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If we needed any more evidence that the economic downturn continues to wreak havoc with folk in the U.S., a news story out of Hartford, Conn., should settle it. A 36-year-old Swedish “countess” is divorcing her husband, a former technology company CEO, according to NBC’s “Today” show on March 25.


The couple married in 2002 and started having serious problems in 2004. After a series of attempted reconciliations, they signed a postnuptial agreement in 2005 that in the event of a divorce, the wife would receive $43 million as a part of the divorce settlement. The problem is that the wife has just come to realize that this amount will not be enough, that she just can’t live on $43 million. She doesn’t have a job—and she’s got bills to pay; so she needs at least $53,000 per week. She’s seeking $100 million in cash and stocks plus another $130,000 in monthly alimony.


So she has filed court papers showing she has $53,800 in weekly expenses. That includes the cost for maintaining a Park Avenue apartment and three residences in Sweden. Her weekly expenses also include $700 for limousine service, $4,500 for clothes, $1,000 for hair and skin treatments, $1,500 for restaurants and entertainment and $8,000 for travel.


I don’t know about you, but I feel really sorry for the countess. It is unbelievable that she would be expected to take any less than she needs, given the rising cost of living these days. After all, she has no other income and no one knows how long this recession/depression is going to last. Prices are rising as I type.


I’ll bet she might have to let some of her cooks, maids and other staff go. She might even have to resort to preparing her own breakfast that each morning. Who’s going to cut the grass and landscape the grounds around the mansion? Surely, she won’t be expected to make sure that just the right amount of chemicals is added to the all-weather swimming pool every day? Who’s going to do the grocery shopping? Will she be expected to drive herself to the club for her weekly bridge game and tennis match? After all, as the price for fuel edges toward what some analysts expect to be a return to $3 per gallon by the end of the year, she would experience unbearable stress on her emotional state. Heaven forbid that she might have to cancel a couple of flights to Europe.


To be fair to the countess, she does claim sadness about the breakdown in their marriage. In morning television news show I watched, she laments, “I’m just very sad that we are where we are. I hope we resolve this soon so everybody can move on with their lives.”


Let’s be careful not to get too smug about this illness. It isn’t limited to the morbidly affluent, but has gained a toe-hold in our Western culture and has been spreading in tsunami-like waves, threatening to swamp just about everything. It has been rightly called “affluenza” and defined as “the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.” Affluenza has been characterized as an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the dogged pursuit of the American dream and an unsustainable addiction to economic growth. This often results in our spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.


Even the church (especially the church?) is affected by this debilitating disease. As my friend and Kentucky pastor Steve Hollaway points out in a sermon at Latonia Baptist Church, “The church experiences rising anxiety as she fears death, and mammon moves in as a junior partner of Satan, promising survival. Ministry was the church’s purpose, but ministry becomes a means to support institutional survival. People are no longer mainly seen as the reason we exist. People are needed to fuel the beast.”


So much for a spirit of Lenten sacrifice. Methinks that Dr. Luke must be spinning in his grave and his words in Luke 12:13-21 and Acts 2:45 are making terrible buzzing noises, sort of like a washing machine severely out of balance. I just pray that we can make it back to shore on the broken pieces.


John Tadlock, retired from the Virginia Baptist Mission Board staff, is serving the VBMB as a contract consultant in congregational wellness. He is also the interim pastor of the Orcutt Baptist Church in Newport News, Va.

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