It sounds like the storyline of an old Frank Capra film—You Can't Take It With You, or maybe Meet John Doe.
The story is one of economic collapse, followed by a reassessment of values. People gather in their churches for prayer and pastoral guidance. As the economy worsens and soup lines form, people begin finding ways to help needier neighbors—and telling their children to earn some money if they want the latest toy.
But the story springs, not from an old movie, but from a modern neighborhood, and it is told in, of all places, the Washington Post. Staff writer Donna St. George spoke with local citizens who say the economic meltdown has led them to re-order their priorities.
Among them is Kerri Wright Platais of Garrett Park, Maryland. Platais, the mother of two children, says that she has been listening to conversations in the neighborhood, at church, and near the grassy fields where her children play the games of autumn.
As she told the Post, as the economy melts down, she's hearing people ask themselves "about life's larger priorities—about what is important and why."
"We have to go back to the things that are really important," Platais explained—"people and relationships, and … love, and your faith, and your neighbors."
Platais told St. George that her neighbors are recalling the hardships endured by their parents and grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II and learned the meaning of sacrifice. Her own generation has never been called on to make these kinds of sacrifices but, Platais notes, the economic downturn "is a reality call to get back to the basics."
I'm old enough to remember it—the sacrifices my family experienced in the Depression and World War II. I can't ever remember anyone complaining. We were too busy helping neighbors who were worse off than we were.
St. George also found that, at local churches and synagogues, clergy are now retooling their messages to address the spiritual needs brought on by the economic downturn—and retooling their kitchens to keep up with the suddenly long lines at church food banks.
Well, hallelujah! I have prayed for years that God would do something to get our attention, to shake the Church, so that we would repent of buying into the consumerist culture and ignoring our call to be salt and light in the world. And if it meant an economic slowdown, well, painful though it is for all of us—myself included—we can thank God He may use it for that purpose.
This little story in the Post is a parable of the times, a sign of what is redeeming about hard times. The bad economy is driving people to back to the Church, back to thinking about more important things than the color of their new car.
And as God is tearing down these false idols, we are seeing healthy signs of renewed spiritual yearnings. You and I ought to take advantage of this with our neighbors, who may be willing for the first time to talk about the faith that sustains us. Be sure to find sensitive ways to be a blessing to them—both physically and spiritually.
And while you're at it—perhaps after you finish planting your own vegetables—rent one or two of those old Frank Capra movies, films that taught Americans how to trust God and love their neighbor even in the toughest of times.