Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, “Repossessing Virtue.”

Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.

The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.

The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.

My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.

Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.

My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the payday paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.

I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.

Humility is the basis of my new faith.

I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.

However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.

Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.

What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.

I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”

I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.

I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.

Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Share Your Reflection



I try to listen to your program every Sunday and I really love this program. I come from Mississippi. I grew up in a household with a Southern Baptist stepfather and a Catholic mother. My stepfather was intolerant of our Catholic upbringing. I went to the University of Southern Mississippi and got my B.S. in History and Philosophy/Religion with a minor in English and I also became certified as a Secondary Education Teacher. I really believe my upbringing led me toward a strong Liberal Arts education. I furthered my education at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama and got a Masters in Theological Studies. Despite the fact my training in graduate school was in Catholic theology, I am profoundly interested in other faiths and what they can offer in the narrative of interfaith dialogue. I just bought Krista's book at Books a Million. I can't hardly wait to read it. I think that the majority of the shows on this program are "graced moments" in a culture of distractions. I also think that Repossessing Virtue may be the wrong way to describe it. I don't want to argue semantics but it believe we are in the process of becoming virtuous only we have both understand and rid ourselves of unvirtuous habits and ideas. I thought this was a profound show and especially Palmer's discussion on teaching and trust because that made it especially relevant to my profession and I plan to buy some of his books in the future.

Don’t ‘lend’ it! ‘Spend’ it!

America doesn’t need to rely on bank loans to have money. We can have liquidity by creating money and ‘spending’ it into circulation rather than creating all money as loans and ‘lending’ it into circulation.

We can ‘own’ our money rather than ‘owe’ our money. Minnesotans can simply demand passage of proposed legislation that would enable the state-regulated banks to create the new money as book entries the way they do when they make loans. The state bank will then forward the new numbers (money) to the state which will spend them into circulation debt-free as payment for the maintenance and production of public roads and bridges in lieu of taxation or bonding (borrowing).

‘Spending’ newly created money into circulation rather than ‘lending’ it into circulation will increase the money supply with a corresponding increase in new production and provide an immediate increase in liquidity and cash flow with no inflation, no new debt, no new taxes and create high-paying jobs, commerce and a bright future!

Let’s stop beating the ‘special interest debt horse’! It will not get up and run again. Loaning all new money into circulation and the resulting unpayable, compounding debt it creates has almost killed us. More borrowing, if more borrowers can be found, will only make our growing problem worse. Borrowing more money to pay last year’s debt plus the interest will not solve our debt problems. Money produced, as a debt-free representation of wealth to all of society is the only workable, just and true solution.

We gave our Congress the authority to “coin money” and to “provide post roads.”

Don’t ‘lend’ it! ‘Spend’ it!

‘Spending’ is only a problem when all money must be borrowed first! Our ‘financial crisis’ is the result of creating all new money as loans and lending the principal into circulation. The principal is uncreated when it is repaid. The process allows no means to create the interest that must also be paid. That is why the indebtedness and money shortages constantly grow.
“The actual creation of money always involves the extension of credit by private commercial banks.”
Source: Russell L. Munk, Assistant General Counsel International Affairs, Dept. of the Treasury.
Money for paying interest on borrowed money “… comes from the same source that all other money comes from.”
Source: Russell L. Munk, Asst. Gen. Counsel Intl. Affairs, Dept. of the Treasury.
“Money that one borrower uses to pay interest on a loan has been created somewhere else in the economy by another loan.”
Source: John M. Yetter, Attorney-Advisor, Dept. of the Treasury.

Money is sterile. It has no natural reproductive abilities. It must be manufactured like homes, cars, furniture, etc. Once money has been created (manufactured) there are only 3 ways to move it into circulation. It can be:

·‘gifted’ in, destroying the incentive to produce.
·‘loaned’ in, eventually destroying our lives.
·‘spent’ in, debt-free as payment for production.

From 1792 to 1934, our medium-of-exchange was switched from an evidence of wealth to an evidence of debts. Congress unlawfully delegated its authority to ‘coin money’ to the banking industry.

Congress’ authority to ‘coin money’ meant that it was to monetize (make into money) our production as a debt-free asset to us thereby creating a debt-free medium of exchange, an economically free and prosperous people. All of society benefited.

Unlawfully giving this authority to the banking industry resulted in the banks creating and ‘lending’ the new money into circulation rather than ‘spending’ it into circulation. This forces us to incur unpayable interest-bearing debts to have a medium of exchange to save and use in commerce.

The solution to our inevitable destruction is not in fiscal, budgetary or tax policy but in monetary policy. Just one principle must change. We must stop ‘lending’ all new money into circulation and start ‘spending’ all new money into circulation as a payment for production that unquestionably benefits everyone equally (that could be public roads and bridges) in lieu of taxation or bonding.

This way, the money supply increases with the increase in goods (production). No inflation! No new debt! No new Taxes! Tax reductions! Liquidity! Cash Flow! High-paying jobs! Commerce! Life!

How bad will we let things get? You can help stop the injustice, chaos, hardship and destruction. State legislation titled, the Minnesota Transportation Act, has been written to implement this solution in Minnesota.

Contact your state Representatives. Tell them you want new money ‘Spent’, NOT ‘Lent’ into circulation and to support passage of the Minnesota Transportation Act or send them this pamphlet.

Gregory K. Soderberg, Austin, MN.

“America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page of the policies of the past.”- Barack Obama June 3, 2008.

The Solution to our economic crisis is to create money and spend it into circulation as a debt-free payment for production that benefits everyone rather than continuing to create it as loans. When all money is created as a loan it creates economic servitude. When interest is added it creates a debt that is greater than the money supply. This debt must constantly grow and accounts for the constant and growing spread between the money supply and our ability to make ends meet. Hopefully, this Christmas, we will focus on, learn about and act accordingly against the 'usury' that our Lord was so opposed because it is unjust, immoral and destructive.

Jessica's story is one that encourages us to open our hearts and minds. When we encompass a belief system that does not speak to the ultimate realities of life, I believe we become sheltered and judgemental of the people and world around us. How can we become connected and understanding of one another if we do not allow ourselves the opportunity to do so? Especially when it comes to relating spiritually.

I believe we are a people ment to learn and love on this planet. When our own religious beliefs come in the way of this, there is something wrong. Is not religion about humanity?

Her story should enlighten, empower, and encourage us to want to understand one another, and respect where we come from on our paths to faith, freedom and justice for all.

Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate your honesty and the reminder of how people can change.

My perspective on poverty was shaped by two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Africa where I learned two things: 1) Not having much stuff doesn't necessarily make you poor (In fact, I came home more alert to the spiritual poverty in the US); and 2) much of the world's poverty is not the result of laziness or poor individual choices. It's clear to me that I got much more out of that experience than I gave anyone else.

Thank you for reading my essay. I appreciate your interesting comments and kind words.

Thank goodness for the Peace Corps and those who serve in it. What an experience!

I agree with Christopher that we are meant to learn and love and respect. Many have a faith that is inflexible, but none of our paths are — there is so often a turn, a dead end, or a bump in the road. Being unloving and judgmental is frustrating and very painful, and I think it either begins or ends with self condemnation.

I'm grateful to SOF and to a few people who did not look down on me, but engaged me in thought provoking conversations. This essay began as a "thank you" to SOF, and given this opportunity, I also thank Rev. David Hinrichs and his wife Claire Rene, Rev. Colleen Natalie-Lees, Sarah Bartz, and Meg Scholberg. I learned a lot from the example of Annamary and David Dean and my grandmother, Jean Johnson.

Update: I am no longer the Volunteer Coordinator at A Center for the Arts

Correction: I have recently learned that my church history was incorrect. The two churches began to worship in the same building one year before the tornado. I am sorry for the error.

One of the reasons Jesus came was to challenge the domination system of the time. We live in a time when the poor are being dominated by the rich. The middle class is being squeezed from both ends and we need to challenge the system that allows this to happen instead of just buying into their system. So, being more spiritual and less materialistic is a good way to go.

What a beautiful and "teachable" spirit is the author of this essay. The hardest thing is to change, people around us, even family, do not like the out of balance it gives them for us to change. I commend you for being open and able to see what your own life was trying to teach you.

I am much older, and I have observed that those who refuse to have empathy seem to find themselves living a life of emersion in that which they were unable to understand. If that's what it takes to finally appreciate the path of another and withhold judgement, then so be it. May love continue to light your way like a shining star.

Jessica Sundheim! I was so surprised to see your name on my SOF email today. What a wonderful, wonderful essay!

Lisa Zahn
St. Cloud, MN

Sadly, but truely, Jessica is a lost soul campaigning for the socialist agenda of Barak Obama. She is another NPR statistic who has lost her faith in fundamental Christianity. Why do you only interview those former Christian believers who convert to Judaism or Islam or Buddism? Does anyone see the light and convert from paganism to Jesus? Why are Christian defectors applauded and celebrated? Does anyone get any exposure who has been changed by power divine from a life of sinful folly and falsehood to a new life in Christ with inner renewal and "joy unspeakable and full of glory?"