Ministry for a meltdown

Samuel Freedman’s “On Religion” column in the New York Times this week was devoted to how the financial meltodown has created “teachable moments” for all faiths:

Several weeks ago, before the earth cracked open on Wall Street, Imam Khalid Latif had a chat with one of his regular worshipers at the Muslim center at New York University. This young man, a business student, had a theological complaint to register. Why did Islam make such a big deal about the principle of mutual benefit? What was the matter with just taking care of yourself?

About 10 days later, with the landscape marked by the bankruptcy, emergency sale and federal bailout of some of the nation’s most venerable financial companies, a more abashed version of that same student returned. “Now I know why I can’t define security by the number of zeroes on my paycheck,” Imam Latif, N.Y.U.’s Muslim chaplain, recalled the man saying.

Presented with the spiritual equivalent of what educators call a “teachable moment,” Imam Latif spoke to the student about the humility, perseverance and especially the Islamic concept of sabr, meaning “patience.” He offered a hadith from the Muslim tradition: “Patience comes at the first sign of calamity.”

Variations of the imam’s conversation have been proceeding in virtually every faith these last few weeks, especially for clergy members who have a following among the investors, executives and employees of the shaken financial industry. They are practicing ministry for a meltdown.

. . .

As the United States staggers from its credit binge to a straitened future, the religious holidays demand their own form of self-denial. Jews fast on Yom Kippur and, for the most observant, the Fast of Gedalia, which comes the day after Rosh Hashana. Devout Muslims did not take food or drink during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, which ended this week.

“The purpose of the fast goes beyond a physical one,” Imam Latif said. “It puts into perspective a lot. When you have that drink of water at sundown, when you eat that date to break the fast, you have a deeper appreciation of what you have.”

The Rev. George W. Rutler, pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Saviour in Midtown Manhattan, has been giving a similar message to the younger of his parishioners. Unlike the older generation, which lived through the Great Depression, these men and women had known nothing except exuberant days for investment banks, hedge funds and the stock market.

“They’re just astonished; they have no historical reference,” said Father Rutler, the former national chaplain of Legatus, a group of prominent Catholic executives. “I’ve said to them: ‘You’re part of history now. And in the future, you will learn to be more practical about value.’ This was a necessary purge, painful in many ways.”

Read it all here.

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