Why Things Aren't Working; or, The Parable of Bedford Falls
by Waitsel Smith
I believe the movie, It's A Wonderful Life, holds the answer to why our nation is in trouble. Almost nothing in America is working right now: not our economic system, not our political system, not our housing system, not our educational system, not our health care system, not our immigration system, not our banking system, not our social system - not even our postal system, which has always been the government agency that worked the best. Nothing in America is working right now, and the reason is pretty simple.
In the movie, It's A Wonderful Life, there are two towns: Bedford Falls and Pottersville. (They're actually the same town, but under different circumstances.) You'll remember that Bedford Falls is the town that George Bailey, the hero, grows up in, and that Pottersville is the town it would have become had George Bailey never been born. It's a dramatic contrast, presented by Heaven to show George that his life really has made a difference. If George is a Christ figure in the movie, which he is, then you could say that we get to see how a town with Christ looks, and then how it would look without Him. If George is also a Christian, trying to love his neighbor as himself, which he is, then you could also say that we get to see the impact that one Christian life can make.
Here's my contention: America, which was once made up of homey little communities like Bedford Falls, is quickly becoming a country of Pottersvilles; and we, who were once a nation of caring citizens like George Bailey, are becoming a nation of Potters.
Here's how Potter himself describes the model citizen: self-seeking, hardworking, thrifty. Does that not describe the average American today? But here is how George Bailey exemplifies the model citizen: self-sacrificing, compassionate, generous.
From day one, George had a dream: to see the world, go to college, become an engineer and build things. But his dream has been thwarted because his town needed him to stay in Bedford Falls and run the Building and Loan - just about the only institution not owned by Potter. Potter is a greedy, selfish, bitter old man that won't be happy until he owns the whole town and everybody in it. So George gave up his dream momentarily to fight for his town.
The problem is, George never let go of his dream. (He still has a drawing board and models of structures he would like to build in his living room.) So when he comes to a crisis in his life, and is standing on a bridge ready to throw his life away, it is because of his dream: his dream has convinced him that he is a failure. Then Clarence the Angel appears, and shows George that no man is a failure if he has friends. George's abundance of friends makes him the richest man in town, and Potter's lack of friends makes him the poorest.
George's dream of becoming a "success" has blinded him to what he actually has - the only thing worth having - friends. But Heaven has a plan for George's life that doesn't include his dream. If George had pursued his dream instead of doing what he saw as his duty - to save the Building and Loan so that people could live in decent houses - he probably would have ended up a lot like Potter: greedy, selfish and bitter.
At one point in the film, George has the chance to fulfill part of his dream when Potter offers him a position in his company that includes a big salary. After being momentarily dazzled by the offer, George comes to his senses and throws the offer back in Potter's face. So he continues on his present course, frustrated and unhappy, until a crisis puts him on that bridge and God is able to show him that he really has a wonderful life.
Here's my question: we in America have a dream that we call "The American Dream." It is basically that every American can own their own home and find financial freedom - not unlike the dream of the people of Bedford Falls. Could it be that our pursuit of the American Dream is hindering us from fulfilling the destiny that Heaven has planned for us? If so, I would say that is quite a twist of irony: the thing that caused George to lose his dream and find himself has become the very thing that has caused us to find our dreams and lose ourselves.
Let me paint a picture for you that you may find disturbing. I hope so. :) Potter, the villain in It's A Wonderful Life, is the biggest man in town: in Bedford Falls, he represents big government, big business and big banking. He controls it all, except for the Baileys' Building and Loan. So the Baileys and their Building and Loan represent small government, small business and small banking. The townspeople compare George and Potter to David and Goliath, and make jokes to that effect. Well, isn't that what is happening in America today? Small, local governments are fighting against the giant Federal Government? Small, local businesses are fighting against the giant corporations? Small, local banks are fighting against the giant international banks?
But you know what? Unlike the people of Bedford Falls, we're not pulling for the little guys, the Davids; we're pulling for the giants! We want the Federal Government to beat local government, we want big corporations to beat local businesses, we want international banks to beat local banks. Otherwise, WHY DO WE GIVE THEM OUR MONEY?
Let me ask you something: did your local school system accept money from the Federal Government last year? Then why are you complaining that your schools don't allow prayer, or anything else having to do with Christianity? Stop receiving their money and your schools can teach whatever you, the parents, would like.
Did you participate in Black Friday at your local Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, and other mega stores? Those national chains are what are driving small businesses out of business. They're the reason your downtown is dead. They're the reason your neighbors, who are shop owners, are struggling to pay their bills. And you say you're for the little guy? Start supporting small businesses and your town will have a better chance of surviving.
Do you bank at the small locally owned-bank, or do you do your business at the big international bank because you believe your money is safer with them? (I'm guilty of this one myself.) By doing so, we're sending our money out of the community and into the hands of greedy executives making exorbitant salaries - the Potters of the world.
Do you invest in Wall Street, or in local businesses? Did you know that local businesses struggle because banks won't loan them money, while there you are, someone looking to invest in a business, and instead of choosing to help your neighbor, you help the large corporation that couldn't care less whether you live or die. Well, where has that gotten you? How much have you lost in the stock market lately?
George Bailey loved his neighbor. You and I, for the most part, don't. That is what's wrong with America. That is why things aren't working. Unlike George Bailey, you and I are dead set on pursuing our dreams, regardless of our neighbors and what Heaven has planned for our lives. We couldn't care less about friends. Just "show us the money."
As long as the almighty buck is the number one thing in our lives, America will continue to sink in the mire and everything will continue not to work.
Recently, I was involved in a discussion on capitalism, and why capitalism works. Unfortunately, I was one of the few involved in the discussion that still believes that capitalism works. In spite of all the examples around the globe of failed communist nations (Cuba vs the US, East Berlin vs West Berlin, North Korea vs South Korea, China vs Hong Kong, etc.), and in spite of all the examples of failed socialist nations in Europe (Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Portugal, etc.) people still cling to the belief that there is something wrong with capitalism. The only thing wrong with any capitalist system, if there is something wrong, is that the people running it don't know what they're doing.
Even though the United States has never been a Christian nation, technically, it certainly has been one socially, culturally and religiously. Our systems, many of which I named at the beginning of this article, were created to run on a Christian foundation. But our foundation is no longer Christian. As a nation, we have forsaken Christ; so none of our systems are working. It's like taking the engine out of an automobile and putting it in a tractor and then wondering why it no longer works. That engine was designed for an automobile, not a tractor. Those systems were designed for a Christian nation, not a secular one.
You only have to look at the history of capitalism to realize that it was designed to run within the context of a Christian society. A Christian society is not motivated by greed, as our present-day society is. When you add greed to capitalism, it's like adding sand to an engine - it jams the works. Greed is the number one complaint against our government, our corporations and our banking system. But my response is, "What did you think would happen, when you took Christ out of government, business and banking?"
We complain that our schools no longer educate and prepare leaders, our health care system is no longer affordable, our immigration system no longer keeps out undesirables, our politicians no longer govern, etc. My response is, "What did you expect, when you took Christ out of those institutions?"
If we want to see America and it's systems work again, we have to put Christ back into them, because that is how they were designed to run. And if we want to see America be the nation it once was, we have to start loving our neighbors as our selves and helping the little guys, not the giants, the way George Bailey did. God did not make us to be greedy, selfish, bitter people. And He did not make America to be a pagan nation. He has a better plan for us than that.
Waitsel Smith, December 4, 2011
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]
"I've looked through your engaging writings. I guess my first comment/observation is how willing and eager you are to share your perspective with others, particularly when endorsing political views. Your thoughts on capitalism are excellent. Whether one agrees with you or not, and I do, a quote from Theresa Bayer (an artist somewhere out there) comes to mind (I did look it up): "I don't think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. When we stop singing, it's a sure sign of repressive times ahead." Best wishes in your efforts to educate us during a critical election year." - Bobbi, Wyoming
"Great points!! One of my favorite movies (along with the Dicken's Christmas Carol Classic Scrooge with George C. Scott). The best part of A Wonderful Life is at the end when George and family are at home and everyone is dropping money on the table. Then, out of the blue, a wire comes from Sam with a credit line of $25k... Brings me to tears every time I hear it... Sweet!!" - Todd, Atlanta
"Thank you, Waitsel, very encouraging. I read in Jonah today how God radically moved in the hearts of a people. In Nineveh, it only took the one man, who didn't even want to obey, to deliver God's message, and the whole city turned from their evil ways and sought God! Oh, that God will do it for us!!!" - Scott
Amen! - Waitsel
"Why do you say this... There are real problems and real solutions. Saying something so generic as we need Christ in our communities is not any legitimate solution. It's a cop out instead of actually trying to solve the problems. I agree we need to start on the small scale. But how? And what can we do? There are answers - Nate
There are answers, Nate, and I just gave you several: 1) love your neighbor as yourself, 2) support small businesses, limited government and small banking, and 3) become community and others-minded rather than being so self-focused.
I deal with guys that are involved in addictions, and, regardless of the addictions, there is always a root cause to be addressed. Until that root cause is addressed, no solution is possible. Know what that root cause is? Their relationship with Jesus Christ. AA calls it a Higher Power. But they know that NO ONE can make any real progress in addressing any real issue in their life until they have submitted their life to God and His will.
So, while I appreciate your practicality, Nate, pragmatism is not what is wrong with America. A lack of spirituality and a lack of love for others is.
Go back and watch It's A Wonderful Life and then read my article again. You may change your mind. - Waitsel
"I just reread your message. Very nicely put and so full of truth. I too have often envisioned what the world would be like if the golden rule were pursued by the majority of people. Small things like helping a driver get into a line of cars; big things like a banker helping a less savvy client by honestly guiding him or her through a mortgage application, etc..." - Bill, Atlanta
"The last paragraph before your name says it all !!!!!" - Phyllis, North Carolina
"BRAVO!!!!!" - Christine
"Hey Waits! I actually went to your web site this morning to get the latest (I thought I had fallen off your mailing list as I don't remember getting any blogs for a while). Good read. Thanks for sending; I always enjoy reading these." - Vince, Atlanta
"Amen, brother Waitsel... couldn't be said any more succinctly, or any better." - Rick, Atlanta
"Profound, yet simple! AMEN, my brother! I am committed to this! Just call me 'Georgette'! :) " - Marilyn, Atlanta
I COULD NOT AGREE WITH YOU MORE, Waitsel!!! And one more thing doesn't work... actually two... our WORST President in History. And our WORST CONGRESS in History. And except for a few Judges, who, by the grace of G-d, are on the Bench, the WORST Supreme Court in our History. And all of these are just details. As you say, we're trying so hard to KICK G-D out of the U.S. that it's of little matter which human(s) lead(s) us. Thank you for a brilliant take on the the whole subject. - Norm, Atlanta
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text © 2011 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.