Meltdown, U.S.A.


On a recent car trip, my wife and I were telling our son what the world was like when we were his age. One immediate difference between 2008 and 1970 is that people worried about their reputations. Having a bad reputation ruined nearly everything in life and was one of the most difficult things to overcome.

That worry about reputation kept people in line. Even more so, it kept companies in line. To have a bad reputation was certain death to most businesses. And the companies who lived and died most by their reputations? Banks and other financial institutions.

Which pretty much explains why our country is facing the financial meltdown now before us. The people who lead most companies today would sell their reputations in an instant if it meant that such a s sale could boost revenue, even if that boost came with an enormous ultimate cost.

And the financial institutions that uphold our economy did that because they thought they could make a fast buck in a new market: people who weren’t a reputable credit risk.

Some polls say that 85 percent of people in America identify as Christians. George Barna’s polls have routinely pegged the born-again Christian percentage at about 30 percent or so.

Al I have to ask is, where were all the self-professed Christians in the management of all these investment banks and their smaller regional bank cousins? Where were the Christian voices who should have been saying, “You know, reputation and ethics matter more than a quick buck”? I want to know where those Jesus-believing folks were when the decisions were made that led us into this morass.

You say that Christians weren’t in high levels in those investment banks? Wrong.

No, I can’t call them out by name, but past scandals reveal the truth. The Wall Street Journal several years back showed that nearly every major player in the business scandals exemplified by Enron, Worldcom, HealthSouth, and the like were professed born-again Christians.

What is going through such a person’s head when presented with potentially reputation-destroying schemes to make a couple bucks off sub-prime loans? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit shout no? 'Children died, the days grew cold, a piece of bread would buy a bag of gold...'Don’t the most basic Scripture passages kick in and warn that person against that course? Doesn’t that person ask, If I consent to this, will it honor my Lord?

I guess if their lord is the almighty dollar, then the answer would have to be yes.

So the hell with reputation. Dismiss what the men who founded the investment bank thought, even though they would’ve fired their entire board of directors if those directors tried to float such lamebrained schemes.

“But sir, we could make a couple bucks right now if we just—”

“Hell no! Not with my name and the name of my father and his father before him on the marquee.”

Cerulean Sanctum turned five-years old this month. From the beginning, readers have read my concerns about economic issues and the Church’s lack of preparation for the looming financial meltdown I believed was coming. And now that meltdown is here, at least the first stages of it. As I’ve said before, “We are not ready.” Better make that “We were not ready.”

The people in high positions in financial sectors who said they were Christians were not ready when God put the test before them.

The people in low positions who maybe should not have bought into self-destructing ARMs were not ready when God put the test before them.

And once again, the people who make up churches across this country,  who continued to dance to the happy music and make no preparation for tough days—even though the Bible tells us the tough days are coming (and now God’s test is before us)—were simply not ready.

Isn’t that Jesus’ name we carry? Isn’t it His name on the marquee?

And so much for guarding our reputation as God’s people, people with foresight and wisdom, the ones who can read the signs of the times and prepare for the time when no man can work.



I call it the Green Pepper Price Index (GPPI).

Just two and a half years ago, I could buy a green pepper in my local grocery store for $0.59. Sometimes the price even went down to $0.49. This last Saturday, that same green pepper was $1.29.

People can’t seem to connect the rising prices of food in their grocery stores with the cost of fuel to truck it there. They can’t see that when a big farming operation goes through as much as 2,500 gallons of diesel a day, $4.59 a gallon diesel fuel (up from just $1.29/gal. in my area a few summers ago) drives up the cost of that green pepper.

And why are gas prices that high? Oil speculation. When you have to cover the costs of bid-up oil futures as one rich multi-millionaire after another plays the speculation game, you’ve got to raise prices. When a billionaire like Mark Cuban, owner of The Dallas Mavericks, says that rich guys are squeezing the little guys like us in their no-holds-barred gambling in the oil speculation market—and that it has to stop for the sake of our country (though the scoundrels behind this show no sign of easing up)—you know we live in unprecedented, self-centered times.

Every study out there shows the middle class losing ground. (Here’s an eye-opening analysis.) Meanwhile, the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country have never been richer. flytrap.jpgThe CEO of UnitedHealthcare made $1.2 billion in compensation in 2006. That’s billion. Yeah, with a b.

It’s not a word we use too often anymore, avarice. The continued dumbing-down of our vocabulary excludes it in favor of the more common greed. But avarice is a more compelling word, with a ferocity that greed lacks. Greed is snatching a slice more pizza than you deserve. Avarice is buying the pizzeria and forcing it to make pizzas for no one else but you. Avarice doesn’t merely want one more; it wants to change the structure of reality at a deeper level to feed that greed.

The problem with the kind of avarice I’ve highlighted so far is that it’s easy to spot. Some CEO runs his company into the ground and walks away with 9-digits of golden parachute exit money…well, only the CEO and his board of directors consider that a rational response.

But avarice goes much deeper, affecting the common man, too. Sometimes, we even see it in our churches.

The kind of avarice I’m talking about finds it’s revealing in these verses:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
—Philippians 4:8-9

I believe that at its core, avarice is an inability to consider the inherent good in what God has created or done for us and be satisfied with it.

Avarice cannot think on what is good or pure because they aren’t good or pure enough, at least as the person stricken by avarice thinks. Such a person sees a beautiful, verdant forest filled with the Lord’s good gifts to us and thinks, If we cut down all the trees, we could put in a strip mall. That shrunken soul finds no excellence in the forest. Such a mind is warped to only see what it believes is good, whether that “good” has any grounding in God’s good or not. Such a mind would pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.

The avarice of the average man and woman in America (a “Christian nation,” mind you) has led our country into a dark place. To that average person, no good exists save that it provide him or her an immediate, self-centered gratification. This even extends to our American heritage. Today’s Americans value freedom so little that we are willing to give it away for perceived personal gain, even if the wholesale barter of American guiding principles  destroys the country in the process. We have become people adrift on a tiny ice flow in the middle of a vast ocean, looking for ways to start a fire because “it’s a little chilly on this ice.”

And what about our churches?

Avarice in our churches means that we will moan and whine about our pet issue until it splits the church in two. No matter that the church goes belly up and fellow believers are hurt. No, it’s better to “stand up for the truth” (even if that truth isn’t) than to do a little self-discovery and realize the world doesn’t revolve around us and our pet issue. Better that we leave our sacrifice and be reconciled with our brother and sister in Christ before we might offer it.

Avarice in our churches precludes teachability. When our hearts swell with avarice, no room is left to grow in grace.

Avarice in our churches means that we won’t be satisfied with the speed at which God is doing good things in our midst, so we’ll find some man-made way to stoke that fire, ultimately burning everything up, including the good we started out with.

Avarice in our supposedly Christ-centered lives will force us to distrust the Faith of our Fathers and explore every newfangled Christian fad that comes down the pike, even if such fads derail our journey with Christ. That inability to appreciate the good for its inherent goodness only wrecks our faith as we seek to add to what is already perfect in Christ.

Avarice cannot meditate on the good because it perpetually searches for something better, even if that supposed better mauls everyone it touches. Woe to us if we are on the receiving end of that mauling! We’ll find that our “better” turns to devour us.

God, how we need to purge our lives of avarice!

The Cash Value of a Man


A woman only has worth if she’s young and beautiful.

Does anyone reading this believe that statement?

Tuesday night, my wife and I were driving home from a surprise birthday party for a long-time friend, when I made the mistake of turning on a Christian radio station. Yes, I said mistake.

Now most of you readers know that I don’t like to name names when it comes to Christian nuttiness. I tend to avoid pointing fingers at individuals or ministries, preferring to go with the understanding that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I’m not going to let this one slide though.

The Family Life program was on, featuring a speaker who preached on real manhood, claiming that clueless men are proliferating at an exponential rate. In trying (pathetically and eisegetically, if you ask me) to preach on the husband and wife section of Ephesians 5, he noted that “to nourish and cherish a wife means…money.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t see money mentioned at all in Ephesians 5. I do see a man called to love his wife unconditionally just as Christ loved the Church. The astute will notice that this call to unconditional love of one’s wife flies in the very face of the worldly statement that opened this post. Christians men are to love their wives, even when that fleeting beauty fades and age envelops like a wrinkled cloak.

Can we all agree on that?

As if the ridiculously eisegeted comment about money wasn’t enough, the same preacher (a noted “expert” on biblically-based sex roles) dropped this bomb:

If a man wants his wife to respect him more, he should make more money.


Can I tell you what the world says about the worth of a man? It’s this:

A man only has worth if he is powerful and wealthy.

Does anyone besides me see that this preacher is just mimicking what the world says? We don’t accept that opening statement about a woman’s worth, yet we’re preaching that the respect due a man is directly tied to how much moolah he brings home? In cash we trust?So a Christian man should love his wife unconditionally, but a Christian woman should only respect her husband if he’s bringing home more and more cash?

By this standard, the apostles—at least the married ones—were damnable failures who deserved being nitpicked to death because their wives didn’t have a revolving account at Saks. And let’s not get into that poor carpenter, Joseph, and the miserable father he was for not ensuring Mary and Jesus a gilded, palatial estate overlooking the Jordan.

So much for seeking first the Kingdom! Better seek that fat pay raise or work two jobs, even if your kids never see you.

Who gave this “preacher” a microphone? Shame on Family Life!

Do I believe a man should provide for his family? Yes, I absolutely do. But what message are we sending when we Christians simply roll over and ape the world’s hellish message about a man’s worth?

For all our talk of conforming to biblical standards, we don’t. The Bible tells us that most people worked a farm. In fact, the entire household worked the farm. Distinctions between what men and women did for work didn’t really exist on a macro level. Yes, men did most of the brute strength farm work, while women did things like threshing (still a tough job), but they co-labored.

If we take a look at early America, often held up as Camelot by some Evangelicals, again, you see the same picture of farming and co-laboring, especially in the middle classes on the edge of the frontier. It was only after industrialization hit this country (and that only after a hundred years of factories and reforms) that we started seeing this sort of naïve ideal that a man can’t simply do a man’s work, he’s got to do his wife’s work, too. He better darned well do his work better than the guy next door, as well, because not everyone can have the good jobs. (Some guy’s gotta draw the short employment straw. Guess short straw’s wife won’t have much reason to respect him, now will she? I bet that’s a chilly bed!)

I’ve got to also wonder about a preacher who’s giving a message that the way to a wife’s respect is by making more money. A preacher. Think about that. Think about all the guys out there in the ministry who are making a pittance. I guess the only way those poor ministers are going to keep bringing home more bacon is if they start drinking the Church Growth Movement kool-aid! Butts in seats! Butts in seats! (And a mixed metaphor, too!)

Anyone out there besides me feel like crying?

Oops, can’t do that. Not manly enough.