On Feb. 13, Maine made the national news in a positive way. The Oxford School Department needed to reduce its budget by $400,000 in order to keep things up and running. After slashing everything they could, they still came up with a figure equal to seven positions that would have to be cut. Rather than seeing their friends unemployed, everyone volunteered to work one day a week without pay.
This is nothing new. Several years ago, a small company of six employees in the town of Robinhood was faced with a slowdown in business. The most recently hired would have to be laid off if they were to remain open, but they all decided to donate a day’s pay a week so that person could remain on the work force. Eventually business picked up and everyone was back on full salary.
I was pondering this positive work ethic with Yankee pride as I walked the dog the next morning. Then I got one of those light-bulb-over-the-head moments. If everyone in Washington, D.C., alone, implemented this initiative, think of the money we’d save in just one week!
I fired off my brilliant idea in an e-mail to my two senators and representative in Washington, suggesting they look into this pay-it-forward approach to our country’s financial woes, beginning at the top. I didn’t expect a reply, but the representative sent me a two-page response thanking me for supporting him in his support of the president’s stimulus bill. Hmmm.
Time magazine recently ran a piece by Nancy Gibbs, titled “25 People to Blame — The good intentions, bad managers and greed behind the meltdown.”
Her concluding sentence says, “But there are also culprits who committed no crime, bankers and builders and prophets and presidents, and the face in the mirror — since many of us in the mob now wish to punish those who gave us just what we asked for.”
The local paper had an article by Victor Davis Hanson, recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal, titled, “The Moral Crisis Behind the Financial Crisis: What Are We Becoming?” His final statements read: “If ordinary Americans were to follow the examples of Wall Street and Washington elites, the nation would neither collect needed revenue nor invest its capital. All that is a recipe for national decline and fall.”
What happened? How did we get to this point as a society where athletes and celebrities demand and haul in millions of dollars for a God-given gift? Where senators and representatives of the people don’t pay their taxes and abuse their privilege with overspending and flagrant disregard of their constituents? Where Wall Street wizards had “everything, it seems, but moral responsibility for the investments of millions of their ordinary clients,” (V.D. Hanson)?
I like those words “moral responsibility.” Some religious leaders in the old days came to Jesus and, in Matthew 22:17, said, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” In a great example of true separation of church and state, he had them produce a coin and asked whose image was on it. When they said, “Caesar,” he responded in verse 21 with, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
As believers, we have a moral duty to do the right thing. We’re admonished in Philippians 2:14-16 to “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Those words were written by the Apostle Paul in 60 A.D., but “crooked and perverse” describe our current economic situation. We all want to blame someone, anyone, but pointing the finger and blaming others is as old as time itself (think Adam, Eve and the serpent), and it never accomplishes anything positive.
In a genuine what-would-Jesus-do moment, we need to be accountable for our own actions, as Peter counsels us in 1st Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (Revised Standard Version)
Shame on us if we sit back with folded hands and say, “It’s not my fault; I didn’t vote for them.” Rather our hands should be folded in prayer, as per 1st Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
Let’s pray it forward!
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.