensive or cannot be purchased due to pre-existing conditions. The stimulus package helps those who lost their jobs after September 1, but not those whose jobs were lost in the 9 months of the recession which preceded that date. (The fact that care for the uninsured is much more expensive because they often wait until conditions are serious or life-threatening before seeking care at hospital emergency rooms has been well documented. Then hospitals charge everyone more to cover the cost of care that they must provide and write off in order to qualify for federal funding. Does this make sense?)
Federal deficits during the recent Bush administration began at $158 billion and ended at $455 billion, totalling $2.5 trillion. (Is that without including the war funding?)
The stock market continues to fall. Investors worry that there’s no end in sight to the recession, after one whole month of a new administration that had warned from the start that the economy would get worse before it could get better! (Hello… It’s going to take time to work our way out of this.)
So what should our response as Christians be?
We’re in a major recession. Many people have seen their savings lose 1/2 or more of their value. Lots of people who have had steady work, been responsible citizens, employers, employees, consumers, community members, etc. have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, lost their businesses. Even those with 30 year fixed rate mortgaes have seen them become unaffordable when unemployement, illness or disability hits a family.
It’s time to quit judging each other and instead exercise a bit of compassion. Yes, some made mistakes in judgement that got them into this trouble. Some spent more than they should have. A few have cheated on loans. More have been cheated on housing purchases. But most people played it straight. Most people honestly made their best efforts. Lots of them have been hit by forces beyond their ability to control or predict.
It’s time to quit blaming the victims.
For Lent this year, let’s give up judging others and instead focus on how each one of us can add 1 “brick” to rebuild our economy, our communities and the lives of our sisters and brothers.
Let’s nurture a spirit of hope, a hope that is essential before any change can begin and that will bring new energy to face the challenges.
Let’s stop the politics and rhetoric of division. It doesn’t help anyone to try to defeat the efforts of those trying to solve the tremendous problems we face. No one has all the right answers. Maybe if we actually talk with each other, we can learn from each other too and come up with better solutions.
Let’s remember that compassion is fundamental in this endeavor. The term itself refers to a sharing of passion, and passion includes both love and pain. So we share each other’s pain as we share each other’s love.
And finally, let’s care for God’s “Little Ones,” the ones who can’t care for themselves or solve their own problems without our help. As the past months have demonstrated, any one of us could become one of those needing help. And those who traditionally have needed help, generally need it even more now.