Archive for January, 2013

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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Year in Review: Top 10 Posts of 2012

Listed below are our most-read posts of 2012 in descending order. Thank you all for your readership and support over the past year. I am blessed to have such a marvelous audience.

Happy New Year!

10. The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, and Spurious Claims to Deity

HealthcareMy fear is that the bait of materialistic security is looking mighty tasty to a country that has thus far stood apart on divine deference. The hook of debased humanistic reasoning is beginning to catch, and if we don’t swim away soon, it won’t be long till our gums are being yanked ever closer to the feet of some pathetic idol to comfort and quick-fixery. Once we’re there, we’ll continue to squiggle and squirm, gasping for air as we continue to search for meaning, hope, peace, and justice in a shallow political promise with insides as earthy as dirt and a scepter that stings.

9. Christian Values Are the Problem: Sacred Truth vs. Cultural Moralism

ValuesFocusing on sacred truths — or, in [Al] Mohler’s case, salvation through Christ — is the best approach not just for retaining belief in God, but for achieving a moral and virtuous society filled with individuals of strong character…The rise of “values”-speak not only indicates a rise in spiritual vacancy, but also (and thus) an erosion of the very moral foundations the various “values” crowds seek to emulate or amend. As Mohler concludes: “We should not pray for Christian morality to disappear or for Christian values to evaporate. But a culture marked even by Christian values is in desperate need of evangelism, and that evangelism requires the knowledge that Christian values and the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the same thing.”

8. The Moral Case for a Free Economy: An Interview with Father Robert Sirico

Robert SiricoIn order to rectify the problems caused by economic man, we must remember that economics is not man’s final purpose in life. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we do the Will of God. For those who realize that life on this earth is very short and that there is a life after this one, economics is not “the meaning of life.” It is a tool to be used for our material betterment, so that all people can live lives befitting our human dignity and so that humans may express their creativity as those who bear the imago Dei…Economic freedom is the most effective and moral way I know of to increase wealth, so that more and more people may live in relative abundance and be free to focus on what is really important in life: realizing our relationship to our God and Creator.

7. You Didn’t Build That: The Logical Ends of Collectivist Idolatry

Wright Brothers, ObamaAlthough the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go…

…When we contort the vocabulary of generosity, we should expect contorted sacrifice. When we promote a disordered view of individual obligations and responsibilities, we should expect disordered relationships. When we push our definitions of the “good” ever closer to those of the State, we should expect the good to dilute accordingly. And when we pretend that government is Supreme Creator, we should expect it to say things like, “You didn’t build that.”

6. When Our Journey Is God’s Journey: Paul Ryan, Individualism, and the American Dream

The American Dream as [Paul] Ryan defines it—the ability to follow our own path and our own journey—can only be justified to the extent to which our lives are consecrated to Christ and dedicated to pursuing his will…For Christians, then, the American Dream is not so much about the pursuit of self as it is about being free to pursue the one who owns that self. What Paul Ryan is promoting, then, becomes much more than individualism over collectivism, happiness over misery, and good decision-making over bad. A properly ordered, free society is really about the Love of God over the Love of Man, and that’s a dream I can get behind.

5. Honey, You Didn’t Build That: How to Destroy Individualism in Your Children (and Society)

Honey, You Didn't Build That Any successful entrepreneur knows precisely what social, cultural, and economic networks have led to his triumph, and he’ll be the first to thank his investors, suppliers, and customers. Heck, he might even thank government if it actually did what it’s supposed to do. Successful entrepreneurs also know a little something about sacrifice and hard work, and they know it without the President of the United States rubbing a bloated government agenda down their throats under the guise of “giving something back.”

4. A Lack of Self-Denial: In Sex, Economics, and Everything Else

Cake topper, two menI have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.

Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.” And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.

3. Is “Christian Libertarian” an Oxymoron?

Some people think individuals and/or governments should let people destroy themselves, period, and that the Christian obligation here will only and always play out through some kind of utopian voluntaryism. This view plays out in plenty of complex and disguised ways, but on the whole, I’ve found self-described Christian libertarians who are open to such obligations and some who, fundamentally, are not. Those who are not—who are outright opposed to any obligations or submission—seem to be alive and well, yet I also think the other kind exists, though I’m not sure how “libertarian” they actually are. With the latter, there can certainly be a more successful synthesis.

2. Chick-fil-A Supporters Are Not the One’s “Shoving It in People’s Faces”

Crowded Chick-fil-AIf coming out and eating a sandwich in solidarity is seen as an act of undue aggression and an uncharitable response to our eroding society’s persistent attempts to damage and disregard promoters of the truth, we’re going to be in pretty deep doo-doo when the real, substantive arguments and actions come to the table. If eating fast food is seen as crossing the line in public discourse, petty though such an act may be in the grander scheme of things, how will people react when we’re pressed to put down the fatty, breaded chicken and proclaim with boldness, “what you’re promoting is evil”?

1. For Unto Whom Much is Given, Less Shall Be Required

Obama, churchThe irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies…When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for Uncle Sam.

For Obama to use Jesus’ call effectively, then, he needs to rephrase it a bit: “For unto whom much is given, less shall be required.”