By Kristeen Bruun
A couple of weeks ago, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, age 70, made the interesting statement that he would be willing to die to save the economy, and he thought that other senior citizens (at high risk of becoming Covid-19 fatalities) would feel the same way.
What good would life be, he seemed to say, if our children and grandchildren faced life with a drastically altered economy? By now he knows that approximately 75% of the population (according to surveys) disagrees with him.
In the following days, I read articles by pastors and by others explaining the infinite value of human life. But the most interesting article appeared in the Washington Post (online) by Christopher Ingraham, who used a model designed by a London school to show that the value of the lives saved by social distancing would be 8 trillion dollars, because people who die are lost to the economic world.
In other words, I am worth more alive than dead, even in Dan Patrick’s worldview.
What a relief!
Yet even as I smiled and sent a silent vote of gratitude to those scholars, I felt uneasy. I am the same person who just a few days earlier belted out, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness,” singing along with the quartet that represents the choir for our online services.
Yet Dan Patrick’s statement bothered me and the London scholars reassured me…
It is extremely difficult to internalize a truly counter-cultural value system.
I grew up poor—as in, on welfare—and I knew perfectly well that, even in a religious school, my poverty meant I was worth less than others. Not only did we have to work very hard just to maintain our minimum standard of living, but we also did not get the bicycles, music lessons, vacations, or trips to camp that others got.
Which in turn meant that essay topics such as “what I did on my summer vacation” or “my favorite Christmas present” were not greeted by us with joy. They were just one more way to push us deeper into the realm of otherness.
Living at the other end of my life, it would please me greatly to explain to you that I have now realized that my true worth lies in my value to Jesus. Wouldn’t that be a great spiritual message? Too bad. My default is still to compare my income, home, and lifestyle to those of others.
Not only have I not become Bill Gates, my income is not even comparable to that of most of the people in my congregation.
But there are moments when I catch glimmers of spiritual reality. When I approach the altar to receive the Sacrament, I extend my empty hands for the gift of my Lord, and I realize that all hands reach out to Him empty. The gift of Himself is overwhelming in its graciousness. Nothing I have ever done could have earned this for me. (Not sharing this Sacrament right now is tough; and although I welcome Jesus in His gift of the Word, it’s not quite the same.)
Sometimes also in prayer I receive an eye-opening insight that shifts my vision and my values to better alignment with the Gospels. In a Bible study, our congregation recently looked at the widow who made the offering of two copper coins. What struck me most was that Jesus did not say, “She shouldn’t have given her money away – the temple treasury is fattened enough by the large donors.” No, Jesus appreciated what she had to give. Jesus appreciates what I have to give, in time, talent, and treasure.
Early wounds strike deep and are hard to heal, especially when the dominant culture reinforces them. All we can do is keep coming back to the words and the life of Jesus, without expecting perfection from ourselves or from others. It’s unlikely that Dan Patrick knew what a harsh message he was delivering to so many.
And keep asking for the strength to stand firm in our vision of life: “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”