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March 20, 2020

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Businesses are shuttering across the country as in New Rochelle, shown here.
"We all need small businesses - don't let them die" - from The New York Times

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?...

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife,as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? - 1 Corinthians 9:1-10

As Andy Crouch said on Twitter a few days ago, "Honestly hadn't planned on giving up quite this much for Lent."

My Lenten discipline of the last several years has been to give up buying things I did not strictly need. Like groceries = good; that bag I just spotted in a shop window = not now. One of the things you learn in this exercise is that, yes, when you put off merely desirable purchases for up to forty days, it gives you lots of perspective on what's a wise selection and what's an impulse purchase.

Now, though, we're socially isolating, and nobody's looking at bags in shop windows, and in a matter of days, the shops are starting to feel the blow. The same is true for some of my favorite online vendors, who are offering increasing discounts and specials, clearly in the hope of gaining any revenue at all while deliveries are still a possibility.

I'm one of those who points to capitalism, the way we've practiced it this past century+, as a big problem - the cause of much deforestation, species extinction, and human misery. But people gotta eat, and for that they gotta work, and everything in the Bible points to useful, non-harmful occupations as nothing but good. Furthermore, it's hard to recruit anyone to the cause of justice for all when they themselves are suddenly struggling; for the long-term sake of our many causes, people need a stable income.

Speaking only for myself, I'm also in the fortunate position of being able to do a fair amount of my job from home and to continue to draw a paycheck. I'm better off than many friends and acquaintances who have just tipped over into personal financial crisis. Of course everyone needs to look to essentials and care for their own families - but for those of us with a little flexibility, what's the best move? I roundly mocked George W. Bush after 9/11 when he said the virtuous choice was to go shopping - but maybe now he'd have a point. What's the balance among honoring my Lenten custom, being a smart consumer, and being a good customer? What if the best way to take care of each other right now is simply to buy that great bag?

I don't really have a conclusion beyond the questions on this one. You're welcome to join the conversation on our Facebook page.
A few options:
Charity is wonderful - but it shouldn't be needed to assure that everyone has the basic necessities of life. The once-radical notion of a Universal Basic Income is suddenly back in public view. Learn more and advocate for it if you agree.

Charity is still wonderful - and if you have a few extra bucks to throw at those most in need at this specific time, check out the brilliant data-driven work of GiveDirectly.

If you're going to shop online - Jeff Bezos does not need your money. Your local indie bookshop or boutique does.
Jesus, you joined humanity as a working-class man, and you told us "the poor you will always have with you." Help those of us with financial means toward wise stewardship, use, and distribution of what we have. Even more, give reassurance and mercy to those who have less, at this time and always. And may we all learn ever better how to serve one another in ways tangible and intangible. Amen.
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