A Musing Table: Readying for a "Great Recession" ?

That we are in a recession is of no doubt, and from what i've heared it's just going to get worse. Hopefully it will not turn into a depression like it did in the 30's, we may not get as bad as all that....but it still doesnt look like it's going to be anything to sneeze at. Most everyone i talk to is already seriously feeling a pinch, and i know i am. For a whole series of articles and links on this recession we are in, best to go to Maggie's blog (formerly of Hillbilly Housewife), as she does such an amazing job of looking at this and there are several posts on this there.

What keeps coming to mind in this corner is an irony...i don't know about others out there, but i've always found myself drawn to difficult like times like the Ice Age and the 1930's....not because of the world's upheaval then in itself but becuase of the type of lives it led to. Why can times of such struggle draw so much, even hold so much light?

In the old blog i was exploring the Ice Age in that vein. According to some creationists (those who don't buy all that"survival of the fittest" nonsense), the Ice Age is really the period that followed the Great Flood (the
Book of Job is actually an Ice Age book, dinasaurs are even mentioned there; for more resources see here too). The earth was healing from a great upheaval, not exactly a time of happy go lucky prosperity. They had just seen the dark side of the power of God and that's bound to be sobering, to say the least.

But something happens after trauma like that. For one, any strong feeling of the presence of God, even when He's behind things like the flood, is healing i think...becuase it shows us He truly IS here with us. Just knowing that so strongly, deep down it comforts. Having lived so close to the flood, there would be no way to escape that deep knowing of the power of God, and that definitely colors their lives i think. Second is a common bond over having been through such trauma, or rather by knowing those who came so close before you had. This does something to many people, a gentling can happen, when you know life is fragile and people are fragile you are more gentle with each other. (Some go the opposite way into dog eat dog of course, but that still doesnt take away the other side of things, the gentling that can happen). And third, life can more often get down to essence in times like these it seems, one can more easily simplify to what matters most. And what matters most is not material things, is not pride, is not social standing, is not having produced the most, is not any of that. What matters most i feel is prayer and faith, and family, and kindness, and beauty and order, and warmth and nourishment, and following our natural rhythms, and joy.

So enter the 1930's. I see this time as somewhat similar to the Ice Age. I know that sounds so odd, but there you go : ) These folks had just come through another huge "power of God" experience (its hard not to feel God's hand when your world changes so very drastically). It was another time of paring down to essence, to what matters most. For the Depression era we have a lot to go on in looking back, for the Ice Age we have to infer more through artifacts. But one thing does really jump out: One of the striking things about both the Ice Age and the Depression i think was that having culture (story, art, manners etc) and beauty and joy was a huge part of that coming down to essence. These things are not the icing like some believe but rather are truly essential to the human soul. And with the gentling part, in the Depression era there were those whose hearts opened by living through this and reached out to one another; and there were also those of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality who saw folks as needing to be independent and not needing the help of others, harshly judging those who really did need help.

And this stuff came home recently. There is a really blissful sounding
article here that i got all excited about reading becuase it reminded me so tangibly of that coming down to essence. From it:

My parents recall the depression years as the years BEFORE frozen convenience foods and box mixes, expansive super market selections of fresh fruits and vegetables available out of season, fast food restaurants, television and the internet. Ice, baked goods, milk, and produce were usually delivered to homes by horse drawn carts. Without freezers, families survived long winters through industrious back yard gardening and home canning. Moms baked most of the breads, rolls and pastries themselves and occasionally indulged in "purchased baked goods" which came delivered to their home.

Food, prepared from simple basic ingredients from scratch, kept mom at home spending a good portion of each day preparing the family foods. (As for other things,) with money in short supply in most households....they lived by the motto: "Use it Up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"...

The then- depression era children often have many fond memories of making their fun without a lot of money. For fun pasttimes, families organized old-fashioned ice cream socials, often held in schools and churches. Other neighborly get-togethers encompassed everything from quilting parties and spelling bees to dances, and weekly musical get-togethers in homes with real instruments including saxophone, trombones, accordians, piano, drums, and guitars. Children thrived on neighborhood ball games, board games, and imaginative play; and contrived doll houses and clubhouses from discarded cartons from the appliance stores. Contrast the old-fashioned games with today's annoying and noisy Nintendo and electronic games that depend more on spending money than imagination...

Some family amusements were seasonal in nature. My parents remember winter time treats of "snow candy". While the children filled pie tins with clean snow, Grandma boiled down the maple syrup until it would pour in a sticky, thread-like stream over the gathered snow for a sweet and sticky treat. My father in law recalls making homemade ice cream in the old hand cranked ice cream crocks anytime of year for entertainment. Cider making during apple harvest from the bruised or wormy apples could be a popular rural community event. Homemade root beer and soda made from commercial syrups, bottled and corked at home made a popular pasttime and tasty beverage.

Other families might spend their free time picking wild huckleberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries in season from rural hillsides to make tasty jellies, jams, and drinks to be enjoyed for the rest of the year. Yes, with a little ingenuity, people made themselves many delicious goodies just by using mother nature's gifts and very little cash. Contrast these virtually free events with today's frequent visits to Starbucks and neighborhood ice cream shops which require more cash than diligence and effort...

Radio drama theater serial programs amused families who had finished their chores and the evening meal to gather around the radio to listen to their favorite programs. Radio programming often greeted the new day with religious devotionals followed by a schedule of breakfast club variety shows, moving on to more music and talk hosted by Arthur Godfrey. Afternoon radio shows events included old time soap operas, just as television does today. The depression is remembered for popular children's programs such as The Lone Ranger, Captain Tim Healy Stamp Club of the Air, and others. Contrast families gathered around the radio with today's children hooked into a walkman or an MP3 or watching MTV to listen to the popular music of today produced by rock stars with lifestyles we can only pray our children choose not to emulate.

Yes, the Depression years posed an extended time where people learned to live with hardships, simple home cooked meals, uncertainties, and living without. Most Americans say they never want to see the Depression years return. Compare Depression era living with today's lifestyle of busy schedules dominated by soccer leagues, convenience and fast foods, ready made clothing, consumer debt, life dependent on the internet, and other extravagances and indulgences! Given the choice, my preference is to rely on the old-fashioned merits of home cooked meals served around the dinner table, gratefulness for what I do have, and home centered values and family activities such as reading, hiking, gardening, and attending church and community activites... (I hope folks can) be inspired by those who had everything but money and consider what part of "depression style living" belongs to your family's lifestyle and ambitions."

Now this is the kind of stuff that deeply inspires me, and i thought it would inspire my partner too since he's mega into simple living. So i was surprised when i gave it to him to read and he kind of sighed thoughtfully and afterwards we talked. He agreed this is great stuff to focus on, but reminded me that during the depression this was only part of the picture: what life was like for those in the middle, those who were often more rural-ish living as well, or who at least had gardens and some basic do-from-scratch skills. And that wasnt the case for everyone, those who had led very urban lives (among others) were especially crushed during the depression. The soup lines in city streets, the horror of what happened after the dustbowl (read Grapes of Wrath), and even the door to door begging, not to mention the suicides...this was real stuff, it happened. To gloss over that is just plain wrong. It made me remember what my own grandmother went through during the Depression, how they cherished even rotting fruit when they had it becuase they were truly literally hungry so often back then. This is real stuff.

And its made me realize there is a crossroads at our looking back at times like this. Looking back is important, to not learn from those who came before us is really missing something precious. But there is more than one way to look back. We can look to those in this time who had manifest compassion for those who were suffering (one example here); or we can look to those in this time who focused instead heavily on "pride" and "independence", who judged those who were struggling more than they. In reading some folks' thoughts on this era, i found that to some the depression is looked up to as a time when noone wanted "handouts" (as if admitting (let alone asking for) help is crime number one); a time when even when one was poor, still wealth was supposed to remain a real goal deep down (forget about realigning one's priorities there); and a time when keeping one's pride was top priority. Reading that sort of thing rather alarmed me, not so much hearing it but rather from looking around and feeling that that sort of individualism and materialsm is just where we are heading more and more. It's NOT the only way folks were during the Depression, we also have wonderful folks to look back on there who instead lived simply and compassionately; so the trend of the more rugged individualism folks there being idealized instead, it scares me frankly. Becuase here we are, heading into our own recession right now, and it looks like a doozy. And really, its not so much our recession itself that scares me the most, but rather how we will be with one another through it. I think we rather desparately need to shift into a more compassionate and helpful and less materialistic way of being before it's too late.

This is part of why i get so drawn to the holy poverty stuff (see
here, here, here). It is one way i think to come down to essence without losing your compassion. Been wanting to explore this a bit more, becuase i think its a greatly misunderstood thing. Was talking about this with someone just recently and the person jumped to a conclusion of holy poverty meaning going around in filth and tossing away things like manners and culture and beauty. Nothing i could say could erase that astoundingly off the mark picture from her mind so i just gave up. Though its older than this, the Franciscans are the ones who coined the phrase holy poverty, and holy it is. St Francis spoke in allegory there too, refering to "Lady Poverty"...and she's just that, a lady, meant to have all the refinement that a true lady has, but in a sacred oriented rather than materialistic way. Plan to post more on that sometime later.

Back to this recession stuff, i know there is the practical side. Seeing that it was those who had do-it-from scratch skills and the space to garden and such, that these were the folks who fared best through the Great Depression...well that's no small lesson. Learning to cook from scratch and make other things from scratch, learning to get creative and to simply make due, things like this are going to be more and more important as our recession deepens. Frugal living with a capitol F. But its more than this i think that will be needed...for what we need just as much i feel is a change of attitude. Part of that attitiude is what some have already embraced...the realizing that being poor does not have to mean a worse standard of living. Can't help but notice that even with monks and nuns etc who take a vow of poverty, most will still definitely have certain things: like good meals, clean serene surroundings, beauty, peace and quiet, song, a flower on the table....these are things we need for our very humanness, and things that poverty does not necessarily have to take away. And the
article mentioned above, it too gave some wonderful examples of how poverty brought back into the fore the true pleasures and gifts of honest and simple living, such excellent stuff.

But the other side of the attitude shift needed i feel has been slower coming, and that is a shift away from the judgement that needing help is wrong, that those who struggle are to blame for not being "resourceful" and "independent" enough. Truly, often it is far from that simplistic. And no, i'm not talking about those running scams or drinking their life away, i'm talking about those who honestly need a helping hand... and there are more in this catagory i believe than some people seem to think. We were told to bear one another's burdens, not to make those carrying a heavy burden feel two inches tall becuase they are not being "prosperous" enough.

Sometimes one's situation really can become more difficult than it was for those in the linked to article above, and also more difficult than the nun/monk's example mentioned above as well. Those are examples of a poverty that can be made into something beautiful...but there are other situations where those basic needs for peace and quiet or even more physical needs , well they really are missing. And that needs help, not judgement. I just really pray we can heal our attitudes around this area of help, before this recession may deepen. A change of habit in how we spend and live is a real part of readying for what may lie ahead. But so, i feel, is a change of heart....

(First two images from
here , last one from here)

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