The initial Thanksgiving story celebrates abundance. The timing still coincides with the regular rhythms of bountiful harvests which have filled farmer’s storage elevators to capacity.
Times are good. The American economy grew the fastest of any major country in the third quarter. Unemployment remains at historical lows and inflation is sinking. Job openings still exceed available workers.
This harvest holiday combines services of Thanksgiving with opportunities to share with those in need in our communities. Locally, families who may participate in an early morning turkey trot race can then go to a food kitchen to serve others in the afternoon.
It is important for our future together as Americans to see our society from a perspective of abundance, rather than an economy of scarcity. Even when our consumer driven culture constantly tells us we need more.
Abundance does not mean prosperity is equally or equitably shared. But without a sense of our own well being, serving others easily becomes secondary.
Recently Callahans Trend Watch presented a 60+ set of data slides with commentary on the state of credit unions as of the third quarter.
The message repeated throughout was that the industry is sound and that trends are normalizing from the exaggerated levels due to COVID.
However not all listeners had the same interpretation. The headline in one credit union report about the call was Callahan Shows Sharp Drop in Q3 Earnings for Credit Unions. This news story of the one hour briefing included multiple use of the words down, fell or fell sharply, far below and lower. The overall tone was one of angst:
Credit union’s loan balances grew. . . but the growth rate was down. . . One way credit unions have coped with tighter liquidity is through borrowing, which has tripled in the past two years. It still accounts for a small portion of assets, but that portion is growing.
This was the opposite interpretation the presenters gave. Here are some of the headlines from the data slides:
The loan to share ratio is returning to prepandemic highs
Credit union market share is growing in key areas
Share draft account penetration climbs steadily
Quarterly loan originations are on a par with previous levels
Repricing drives record increasing total revenue
Capital ratios improve from slower asset growth
Operational efficiency improves. . . etc.
There is a belief created by America’s market driven, consumer led economy that one can never have enough. Consumerism in its extreme forms becomes an addiction where spending becomes a way to cope with all of life’s shortcomings.
It unfortunately appears to be the logic of NCUA as it prepares its budgets for its role with credit unions. In the NCUSIF board update dialogue last week, the fact that the actual losses are less than $1.0 million, fund reserves at a level of four to five times the last five years actual total losses, made no difference. Board members observed the CAMELS trends are negative and Black Swan events could be just around the corner.
The NCUA’s budget for the next two years shows increases of double digit spending. It is driven by the belief that there are never enough resources even with a declining number of charters. Spending, like consumerism, becomes an addiction not a response to reality.
A Story of Gratitude
How does one respond in a society whose marketplace messages are constant efforts to make one dissatisfied with their current situation, whether personal or with an organization’s future outcomes?
In February 1982 my family and I moved to Bethesda, MD from Illinois to serve at NCUA alongside Bucky Sebastian and Ed Callahan.
At that time one of Bethesda’s local residents was called the “bag lady.” She walked pushing her shopping cart filled with plastic grocery bags, cardboard and personal possessions throughout the downtown area.
When the weather was cold, raining or she just need to stay indoors for a night, she would somehow find a way into a church, right next to her downtown journeys.
Our family could walk to this local Bethesda Presbyterian church, where I sang in the choir on Sundays. The bag lady’s frequent overnight visits were a topic of conversation about the church’s security. The questions was, how did she always find another way to get in? Weren’t we locking all the doors?
One Sunday morning as I came early for choir rehearsal, the minister was in the sanctuary placing the offering plates on the alter for the service. I noticed as he put the top plate to one side of the cross he took something out and put it in his suit coat pocket. I asked. “Oh did somebody forget to take the offering?”
I will never forget his response: “No, that’s just the bag lady. Every time she stays here she puts something in the offering plate. She has left hairpins, political campaign pins and even clothing buttons.”
This lady had little to none of the world’s possessions. However she still had one of the greatest gifts anyone can ever receive: gratitude.
When we celebrate the varied and numerous blessings which we all enjoy, may we experience the gratefulness this person knew and shared.