Payback and Paying Back

Mixed Media
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“What is ‘debt’ by which we’re so bedeviled? Like air, it’s all around us, but we never think about it unless something goes wrong with the supply.”

This question doesn’t come from a banker or politician, but a writer: the celebrated Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood. In the midst of the financial meltdown one year ago, Atwood’s profound reflections on debt were broadcast on CBC Radio as part of the Massey Lectures and published as a book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (Anansi), proving that the best artists, like prophets, can see disaster coming.

Foreclosures, bankruptcies, salary cuts, layoffs—most everyone feels in some way the “payback” brought about by our society’s reckless lending, borrowing, and investing. But Atwood isn’t interested in accountancy. She examines debt as something that shapes our lives. “Are we in debt to anyone or anything for the bare fact of our existence? If so, what do we owe, and to whom or to what? And how should we pay?”

Atwood weaves her words through history, literature, popular culture, and religion. Most appealing are her childhood memories of opening her first bank account or wondering about “debts” versus “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer. The first chapter on justice in ancient societies lost me, but subsequent sections on “debt and sin” and “debt as plot” represent a fascinating blend of social critique, literary analysis, and religious exploration.

Summarizing Christianity, Atwood notes how “original sin” is our “debt load of sin,” one redeemed by Jesus. Atwood, however, appears unconvinced of that redemption—in her mind, “you never know” if you are truly debt-free, truly saved.

She ends the book by retelling Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with a modern Scrooge who must answer to the Ghosts of Earth Day Past, Present, and Future. Atwood warns us that the ultimate payback for today’s economic sins is not car plant closures, but worldwide environmental disaster. Her challenge: “Maybe we need to calculate the real costs of how we’ve been living.”

Atwood’s concluding “green” take on debt falls fairly flat, particularly after the depth and range of previous sections. Much in the book, however, will challenge or even resonate with Reformed readers, such as her Scrooge’s catechistic parting thoughts: “I don’t really own anything. . . . Not even my body. Everything I have is only borrowed. I’m not really rich at all, I’m heavily in debt. How do I begin to pay back what I owe?” And so, how can we best pay our debt of gratitude for this life, this world, and salvation?

The Beautiful Tree

by James Tooley
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Passionate, insightful, and based on sound research, James Tooley’s good news story contradicts the conventional wisdom of international aid organizations, which asserts that the world’s poor need handouts to attain universal education. In the slums and rural areas of India, Africa, and China, Tooley discovered that “the poor have found their own viable alternative.” Out of meager livelihoods, poor parents—“keen education consumers”—willingly sacrificed much for their children’s education. (Cato Institute)

www.nfb.ca

by National Film Board of Canada
reviewed by Ron VandenBurg

An agency of the federal government, the National Film Board of Canada produces and distributes innovative, socially relevant documentary, animation, alternative drama, and digital media productions, to the tune of some 13,000 productions since its inception in the late 1930s. And now the films are available online! With more titles added each month, NFB offers both recent and classic works. By exploring themes, teachers and film buffs alike can sort through both vignettes and feature-length films to suit their needs.

The Missing

by Tim Gautreaux
reviewed by Kristy Quist

Sam “Lucky” Simoneaux is the guard on duty when a young girl is kidnapped from a New Orleans department store in 1921. Searching for clues and hoping to redeem himself, Sam joins up with the same riverboat that employs the girl’s parents, entertaining and subduing the rough crowds. At the same time, he contemplates the terrible crime that took his family from him when he was just an infant. Catholic novelist Gautreaux doesn’t shy from the worst in humanity (including profanity), yet there is an element of hope in this absorbing meditation on justice and the consequences of violence and revenge. (Knopf)

Taste and See

by Peder Eide
reviewed by Ron De Boer

Looking for an uplifting worship CD that will have everyone in your family singing along? Look no more. Peder Eide’s Taste and See is both playful and spiritually uplifting. You can sense the twinkle in Eide’s eye in “As Is,” when he lists the shortcomings of biblical characters followed by a resounding chorus of “He chooses us as is.” The title track, “Taste and See,” invites listeners to experience the Lord’s goodness. Still not convinced? Eide recently led worship for 800 youths at the All-Ontario Youth Convention, and my teens have been blaring his music from their iPod docks since. (Worship Records)

Bridging the Gape: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbors

reviewed by Rev. Bob De Moor

This four-segment DVD presentation introduces small-group participants to ways of forming meaningful relationships with people of a homosexual orientation. The two-disc set includes a 40-page facilitator’s discussion guide to help the group leader(s) navigate the turbulent feelings, attitudes, and convictions that many may experience and express on this hot-button topic. Featuring evangelical heavy hitters like Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren, the video series does a good job of presenting the real lives and personal journeys of gay people, showing viewers how to extend them Christlike acceptance and love. While repetitive at times, this resource is well worth a closer look as a small-group study in your church. It won’t resolve the theological differences but will definitely help participants develop a healthier way of relating to their homosexual sisters and brothers. (New Direction Ministries of Canada)

The Lowdown

Best Foot Forward:

Hello Hurricane is the newest CD/DVD from ever-popular rockers Switchfoot. In stores this month. (Sparrow)

Food for Thought:

Arthur Simon’s book The Rising of Bread for the World chronicles the story of the organization that he founded to help end hunger. (Paulist Press)

Let the Wild Rumpus Start:

Offbeat film director Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak’s often-banned and often-beloved Where the Wild Things Are to theaters near you this month. (Warner)

Earplug Alert:

Beware of young girls with iPods. Christian pop princesses The Rubyz are due to release their second album, Rubyz Tuesday—sure to incite a sing-along! (iShine Records)

About the Author

Otto Selles teaches French at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

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