Fun story. Check out the video.
The following is from a lecture given by economic educator Paul Heyne at Montana State University in 1982. (Chapter3, “Income and Ethics in the Market System,” in “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion by Paul Heyne.) It offers a fascinating metaphor for the free-market economy.
Heyne goes on to point out that some rules are somewhat arbitrary (driving on the right) but necessary for clarity and stability … so people can react and cooperate with the actions of others. Then he writes:
No metaphor is perfect. Pushed too far they will fall apart. Yet one of the things I thought about when reading this is that the traffic system works great … as long as you have a car. What about those who are without cars? It is true that capitalism is a rising tide that lifts all boats … but only those who have boats get lifted. What if you don’t have the resources (human, financial, or otherwise) to participate? That doesn’t mean you fault the system because some aren’t in it, but if we are talking about justice for all, a simple expansion of capitalism and free-markets won’t help everyone.
New York Times: Communists Lose in Moldova Vote
Tax Foundation: Tax Burden of Top 1% Now Exceeds That of Bottom 95%
It is common to hear people talk about the divide between the rich and the poor. In fact the divide has been between the top 1% and everyone else. Adjusting for inflation, changes in household size, and non-cash compensation, all quintiles of the population have seen significant growth in their income over the last thirty years. But the top 1% has risen much faster. It is unclear exactly why but the most convincing argument I've seen is that technological innovation disproportionately benefits those whose wealth is invested in the markets. It is unclear to me that the income of the top 1% rose enough to justify this graph but it has to be factored in.
This post does correctly point out that the Bush tax cuts made the system more progressive not less so. See my post from last year Taxing Questions.
Presbyterian News Service: Grace in the streets
Christian Science Monitor: What should have happened in Gates confrontation?
A few years ago my sister was doing seminars using a book called Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion. It is written by a former English professor and black belt Karate master who became a police officer. He writes how he had to learn about gaining compliance with his authority without resorting to physical force. In Karate, you meet force with force. In Judo, you use the opponents momentum to get them where you want them to go ... thus the metaphor. It isn't just about police but parenting or being in any position of authority. I've been thinking about this book every since this story broke. How interesting to see it explicitly referenced.
Middle East Online: Obama Faces Carter Parallels
Christian Science Monitor: India's new antipoverty measure: national ID card
What to make of Genesis 1? I’ve never considered the chapter to be a straightforward historical account of creation. To the degree that the passage is about historical events, it had to be an accommodation to a pre-scientific culture … as evidenced by passages like verses 6-8. But maybe the passage … taking into the cultural accommodation … still concords with what we know about the scientific record. The general sequence of events is remarkably similar to the order in which scientist understand the world to have developed. This concordist view has been persistently championed by Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe. I’ve read several of his books and find much of his analysis intriguing, but several aspects of his theories are just too big of a stretch. Then, of course, it is entirely possible that the passage doesn’t have correspondence with historical events. It is a literary device to communicate some basic theological truths about origins but little more (i.e., Framework Hypothesis). This is probably the most commonly held view by many within my Mainline PCUSA world. This has always seemed a real possibility to me but I haven’t been able to shake the sense that there was something more going on with this passage than the crafting of great literature. In short, I’ve never been able to find a key that satisfactorily makes sense of the Genesis 1 … until now.
I’ve just finished reading John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and an expert in ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture (a topic I’ve been trying to better acquaint myself with in recent years.) Walton points out that there was no distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” in the ANE. The cosmos was run by the gods and not natural laws. This is significant for ontology … the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being. Walton proposes that post-Enlightenment folks like us are heavily disposed to think in terms of “material ontology” while the ancients thought in terms of “functional ontology.”
Walton asks to consider a chair. We examine its physical properties to ascertain whether or not it is indeed a chair. This is material ontology. But what do we mean when we say a corporation exists?
The corporation is understood to “exist” only when at exhibits its function. This is functional ontology.
Walton turns to the phrase tohu wabohu in 1:2 (“fromless and empty” in NRSV). The central point here is not that the earth was barren. The issue is that it served no function. Days one through three describe the establishment of functions and days four through six describe the installment of functionaries. The functions relate to the three basic needs of humanity: Time, weather, and food.
Of course the climax of day six is the creation of humanity … God’s supreme functionary with the most important function. Humanity is to exercise dominion over all that God has created. Walton challenges the notion that the repeated phrase “it was good” had to with an assessment of aesthetic beauty. Rather the text is referring the fact that these things served their function, namely to serve humanity, who in turn serves God. But there is more.
Walton notes that in the ANE creation stories the climactic end was when the gods built their temples and “rested.” Rest was not in the sense of becoming idle and taking a siesta. Rather rest meant ceasing extraordinary labor and settling into the natural peaceful ongoing rhythms of life. So here is Walton’s revelation. Creation is God’s temple:
On the seventh day God “rests” from his work and resides within his temple … the earth … with his co-regent human functionaries exercising dominion over all that God has made. The Genesis 1 story is not an account of the how various material items came into existence but rather an account of the inauguration of God’s temple. Walton calls his understating the cosmic temple inauguration view.
The interpretive problem for us is that we are deeply immersed in the post-Enlightenment fixation on material origins. It is not that the ancients would be incapable of thinking about material origins but they would undoubtedly have been perplexed with the question. What useful purpose would such knowledge serve? The issue is what function things serve and who established their functions?
In light of this, both young earth creationism and concordists theories are way off the mark because both presume the text is talking about material ontology. The Framework Hypothesis may get a little closer to the mark but even here there is an assumption that the text is poetically dealing with material origins. The richness of understanding is severely restricted.
Peter Inns sums up our problem well in a recent post at his blog:
Walton has given us a careful reassessment looking at the text through ancient Near Eastern eyes. I’ve given you a only cursory overview. The book is laid out in a series of eighteen propositions which build his cosmic temple inauguration view. The book is written for non-specialist and is fairly short. I read it in afternoon. It is without a doubt the most helpful book I’ve read on the topic.
Scot McKnight is starting a discussion of the book in a series of posts beginning this week (I believe) at his Jesus Creed blog. I highly recommend you get a copy and join the conversation.
Last March we had the spring board meeting of the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (The Kronicler is vice-chair of this body. During plenary, there are forty members, about fifteen corresponding members, and a few dozen staff, press, and other observers ... easily more than 100 people in the room.) Twitter entered the mix for the first time at this meeting.
There were at least five board members twittering during plenary including yours truly (though I mostly read tweets without sending much) and our esteemed moderator (Twitter extraordinaire) Bruce Reyes-Chow. There were a few staff people in the mix as well as others who weren't at the meeting. Tweets appeared every few minutes ... not every few seconds.
At one point, I chaired a portion of the meeting that went into closed session. At the beginning of that time I reminded folks that what was being discussed was confidential and reminded them that they should not cellphone, text, email, tweet, or carriet pigeon the contents of this meeting to others outside the meeting. Whether everyone agreed that that they needed to cease communications or tweeting altogether, I do think most appreciated the need to be confidnetial.
I know some members of the GAMC object to the idea Twittering at all during a GAMC meeting. The feeling is that people, board members in particular, should be giving their undivided attention to the proceedings. Yet others percieve this as an opportunity for outsiders to the meeting to participate with the event ... it both informs and includes others in the work of the church. I've heard other reasons pro and con.
So here is my question to you: Should people, espeically board members, twitter during the meetnig of a deliberative body? Why or why not?
Kansas City Star: Intern program helps revive historic square
I just finished reading Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard. The last chapter is called Pastors as Teachers to the Nations. He builds the case that the Great Commission is first to Judea and then others are sent elsewhere … but the first “mission field” is our own homes and communities. Pastors are to be the ones that help us develop of knowledge of Christ in the fullest sense of “knowledge.” In doing so, they become the teachers to the nations.
Below are some excerpts from the last four pages of the book. Regular readers of the Kruse Kroncile will quickly understand why I highlight them.
The next to last paragraph in the book …
The sad reality is that while people in the “helping professions” (ex. nurses, teachers, social workers) are sometimes lifted up in church, the vast majority of business people (like managers, business owners, accountants, sales workers, etc.) report never having heard a sermon that speaks of the work they do as service to Christ. Those who that report that they have heard sermons affirm their work report that the affirmation is usually backhanded … as in the idea that God has placed them there so they can work against greed or exploitation of workers. Or maybe their work is useful because it provides resources to fund the church’s programming and facilities.
Most business people know that to some degree they are additives, not detractors, to societal well-being. They transform matter, energy, and data from less useful states to more useful states. They generate income for others. They organize human systems where people cooperate and compete to produce goods for endless win-win transactions in the marketplace. Many sense that their work has intrinsic value … that it is somehow deeply expressive of who they are at their core. Unfortunately, based on what they hear at church, God does not agree.
Aid Watch (William Easterly): Didn't we try that in 1938? Why technical poverty fixes fall short
The Reality-Based Community: Nightmare on Ware Street
Enns' book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament is a great read. The following quote is from his blog:
I recently went back and read N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God. Wright maintains that the Christian “story” responds to four questions.
Later Wright shows how the answers to these questions evolved over the course of biblical history.
But here is question I have for you: What story are we living into today? Based on what you see in North American culture, what are the implicit answers we presume for these questions? (If you are from outside North America do you see another story?) You don’t need to give a full-blown answer for each question but do you have thoughts about any of them?
Victor Claar's Economics Blog: The End of .99 Pricing
Once we get 99-cent pricing figured out, I'd also love to know how Amazon comes up with prices for their books. Is there any psychological angle or is it purely economic considerations?
Whatever the case, I hope round number model takes hold.
Doesn’t my wealth make someone else poor? Aren’t we exhausting the earth’s resources? Isn’t capitalism based on greed? Hasn’t Christianity always opposed Capitalism? The answer to all of these questions is “no.”
For centuries people believed diseases were carried by odors and were certain that the earth was a flat area surrounded by water. The surface evidence is quite compelling. While we would consider most adults who hold such beliefs today a bit daft, one can hardly blame our ancestors.
Yet when it comes to economic issues, a multitude of intellectuals and theologians embrace the equivalent of “flat earth” economics … all the while dismissing those who contradict “self-evident” realities as nefarious characters with sinister agendas. (It doesn’t help that intellectuals like Ayn Rand and her groupies successfully sold the myth that capitalism is grounded in selfish ambition … supposedly building on Adam Smith’s legacy (a gross misreading of Smith.) ) Answering “no” to the questions above is a bit like being a modern day Copernicus or Galileo. So short of earning a degree in economics, how might we escape “flat earth” economics and get a grip on the counter-intuitive realties that we have uncovered over the years?
Jay Richards has just published, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. This book is an excellent corrective to “flat earth” economic thinking. His clear and engaging writing (and sense of humor) make his work accessible to everyone.
The book opens with Richards sharing from his life story. He tells his early embrace of leftist radical ideals in pursuit of the Kingdom of God and how he came to his present views on capitalism. (A biography with which I have some things in common.) He masterfully explains some of the issues I’ve visited here repeatedly at the Kruse Kronicle (see my Economic Fallacies Christians Believe. In fact, it was hearing him speak once that inspired me to develop my series.) His review of the church’s history regarding usury was particularly interesting to me … both in terms of economics and in biblical hermeneutics. Great quotes are highlighted throughout the book, like the one by the founder of OPEC who said, “The Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil.” (191) (He was highlighting the danger of projecting present realities into the future without regard for the impact of continuous human innovation.) Over the course of the book he identifies eight economic myths.
I’m sure some readers will immediately be put off by Richard’s blatant endorsement of capitalism. The term is frequently used as a descriptor of the entire U.S. socio-political-economic milieu. This colloquial use is not in mind here but rather its basic meaning within economics as, “… an economic system with rule of law and private property, in which people can freely exchange goods and services.” (163)
In fact, Richards takes to task the notion that consumerism is necessary for capitalism. I thought one of his more insightful observations was to see that consumerism is less connected with the biblical sin of greed and more with the sin of gluttony. This goes back to a long held conclusion of mine that we have no theology for living in affluence. Throughout biblical history and throughout much of church history our theology was done in eras of considerable scarcity among the masses. But today we have societies where the masses live in great affluence. Like people who have lived on the edge of survival for years and suddenly find themselves blessed with an endless cornucopia, we don’t have traditions and life patterns that control our appetites from unhealthy indulgence.
Friend’s occasionally ask me for recommendations of books that address economic issues from a Christian perspective. I have a handful of favorites but few so cogently address the particular question of capitalism as well as this book does. In the future, when others ask me what I think about capitalism, with few reservations I can hand them this book and say, “Here. Read this.”
NASA is replaying the entire Apollo 11 mission from launch to splash down, exactly 40 years after it happened. The first step on the moon was at 10:39 pm EDT, so I suspect if you tune in at that time you can relive the event. Go to Listen to Apollo Radiocast
When I was a kid, my dad worked for a corporation that did work for NASA. I ended up with 8 X 10 glossies of the original seven astronauts. One of my earliest memories of a big national or international event was when Apollo 8 circled the moon on Christmas Eve 1968. I was at my grandparents house in Bethany, OK.
I think it was about that time that I got my model Saturn rocket kit. It was four feet tall when assembled. During the Apollo 13 mishap in April, 1970, when I was in the 5th grade, I took my model to school so my class could see what the various parts looked like.
I remember watching the moon landing and the first step on the moon. It made a big impression on me. How about you? Were you alive then? What are your memories?
Yahoo! News: Economic indicators up more than expected in June
Columbus Dispatch: Wal-Mart backing of reform draws ire
I love this stuff.
The Economist: What went wrong with economics
Yahoo! News: NASA lost moon footage, but Hollywood restores it
Newsweek: The Recession Is… Over?
Carpe Diem: China Will Lead Global Economy Out of Recession
New York Times: Lead Us to Tweet, and Forgive the Trespasser
(Missed this article from two weeks ago.)
The Kronicler has cleared out of Kansas City and winged his way to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. I'm here for the General Assembly Mission Council executive committee retreat. We are spending part of our time at the Santa Fe location and the other part at Abiquiu. I may have some posts later but I suspect my blog interaction will be spotty at best. So everyone just talk amonst yourselves if you don't hear from me right away.
Marketing Charts: Facebook Powers Past MySpace in June
Alban Institute: Social Media Strategies: Blogging, Facebook, and Twitter (Webinar)
According to a tweet I saw earlier today you can get $10 off by using the promotional code "soc409."
The Economist: Battle of the bulge
... and no, the profile pic is not a self portrait.
If people would read blogs less and exercise more we wouldn't have this problem. ... Oh wait ... did I say that out loud?
Marketing Charts: Half of Communicators Think Twitter is a ‘Fad’
Below is a picture of my purring machine (Isaac) and, yes, he has a soliciting purr he uses at 4:00 am.
USA Today: For many, a simpler life is better
Fortune: Board games are back
We have come to the end of our discussion of John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World. I’ve read this book three times now. Here are some reasons why this book has been so important to me.
Shalom – Almost 25 years ago, while in grad school, I took a Kyregma class at my Presbyterian church on the topic of shalom. Getting a grip on the centrality of this Hebrew concept to the warp and woof of the entire Bible has been formational to my thinking ever since. Many emerging Christians today are taken with the New/Fresh Perspective on Paul … which locates Paul’s teaching firmly in the context of Second Temple Judaism, revealing that Paul was dealing with far more comprehensive views of redemption beyond the narrow issues of personal salvation, or law versus grace. This study was a similar epiphany for me. Shalom was the central theme to the lengthy series I wrote three years ago on Theology and Economics (see here). Shalom is at the heart of Stackhouse’s ethical calculus. That is one of the primary reasons I identify so strongly with this book.
Final Destiny – There is a pervasive view that humanity’s destiny is an ethereal place called heaven. As Stackhouse emphasizes, a new earth …. one that is somehow both continuous and radically discontinuous with this earth … will be our new home. Furthermore, what we do in our daily activities also somehow impacts future realities. The material world matters and will somehow be redeemed.
“Already, Not Yet” – While the biblical narrative has redemption and restoration of shalom as its theme, and teaches that the Kingdom of God which gives witness to God’s shalom was inaugurated with Jesus Christ, it is also true that the narrative makes clear that there will be some crisis moment in the future when the new creation is consummated. That creates what I believe is the central paradox of Christian mission: We are to be seeking shalom in all we do in a context where full authentic shalom is unattainable. Lean too hard toward an unqualified pursuit of shalom and you end up with destructive idealistic movements. Lean too hard toward the limitations and you end up with rationalization of the status quo and accommodation … or possibly separation from dominant culture altogether. Accommodation is not an option yet both idealistic transformationalism and cultural separatism both strike me as attempts to escape the tension.
Four Commandments – I particularly appreciated Stackhouse’s framing of the “four commandments.” Creation Commandments: 1) cultural mandate, 2) love God and love neighbor. Redemption Commandments: 3) love one another as I have loved you, 4) the Great Commission. This framing is helpful in processing exactly how God has sent us into the world … both in an ontological sense and in the more temporary sense of the mission of redemption.
Tetralectic – If are to obey the four commandments as we pursue shalom in an “already, not yet” context, all the time avoiding diversion into either side of the paradox, how are we to find guidance in our lives? I really appreciate Stackhouse’s tetralectic of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all interacting with the guidance of the Spirit as we share in community. There is no formula. There is risk. I suspect attempts to escape this tetralectic approach are usually attempts to find rest in a false certainty (ex. fundamentalist doctrine, pure reason, etc.,)
Realism versus Idealism –When a young man and women fall in love they enter into a type of insanity … they see only the best in each other (real or imagined) and live in a fantasy of achieving eternal bliss. Sociologists and psychologists suggest this temporary altered-state of reality may be necessary to create the initial bonding that will hold them together once “the drug” wears off. The operative word here is “temporary.” At some point, the real world returns and the couple must address these realities if they are to have sustainable relationship.
Much of what I see in the church world, whether it is Evangelical revival services for “saving souls,” Religious Right political action, Mainline Church prophetic witness, or emerging church activism, strikes me as all too similar to the state of young lovers in love. We fall in love with being in love. We are ever looking for the next big romantic fix … the next moving worship service, the next great mission trip, the next great social justice activity. Idealistic visions and causes are endlessly lifted up but the instruction that equips us to live beyond the honeymoon stage is absent.
Stackhouse’s book is a like tall cool drink of realistic water in the middle the scorched earth of frenetic idealism. There is no doubt in my mind that some will characterize Stackhouse’s work as cultural accommodation because he does not rise to their idealistic standards. (Having views very similar to his, I get the same myself.) It is much like trying to tell a young couple in love of the challenges they face ahead only to be dismissed because you do not know the strong love the lovers have for each other. But for those like me who long ago got over the honeymoon … who weary of the endless call of others for us to recapture that bliss … and want some serious reflection on following Christ in the real world, I have rarely encountered a book that does so in such a thorough and accessible way.
Well … there you have it. It took 34 posts but the series is over. I’m certain I’ve butchered aspects of this book but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite with enough of the specifics that you will pick up a copy and tell others about it. For those from the Hauerwas/Yoder perspective, I’d particularly encourage you to read a copy as I think he respectfully offers a counterpoint. Even if you don’t agree with Stackhouse he has important insights to bring to the conversation. (It would be interesting to have a book discussion reading this book and Yoder’s “Politics of Jesus” side by side.)
Thanks to those who have followed along and thanks for the great conversation along the way.