The Relational Economy: Currency - Part 2
- Hudson Russell Davis Writer, musician, seminary student
- 2011 3 Mar
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” (Ecclesiastes 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.
It is natural to see a rainbow and feel awe. We may all agree that sunsets and sunrises are beautiful. Some people may even be indisputably beautiful. I think. But the reality is that no consensus exists on just what is “beautiful.” There is no objective standard for “beauty” that I know of, though we might all agree there is such a thing as “beautiful.” What I do know is that I cannot look to the world, to People magazine to tell me who the most beautiful people are.
They choose from Hollywood not from the world.
They choose their personal favorites not yours or mine.
They choose people who are painted, primped, and presented, after being massaged, and manipulated to meet contrived standards of beauty.
Then, and only then, do they show us the faces we should esteem.
They give us the most “beautiful” people.
I purposely avoid such displays because, though those people may be beautiful, my mind is impressionable. It is quite possible for me to believe that the person I AM LOOKING FOR must look like THEM. I suspect your mind too is impressionable.
Whether of African, Asian, Latino, or European descent, many of my “beautiful” friends still long to fill the ache in their hearts. No one will convince me that being “beautiful” is in and of itself sufficient currency for a relationship. Sometimes the “beautiful” girls stay home and cry while friends go to the dance. I have heard the cries and seen the tears. Heartbreaks come to everyone called human. To the best of my knowledge the only qualification for heartbreak—is a heart.
So, I place the word “beautiful” in quotations because there is a discomfort I feel in speaking of “beauty.” Just like People magazine, I speak only of the people I consider “beautiful” or “handsome.” Who am I to determine beauty? Be careful of thinking you are beautiful because you look like this or that model. But, be careful of thinking you are ugly because you do not match up to those “beautiful” icons in People magazine.
It seems that every girl wants to be a princess but not every girl believes she IS a princess. There is a wild idea that kings birth only “beautiful” children. And perhaps this is truer than we know. There is a King who accepts ALL people and makes them beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11). If someone else does not see you as beautiful, they are blind. If you do not see yourself as beautiful, read Isaiah 35 and see what he (God) promises to do in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
For those pursuing beauty, physical attraction is an invitation, an invitation that must be considered for its relative merits. This means using more than our eyes to evaluate people. It also means evaluating people for mor
e than relationships. They are people, brothers and sisters with vulnerable spirits and tender hearts.In the end, the value of physical currency should be measured by its ability to gain AND sustain a lasting relationship. By this standard it is of limited value. There is a Central Bank bearing the seal of God’s Holy Spirit that dispenses grace. We are, then, confident that what we have to offer will be accepted in the relational economy as it is from a God who makes all things beautiful. Since we are all writing checks from HIS bank account, it will not matter if our actual tender is the Koruna or the Kroon. Its value will be the same.
 Mary Mothersill, “Beauty,” in A Companion to Aesthetics, ed. David Cooper (Malden, MA; 1995) 46.
 Plotinus,Enneads, Sixth Tractate, Beauty,
Hudson Russell Davis is a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor of theology at Saint Louis University. Got feedback you'd like to share? Please send your comments and questions to Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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