I think the troubles in the economy have nothing do with the economy.
The economists all seem to say that if we can generate consumer spending, we will be OK. But the economists and politicians don't ask the critical question — why aren't we spending?
Is it because we don't have as much money?
Or that we are worried about things being worse tomorrow?
Or that we have diminished capacity?
All these are true, but they have not necessarily stopped us in the past. I think the real reason the economy is off is because we are off center.
I remembered Will Willimon telling the story of his receiving a phone call from a church member. The church member was a key leader and a big giver.
"Pastor," the man said to Will, "you have to call my daughter. She is in crisis. She is giving up her job and leaving town. It's a mess."
So Will called her.
"Oh," the daughter said. "Thanks for calling. I was meaning to call you today.
"I heard your sermon last week about responding to God's call. It was just what I needed. I have been feeling for years God wanted me to quit my job here and go to New York City to be a preschool teacher.
"And, so after your sermon, I decided to do exactly that. I'm leaving on Tuesday."
And Will's internal response was, "But I didn't mean you!"
"I took your advice," she said to Will. "I slowed down. I even skipped church. I got all my errands done, and had time for scrapbooking. It made all the difference."
"I knew exactly what she was saying," Will told me. "We are too busy doing things that take away energy — even if we accomplish them. She was saying she was off center. She needed to find a new rhythm, a new order in her life."
I think the way to turn the economy around, to turn our country around, is to rediscover an old rhythm — the Sabbath. I used to think that Sabbath was the same as church. Or Sunday school. Or Sunday.
When I went to seminary I learned Sabbath in the past was restrictive; no entertainment, no shopping, no sports, no dancing, no fun stuff — period! All of these ideas are wrong. Sabbath is the best party ever — on this side of Heaven — and the way to reorder our lives.
At its simplest, Sabbath is a time set aside every week to remind us that life is not about us.
We are part of something bigger. We owe our existence to something bigger, that life itself comes as a gift. And we are invited to become like the creator — to live generously for others.
Sabbath is spending time with the one who made all things and called them good. Sabbath is asking how to live as generous people even when we have no things to be generous with. At its most complex, Sabbath is setting aside time with others who are seeking to live by the same spirit as the creator.
If each week we can find one day or one period of time we can live generously for others, be in tune with the spirit of the creator and the rhythms of the universe, then we will find a new order for ourselves, our country and our economy.
MARK WILEY is the pastor at Mesa Verde United Methodist Church in Costa Mesa.