One downside to our capitalist, consumer culture is that we’ve reduced so many of life’s decisions down to dollars. So, jobs are about paychecks for rich and poor alike. As a youth minister, I knew rich kids who were forbidden to choose college majors in the area of their hearts’ desire because they “couldn’t make enough money” doing that work. I once heard a man in my home church say he went every day of his life to a job he hated so he could feed his family. Who among us wants a life like that? Poor folks are expected to accept any job that brings a paycheck, no matter how small it is, how demeaning and grinding the work, how badly they might be treated on the job, etc. Personally, I can understand those who choose a few less dollars from a welfare check to avoid such circumstances.
My understanding of the gracious, creative, loving God of Jesus, along with my experience of life, tells me we need to broaden our conversations beyond dollars. We can’t ignore dollars, but we mustn’t stop there. There are other, wider questions we can fruitfully explore. What makes life beautiful and purposeful? What kind of work enables you or me or any of us to become creative contributors to the world around us? What makes a classroom or workplace hum with positive energy? We’ve all seen kids skip down a sidewalk or across a playground. Kids skip when their joy just bubbles up and propels their legs forward, almost dancing. So, maybe THE question to ask, the one that captures all the others, is: What would make any of us (rich, middle class, poor) skip to work?
I’m pretty sure our capitalist, consumer culture isn’t going to lead us to such a question. But our faith communities can. And should.