Monday, August 3, 2009

It's just business

A friend of mine encouraged me to read Ahead of the Curve by Philip Delves Broughton. It was an unnerving experience. The author is a man who left his job as a bureau chief in Paris to enter the Harvard Business School class of 2006. The unnerving part is that everyone now knows What's Going To Happen, but these students, of course, do not.

This book was published early in 2008. In his chapter Extreme Leverage, the author writes, "Debt, we found, is the fuel of modern finance...Debt focuses the mind and forces people to concentrate on the only thing that matters: the cash flowing out of the business. If Gordon Gekko were speaking today, he might have to reword his classic boast about greed. These days debt, for want of a better word, is good. Debt works."

Ah, those heady days.

I was reading this in conjunction with preparing a second sermon on the David and Bathsheba fallout in 2 Samuel. I kept trying to come up with the word that describes David’s attitude when he sees Bathsheba.

The easy answer would be “lustful,” but I don’t think that quite captures the very cavalier way in which David goes about his one-night stand. He has wives and concubines a-plenty at home, and there’s something so casual about his acquisition of this woman he sees from the rooftop. Greedy isn’t the right word. Selfish doesn’t quite fit either.

There’s no thought or consideration between the wanting and the getting. No planning or work or sacrifice is required. The best word I can come up with is that David, in this situation, is a consumer, in the worst and most literal sense of the word. A mindless consumer, someone who consumes, getting something he likes on a passing whim, taking it in and then passing it out again without ever considering how much it might actually cost, and not expecting it to cost him anything.

And it is the mindlessness that is the problem. Thoughtless behavior, which hardly seems life-threatening at the time. Being thoughtless hardly seems like a sin. But the thoughtlessness led to cruel and callous behavior which, if Nathan had not intervened, would, I suspect, have led David into becoming a cruel and thoughtless person. And where does that line lie, between doing cruel and thoughtless things and being cruel and thoughtless?

I realized, writing this sermon, that we become what we do. These folks taking jobs out of Harvard kept saying, "I'm just going to do this for a while, then get out and spend time with my family." Well, good luck with that. At what point does their behavior and the excuse "It's just business" become the more painful reality "I am business"?

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Jesus said, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life." And I begin to see that this work happens by actually doing it, not waiting until conditions are right or until things are safe. The doing and the being are closely intertwined.

Do read this book. It was incredibly thought-provoking. In fact, I have more thoughts about it and will probably post more.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Excellent. Could say so much... Am reading Slavoj Zizek's "The Parallax View" --what could you call it? A dissection of Kant-Hegel-Marx through the eyes of the existentialists as well as a post post-modern filter?-- the thrill of capitalism is over, but we are socio-politically trapped in the system... And Christianity (sadly) has played a major role in the cycle, eschewing the model of Jesus for that of the Empire-building power player. That debt can be sold as a product is so many things at once: laughable and corrupt are the two qualitiies that come immediately to my mind. As "civilized" capitalists, we talk ourselves into being taken, coming and going, with a passivity that is contrary to our self-perception as capable of self reliance. And then we whine when the house of cards falls and all the bubbles pop. Following the story of David, as we do now, it is all too clear that that "scripture" is an artifact left to be a warning more about what we should NOT DO, and that we should turn to the loving arms of the DIVINE at any now that occurs to us. The parables talk about scenarios and how they are played out, and warn about the traps of playing the well worn playbook. The great commandment to love God and love neighbor is clearly a call to play outside the box, away from the wellworn playbook.

Zizek, by the way, can make for some amusing reading...