Acton Institute Powerblog

Wasteful Extravagance: Sara Groves on the Economy of Wonder  

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“God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty.” –Makoto Fujimura (Episode 6, For the Life of the World)

We live in a society that has grown increasingly transactional in its way of thinking. Everything we spend or steward — time, money, relationships — must secure a personal reward or return. Even when we give things up for “useless” activities, it is framed in terms of self-indulgence or personal release. We are making “me time,” “emptying our busy brains,” or “rewarding ourselves.” Even our wasteful moments are in the service of balancing some imaginary busyness ledger.

But countering our transactional nature will require far more than surface-level tweaks such as these.

In For the Life of the World, Evan Koons discovers that we must learn to appreciate the value of God’s creation in and of itself. If we hope to unlock the Economy of Wonder, we must realize that everything need not be tied to or offered up for some sort of pragmatic use. God wants us to be gift-givers who focus not on scarcity but divine abundance.

In a new video blog, musical artist Sara Groves touches on these same themes, inspired by artist Makoto Fujimura, who also makes an appearance in FLOW. “Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life,” she says. “…It’s the artist’s role to push back against pragmatism and utility.”

The space you need to write a song or to create a work of art or to do your work requires almost an extravagant and wasteful space or attitude. We talk a lot about busyness and things like that, but what [Fujimura] was addressing was an undercurrent of usefulness…He wasn’t framing it in a way of consumerism – of buying stuff or comforting ourselves or finding this elusive me time. It was more about making space for contemplation and for time to let God speak to our hearts.

And what might the rest of us learn from that vocational sweet spot?

In God’s eyes, we are all artists and co-creators across varying cultural spheres. He longs for us to relish in the mystery of his divine plan, and that requires an economic imagination that reaches beyond mere utility.

As Fujimura summarizes in FLOW:

Perhaps the greatest thing we can do as a Christian community is to behold. Behold our God. Behold his creation. The church has exiled beauty from its conversations, and I think that we need to rediscover the beautiful in order to recover ourselves — our humanity. Jesus seemed to indicate that beauty is a door into the Gospel. Beauty is the door…

…God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty. And we need to tell this story. Not the story of pragmatism. Not the story of utility. This story of extravagance, of gratuitous beauty, is the Gospel. That is the story I’ve come to die for.

Whether we’re stewarding families, businesses, or institutions, what do we lose if we aren’t willing to make space for God to speak into those activities? In our day-to-day activities, making time for that sort of thing is bound to feel like an extravagant waste.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

Comments

  • Keep in mind that much of our society involves impersonal transactions because we have abandoned the tradition, personal market of the middle ages. If you visit the Middle East you will be able to engage in personal markets where the buyer and seller haggle for hours over prices and buyers spend their lifetimes learning which merchants offer the best quality for the lowest prices. Transaction costs in the traditional personal market are very high and keep the people poor. But the personal contact can be much more satisfying.
    The genius of capitalism was to reduce transaction costs by offering warranties and guarantees, publishes prices and greater competition. With broader markets, buyers and sellers became strangers. Not as satisfying personally, but much cheaper and provides higher quality goods. Impersonal transactions are a feature of capitalism, not bug.