Pastor Mitty, Wall Street and the debt ceiling

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

Before the congregation sings the first hymn at Poplar Park Community Church each Sunday, Pastor Walter Mitty asks if there are any joys or concerns that the members want included in the prayers. 

Last Sunday Dominique caught him off guard with his request.  Usually the members ask for healing for Uncle Ted or for a happy marriage for Sean and Christine or for an end to the killing in Syria, but Dominique said, "Pastor, would you pray for the financial sector in this country?"

Quite a few of the folks sitting in the pews involuntarily turned and looked the man in the Brooks Brothers suit with a questioning stare.  Pastor Walt wasn't secure enough at the moment to admit that he didn't know how to handle that one, so he announced the opening hymn and the service began.

When he got to the prayers, he put off Dominique's request till the end and finally came out with some generic request that the folks on Wall Street do God's will and that the bankers do their part in helping this country return to prosperity.

Mitty knew that his people hadn't been sleeping during the service, when he walked into the social hall after worship and the buzz as people drank coffee and snacked on Dunkin Donuts was about Dominique's prayer request.

A small crowd had gathered at the table where Dominique was sitting and explaining that the reason he had requested the prayer was because that was the five year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and he was genuinely worried that gridlock in Congress or bad decisions on Wall Street might slide us right back into the hole we've been trying to climb out of.

"Bad decisions my. . . ."  Sharissa Hawkins remembered that she was in church and didn't finish her sentence.  "Tell it like it is, brother.  It wasn't and isn't bad decisions.  It's greed pure and simple."

Dominique knew better than to tangle with Sharissa.  Even though he had grown up on the South Side and Sharissa worked there as a social worker, the two viewed the world through two different lenses.

"You certainly have a valid point, Sharissa."  Ash knew he could get away with responding to the liberal social worker because he knew, she was brought up to respect old people.  "But I want God to bless the financial sector, because I have a lot of money invested in stocks and bonds to supplement our retirement income.  If the stock market goes in the tank again, Dorothy and I will probably have to go on food stamps. . . . .if they still exist."

"With all due respect, Mr. Aschenbrenner," Sharissa replied when she was sure Ash had finished, "it was the Wall Street people who got us into the mess we're in.  They're flying high while most of us here have actually lost ground."

When no one at the table said anything for a moment, Eric Anderson decided to throw in his two cents.  "Aren't we assuming that greed is the only thing motivating those guys?  I mean, I'm sure greed is part of what's driving them.  It's part of what motivates me, if I'm honest about it.  But, praying for them kind of assumes that at least some of them are at least capable of caring for someone other than themselves."

"I," Dominique took a deep breath, "I knew my prayer request might cause an upset.  But, but the prayer was partly for me.  I know I make more money that any of you do, and I know what it's like to be tempted to trust it."  He stirred his coffee.  "It is like the golden calf and a lot of people downtown do worship it." The church members waited patiently for the banker to continue.  "But not everyone.  Not everyone.  Like Eric said, some want to do the right thing.  See, it all comes down to what you worship, what you put your trust in.  I think God has the power to change hearts.  That's all."

As Pastor Walt walked home from church during one of the breaks in the all day rain, he thought about Dominique's willingness to be vulnerable.  On the one hand, most of the people in the social hall resonated with Sharissa and blamed the 1% for the country's problems, the 1% along with Congress.  On the other hand, they along with Ash, wanted their investments to increase in value. 

And at the same time, everyone was aware that Dominique was the biggest giver in the congregation.  The biggest giver by far, but he had never used his generosity as a lever to move a congregational decision his way. 

He decided to turn on the radio and listen to the news while he made his lunch.  The talk show host wasn't leading a discussion about the violence in Syria or the crisis in Egypt or the flooding in Colorado.  The issue for the day was the debt ceiling.

Mitty felt his anger increasing as he listened to the two guests on the show talk about the Republicans attaching Obama Care to the House Bill on the authorization for the federal government to pay the bills.  He was just about to shoot an email to Dick Durban and Mark Kirk, when he remembered what Eric had said at the coffee hour, and decided to pray for the Republicans first.  Then he'd send his email.

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