In a letter to longtime correspondent Mary Willis Shelburne, dated May 21, 1956, Lewis writes:
But there remains the quite separate trouble of having lost your job. Oh dear, I am sorry. Surely all these Church people will find some way to provide for you. I will indeed pray – oh what a business life is.
Shelburne was an American, living in the United States; the laws of Britain at the time prohibited British citizens from sending money out of the country (this is according to a Walter Hooper footnote to the Lewis – Shelburne letters), so Lewis could not help her; though once the law changed he would assist her through his charitable trust – Lewis helped many through his trust administered by his friend and lawyer, Owen Barfield.
When I read this letter I couldn’t help but think of our current economic climate and the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, and brothers and sisters in Christ, who have lost their jobs. I wondered how many were being helped by their congregations; I wondered how many congregations were reaching out in their communities to help those in need.
When I was with my former employer, prior to joining my current firm, one of my tasks was to inspect homes that were selling within homeowners’ associations. Many of these homes were being foreclosed upon and were vacant prior to my inspection – the families having left. As I inspected those homes I visualized dads and moms and children – playing, eating together, getting ready for work and school, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and holidays; I visualized a house that was a home – not a vacant house but a living home. I prayed for the families, wherever they might be; that they would know Jesus Christ and His amazing love and security, and that they would know health and healing from the pain of the loss of a home, and the loss of what was likely their greatest financial asset.
Lewis led a fairly cloistered life, and his statement to Shelburne seems a bit naïve, because the fact is that it’s fairly common to be involved in a church and yet to be invisible when there is pain and need; our individualistic society has permeated the church and we seldom “bear one another’s burdens” as Paul admonishes. Some of the harshest words I’ve heard during the current recession/depression have come from professing Christians – “they got what they deserve” is the mantra I’ve heard expressed any number of ways toward those who have lost their homes and jobs.
During the past month a “Christian” organization in our region had as its marquee speaker, at its annual marquee event, a man who stated that if you’re unemployed that it’s your own fault – I suspect there was applause from the audience. That’s the kind of Christianity I sure want to embrace – kick ‘em when they’re down! But hey – it absolves us of responsibility to come alongside others graciously and sacrificially.
I wonder, were I to have been a member of Mary Willis Shelburne’s congregation, whether I would have cared whether she lost her job or not?