Saturday, October 25, 2014

Keeping Neighborly Relations

I had a thought-provoking discussion with a young medical technician recently as she prepped me for a biopsy. While I quizzed her about her medical career, she responded by informing me that she had no medical insurance. She had to pay cash if she had a medical problem arise.

This young woman works for a prominent medical doctor in our community, a fine Christian man of a different denomination than me but a highly respected gentleman nonetheless. I’ve been pondering that and remembering when my spouse worked for a “Christian” business man who paid no insurance, paid minimum wages although he was quite generous in his personal gifts to some of his management people, and as an entrepreneur he always “operated” on the other guy’s money, paying his bills as late as possible and with other such tactics that supported his entrepreneurial business philosophy.

I am not an economist! However, this all seems to pre-suppose that as an employer if I cannot provide employee medical insurance I am justified in paying only what I can afford, even if I could not live on it. This brings us to the numerous news stories regarding institutions like McDonalds and Walmart and the issue of low level employees striking for a supposedly living wage. Going one step further brings up the issue of CEOs justifiably receiving obscene piles of money while paying only low-level salaries to down-the-ladder employees.

As I listen to economists and other public commentators sound forth today, there is in our culture the recognition that "business is business" and it is all about crunching numbers and the profit line. People issues are only “crunched numbers.”

Having gone this far, I now see my young medical tech as part of a large labor pool at the bottom of the social ladder being manipulated according to the myopic needs of capitalists who may vary from corporate executives to entrepreneurs who have borrowed a “shoe-string amount” to launch into business and travel the highway toward the American Dream.

I must say, by this time in my life I have become very uncomfortable with this philosophy that operates entirely out of one’s personal perspective, without regard for the other person, not to mention the common good. How do I as a Christian integrate the teachings of Jesus into my behavior so that my beliefs and my behavior become one and the same?

Some people answer this by privatizing faith; separating my private life from my public life, especially if I am a politician. This justifies schizophrenic behavior that separates the public me from the private me and produces an unhealthy split personality. This person simply says “business is business … politics is dirty business.” This person lives as a two-sided coin: one side is religiously nice and the other side is dirty – unclean – or whatever is needed, and the two never meet! Their behavioral life becomes entirely relative and controlled by their context—they have no solid creed to live by.

I do not pretend to have the answer! I offer no panacea to cure it all. What I know at this point is that I have chosen to integrate the teachings of Jesus Christ into my beliefs and behavior, because I believe life in Christ is the right way for people to live. So, here I am asking myself how can a self-professed Christian doctor (or whoever) hire and pay a wage for which s/he would not work. We are expecting our employee to work for an income we would find unacceptable, and we do this knowing s/he cannot afford to do better (or does s/he?)

The bottom line says (to me) if I don’t have the money to pay this person the usual expected amenities of society; that makes it okay for me to treat them as I would not wish to be treated and pay them a substandard salary so that I can get started. They will take the job because they need that income, limited though it may be, for they are hungry and they need it. The zinger in it is that Jesus said “in as much as you do it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

This bit of wisdom from Jesus reinforces the story he told about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). There, Jesus told an enquirer that the way to eternal life was briefly summarized by 1) loving God supremely and 2) loving your neighbor as yourself! Simply stated, if I need a living wage for my family, so does my neighbor; if I need medical insurance (as commonly practiced in our economy), so does my neighbor!

My conclusion: To follow Jesus, and be a Christian employer, I must figure my business operating expenses in such a way that I treat my employee(s) as I would want to be treated. That may not follow the rules of an MBA degree in business management, but it certainly comes closer to living by the principles Jesus set forth for his disciples to follow.

I must live in ethical relationship with my neighbor; otherwise circumstances  do not justify my being in business.Here is a different way of expressing the point:

Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work today,
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in his way:
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell them how he died,
He has no help but our help to bring them to his side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
We are the sinner’s gospel, we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message given in deed and word,
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other things than his?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking of things his life would spurn?
How can we hope to help him  and welcome his return? (Anonymous)

From Warner’s World,

I am

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