My full-grain leather briefcase arrived in early January. It’s made from thick water buffalo pull-up leather and will develop a lovely patina if I treat it right. The interior of the bag has high-grade polyester threads and extra rivets, which reinforce all the stress points.
The cloth is an English-looking plaid pattern. The leather looks new, yet at the same time, worn. It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, the sort that mysteriously adds joy to life.
I ordered my new briefcase on Amazon.
When I opened the bag, I noticed it came with a letter, personally signed by the owner of the company who had made the briefcase. Her small family-owned business is operated out of New Delhi, India, and has existed for three generations.
After explaining the passion, skill, and joy that went into making the bag, she asked if I could take a moment and give her business feedback on the website, that it would help them immensely, since they are still a small, traditional, family-oriented business. Then, in handwritten blue ink, she included a note of thanks with her signature on it.
When I read the letter, I was struck by an obvious, yet hidden truth: There was a real, living person on the other side of my purchase.
I know next to nothing about her life. But a click of the mouse connected me with this woman in India who found dignity in making a high-quality product. Her work created a product that met a real need that I had, with profits to hire and pay workers and serve her family and community.
And I, here on the other side of the planet, now enjoy a beautiful briefcase that I will likely use for many, many years to come.
This is the stuff of common life. It is neither spectacular nor newsworthy. Flashy acts of obedience — big donations, for example, or high-profile charities — put Christians on the speaking circuit. Buying and selling never makes the cut.
And yet, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, which more often than not involves these mundane parts of our lives. Jesus even said that our love would be a sign to the world that we were his disciples, that we were growing in grace and learning to follow him more and more.
I’ll admit, I rarely remember my purchases have anything to do with following Jesus. With the click of the button, whether we realize it or not, we love our (global) neighbor, and she loves us.
That is the beauty of economic exchange. Exchange creates value, and needs are met on both sides of the transaction.
When we purchase good products from worthy companies, we empower dignified labor, and families receive paychecks. When we work with excellence, we meet tangible human needs, even if we never meet those who benefit from our work. This is the genius and beauty of the world God has created.
This means churches can affirm the work of marketers and carpenters, of salesmen and support staff. Paul wanted us to know that whatever we do can be done to the glory of God. That includes our day jobs. And it includes tonight’s grocery run.
From time to time, all of us need to remember that our buying and selling and working and exchanging is the arena of discipleship — of following Jesus’ commands. It is the place we love our neighbor, both next door and in New Delhi.