The question of the day is, since we're in the middle of a political season -- one Convention is over, and another begins today -- are you better off today than four years ago?
On purely economic grounds we are better off today than four years ago. Four years ago the wheels of the economy were coming off and by election day the economy was heading toward depression. In fact, there was great concern that we could enter a deep and abiding depression before the new President (Obama) took office. The Dow dropped by half to around 6000 (now it's back above 13000), gas prices plummeted from $4 to around $2 (now it's back where it was before the crash), since people didn't need to drive to non-existent jobs. There was talk of 15% unemployment (this before the President took office), but while 8.3% is high, it never got as high as we expected -- likely because of the stimulus. So, are you better off today than four years ago. On objective scales, the nation is doing better today than we were then, though many individuals continue to struggle. From a purely political standpoint the President should be able to stand up on Thursday and say -- hey things were gloomy four years ago, but we've come a long way. So, keep with me and we'll continue the journey forward.
Yes, the question -- "Are you better off?" -- is an effective tool to be used by opposition parties. Both sides do it, and sometimes effectively.
But are there other measures that we could use besides economics?
Sometimes when we ask the question we do so with nostalgia for a golden age. We do this in churches, especially those churches, like my own, that have experienced numerical decline. Sixty-years ago we were an equivalent of a mega-church, sitting proudly on Detroit's Piety Row. The first two pastors of this church, Edgar DeWitt Jones and Perry Gresham, were nationally known figures. So, are we better off today than we were then? Well, in terms of prestige, power, recognition -- no we're not. But are the other measures?
Could it be that we are doing ministry today that we couldn't do then? Can we be as faithful with fewer than with larger numbers?
As I look at what is happening in my congregations I see wonderful green sprouts of new life emerging. We're embarking on new ventures, and people are getting excited. Instead of me being the cheerleader, others are grabbing the baton.
So, what does it mean to be better off? What measures should we use?
That's the question of the day?