Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Money Talks- Anecdotal Evidence from life in Philly

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

Woodland Ave. at Markoe in Southwest Philly.

“This isn’t really a customer service call it’s more of a PR consult.”  That’s what I told the customer service rep for Republic Bank when I called the 800 # this weekend.  A developer is constructing an apartment building across the street from the Circle Counseling office, but it’s been a giant hole in the ground for the past 8 months.  They dug the foundation, poured in the concrete and left it to be a mosquito ridden, rain filled, 2 story deep swimming pool for my neighborhood children to drown in (no one has drowned yet).

I have called License and Inspections about this property and reported it on the 311 app a number of times to little avail.  I’m not sure how a company can get away with this, but apparently it’s legal.  So, on a whim as I walked by on Saturday, I called Republic Bank who had their banner on the property’s chain link fence.  I described the dangers I saw and wanted them to know that the neighborhood might get a bad impression of Republic Bank if they were associated with this construction site.  I left my name and number because anonymity isn’t my style.

Yesterday I got  a call from Gary Jonas who referenced my telephone call that weekend.  I explained what “they” were doing at the construction site.  Then he surprised me by saying “When you say ‘they’ it’s me.  I own this property.”  I was a bit taken aback, but I pressed on with my complaint and asked him when he planned to remedy the situation.  He was defensive but apologetic in the end.  The situation was not ideal for him either but his major concern was his own bottom line, not the inconvenience and safety of the neighborhood.

I was struck by the conversation- less by its results than by the immediacy of action effected by my call to the bank.  Money talks.  Money makes things happen- much more than any other systems in Philadelphia.  Dang.

I lament this because my elected officials should be protecting me and creating systems that support the common good above the private individual.  License and Inspections should protect me and my neighbors.  They don’t.  Republic Bank is holding Mr. Jonas more accountable to his neighbors than the city of Philadelphia.

And this is the future many of the country has dreamed of– an economy unfettered by regulation, a plutocracy in which real power is wielded by those with the most money, power and influence are cash and wire transfers.  The pursuit of happiness is dollars and cents.

We the people are shouted down by citizens united with more money than us.  My disorganized neighborhood association was entrusted with holding this developer to agreements, and because the group is ineffective the agreements are essentially with no one.  The city is just as ineffective and just as interested in Mr. Jonas’ bottom line as he is.  Development and economic growth without end!  Little old Southwest Philly better get what piece of the pie we can because nothing is going to change.

I’m looking up from the crumb scrambling to ask, “Why don’t we all have a seat at the table?  Why is the host of this party being so rude?”  I know a solution will be hard to come by, but my main point is this:  I don’t want Money to be my master, or our master.  I think it’s messing us up.  And as a student of history and a believer in God’s promises I know this system will pass away in this age or the age to come.

Hear the ancient poet, Isaiah

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
    when disaster comes from afar? (context)

My preferred pie (seasonally appropriate)

The day of reckoning will come by some drastic shift in power (Empires do not last by definition) or by Jesus’ return (Yes, I went there).  Part of the Good News is that the corruption of our human systems will not last forever.  The humans who make them and participate won’t either.  I’m not hoping for their destruction; I’m hoping for the New Creation beyond the destruction of all things as we know them now, including my own persistent corruption.  My lament ends in the promise that Money will be silenced and abundance will be shared by all.  In one turn of the phrase, yes, my pie is in the sky, but it’s not just about what will happen in some cosmic future as that phrase often connotes.  Jesus broke the static nature of the present.  The future has broken in on the now.  Participation in Christ brings hope to me know, even hope for a corrupt and feeble city government.  I’m patiently impatient for the pie now and I’m going to bake all the approximations of the promise I can.  With the help of Jesus they might be enough for now.



  1. angpete57


  2. Jonny Rashid

    Great work, Ben. Thanks for sharing. Glad we are doing something together.

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