Thursday, March 13, 2008

ECON 102

There was a guy sitting in the seat opposite me on the train this morning reading, likely studying, an economics textbook. When the conductor came around to collect tickets, the gentleman pulled out his wallet to find that he only had $5. Tickets are up to four something now but there's a two dollar extra fee for buying on the train versus at the station. Seeing panic in the young man's eyes and annoyance from the conductor, I offered the guy a free ride courtesy of a punch on my ten-ride ticket that I keep in my wallet in case of emergencies.* He thanked me profusely but I replied simply "pay it forward" - the instructions I was given when a similar situation last fall left me in the young man's position with a stranger providing my fare.

But the Econ book did take my memories back to my freshman year of college. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:15-11:45 in the South Rec Room of Allen Hall was my Microeconomics course that, despite the good grade I earned, I positively loathed. Here's where I should probably insert an apology to those that liked Econ or maybe even majored in it: sorry I hate your subject but it's all good 'cause chances are you can't stand biochemistry so we're even. The only thing I can actually claim to have "learned" from Economics is what econ folks will tell you is the most important thing to know about econ: The Law of Supply and Demand. Good thing I learned it, right? Seeing as how it's a "Law" and all. Basically it's a common sense type thing that says as the quantity (supply) of something goes up, the price of that thing (demand) goes down. The place where supply and demand are at an equilibrium is the ideal price. (I like the part where it talks about equilibrium cause that sounds more sciencey.) The whole concept is better explained with a graph - which is why I remember it, it's sort of like a math problem:

That's the part of Econ I could tolerate. It's when everything got all businessy and theoretical that I wanted to puke. Or maybe just snooze. Regardless, I find there are times when I think back about Supply and Demand and how it really does apply to life. Even in terms of God and the church. I don't really think that as a whole, there is a big "demand" for church in this country. We have plenty of "supply" - drive through Wheaton, IL and there's one on every corner, sometimes two or three! But with this surplus of buildings has come a sort of devaluing of the product. Is church worth an investment of time (and maybe even money) to the average American? I somehow think that maybe there's come a perception that the "price" of church is lower than it should be for most people. We take it for granted. It's always there, same as our Target, Meijer and Jewel. And God's around too. Whenever we need him, no big deal. It's everyday, ordinary, it's a surplus of church. And yet... what value should we be giving to the shining bride of Christ? To a beacon of light in darkness? To our city on a hill?

For an instant let's look at the flip side of this scenario and envision an unspecified East Asian country where there are few Christian churches. As soon as the quantity mark moves to the "shortage" area of the supply line, we see an entirely new intersection with "demand" on the graph. Price - or value, if you will - has suddenly skyrocketed! And sure enough, we find believers meeting in secret, missionaries smuggling Bibles, and overall a passion for God that changes lives and in some cases induces martyrdom. If that example is too far off home turf, think back to your home ground in the days following September 11, 2001. In the midst of tragedy, when many people seemed sure that God was far away - in short supply - there was a huge demand for Him. Prayer services were organized. Bibles were opened. Worship houses were packed. People actively sought His presence, healing and comfort because it seemed (quite falsely) that we were not in a state of surplus of His love.

This is where Econ will always fail us. The Law of Supply and Demand will never fit God's character. Economics has no way to accommodate something (aka God) with infinite price and infinite supply of which we will always be in absolute shortage.** There's no such thing as having enough of God. Equilibrium can never be reached. The less you have, the more you need; the more you have, the more you want. That's called Grace and much as I love math, there's not really any way to graph it. It's best displayed by a stranger buying you a train ticket. You say, "Give me your name and address so I can pay you back," but the stranger just smiles and says, "Pay it forward instead."

*There was something just a little ironic in seeing someone reading economics unable to come up with train fare. That's my wicked side sneaking in, sorry!

**This is why I stick with science, physics says that a thing can be in two places at once depending on whether you look at it, that's a little more God-style.


x-ray chick said...
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x-ray chick said...

I live in Wheaton, and I drive past a gizillion churches to get to COMMUNITY. Heck, I live NEXT to a church I could walk across the parking lot and be there!

I think the world would be a better place if everyone payed if forward. (Despite the cheesy movie.)