Monday, February 8, 2010

When's It Gonna Rain?

My pastor's sermon yesterday reminded me of a movie.

Things that make me think often have that kind of influence on me. I don't know why that is. But that seems to be the way my mind works.

And the movie that came to my mind as I listened to my pastor's words was the movie "Leap of Faith," the story of a faith healer who, as it turns out, has little faith in his own ability to heal. In fact, his healing powers tend to be enhanced by the technology that is in the hands of his assistant.

In the movie, the traveling revival show is stranded in a bump–in–the–road kind of rural town in Kansas, a town that is crippled by high unemployment and a devastating drought that threatens to ruin the year's crops. Because times are so hard, the sheriff is reluctant to allow anything like a revival show in town that will separate the poor and the struggling from what little cash they have.

Nevertheless, the show is allowed to proceed, and, when the faith healer works the crowd with his assistant's help, he amazes everyone with his "knowledge" of things he couldn't possibly know. If you have never seen the movie, the video clip I have attached to this post will give you an idea of the kind of high–tech con game they were playing.

I couldn't find a clip of the scene that came to my mind during my pastor's sermon so I'll have to describe it to you. The faith healer's assistant, wearing a hidden microphone, goes out in the crowd and gets people to whisper their concerns to her; back on the stage, the faith healer hears everything with a hidden earpiece.

For the most part, the problems that are brought to the assistant seem to be routine, everyday problems. I don't mean to minimize them. I just mean to say that they're the kinds of problems that faith healers must encounter on a regular basis. Then — predictably, I suppose — the assistant comes upon a man in the audience who asks her, "When's it gonna rain?" The assistant says, "This man asks a question that is on the minds of everyone here."

So, when my pastor spoke of a Bible passage from Luke, in which fishermen had been casting their nets all night with nothing to show for it and were about to call it quits when Jesus encouraged them to try again, he used it as an opportunity to remind his listeners of the value of perseverance.

"How long?" is the question people ask. The context differs from one person to the next. It isn't even verbally expressed by some. But it's the question that is on all minds. And for many who ask it — or merely think it — everything else is on hold until there is an answer.

How long must we endure illness or hardship? How long before the economy improves? How long before there are jobs for the unemployed? How long must we sacrifice? How long must we defer our hopes and our dreams?

How long?

My pastor may be especially sensitive to this question right now. He was personally affected by the earthquake in Haiti because he served in missions there. Then, a week ago, a member of the congregation — a fairly new member, actually — committed suicide.

When I heard about the suicide, the first thing I wondered was whether she was unemployed. Being unemployed myself — and having worried about the danger posed by joblessness, as well as the stigma some people insist on attaching to decisions made by the isolated and the irrational, for more than a year — I guess it was only natural that it was the first thought that came to my mind.

But, apparently, she was not unemployed. Whatever drove her to end her life, joblessness was not behind it.

My pastor says he has concluded, from his conversations with her family members and those in the congregation who knew her, that no red flags were missed. We may never know why she killed herself.

People commit suicide for many reasons. And it is true that not everyone who attempts a suicide is successful. Sometimes that is by design. Sometimes it really is a "cry for help."

But some people reach the conclusion that there is no help for them, that no restorative rain is going to fall in their lives.

That's the crisis of confidence in America today. And I hope my prediction, that prolonged unemployment will lead to a spike in the suicide rate, will not come to pass.

As there always are these days, there are plenty of people in the media who hailed Friday's jobs report — which told us that the unemployment rate went down even though 20,000 jobs were lost — as an indicator that the economy is turning the corner. But there are few in the media, besides Bob Herbert of the New York Times, who will tell the truth. It is a truth that most incumbents don't want to hear because it speaks of years of sacrifice and hard work — and those aren't the things politicians like to talk about when they are asking for votes.

But what is the alternative? More deception? More talk about the American dream? If so, it better be good. For more and more Americans, the American dream is getting farther out of reach with each passing day.

When's it gonna rain?

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