Why Things Aren’t Working: or, The Parable of Bedford Falls

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.

Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life

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.

It's A Wonderful Life - Potter

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.

It's A Wonderful Life - Friends

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.

It's A Wonderful Life - Potter 2

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, etc.? 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 support 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?

It's A Wonderful Life - Neighbors

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 could 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 neighbor 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

Waitsel Smith, December 4, 2011

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Text © 2011 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

For more on Christian Culture, go to my Christian Culture website. For more on America, click here. For a review of It’s A Wonderful Life, go to my Movies by Decade website. To order the DVD, click here.

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