Magazine article The Christian Century

Upside of a Downturn

Magazine article The Christian Century

Upside of a Downturn

Article excerpt

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE I know, I am feeling the pinch of a straitened economy. I eat out less often, I drive less far and I write fewer checks to my favorite charities. These are all middle-class concerns, I know (does anyone admit to being upper-middle class?), which is why I hesitate to mention them.

My small cutbacks are nothing compared to those of the woman I hear on the evening news. Fear has dried her mouth and made her words brittle. She is about to lose the first home she ever owned. While she is trying to keep up with her ballooning mortgage payments, the interest on her credit card is growing like a virus. Should she drop her health insurance or sell her car? How long can her kids go without seeing a dentist? This woman would gladly trade places with me. She would happily eat in every night of the week if that meant she and her children would not be turned out of their house.

Because her story and others like it tell the hard truths of the present economy, softer truths do not get much airtime-and yet there are other truths to tell. Earlier this summer, the hosts of National Public Radio's All Things Considered invited listeners to comment on how they were coping with the economic downturn. How were they dealing with higher gas and food prices? Close to 150 people responded, resulting in a segment called "Voices on the Economy."

Teresa from Indiana said that after she lost both her house and her business, she sold her car and moved her family closer to her work. Now they get around by bike and bus, which allows them to live completely within their means and without credit. "It is very difficult but surprisingly pleasant," she said, reckoning that she has inadvertently become one of the "new Americans" who are learning to live on less.

Craig from Michigan said that he too gets around by bicycle these days. He also buys day-old bread and is making use of his public library. Next he plans to begin baking bread and fishing in order to supplement his food budget. "I enjoy more now that I am forced to slow down," he said. "I was really surprised--there was a benefit I didn't expect."

Karen from Washington has joined a local cooperative gleaning program. (She did not say this, but I do: see Leviticus 23:22.) She and her family get free produce from local restaurants and grocery stores every week along with some "mystery cans" that have lost their labels. "It's really fun! …

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