Archive for category Religion

Harriet Beecher Stowe on Kermit Gosnell and the Silence of the Church

Legree, Uncle Tom's CabinIn re-reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I was struck by the reflection she offers after Tom is beaten to death by Simon Legree:

Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence!

But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian’s last struggle less than glorious.

I would hope that we can all point out the obvious particulars distinguishing this vs. that. But the church needs to get comfortable with the fact that our sitting idly by amid profound atrocity is one of those big, fat similarities.

For those who need a bit more help in connecting the dots, Doug Wilson has more on our preference to close our eyes and “keep calm and carry on,” or however that obnoxious slogan of our generation concludes:

Gosnell’s problem is not with what he was doing, which countless progressives have defended with their special kind of passionate malice, but with where he was doing it. You see, he was doing it where people could see.

So Gosnell or no Gosnell, Philadelphia or no Philadelphia, why don’t we know that it is always that bad for the baby? This is not a one off situation. This very thing is happening in your city — right this minute. Maybe you drive right by it as part of your daily commute. But now, thanks to Gosnell, we know what we know. This is what pro-lifers have been saying for a generation. It was as true in the seventies as it is now, but this appears to be a moment where the point can not only be stated, but also heard. So learn the potency of the hash tag #Gosnell.

One of the reasons that public opinion has started to shift on abortion has been because of the advancements of ultrasound technology. We can see with our eyes now, and what we are starting to see is that our learned lies have been lies for all that, and the corollary occurs to us that they have all been tumbling from the mouths of damned liars. And it turns out the mouths are our own.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell

Rob Bell has a new book coming out, titled, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. From what I gather from the marketing thus far, he’s getting dangerously close to parodying himself.

First, there was a “behind the scenes” trailer, in which we learn that all those disruptive paragraph breaks are not so strategic after all. Can’t find inspiration? A third grader’s science fair note cards will suffice. Just throw in a boom box and some (extra?) monkeys.

Now, there’s a new trailer.

Notecard 1: Church is like a Passion Pit concert. Are you invited?

Notecard 2: What if the God who made the world made chicken dumplings and we’re missing everything if we fail to ask what came first? theWORLDortheDUMPLING?

Notecard 3: Fruit bats are reading Pilgrim’s Progress in a Brooklyn deli.

Notecard 4: You’ve always thought God is an Oldsmobile. But. SMART CARS.

I guess I’d go with #4, too:

I have no deep theological ponderings or critiques to offer, as the book has yet to be released and these confusing metaphors are, well, confusing enough. Read the rest of this entry »

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Self-Denial as Self-Help: Avoiding ‘Eat-Pray-Love’ Self-Indulgence

Self helpOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I offer some critiques on Kathryn Schulz’s recent piece in New York Times Magazine on the modern age of self-help.

Schulz highlights a variety of approaches to introspection and identity-seeking, and although she briefly mentions the Christian “method” of submitting oneself to God first and foremost, she proceeds to casually shrug it off, using scientific non-consensus as her excuse, instead favoring a “promiscuity” in our approach-taking and hypothesis-testing:

Try something. Better still, try everything—throw all the options at the occluding wall of the self and see what sticks. Meditation, marathon training, fasting, freewriting, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, speed dating, volunteering, moving to Auckland, redecorating the living room: As long as you steer clear of self-harm and felony, you might as well do anything you can to your inner and outer ecosystems that might induce a beneficial mutation.

As I go on to argue, Christians should be cautious of this type of universalism:

Christians mustn’t give way to a life of random, impulsive decision-making, whether it’s geared toward curing a personal addiction or ramping up something as innocent and well-meaning as helping those around us. Submitting to a smorgasbord of humanistic experimentation in our identity-seeking may yield “beneficial mutation” for some, but “beneficial” according to whom and at the cost of what? In the end, Schulz’s proposed path of self-realization involves diminishing the mysteries of God-empowered transformation to an exotic menu option amid a buffet of Eat-Pray-Love self-indulgence.

Regardless of whether we’re able to fully rationalize God’s transformative effects over our deepest desires, attitudes, and decisions, in humbling ourselves before the Lord of Lords and asking what he would have us do in all of our endeavors, economic or otherwise, we can have confidence that he will follow through according to his will.

This doesn’t mean the process is easy. Seasons of introspection and self-evaluation are not typically resolved with the single thump of a Bible or the first implant of that seed of self-denial. But that’s certainly where we should begin. Living a life of whole-life discipleship requires earnest dedication and preparation, and a particular path for preparation exists—namely, submitting oneself to a real God with real purposes for real people with real needs. The marketplace of humanity gets much more interesting when the market information gets that good.

“Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him, and he will act,” writes the Psalmist. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.”

Read the full post here.

 

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The Other Inauguration Prayer: Channeling My Inner Postmodern Pastor

Over at Juicy Ecumenism, I give way to my inner poetic, Emergent Church pastor, offering an alternate benediction for the upcoming inauguration, should Luis Leon be pressured out (it happens):

We lay the fears of American Arrogance before you. The first of the flock. The high, not the Lost. Now the meek and the weak, we seek to relish and embellish at your feet. Not like the carrots that Cain once cast down – fake, artificial, genetically modified — but soft as a lamb, tender and cute as I AM.

But not of the Precious-Moments cast, filled with capitalistic crass. We embrace, instead, your ancient Word. Of the ancient hills. Of an ancient world. We enter now into an eternal forest—a sanctuary of trees and stardust, tigers and badgers, bugs and bungalows.

We twinkle ever on. Illuminating. Booming with a flurry of angelic echoes. We pray that you trap the fury of this earthbound crater in the chains of its own creation.

Whisper it. Speak it. Sing a song.

Now, today, we rejoice not in some man. Some idol to our own power and self-gratification. Some President Barack Obama.

No. We pray not to the Fast Brood Nation, instead orphaning our co-dependent thumbs from the revolver of the remote control. No. We now point ourselves toward the One True Jeopardy Host. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t Cry Over Spilled Perfume: Overcoming Judas Syndrome in Our Economic Thinking

Mary, Lazarus, Judas, perfume, ointmentMuch of my focus on this blog has been on pursuing an economics that pushes beyond earthbound thinking.

Over at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I attempt to lay out a basic baseline of this approach, using Judas’ harsh response to Mary’s outpouring of expensive perfume as a starting point:

Much like Judas Iscariot, who reacted harshly to Mary’s outpouring of expensive ointment on Jesus’s feet, we are prone to react only to the material implications, ignoring altogether whether God might prefer us to do something so peculiar as “keep it for the day of [Jesus’s] burial,” as was the case for Mary.

It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul urged us to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” — to not be “conformed to this world,” but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Such a life, Paul explains, demands a transcendent perspective made up by constant “testing” of the world as we naturally see it, that we might “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is a life consisting of far more than surface-level observations of the physical world, requiring us to submit our reasoning about everything from material prosperity to human happiness to the ultimate will of the Supreme Creator.

Leveraging a striking Whittaker Chambers quote, I point to some extremes that such thinking can lead us to (e.g. Soviet Communism). But as I go on to note, such a tendency is typically far more tricky to discern:

The same temptations Chambers indicates — of earthbound thinking and intellectual arrogance — can easily sneak into our personal plans for achieving God’s ends. We may, for instance, openly recognize that God has called us to meet the needs of the poor and alleviate poverty, but far too often we attempt to resolve the “God question” here, moving quickly and comfortably to our own personal plans and designs for how might get there (e.g. foreign aid, fair trade, a higher minimum wage, etc.). Rather than continuing to push toward the heart of God — toward a life full of transcendent reasoning and discernment — we look instead to the spilled ointment on the floor, frustrated and not bothering to ask, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

This is the most basic question, and we must ask it with sincerity and a heart of sacrifice. It is crucial that we observe the physical world, and it is necessary for us to ask sincere questions about why and how resources are used, but these questions need to be asked in conversation with our Creator, not in humanistic isolation.

God meets us in the here and now. He cares about the earthbound needs of the sparrow and human alike, and his eternal purposes are already in Read the rest of this entry »

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Books I Read in 2012

The books I read in 2012 are listed below. Favorites included David Brooks’ The Social Animal, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, and, to no surprise, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

What did you read? What were some of your favorites?

Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today's Families, Michelle AnthonyPolitical Thought: A Student's Guide, Hunter BakerLiving Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Peter BoettkeGod Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise, Arthur BrooksThe Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, David BrooksWitness, Whittaker ChambersThe Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge, Calvin CoolidgeWork: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKosterA Christmas Carol, Charles DickensThe Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic, Nicholas EberstadtThe Autobiography and Other Writings, Benjamin FranklinPaul, The Spirit, And The People Of God, Gordon FeeCapitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman

Free to Choose, Milton FriedmanThe Scapegoat, René GirardThe Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Jonah GoldbergThe Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty, Peter Greer

The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America's Children, James Davison HunterWith Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy, Florence KingThe Great Divorce, C.S. LewisMere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance, Duane LitfinSpiritual Enterprise:, Theodore Roosevelt MallochLove & Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work, Jennifer Roback MorseCapitalism and the Jews, Jerry Mueller

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles MurrayCommon Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community, Oliver O’DonovanDefending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, Robert SiricoThinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy, James K.A. Smith

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, Thomas SowellSecure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity, Glenn StantonAfter America: Get Ready for Armageddon, Mark SteynThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Up from Slavery, Booker T. WashingtonThe Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, Kevin D. WilliamsonWordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life, Douglas WilsonBible: English Standard Version

 

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Work Restores the Broken Family of Humankind

I recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.

Over at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I take things a bit further, noting that our work, in its very essence, puts us in the service of others. To make the point, I rely heavily on Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, in which he argues that “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”

As DeKoster explains:

Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit.

If we change our thinking on this, orienting our work first toward God and then toward neighbor, we will experience not only a transformation of our basic spiritual commitments but of civilization at large—social, economic, and spiritual.

Today, we are seeing this truth play out in bold and mysterious ways. If globalization has demonstrated anything, it’s the transformational power of expansive human collaboration and cooperation—the transcendent, liberating experience of diverse and interdependent human service. The more freedom and opportunity people have been given to orient their work toward God and neighbor, the more we have seen them rise from poverty in all its forms.

Yet amid such a vivid display, there is still plenty of room for growth. As the winning rhetoric of the recent election demonstrates, our discussions on everything from farm subsidies to auto bailouts to union insulationism to company off-shoring are still plagued by a protectionist ethos that seeks to distort the very essence of work for the mere purposes of personal comfort and self-satisfaction. Instead of asking how we might elevate our work to more accurately and comprehensively meet real and existing human needs, we continue to glorify work as an idol to ourselves.

As Keller and DeKoster remind us, we must fight this temptation with diligence, praying for Read the rest of this entry »

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Celebrate the Stuff: Avoiding Anti-Capitalism Hum-Bug and Advent Gnosticism

Sufjan Stevens, Christmas, gnosticism, anti-capitalismChristmas is a season that now comes pre-packaged with critiques of capitalism and consumerism. Although carefulness and concern over hyper-consumerism is always appropriate, in our desperate efforts to disassociate ourselves with Black Friday materialism, too often we push too far, yielding to a creeping dualism that’s unproductive for our economic culture and hazardous to Christmas cheer.

Over at Values and Capitalism, Elise Amyx provides a great critique of one such manifestation, Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas album, which seeks to expose Christmas for what he believes it’s become: “an annual exploitation of wealth, a festival of consumerism, and a vast playing field for the voyages of capitalism.”

Again, critiques of a “festival of consumerism” are on target in certain respects, but by taking us through a variety of Stevens’s “carols,” Amyx demonstrates how Stevens falls into the trap of taking these themes too far.

Her conclusion: (1) “he confuses the market economy with consumerism,” and (2) “he elevates the spiritual above the material.”

As she goes on to explain:

Stevens seems to hold that capitalism is evil because it necessitates materialistic consumerism. But he misunderstands the difference between consumerism and the market economy…When the goodness of the material is lost, capitalism is an easy scapegoat for consumerism.

Stevens’s misconception of capitalism also reflects a broader theological underpinning of all material things, reminiscent of ancient Gnosticism and some modern evangelical movements today. He claims Christmas should be about the spiritual aspects—what we feel and known inside—not material traditions…

Stevens wisely critiques the worthlessness of placing one’s hope solely in the material aspect of Christmas, but he misses a great opportunity to distinguish between worship of the material and worship of God through the material. He fails to point out the goodness that physical things can bring at Christmastime. Advent candles, nativity sets, presents, Christmas lights and ornaments need not distract us from Christ, but exist as physical reminders that lead us to worship Christ…

…Stevens’s Christmas message is one of massive spiritual and material discord, yet Advent embodies spiritual and material harmony that God intended for the world—and that’s the redemptive beauty in all the silver and gold adorning your Christmas tree.

In the same vein, though without reference to Stevens or capitalism, Douglas Wilson offers a similar perspective, noting that “a godliness that won’t delight in fudge and Read the rest of this entry »

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Corresponding the Shape of Good Economics to the Shape of the Gospel

Shape of EconomicsOver at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I piggy-back on a recent Michael Bull post to offer a reminder that we needn’t give all the credit to the market when we reap the benefits of market exchange, free trade and globalization.

For Christians in particular, we should view capitalism as a launching pad for spiritual and social transformation, not a mere means to materialistic ends:

Capitalism is, after all, a mere framework for human engagement. Although the constraints it imposes (“thou shalt not steal”) and the features it elevates (ownership, stewardship, risk, and sacrifice) may fit well within a broader Christian context, it says more about what we can and can’t do than what we might or might not imagine or accomplish…

… For the Christian, then, capitalism provides a simple baseline from which we can launch, holding the potential to lead us toward a broader, deeper network through which we can more freely and fully obey the callings of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we proclaim good news to the poor. In allowing for this free-flow of individual callings, we are given opportunities and choices that many other systems would assume on our behalf.

As Bull writes, we as Christians are called to reach beyond the bare minimum—a truth I’ve emphasized routinely here on the blog:

The final step of Covenant is that you, the risk taker, become a shelter, a house, for the helpless. The final step is generosity. Capitalism only works in a moral society. This is why we can correspond the shape of good economics to the shape of the Gospel. Jesus gave His life to give abundant life to us all. He believed in the promise made to Him by the Father, the promise of resurrection—a new body. Poverty was not something to be embraced eternally. Christian socialists forget that Jesus now owns everything. All the great saints were rich people who risked their wealth for even greater wealth, a wealth that included a legacy of other people—a household. The “glory that was set before Him” was also the glory of the Church, a new body that includes every believer. Jesus Himself is our covering. We are only saved because of His atonement, His “covering.” He, the king of kings, the great Land Lord, is our shelter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Mattress Merchants Reach Beyond Economic Exchange

Urban Mattress, Christian businessOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I discuss a recent article at Christianity Today on a mattress business whose Christian owners seek to transform what many see as “one of the sleaziest industries in the world.”

From the article:

Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….

…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”

There is plenty to admire about Urban Mattress, but one of the most striking features in the article is the intimate nature of many of their customer interactions. Here, I argue that Christians should pay close attention. The social, moral, and spiritual implications of Christian business – nay, all business – stretch beyond philanthropy and sound business practices:

On this, Urban Mattress provides a good lesson not only on the broader implications of our economic transactions, but also on the broader potential of Christian business in general. Far too often we confine our thinking about Christian business to areas like philanthropy or “corporate evangelism.” By going further and offering this type of personal customer service, these owners show us how there can be more exchange in exchange than we allow for or recognize, whether social, psychological, or spiritual.

When we engage in the marketplace, whether as producers or consumers, there is something transcendent Read the rest of this entry »

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