God’s Economy (and ours)

Why should I fear evil days

When my foes’ sin surrounds;

Even those who trust their wealth,

who boast as it abounds?

No man can by any means,

Pay to God his ransom price;

For the purchase of his soul

No payment can suffice.

(from “Hear This All Earth’s Nations” – based on Psalm 49; The Book of Psalms for Worship)

The world’s economy is based (however loosely) on an exchange of “goods” and “services”.  The more desired goods we can produce, the more valued services we can provide, the greater wealth we can accumulate.

A purely “capitalist” philosophy holds that if this exchange is allowed to freely flow, and everyone is given the opportunity to produce as many goods, to provide as many services as s/he can, all will be as it should be.

A “socialist” critique of such a free market contends that greed infects the human heart such that a few wind up feasting on hoarded riches while many others are left to starve as they scramble for the scraps that fall from the table.  Wealth need be redistributed justly, according to a socialist, so that all might live freely.

I do not count myself either a capitalist or a socialist, but I have benefited from both philosophies.  For most of my adult life, I provided pastoral services, steadily rising through the ranks of my profession until I was “earning” a comparatively lucrative salary.  Then, when I went on disability for Bipolar disorder, I became a beneficiary of the “safety net” our system provides for those deemed unable to earn a sufficient wage.

Given what I have witnessed in my life, I have mixed feelings about what method is used both to accumulate wealth and to share resources.  On the one hand, crass capitalism consumes creation as short-term gain is favored over long-term investment.  On the other hand, steadfast socialism skews the scales and fosters debilitating learned dependency.

The good news for us is this.  God is not a capitalist.  Neither is God a socialist. What is God’s economic philosophy? In God, the world’s values are redefined.  “Goods” are not products we produce, but virtues we display.  “Services” are not deeds that meet desires, but loving acts that meet needs.

The best example of God’s goods and services is found in the life of Jesus.  Jesus displayed such “goods” as compassion when they brought to him a woman caught in adultery, and righteous anger when he found money changers perverted prayer in the temple.  Jesus performed such “services” as healing for a Samaritan woman pleading for recognition and teaching all who would listen about the nature of God’s kingdom.

The world’s economy is based heavily on consumer spending.  We are taught from the cradle to the grave to spend first (even if it means going into debt), then frantically scramble to earn enough to pay off our debts.  There is little or no room left over for giving.

In God’s economy, we are provided essential resources and taught to give the first and best and live simply on the rest.

Recently, I read a story on my friend Leanne Sypes’blog about a young African artist named Phumlani Mtabe who has a dream to open an art school in his village.  He’s been working hard and steadily to move toward this dream.  Tragically, a fire struck and he lost everything.  Phumlani writes –

We have to start from the beginning, rebuilding for a new hope that one day God will listen and hear our prayers. 

Reading this was, for me, an answer to prayer.  I’ve been looking for a way I might make an investment beyond my tithe to support God at work in the world beyond my small community.  I have contacted Phumlani and his art teacher and hope to help (in whatever way I can) to invest in his dream.

Personally, I would much rather invest my resources in dreams like Phumlani’s than in Big Macs at McDonald’s, coffees at the convenience store, cable television, even books from Amazon I could readily borrow from the library.

How about you?

Phumlani Art

Life at Indiana University in the Early 1960s: A Rising Stahr

Indiana University

Modern universities, in a postwar American society that had either ignored or revised a significant portion of the old puritanical code, could no longer function as bastions of the social system.   

Thanks to some research by Carrie Schwier, Assistant Archivist at Indiana University, I was able to find Thomas Clark’s Indiana University, Midwestern Pioneer (quoted here) that will help me better understand the world of IU in the early 1960s for my upcoming short story – “Life”.

Here are just some of the interesting discoveries I made in Clark’s book –

In 1962, after 25 years of acclaimed service, IU President Herman B. Wells announced his intention to retire.  His successor would be John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Army – Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr.  Stahr told reporters he was very happy with the appointment, that he felt like, “a kid with a new toy.”  Clark writes of Stahr’s comments on landing in Indiana –

He assured reporters he might never fill Wells’ shoes, and he refused to answer questions about compulsory ROTC and the Sex Institute. 

His wife accompanied him.  Clark describes her reaction –

Dorothy Stahr answered the astute questions as to what she expected her role to be in Bloomington with the statement, “raising children and pouring tea.”

One of the challenges Stahr saw before him in this Cold War period went beyond education, to politics.  Only two days after he had taken up his post, he told an audience in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia —

So long as we believe in government by and for the people — a concept the communists abhorwe must continue to find ways to exceed in educated brain power.

To chart such an ambitious course would have been difficult under normal circumstances.  But with the rise of restlessness on campus and beyond, there was much to compete for Stahr’s attention.  In his first State of the University Report (December, 1963), Stahr wrote —

My first year here despite “sweating out” the General Assembly session(s); the acrobatics of those terribly exercised in various ways about a now defunct group called YSA [Young Socialist Alliance]; and some of the inevitable, and I fear eternal headaches associated with “football for the alumni, sex for the students, and parking for the faculty…” was a happy one for my family and me.

In my next post, I’ll explore another thing that caused President Stahr to sweat – a student demonstration over John F. Kennedy’s Cuba Blockade policy that turned ugly.

(image above from Beautiful College Campuses, DanceU101 )