The Relational Economy: Currency - Part 2
- Tuesday, March 15, 2011
There is a myth that to be “beautiful” is to have it made relationally. Some imagine that the “beautiful” get married and the “ugly” remain single. Nothing in life is that simple, and the relational economy is no exception.
“Beautiful” girls too ask, “What is wrong with me?” And though some may have no sympathy for the “beautiful” single, every human heart at one time or another knows loss and feels hurt. Every heart knows longing. If the only medium of exchange were physical, even the beautiful would despair.
Anyone who thinks life would be better if they were beautiful should take care. Too often a “beautiful” woman is pursued only for her looks. She may then be discarded when her looks fade, or when familiarity makes her beauty cheap compared to that fresh face over there. The same can be said of the handsome man. No one who lives for or by their looks lives secure. I say with the author of Ecclesiastes, that it is, “Utterly meaningless” (Ecc. 1:2)!
I confess that it is impossible to detach the eye from the mind, the mind from the heart, and dating from physical attraction. It would be foolish to argue that, in the Christian relational economy, looks do not matter. It would be idiocy to suggest that the medium of exchange—the currency of the relational economy—does not include the physical. This is simply not true. We are made aesthetic creatures, designed to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, and part of that beauty is people.
What can be said of beauty is this; it is a positive value, it is linked to pleasure, it inspires and motivates, and it depends on perception. We value beauty as a positive good and it makes us happy to see beautiful things. No matter how superficial it may sound it is also true, few things motivate a relationship as the perception of “beauty.” But we do not all agree on what or who is “beautiful.” Which is why I believe it is more important that we regard the person we choose as attractive or beautiful rather than fitting them into some arbitrary or contrived idea of “beautiful.” In the relational economy appearance matters, but WE determine how it shapes the choices we make. So, the question is not whether we must value physical attraction, but how much. The question is not whether we can trust our eyes, but to what degree.
In Luke we are told that Mary, overcome with emotion, wept over Jesus’ feet, and used her hair as a towel. Then Jesus turned to her and offered her this reassurance, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Later that changed woman, Mary, is shown sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha toiled in the kitchen” (Luke 10:39).
What Mary had to offer after her encounter with Jesus was acceptable only to those whose medium of exchange—currency—was in line with the change Jesus had brought about in Mary. Those who came to really know Mary may have been tempted to take her feet and wash it with their tears. But most of us, like Simon, would have seen only Mary the Sinner. She was Mary the Sinner, but she was also Mary the “beautiful.”
In the physical realm, that which is beautiful catches our eyes “… and calls [us], lures [us], towards it, and fills [us] with joy at the sight?” We are made to appreciate beauty. Sometimes this is “puppy love,” or infatuation; sometimes it is obsession or lust. Either way, in the relational economy, I will call this the Invitation. It is the point of contact. It is the place to start. We can certainly be invited without seeing, but most relationships begin with visual contact. There is nothing wrong with seeing and being pleased with what you see. There is nothing wrong with calling that person “beautiful” or “handsome” and being drawn to them. It is very natural and good.
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