We call these holy days by names now so familiar their meaning recedes. We troop to service on Maundy Thursday, knowing we will witness the reenactment of the washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus at the Last Supper. But the real call to witness is the call of the commandment Christ left his apostles after that sacramental meal: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
On Wednesday evening of this Easter week, I heard that message said another way, through the lens of Hawaiian culture. I was lucky to be among those who heard Ramsay Taum speak to the Hogan Entrepreneurs about “The Raising of the Blue Continent.” He talked about what it means to look at the world from the perspective of people who live on islands in the world’s largest unrecognized “continent”—the Pacific Ocean. He suggested that perhaps we have got our measures of success and fulfillment all wrong. Instead of asking: “How much money have I made?” one should be asking “How many people have I fed? How many have I housed?” The notion that each person’s well-being is critical to the well-being of the community is central to Hawaiian culture. As it is to Christian teaching.
What is particularly important about the questions Ramsay Taum raised is that he is a business-friendly trainer, not a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness. The questions he asks are not unlike those Jay Fidell raised recently about the need to address homelessness. In dismantling the faux arguments that are made about the homeless and urging meaningful action, Fidell helped us understand that making sure your neighbor has a roof over his head is a matter of both moral urgency and good economics.
Last Sunday on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” PBS talk show host, Tavis Smiley in discussing the battle over the budget in Washington reminded his fellow panelists and viewers that “the budget is a moral document.” That is a notion that should be inscribed on every budget and every balance sheet. Perhaps it might help prompt a little soul-searching—among some CEOs at least— about the morality of bonuses they take in even as they lay off employees to improve profitability. Perhaps it might prompt some, if not GE, to consider the morality of a system that allows a company that makes billions to drastically lower its tax obligations in ways that ordinary wage earners cannot. Is the need to maximize profit to shareholders somehow more deserving than the need to feed a family?
The many politicians who flaunt their Christian values should have no trouble embracing the notion of a budget as a moral document if they really read the bibles they thump so enthusiastically on the campaign trail. If they do, they cannot, in conscience, approach the budget challenge by continuing to pad the tax cushions of the rich while fraying the safety nets that exist for the poor.
Perhaps one should take Tavis Smiley’s point a step further and remind ourselves that the contracts we enter are all moral documents. Whether it is a small business or a multi-national enterprise, the call to love one another might help us resist the impulse to put profits over people. Hokey? Maybe not so this week of all weeks. Not this week when we are reminded by the Passover meal, the Passion and the Resurrection that the Easter season is as much about willing surrender and unimaginable sacrifice on behalf of others as it is about the triumph of the soul. It’s just so much easier to talk about the Easter bunny. . .