Monday, December 5, 2011

We Reap What We Sow

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 
--Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion

The reaction to the reality that casino gambling is absolutely coming to Massachusetts has begun, at least in my little world. While having dinner a few weeks ago with close friends, a family who live in a quiet and bucolic metro west Boston suburb right next to my own town, they told me this.  “Well if a casino goes into the next town over, we’re probably going to have to move.  We just don’t want to be anywhere near that kind of place. It won’t be good for our kids or the traffic or the town or our home value or anything.” 

For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s how the natural world works.  That’s how all of life works too.  Push here and something else pokes out there.  Make one choice and its effects ripple out both for good and for bad.  Say “yes!” to one thing and you may have to say “no!” to another. 

So if Bay Staters can wade through all the sunny and optimistic claims about what “good” will come about now that Las Vegas is coming right here to Massachusetts, we also need to face into the “bad” of this decision too.  The reaction in response to this action.  I mean we didn’t really think we could make a deal with the devil of gambling interests and not pay a price, did we? 

Yes, we’ll see thousands of construction and other jobs created by the gambling boom.  State and local government coffers will be filled up with new revenue.  But other negative actions will happen too.  Massachusetts is already number one nationwide in per capita spending on the Lottery, some $806 per person each year, and casinos will no doubt add to this number in overall gambling expenditures.  So who and what loses in this zero sum game? 

There may be less money for charity.  Why gamble on the offering plate when you can get better odds at a slot machine, right? Or perhaps less money for basic household expenses like a mortgage or food on the table or college tuition.  More poor souls becoming gambling addicts.  You know what day is often the busiest at Connecticut casinos?  The day after Social Security checks come in.  Then there’s the traffic. And the increased crime.  And the huge potential for government corruption, as millions of dollars pour into the state in the years ahead, from folks who really don’t care much about Massachusetts.  As if our leaders need more encouragement to be on the take.

Yet this is how it is with the choices we make in life.  Everything is finally interconnected.  So when our state representative votes “yea” on casinos, a young family in his district is forced to move so that their children don’t have to live right next door to honky-tonk central. Makes me wonder just how close that same state representative will live to a casino.

Faith traditions teach us of the truth that all our life decisions, large and small, always come back to visit us. “Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1); “…whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6).  This law of reaction just plays true whether in the world of physics or the world of the soul. No getting around it.

There are no free rides finally. No do overs.  No “get out of jail free” cards when we make decisions.  Every choice we make, whether ethical, moral, spiritual, communal or personal: these all matter.  Every choice we make evokes an equal and sometimes powerful reaction.  I think we need to be reminded of this reality.  It’s so easy to forget. 

Remember when folks thought they could just keep pulling money out of their homes in equity loans because the market was just going to keep on going up?  That bread came back.  Remember when Wall Street was sure they could just keep packaging and repackaging toxic debt in an insane game of musical chairs? The music stopped.  Remember when Uncle Sam thought he could just keep printing and spending money, tomorrow be damned?  We’ll reap what we sow in this case, at some point, absolutely.  Remember when Massachusetts decided to chase after the siren song of gambling?  Those seeds are now in the ground.  Now we get to watch them grow, for better and for worse.

So here’s a sure bet.  Every choice we make creates an equal and opposite reaction.  No gambling on that proposition.  Our bets are now on the table. The hand has been dealt.  I just pray and hope that the house doesn’t win.  Because if it does, we just may end up losing in our roll of the dice on casino gambling.

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