[If Paul] is right [in 1 Corinthians 13], then all things or systems that work against the principle of love will fail eventually. Sacrificial love, in other words, is the only sustainable operating force in the universe. We can complain that we simply cannot accept the assumptions proposed here; but Christians should not be able to operate, if we do indeed believe these principles, in some halfway land, on one hand claiming to believe the ordinances, but also functionally accepting the worldly systems at work as the only reality.
The medium of beauty in a business world is the workers that make the businesses run. It’s not the stock options or profit. They comprise far more capacity, and far deeper longing and invigorated promise for future generations than the system gives them credit for. So the question is not whether they are paid enough, or given enough work: the question is, does the workplace enlarge humanity, or endanger humanity.
Thus, we need to see the market not just as a tool to make money, but a complex labyrinth with a generative creative order. In such an ecosystem, we need to consider investments as a form of stewardship. Conversely, we may redefine investments as a way to create and sustain beauty, rather than gain power for ourselves. And true beauty, at her truest aim, is a humble stream that flows through the heart of a city, re-humanizing its inhabitants, and allowing them to breathe in what would otherwise be unbearable air.
No one wishes for hardship. But as we pick through the economic rubble, we may find that our riches have buried our treasures. Money does not buy happiness; Scripture asserts this, research confirms it. Once you reach the median level of income, roughly $50,000 a year, wealth and contentment go their separate ways, and studies find that a millionaire is no more likely to be happy than someone earning one-twentieth as much. Now a third of people polled say they are spending more time with family and friends, and nearly four times as many people say their relations with their kids have gotten better during this crisis than say they have gotten worse.
A consumer culture invites us to want more than we can ever have; a culture of thrift invites us to be grateful for whatever we can get. So we pass the time by tending our gardens and patching our safety nets and debating whether, years from now, this season will be remembered for what we lost, or all that we found.
By 5 p.m. Curtis had made his first two purchases: frozen chicken wings and a can of beans ($4.75); a T-shirt and pair of socks from a vendor on the street ($2.00).
Meanwhile, Michael drove his rental car around the neighborhood. When he returned to meet us he was exasperated. “The food here is awful! No fruit, vegetables are moldy. Only meat, canned food, and soda. What do kids eat? The guy at the store told me no one would eat fruit unless it’s in a can. Is that true?”
Curtis shook his head. I told Michael, “When we get back to New York, I will talk with you about diet and quality of food availability in poor neighborhoods.”
But Michael was growing upset. “All I see are liquor stores and dollar stores and fast food. There was one guy who said he’d buy my food stamps — 50 cents for a dollar in stamps? How can people live like this?”
Curtis laughed. He asked Michael if he’d like some chicken and beans. Michael said, “No thank you,” and sat on the cold linoleum floor. He was silent.
“How much does a banana cost,” Curtis asked Michael. Michael looked embarrassed, unable to answer.
“You don’t know, do you!” Curtis laughed. “See fruit is expensive; raw food is too much for low income people. And we don’t always have a fridge, so you got to keep things in cans. That way it can move with you. And one thing you need to know: low income people always are on the move — not just squatters, all low income folks.”