December 5, 2008

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Time to move back to the front porch

David SilerHave any of you had a recent conversation that did not include some element of the current economic downturn? In my lifetime, I have never heard more pessimism or fear related to financial issues—much of which is certainly justified.

My thoughts quickly turn to the people already living on the margins of society.

The “margin” is widening, and if things continue on our current path, we will have a far greater number falling off the edge.

With the economy not just screeching to a halt but downright turning and running in the other direction, we will begin to see more and more individuals and families in desperate need of life’s most basic necessities.

There have been numerous surveys conducted in the U.S. recently to find out what is happening to charitable giving. It will come as no surprise that most institutions that rely heavily on donations are already experiencing a significant decline.

And at the same time—for the same reason—the number of people seeking charitable assistance is skyrocketing. (A recent survey of Catholic Charities agencies revealed that 87 percent of programs are seeing an increase in demand.) This inverse relation will spell disaster for many of our neighbors.

I heard a theory today that I hope is true: When economic conditions become so bleak that people put off making big purchases like a house or new car, these significant savings (by delaying these purchases) allow people to keep more of their income and, therefore, makes them more able to make charitable contributions. However, for those who are laid off from their jobs, no income leaves nothing to give.

No one knows where this shifting reality will leave us but, as a believer that God works out all things for good, I am certain that much good will result from our increasing insecurity. Perhaps our lesson will be to put our security in the things that last.

One of my hopes at this time in our history is that we will begin to see a shift in our society—both here in the U.S. and throughout the world—from our staunch independence to a more clear understanding and appreciation for our interdependence, our connection as one human family.

Drive down just about any street in Indiana where the homes were built before 1950 and you will notice that many of the houses have large, open front porches. Drive through the newest neighborhoods and you will see very few front porches but, if you look around the back, you will see some elaborate decks.

Front porches call to mind a time when neighbors knew one another, where they gathered to share stories, a cup of coffee or a meal.

Today, families gather on the back deck—a wonderful thing to do—but few interact with their neighbors. We have moved from a front porch society to a back deck world.

These wild economic times will cause us all to re-evaluate our priorities, and may force us to rely more on one another. This might not be such a bad thing.

I will look for you on the front porch.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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