All the Credit We Need

Remember when the market crashed in 2008?

You saw the images of traders. Some were about to cry. Others rubbing their forehead, trying to figure out their next step: the frustrated frown; the blank incredulous stare; the head on the desk, the graph of the market plunging downward, probably weeping, billions under his care suddenly vanished.

Where did it go? Did they ever even exist? All that light over the internet, symbols of great wealth and power, going dark, as the numbers rapidly decrease.

What to do? Governments are cutting rates; others are taking over banks. They are busycajoling people to share and stop hoarding, to get the big monetary institutions to trust each other again. But even governments themselves are having a hard time. Iceland, after 10 years of buying up parts of Europe, is back to fishing.

Mark Taylor, the theologian, uses the metaphor of poker to describe the desire to keep the markets trading. But the poker game has ended. We’re sitting around the table, deciding its time to go and cash in our chips, when the banker of the house says, I’ve got no money. Your chips are worthless. Perhaps we were just playing for fun (add wan smile and shrug).

The banker himself had invested a fair amount. He’d thought that when others bought into the game, they’d use real cash themselves. But some of us asked for credit as well when we anted up and we all agreed. Why not? We were doing it ourselves.

Most of us.

But now all the players are left stranded.

Nobody thought they’d want to end the game. They thought it would continue forever, until the end of time, or the King Returned. People would add money and our pots would just get bigger. Everyone could keep buying in.

Until just one person, or two, or three, decided they wanted to cash in.

Some will suggest that we have to continue playing: Give everyone a half-credit; redistribute the chips; Get some real money in the system. But everyone’s tired and nobody trusts the banker. Or each other.

Nobody realized that nobody had actually given the house any money.

I’m not an economist. I don’t have a crystal ball about the future. And I don’t think it’s all that helpful to offer a Panglossian veneer on the subject. People are hurting and scared and poorer. Bless them. Bless the investor, bless the banker, bless the retiree, the businessman, bless the homeowner.

At the very least, the light that was the virtual pool of wealth in cyberspace, has also revealed itself to connect every person in our commercial reality. So what are we to do with each other? Judgment? Of course. Mutual Aid? A few wishful chants of “never again?” Why not, if it makes us feel better.

I had begun writing this essay before seeing the Dow, exploring this idea of being the “master of the universe.” It’s what lots of traders thought of themselves as they were busy exchanging vast sums of money. Perhaps now comes the hard truth that we are not masters, even the most die-hard self-actualizing Rand worshipping libertarian. Once a master, now a servant.

I don’t have many suggestions. Buy low? If you’ve got money, then go ahead. Sell? Well, that’s what everyone else is doing. Invest in green infrastructure? It is tangible, but it won’t help the church endowment right now and that will have to wait until after the election that to have any impact. When you come to church, I’m not going to give you any stock tips. Except Berkshire Hathaway, and you’ve probably already figured that one out yourself.

But I do know this:

I hope that at the end of the day, if you’ve lost gobs of money trading, you have a sweetheart you can go home to who just doesn’t give a damn about the millions you’ve lost.

I also hope that your number isn’t published.

I hope that your children will run up to you and give you a big kiss on the cheek just because you exist and ask you to play catch or read them a story.

I hope to Jesus that when your best friend calls you, it won’t just be to ask you about the thousands of his you lost investing in Lehman brothers, but about how your holding up. I hope he forgives you and will accept your buying him an extra round a drinks.

(By the way, what in God’s name were you thinking? You could have done a little research on credit swaps. They were toxic.)

And for those of us who don’t have much invested, we’re going to have some people to help along the way. Our soup kitchen is going to get a bit more crowded, our thrift shop will get a bit more busy (although these last two quarters we’ve had record breaking receipts. Ka-Ching!), and there will be a few people selling their businesses, or being terminated from their jobs.

I hope that here, our treasure was never in the stock market to begin with.

It was right here. Our confidence was somewhere else.

In our small tendernesses; in our sharing of scripture and stories. It was right here when ten of us drank three bottles of wine celebrating the new altar we built ourselves.

It was right here when the thrift shop ladies, myself and Debbie had soup and salmon right in the middle of the sanctuary.

Let everyone else hoard their stashes of money. Here we share a little of our mutual gratitude. Let it be enough.

Its enough for us to love each other and pick up the shards of that remain from the broken spirits and hearts around us. Its enough to be the presence of God for those who’ve been only in the presence of mammon. It is enough to just be the jar that contains the spirit of hope and courage.

It’s not much. But it’s enough.

And in a world that always wants more perhaps that’s what’s we’re saying. We know what our treasure is. And it is enough. And we can still share it and spread it around a bit.

We’ve got a little love, and we’ve got a little faith, and that’s enough.

It’s all the credit we need.

Praise Him!

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