Supposedly we’re in a recession. That’s what I’ve been hearing for the past year. Reading the news in Mozambique, I learned that times were hard in the developed world as the stock market suffered, currencies lost value, and people began losing jobs. I warned my Mozambican colleagues that it would be harder to find funding for our projects since there was an economic crisis.
I kept hearing about unemployment rising, but my housemate and I discussed how we didn’t actually know anyone who had lost a job. Then a friend of mine lost his job, and another. Then my mom’s salary was cut back. And my friend’s dad’s salary was cut back. So maybe this economic crisis was more real than I imagined.
I was curious to see it for myself. I envisioned For Sale signs in shop windows and restaurants out of business as patrons cut back on eating out. I imagined more people walking or taking public transportation.
The reality is, I see no change. To be fair, I have not visited every community in America. I recognize that some places have been hit harder than others. But in two months I’ve traveled to multiple towns and cities in seven states. And this is what I see: Just as much traffic, if not more; full restaurants; bustling retail shops; huge advertising; everyone and their brother on their iPhones.
And this is what constantly goes through my head – in a recession: Really? A fancy phone with all those apps? Specialty cookie shops and chocolate cafes and frozen yoghurt shops? $12 jars of gourmet jam? Dog BAKERIES? Really? Eight-foot inflatable ghosts in your front yard? Where exactly is the “cutting back” in all of this?
My pastor preached on grumbling the other week. He used the passage in Numbers of the Israelites complaining about the manna in the desert (that God provided daily) and wishing they were back in Egypt (enslaved!) eating meat. God basically said, “Alright, you want meat? I’ll give you meat.” Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. Three feet of quail! But it was not a blessing. The passage later states that while they were still chowing on their meat, the LORD struck them with a plague. They wanted meat then they were drowning in meat and it made them sick.
The pastor made a comparison to us in America. We wanted “blessings” and now we are drowning in them. Drowning in our $4 lattes and 80,000 iPhone apps and 350 cable channels and 3,000 square foot houses and dozens of boxes of Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day decorations. And they’re making us sick.
I do believe that there are communities that have been hard hit this year: people who have lost their livelihoods and their homes. I don’t want to minimize their experiences. But if I can still be overwhelmed in the cereal aisle at the grocery store or have a conversation about where to eat out or stand in a purchase line at TJ Maxx for fifteen minutes, then I can’t help but ask, “Recession?”