Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No more beach to mountains exchange?

I am sitting on a deck at a place about seven miles north of Boone, North Carolina and I am looking at a gorgeous view of the mountains. Terri and I are on vacation this week and, for at least the first part of the week, we are enjoying the mountains thanks to some friends who very kindly allowed us to use their mountain getaway. Included in this entry are several photos from a short journey along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns and Linville Falls.

Strange how beach folks like us go to the mountains to take a break and mountain folks often go to the beach to take a break. Living on the coast I regularly meet people from here who vacation there and I know quite a few people who live at the coast who enjoy trips to the mountains. I suppose the mixture of relaxation with the adventure of a change of scenery inspires mountaineers to periodically trade places with beach bums and vise versa.

I wonder if gas prices will put a significant damper on this unofficial exchange program. If so, that's a shame. Not too many years ago it would have taken several days of difficult travel for people to take a journey that took Terri and me only six hours. One of the advantages of being such a mobile society is that we can experience a part of God's creation with which we are unaccustomed with relative ease. But with gas at about $4 a gallon such trips will be tougher for everyone and impossible for many. Were it not for free lodging Terri and I would not have made the trip this time.

So it has taken me longer than it should have to write this short entry because I have been glancing at the view of the mountains frequently. It may be a good while before I see such a view again.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Government sponsored spiritual decline

I used to watch The West Wing, a TV show about presidential politics starring Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlett. In one episode I vaguely remember a conversation Bartlett was having with a young assistant about a report indicating that Americans were saving a little more and spending a little less. Bartlett was concerned about the report and the young staffer was confused thinking that savings was a good thing. Bartlett explained that he needed for the people to wait for the next administration to start saving because a healthy economy depends on Americans spending more.

I thought about that episode when I heard the news and commentary about the funds from a government stimulus package beginning to arrive this week. The plan is supposed to stimulate the economy by putting some money in the pockets of Americans--$300 to $1,200 or more depending on family size and circumstances. Many reports of recent days say, like
one I read, "Proponents of the stimulus package hope people will use the money for purchases that will give the American economy a boost "

In the days leading up to the release of the stimulus funds I heard numerous government officials and economic experts express the concern that many Americans, worried about the economic outlook, might save that money or use it only for groceries or gas. If we do that rather than blowing that government money on HDTV's or iPods or video games or eating out or other non-essential purchases then the stimulus package will not do much to stimulate the economy.

I have a degree in economics and I know that it is true that our economy depends on our spending. But here my economic knowledge and my theology collide. I heard Brian McLaren say that, spiritually speaking, "consumerism is more dangerous than terrorism," and he is right. Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Mat. 6:24, TNIV). For years I have preached against the obvious spiritual perils of consumerism even as I have struggled to escape those perils myself.

Now, with this stimulus package, we have blatant government sponsored consumerism, complete with worries that Americans will save rather than spend. What does this say about the whole structure of our society? Who do we really serve? Our currency pardoxically proclaims "in God we trust," but I'm not so sure.