I love this short video!
"In Scripture, when God’s people approach Him with their dreams and desires, He sometimes answers with an unexpected question: 'What do you have in your hands?'"
I love this short video!
"In Scripture, when God’s people approach Him with their dreams and desires, He sometimes answers with an unexpected question: 'What do you have in your hands?'"
We live in an increasingly polarized society. How do we reverse this trend? My reflection on this topic keeps taking me back to the basic question raised in the sociology of knowledge: How do we know what we think we know? During college in the late 1970s, I read Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman’s classic The Social Construction of Reality. Their description of how we construct and reinforce reality with social interaction is one of the most important books I have ever read. It gave me a lifelong interest in the field.
If studying this field has taught me anything, coherence of ideas is not enough. I value coherence but we must be test ideas in the real world. And yet, the way I go about testing ideas will be influenced by the socially constructed reality in which I live. There is no complete escape from our psychosocial context, but we can stretch our understanding.
For these reasons, I relish the opportunity to discuss topics with people of differing perspectives. Unfortunately, many of the topics that most interest me are bristling with political implications. Civil conversation is difficult. Observations that challenge conventional understanding typically provoke derisive banter instead of substantive dialog. Dispassionate presentation of factual information with measured commentary does the same thing. No matter what I try, it is hard to keep dialog dispassionately focused on the substance. Why?
I think economist Timothy Taylor has some great insight. In his post Political Polarization and Confirmation Bias he writes:
Part of the reason American voters have become more polarized in recent decades is that both sides feel better-informed.
The share of Democrats who had “unfavorable” attitudes about the Republican Party rose from 57 percent in 1994 to 79 percent in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center survey in June called “Political Polarization in the American Public.”
Similarly, the percentage of Republicans who had unfavorable feelings about the Democratic Party climbed from 68 percent to 82 percent.
When you “feel” better informed, you tend to be more confident about your views and more dismissive of your opponent’s views. But are we truly better informed?
A common response to this increasing polarization is to call for providing more unbiased facts. But in a phenomenon that psychologists and economists call “confirmation bias,” people tend to interpret additional information as additional support for their pre-existing ideas.
One classic study of confirmation bias was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1979 by three Stanford psychologists, Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross and Mark R. Lepper. In that experiment, 151 college undergraduates were surveyed about their beliefs on capital punishment. Everyone was then exposed to two studies, one favoring and one opposing the death penalty. They were also provided details of how these studies were done, along with critiques and rebuttals for each study.
The result of receiving balanced pro-and-con information was not greater intellectual humility — that is, a deeper perception that your own preferred position might have some weaknesses and the other side might have some strengths. Instead, the result was a greater polarization of beliefs. Student subjects on both sides — who had received the same packet of balanced information! — all tended to believe that the information confirmed their previous position.
A number of studies have documented the reality of confirmation bias since then. In an especially clever 2013 study, Dan M. Kahan (Yale University), Ellen Peters (Ohio State), Erica Cantrell Dawson (Cornell) and Paul Slovic (Oregon) showed that people’s ability to interpret numbers declines when a political context is added.
In this second study, the exact same numbers were used to make the case for the efficacy of a skin cream and for the efficacy of gun control. In the former case, the respondents accurately interpreted the numbers but in the latter case they could not, claiming the numbers supported pre-existing understanding when clearly they did not.
Now stop!!! What are you thinking about this very second? If you are like most of me, you are likely thinking about personal experiences where you witnessed this in others. If you are a liberal, you are likely thinking of those Fox News watching Neanderthals denying climate change. Or if you are conservative, those bleeding-heart mush-heads who think the government can provide quality healthcare. If so, then you are missing the point! The issue is how you and I engage in confirmation bias? We all do it. Yet by definition, it is hard to detect because it happens at a subconscious level.
… But what about you? One obvious test is how much your beliefs change depending on the party of a president.
For example, have your opinions on the economic dangers of large budget deficits varied, coincidentally, with whether the deficits in question occurred under President Bush (or Reagan) or under President Obama?
Is your level of outrage about presidents who push the edge of their constitutional powers aimed mostly at presidents of “the other” party? What about your level of discontent over government surveillance of phones and e-mails? Do your feelings about military actions in the Middle East vary by the party of the commander in chief?
He lists other examples. Then this:
Of course, for all of these issues and many others, there are important distinctions that can be drawn between similar policies at different times and places. But if your personal political compass somehow always rotates to point to how your pre-existing beliefs are already correct, then you might want to remember how confirmation bias tends to shade everyone’s thinking.
When it comes to political beliefs, most people live in a cocoon of semi-manufactured outrage and self-congratulatory confirmation bias. The Pew surveys offer evidence on the political segregation in neighborhoods, places of worship, sources of news — and even in who we marry.
I would add two more observations. First, we do not hold our political views in a vacuum. We tend to associate with people similar to us and to build community on shared values. Our views become part of an integrated web of factors that give us identity, a sense of community, and give coherence to the world around us. The more deeply embedded we are in a community the more deeply reinforced is the validity of our positions. Because of this, changing our position on an issue is rarely just an intellectual exercise.
A change in a position can pose a significant existential threat with substantial consequences to our relationships and sense of well-being. Keep in mind that Americans today say they are less likely to marry someone of a differing political party than they are of a different religion. What would it mean to change your political views in such a marriage? Furthermore, it is one thing to learn that I have been using the wrong skin cream. It is another to find out that as a the compassionate, justice-embracing, person I believe myself to be, that the fair-trade coffee I have been enthusiastically promoting is little more than a marketing ploy or that an abstinence program I have championed has no impact on teen pregnancy. What does that do to my personal identity? Change of views has deeply personal and emotional consequences.
Second, I came across this article as I was preparing this post, Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors of Political Ideology. The authors write:
Accumulating evidence suggests that cognition and emotion are deeply intertwined, and a view of segregating cognition and emotion is becoming obsolete. People tend to think that their political views are purely cognitive (i.e., rational). However, our results further support the notion that emotional processes are tightly coupled to complex and high-dimensional human belief systems, and such emotional processes might play a much larger role than we currently believe, possibly outside our awareness of its influence.
This is critical. When I initiate discussions about economics or demography, I very often get an emotional response. Why? Why do I respond like this? Sometimes it is because I do not have the time or the expertise to grasp what was said. I turn to heuristics as a shortcut, making intuitive assessments about what someone said based on experience in other contexts.
At an almost unconscious level, I reason from experience that someone who talks about topic X and uses certain phrases or reasoning patterns, also holds a collection of other viewpoints. I then surmise what a person is really getting at. I put that assessment through an emotional filter based on how I feel about this type of person. If my feelings are positive, then I congratulate her on a well-reasoned argument. If my feelings are negative, then I congratulate myself for being sensible and I go to work postulating how she became so silly or malicious. In either case, actual reasoning about the subject matter is minimal. The truth is that emotion figures into all our assessments and it is probably best to be a little more humble about our own reasoning abilities and less hard on emotional responses from others.
Taylor closes his piece with this:
Being opposed to political polarization doesn’t mean backing off from your beliefs. But it does mean holding those beliefs with a dose of humility. If you can’t acknowledge that there is a sensible challenge to a large number (or most?) of your political views, even though you ultimately do not agree with that challenge, you are ill-informed.
So Taylor has offered some thoughts about polarization and confirmation bias. I have added a couple of additional wrinkles. I appreciate Taylor’s call to focus first on the log in my own eye. I need to be more self-aware of my own proclivities and I could often have more humility. What else? How can we reduce polarization and confirmation bias? What do you think?
The Atlantic just ran an article called Have You Heard? Gossip Is Actually Good and Useful. The teaser was, "Talking behind other people's backs may not always be nice, but sometimes it can help promote cooperation and self-improvement." It is a very interesting read. You could discuss it from a number of different angles. This paragraph really caught my attention:
As the study explains, “by hearing about the misadventures of others, we may not have to endure costs to ourselves,” by making the same mistake. And because negative stories tend to stick better in the mind than positive stories, it makes sense that gossip about people who violated norms would be more instructive than gossip about people who are really great at norms. (What’s more, one study found that sharing a negative opinion of a person with someone is better for bonding with them than sharing a positive opinion.)
It strikes me that a considerable portion of political discourse plays a similar role. A small group of people are having a conversation when someone offhandedly makes a disparaging remark about a politician, a political party, or a public policy. Joe says, "Did you see the news today that this is the 17th straight year where global temps have not increased? So much for global warming." (Or "Did you see the news about the ice caps becoming 10% smaller over the last year? How does anyone deny global warming?") Though it may appear on the surface that the remark is inviting discussion, most often it is not. It is being deployed as means of reinforcing social cohesion. And woe to you if you are not discerning enough to know the difference.
The "appropriate" response is to affirm what has been said with your own comments. As members of the group hear each other express affirming remarks, group solidarity is built. And as the article suggests, affirming negative opinions seems more potent. Knowing that we all have a common view on this one topic builds a basis for cohesion as we move on to more interaction. It isn't just a philosophical excercise to challenge the remark, it is a threat to group solidarity.
That leaves a dissenter in a difficult place, espeically if he has been public at all with a differing view. If you join in with the affirming chorus, then you may soon be outed as a hypocrite. If you challenge the remark, then you will be seen as a troublemaker. If you say nothing, then your views may later be discovered and you will be percieved as being decietful. It is a bit of a minefield.
Another layer to this is that sometimes the person inititating the remark knows that a member(s) of the group has differing views. By making the disparaging remark, she signals others to rally to her flag with affirming remarks, putting the dissenter in an awkward or defensive posture. It is an attempt to dominate and enforce solidarity.
The idea that talking about others behind their backs and sharing a common disapproval of others generates social cohesion poses some challenging questions for discipleship. I once read that not every movement needs a god but every movement needs a Satan. I doubt it is possible to fully escape this dynamic. I have no easy answers. But I suspect if our aim is to love our neighbor as ourself, then maybe the first place to begin is by deeply listening to our casual conversations, conciously evaluating what we intend to accomplish with the views we express in any given context.
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Learning to Fail Fast
"... Petrie advocates what he calls “vertical development” or the advancement in a person’s capacity to think in “more complex, systemic, strategic, and interdependent ways (in contrast to horizontal development that adds knowledge, skills, and competencies). New leaders must think differently before they can act differently.
Often the qualities we see in church leaders are precisely those most associated with a low level of vertical development (dependent/conformer) — team player, faithful follower, reliant on authority, seeks direction, and aligns with others. A smaller number function at the next level (independent/achiever) — independent thinker, self-directed, drives an agenda, takes a stand for what they believe, and guided by an internal compass. But today’s need is for the more highly developed independent/collaborator leader characterized as interdependent thinker; sees systems, patterns, and connections; longer-term thinking; holds multi-frame perspectives; and holds contradictions.
The new leader must be far more adaptable to changing circumstances. Collaboration is essential in order to span boundaries and develop networks. Leaders will need to be much more comfortable with ambiguity in order to be always looking for clues and patterns in the changing landscape. Just as important, this new way of leading must move beyond leaders to affect the entire organizational culture of the church. Congregations need to expect incomplete solutions, much trial and error, and a great deal of learning about themselves and their contexts. ..."
Amen. Reading this post brought to mind an article I read about Microsoft's evolving process of software development. It used to be that Microsoft developed an operating system, released it, and then tried to stabilize it over the next three years. In the meantime, the next system was being designed, but you were mostly stuck with a given format for three years. It was much like building a house and moving in until you moved again in three years, and for that reason each house had to be delivered pretty much as a fully functional operational house when you moved in. Now operating systems have ongoing updates. There are still occasional major revisions but there is also constant evolution and correction. The church has got think more that way as well. The article is somewhat lengthy but an interesting read: How Microsoft dragged its development practices into the 21st century
I have a deep suspicion, at times cynicism, about short-term mission trips. Some of you already know this about me. I say this with reservation because I know so many people who say a short-term mission trip was so transformative for them (though I do remember reading a study awhile back that said these trips have lasting impact on precious few people.) So while I can freely admit that these trips have positive merits there are two things that deeply disturb me. One is concern for the dignity and welfare of the poor who are supposedly being "helped" and the other is the all to frequent experiential consumerism I fear I hear in those who take these trips.
Rafia Zakaria has an excellent op ed piece in Aljeezra America, The white tourist’s burden. "Growing Western demand for altruistic vacations is feeding the white-savior industrial complex." She writes:
... If designer clothes and fancy cars signal material status, his story of a deliberate embrace of poverty and its discomforts signals superiority of character. As summer looms, many Americans — college students, retirees and others who stand at the cusp of life changes — will make similar choices in search of transformational experiences. An industry exists to make these easier to make: the voluntourism business.
A voluntourist is someone like Jack, who wishes to combine exotic vacation travel with volunteer work. For anyone interested in being one, a dizzying array of choices awaits, from building schools in Uganda or houses in Haiti to hugging orphans in Bali. In all of them, the operational equation is the same: wealthy Westerners can do a little good, experience something that their affluent lives do not offer, and, as in Jack’s case, have a story to tell that places them in the ranks of the kindhearted and worldly wise.
As admirably altruistic as it sounds, the problem with voluntourism is its singular focus on the volunteer’s quest for experience, as opposed to the recipient community’s actual needs....
It troubles me that the central aim is often not on discerning how to partner with others in order to authentically improve well-being. Rather the aim is for the volunteer to have a particular type of "experience" that is meaningful to him or her. That is not to say authentic partnership can't be meaningful but it is to say that true partnership is frequently frustrating, messy, and at times disappointing. Partnership is also long-term. The traveler is often actually a consumer, purchasing an experience for his or her own therapeutic purposes.
It troubles me further that for volunteers on these trips, the experience becomes a type of conspicuous consumption. Just like sporting my new iPhone shows off my techie style, talking about my noble experience working with the poor becomes a way of sporting my superior moral character and street smarts. And what really troubles me most is that I can identify these traits in my own life at times and I am deeply aware of how seductive this stuff is.
But the problem doesn't end here. As Zakaria shows, too often these trips are actually disruptive and destructive of the long-term welfare of the people being "helped." They can destroy jobs, break-up families, and foster dependence. This type of work needs to be carefully scrutinized but far too often good intentions are thought to be enough. Due diligence and serious introspection is needed.
Zakaria rightly concludes:
Despite its flaws, the educational aspect of voluntourism’s cross-cultural exchange must be saved, made better instead of being rejected completely. Natalie Jesionka, a columnist at the Daily Muse, offers future voluntourists some direction on making a real impact on their trips. ...
Two book length resources I would suggest are Corbett and Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, and Bob Lupton's, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It.
Barna Group: Three Trends on Faith, Work and Calling
I'm two months slow in posting this article but it is important.
... Barna Group's new research shows that three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) say they are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Whether such meaning is found in family, career, church, side projects or elsewhere, these are all questions of vocation—that is, the way in which people feel "called" to certain types of work and life choices. And in 2014, these questions remain as strong as ever for millions of Americans
Among Christians, there is an additional question: "What does God want me to do with my life?" According to Barna Group's study, only 40% of practicing Christians say they have a clear sense of God's calling on their lives. Christian Millennials are especially sensitive to this divine prompting—nearly half (48%) say they believe God is calling them to different work, yet they haven't yet made such a change.
Sermons are commonly preached on evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual disciplines—but what about vocation? It turns out that most churchgoers are craving more direction and discipleship when it comes to the theology of calling, especially as it relates to work. Barna research shows nearly two-thirds of churched adults say it has been at least three years or more since they heard church teachings on work and career, and yet, the workplace is where most Americans spend a the biggest share of their waking hours. ...
The implied message: Your work is irrelevant and without connection to you discipleship. Meaningful work is the purview of church institutions and only the work associated with "ministry" (evangelism, charity, and justice activities) is of value.
I preached at Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church, in Kansas City, MO, on March 16, 2014. The sermon begins by wondering if it is appropriate to ordain people to the hardware business. The sermon text is Genesis 12:1-4 and the real issue is ministry of work in everyday life. I think this is the first time I have ever preached on this topic. See what you think.
This is a from Bob Lupton, FCS Urban Ministries, in the Urban Perspectives newsletter. He is always thought provoking. This issue was especially good! (Note: Urban Perspectives allows copying these articles if attritbtion is given.)
Wealth. A sign of God’s favor. At least that’s how it was viewed in Old Testament times. Wealth was equated with prominence, influence, leadership, and yes, even righteousness. Consider Job and Abraham. Oh yes, there were evil and corrupt rich men to be sure. The prophets took them on. But generally riches were seen as evidence of God’s blessing. That’s why the disciples were so puzzled by Jesus’ pronouncement that it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. “Well who can get in, if not the wealthy?!” they questioned. It was clear that they viewed wealth like most other devout Jews – as a sign of God’s favor. Their Teacher was casting an entirely new (and dubious) light on the nature of riches.
Money, power, prestige – these would no longer be the measures of prominence in this Kingdom Jesus was introducing. Meekness, humility, compassion – these would become the defining attributes of greatness. Rich people could certainly join, He said, but this new order of things would be difficult for them – difficult to divest their personal assets rather than contine to accumulate more, difficult to subordinate their privileged status to those of lesser social standing, difficult to place their security in God rather than in their wealth. It would not be impossible, He said, just difficult. Matthew the tax collector was case in point, and of course the very wealthy Zacchaeus. Luke the physician was another. But by and large the wealthy were relegated to lower standing in the pecking order of the Kingdom. It was all upside down – the first being last and the last first. Big change from Old Testament to New.
And so the value of being wealthy was turned on its ear. The well-off became suspect. It was a rich man who treated poor Lazarus poorly and was condemned to eternal damnation. A rich young ruler too tied to his wealth to become a follower. A proud rich man in the Temple whose offering was unacceptable. A successful farmer who took early retirement who was declared “a fool.” Deceitful Ananias and Sapphira, tragic examples of rich folk who held out on God. Wealth became associated with self-indulgence, with mercilessness, with arrogance, with fraudulence. As a matter of fact, one is hard pressed to find a single reference in the New Testament affirming wealth as God’s blessing. Warnings, yes, but no recognition of its essential role in Shalom.
But just behind the scenes, unmentioned but clearly present, were wealthy supporters of this Kingdom. Zacchaeus was still one of the richest men in Jericho even after he made restitution and gave half his money to the poor. And what about Matthew’s tax business and Luke’s medical practice? And the women of means who supported the Messiah campaign? And members of the early church that sold property to underwrite the church budget? Oh yes, wealth was there alright. It’s just that generosity and self-sacrifice and living by faith were the themes that got the sermon coverage.
But then, how could it be any different? Everybody in the early church was readying for the eminent return of the Messiah. Everyone was on a short-term schedule. Don’t even get married, the apostle Paul urged. Put all your energy into preparedness for the second coming. But Christ didn’t return as expected. (Not yet.) And so in time everybody began settling into a new normal of church and community life, some thriving, others surviving. The themes of generosity, self-sacrifice and living by faith imbedded themselves in the culture of the church. Wealth remained suspect. The apostle James made quite sure that the rich were not shown deference.
And so the issue churns. Those who create wealth continue to receive the warnings while those modest souls who live off the benefits of the economy that wealth-producers create receive the affirmation. John Coors, a very wealthy and very devout Christian, calls it an “industry of making the rich feel guilty.” Billionaire Robert Kern, who loves the church but endures the judgment, has allocated a large portion of his estate to educating ministers in the fundamentals of how the economy works.
“Give it all away,” Jesus said. Even your second coat. Don’t concern yourself about tomorrow. Budgeting? Trust a miracle. Hmm. Does the One who holds the economies of the world in his hand not realize that thoughtful planning and responsible investing are essential for stable societies? Was it not He who gave the promise of prosperity to Israel if they would keep His commands? Was He not the One who warned Joseph in a dream about seven years of famine that would befall Egypt, and positioned him to plan ahead during seven years of plenty? How then are we to understand this radical “take-no-thought-for-tomorrow” departure from divinely guided resource management?
He came to fulfill the law, not do away with it, He said. Don’t abandon the God-given teachings and principles of the past – take them to a deeper level. The blessing of wealth is meant for the Shalom of the entire community, not to be hoarded for personal sumptuousness. Managed well, it provides a stable lifestyle for a workforce and their families, stimulates ancillary enterprises, contributes to the prosperity of the whole village or region. No, He did not come to destroy Shalom but to inspire it. Admittedly, He did use some highly provocative words and actions to shake up a religious culture that was misusing wealth to amass personal power, privilege and possessions. Scattering stacks of money-changers’ cash all over the Temple portico floor was a bit extreme perhaps. But sometimes dramatic intervention is required when greed and self-indulgence become acceptable norms within the Temple community. And He certainly did that!
But perhaps the time has come to bring theological balance back to our understanding of wealth. 2000 years of cautions for those who have the gift of wealth creation may be an adequate length of time to make the point that mammon is seductive, that one’s heart must be carefully guarded against its enticements. At a time when the entire world is awakening to the reality that healthy economic systems are fundamental to the elimination of extreme poverty, perhaps this is a moment for resourced members of the Western church – who have unparalleled capacity to create profitable businesses – to step forward. Perhaps this is the time when the church begins to see itself as more than a purveyor of compassionate service, but as a catalyst of just and fruitful economies. Might this be a turning point when the wealthiest church in history awakens to the reality that their job creators are the very ones gifted by God to bring economic wholeness to struggling souls too long resigned to unending poverty?
A Facebook friend linked this article this week, The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying. I get the gist of what he is saying but I also have reservations. He is a businessperson and tells of how a friend asked how his business was going. He answered with his usual response:
"Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy."
But on further reflection he has concluded that it is wrong for him to say that. Two reasons:
... First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can't help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M's to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it's for our own good. But positive reinforcement?
God is not a behavioral psychologist.
Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar "blessing" per day. ...
He goes on to talk about the beatitudes and talks about how it is the poor and the marginalized who are described as blessed. He concludes noting:
My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us.
And for this blessing, may our response always be,
Since I had this conversation, my new response is simply, "I'm grateful." Would love to hear your thoughts.
There is a lot of truth in this. I find myself strongly identifying with his observations ... and yet ...
What about passages like Deut 8:17-19:
“17 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” NRSV
I have been in small groups with countless businesspeople and entrepreneurs. What I hear from so many of them is a deep gratefulness for the opportunity to express what they understand as a God-given gift for creativity. They feel gratefulness because they can benefit their customers, their workers, their families, and, yes, themselves. When I hear them talk about being blessed, I don’t hear them saying, “I did all the right stuff, now see how God rewarded me.” Most are intensely aware of their shortcomings, they make endless mistakes, and yet they are still here in their businesses. They sense God’s presence with them in their work but I don’t get the sense that they think that those whose businesses fail do so because of a lack of God’s presence. They know people who have done everything seemingly right and don’t make it. They feel blessed in the sense that in God’s grand scheme of things, they are where they are.
What I worry about is the compartmentalization of our faith and the business world. If the businessperson claims all credit for achieving success in creating a sustainable profitable business, then we chastise her for attributing success to herself alone. But if she talks about being blessed in her work (i.e., God had a hand in her success), then that also is taboo because she is saying God withheld blessing from someone else who didn’t do well. In short, if you are in business, then you are only entitled to have vague feelings of gratefulness but not to see God as present in your daily life.
I’m not saying that the way "blessing" is used is without abuse. Someone in the comments section of the article talked about "blessed to be a blessing" as a corrective and I think that has merit. But I worry that the thinking in this article just drives a deeper wedge between faith and daily life. Maybe I read too much between the lines but it seems to me that the thinking here is evidence of a deep ambivalence so much of the church has about business and the people who make their living there.
Scientific American: A Happy Life May not be a Meaningful Life
Tasks that seem mundane, or even difficult, can bring a sense of meaning over time.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” For most people, feeling happy and finding life meaningful are both important and related goals. But do happiness and meaning always go together? It seems unlikely, given that many of the things that we regularly choose to do – from running marathons to raising children – are unlikely to increase our day-to-day happiness. Recent research suggests that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways. ...
... Interestingly, their findings suggest that money, contrary to popular sayings, can indeed buy happiness. Having enough money to buy what one needs in life, as well as what one desires, were also positively correlated with greater levels of happiness. However, having enough money seemed to make little difference in life’s sense of meaning. This same disconnect was recently found in a multi-national study conducted by Shigehiro Oishi and Ed Diener, who show that people from wealthy countries tend to be happier, however, they don’t see their lives as more meaningful. In fact, Oishi and Diener found that people from poorer countries tend to see their lives as more meaningful. ...
... Participants in the study who were more likely to agree with the statement, “I am a giver,” reported less happiness than people who were more likely to agree with, “I am a taker.” However, the “givers” reported higher levels of meaning in their lives compared to the “takers.” In addition, spending more time with friends was related to greater happiness but not more meaning. ...
... It is clear that a highly meaningful life may not always include a great deal of day-to-day happiness. And, the study suggests, our American obsession with happiness may be intimately related to a feeling of emptiness, or a life that lacks meaning.
Fascinating article. It made me think of two guys talking about a friend who had bought a $1,000 tie. The first guy says, "Buying that tie won't be him happiness." The second guy says, "Sure it will ... for about 24 hours."
It strikes me that happiness is more fleeting and driven by immediate circumstances while meaning has greater resilience, not easily influenced by the immediate circumstances of any given moment. I also expect, as hinted at the end of the article, that what many of us are genuinely persuing is meaning but mistaking happiness for meaning. I wonder if there is a role for the church in all of this? ;-)
Christianity Today: Why Am I Not Poor? Dale Hanson Bourke
For many years I sat in a pew on Sundays, listening to occasional sermons about the poor, giving to special offerings and looking appropriately sympathetic and concerned about poverty. But I did not truly—in evangelical speak—have a heart for the poor.
For much of the rest of the week I was consumed with not being poor. I was working to build my business, increase profits, and move up the wealth ladder. I reasoned that the more money I made, the more I could help my church and other worthy organizations. While I heard Christian concern expressed about poverty, the stronger message was that I was rewarded for accumulating wealth. The farther I moved away from poverty, the more I was asked to join church committees and nonprofit boards. The poor may be "blessed," but the wealthy are popular, especially in Christian circles.
As a woman business owner, I was sometimes asked to speak about my experience. I usually gave a nod to good timing, luck, and being blessed. But I mostly talked about hard work, determination, and focus. My upbeat message was aimed at helping others realize that they, too, could succeed. In retrospect, the subtext was a not so subtle "God helps those who help themselves" theme.
My worldview began to change when I joined the World Vision board and traveled to the developing world. There I met men and women who were remarkably hard working, determined, and focused. I spent time with women who cared for their families and also worked at other jobs from before sun up until dark. I encountered people who were intelligent, entrepreneurial, and absolutely ingenious at overcoming obstacles. And despite all of these attributes, they were still numbingly poor.
For the first time in my life, I actually knew desperately poor people. The more I listened to their stories the more it became obvious to me that if there was a difference between us it was that they worked even harder than I ever had. I remember standing next to a woman in a Haitian slum, watching her cook with one hand, care for her baby with the other, and occasionally use her cooking spoon to defend her one room shack from the dogs and young men who threatened to take the little food she had. With stunning clarity, I realized that I could never survive in such circumstances, let alone succeed. ...
... Much of what I had taken for granted in my life took on new meaning when I compared myself to some of the people I had met and noted our differences. My list included:
Huffington Post: Why the Church Needs Business
... Beyond the mess that has been the Vatican bank, the Catholic Church can learn a lot from business. This may seem counterintuitive, but the same church that has (rightly) spoken out so forcefully on the excesses and the limitations of capitalism desperately needs some capitalistic skills.
How is it that so many seem to have so little expertise in what so many people take for granted? Not long after the financial crisis in 2008, one priest confidently told me, "Capitalism is dead." I asked him if he could still go to the corner and buy a hotdog. Yes, he said. "That's capitalism," I said. "It's not dead." A few days later another priest with a Ph.D. asked me, as he read about the financial crisis, "What's a bond?"
Whence the lack of business knowledge among otherwise smart and talented (and highly educated) men and women? There are two simple reasons:
First, many cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers now in their 60s and 70s (that is, those running things in the church) often entered their seminaries or religious orders right out of college, even high school. Thus, many (not all, but many) did not have the important experience of having to earn a paycheck, balance a checkbook, manage employees, read a balance sheet, invest in the stock market, and so on.
The second reason is more basic. Once in the seminary or religious order, business education was not a part of their training. This is an immense lacuna in the training or priests and men and women in religious orders. ...
In How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about), John Knapp reports that one of the biggest obstacles the church has with influencing businesspeople to think more ethically and theologically about their own lives is the business practices of the church. A congregation's or denomination's sloppiness with finances, belief that fundamentally realities about business and economics can just magically be suspended, and, too often, defensiveness (if not hostility) toward sound business practices, causes businesspeople to tune out what the church has to say about material matters. The church holds no credibility. It is good to see that Pope Francis is recognizing the need for the gifted businesspeople to aid in the mission of the church.
We're living at a far more equal, peaceful, and prosperous time than the pontiff acknowledges....
Pope Francis is Times’ Person of the Year, an excellent pick in my estimation. He strikes me as man with incredible integrity. I’m enjoying watching him live into this new calling.
Of particular interest to me has been response to his Evangelii Gaudium, with the left gleeful about his condemnation of capitalism and the right going apoplectic about the same. In our age of bumper sticker sound bites, I don’t think either side is listening with appropriate nuance. I haven’t read and digested the whole document but I have read the sections that deal with economic issues. I don’t see a radical departure with what previous Pope’s have written.
Twenty years ago Pope John Paul II wrote the following in Centesimus Annus:
Can it perhaps be said that after the failure of communism capitalism is the victorious social system and the capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path of true economic and civil progress?
The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, 42)
I don’t find Pope Francis saying a great deal different although his emphasis may be a little different. We need to remember that John Paul II ministered under the tyranny of Soviet Communism while Francis did so under the tyranny of right-wing dictatorship. These differences are surely a factor.
The part that does trouble me some, as it does with an overwhelming number of religious figures who speak to economic issues, is a distorted picture of what is happening in the world. It isn’t what is said. It’s what’s missing. For the past century or two we have been living through the most astonishing surge in human flourishing in history. That reality needs to be brought into discussion every bit as much as the challenges and the injustices.
David Ropeik in How Risky Is It Really: Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts shows that we are innately inclined to fixate on threats and negative developments. People who do so aren’t stupid or ideological … they are human. All of us do it. The inclination to focus on threats is instinctive and has served human beings well over millennia. But in the face of very complex issues we need to bring our concerns into perspective with more objective analysis. Otherwise we run the risk of doing more harm than good. We need to approach problems with warm hearts and cool heads.
I have some minor quibbles with Tupy in the article but it brings important balance. I’ve documented some similar factors in past series like American Social Indicators and World Social Indicators, two series I intend to update next year. I think the challenge is to hear the Pope’s important calls for inclusion of the poor and his warning against our propensity to justify indifference. Not heeding the Pope's warnings is also to misunderstand the world. But we need to heed the warnings with an informed understanding of what is unfolding in the world. Read the Atalantic article and see what you think.
A momentary aside from the budget negotiations.
Remember after the Gabby Giffords shooting three years ago? Some people seized on violent metaphors by conservatives as an impetus for the shooting (like Sarah Palin putting crosshairs over the faces of candidates she opposed at her website). Other recent incidents have been framed in similar ways. President Obama made a speech about the need to avoid violent rhetoric in public discourse.
I’ve noted before that use of violent metaphors is a bipartisan behavior. That usually gets pushback from my left-leaning friends, saying that conservatives are far worse about this than liberals. I maintain it is worse with whichever camp is most aggrieved at the moment. On that note, I invite you to listen during our present troubles to the rhetoric of liberals, Democrats, and the President, as they talk about the Republicans as “terrorists,” “hostage takers,” and “suicide bombers,” with bombs strapped to their chest, ready to “blow up the government.”
ALL of us have a tendency, when hearing violent metaphors, to overly ascribe malevolence to people with whom we disagree and to discount it when uttered by those with whom we agree. When it is used toward people with whom we agree, we tend to take it personally. When it is used toward people with whom we disagree, we are less critical. The metaphors give voice to our anger and frustration. For that reason, if we are unable to achieve some emotional distance from the fray, as so many of us seem unable to do, we genuinely perceive that other tribes are meaner.
Personally, while I agree violent metaphors can become excessive, I don’t generally find them troubling. Jesus used them. “I will make you fishers of men.” Ever thought about this from the fish's standpoint? The Kingdom of God is where people get violently snatched from their lives, killed, and then consumed by their captors? Or how about Paul writing to the Galatians that he wished the Judaizers had cut the whole thing off during circumcision? Ouch! Violent metaphors are a part of everyday speech that, when used sparingly and appropriately, give voice to our emotional state. (However, they aren’t so effective in persuasion.) So while I agree that we see many public figures going over the top with this stuff, let us also admit that there is also a lot of posturing to show just how evil and insane the other tribe is with their violent rhetoric while ignoring our own.
You may now return to your news coverage of the budget negotiations. As for me, I’m focusing on the road to the World Series and cheering for the Cardinals to totally annihilate each of their adversaries … but in a Christ-like manner.
Rachel Young has a thoughtful article at the The Presbyterian Outlook's Outpost blog titled, Consumers, missionaries, or worshipers? She writes:
... We use the language of buying and selling, of efficiency, of getting the best product for the best price, even as we think about our relationships, our work, our leisure, our church. We are consumers.
I don't have space in this post to offer evidence for these big claims. Check out Hugh Halter and Matt Smay's book And: The Gathered and Scattered Church for
an evaluation of how this metaphor seeps into churches. The consumer
metaphor invites us to seek church experiences that fit our interests
and time. We go to church to get our spiritual needs met. If I were to
modify the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter
Catechism (see below for the actual answer), the consumer might say, "Man's chief end is to connect with God by listening to a great message and hearing great music." ...
So maybe, as some suggest, a better metaphor is missionary. She writes:
... So, we might modify the Westminster Shorter Catechism to say, "Man's chief end is to partner with God to redeem and restore our hurting world."
The missionary metaphor compels me. But, what I find lacking in both of these metaphors is the primacy of worship. Is the gathering of a church only functional? To give people a feel good experience or to shape them as missionaries? Or, are the people of God called first to worship God and then be sent? The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism actually reads, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
I hear her concerns and I know they are widely shared. I hear similar concerns expressed across the church. But I think pitting these various metahpors against each other, or prioritizing one over the other, IS the problem. I commented in response:
I like how Stan Ott talks about church as three-dimensional: doxological, koinonial, and missional. Or more simply: worship, community, and mission. The three are inseparable. I think classifying desire for a meaningful worship experience as consumerist is overly harsh. It is pursuit of that experience above all else that is destructive. I would also say that pursuit of worship as prior, or over and above the other two, is problematic.
Genuine worship draws us into community and inspires us to mission. Genuine community is worshipful and it is in community that we discern and do mission. Mission is a worshipful response to God and deepens us in community as we do it together. All three aspects must be held together.
There is an ongoing debate in the church about a (false) dichotomy of community (and personal nourishment) versus mission. I sense some want to lift "worship" up as the "third way" out of this conflict. Instead, I suggest that the answer is to boldly embrace all three.
American evangelicalism is what it is because of its gospel. Dallas Willard calls its gospel the “gospel of sin management.” American liberal Protestantism is what it is because of its gospel. Dallas Willard also calls its gospel the gospel of sin management. (Some of you will know I call this gospel the “soterian” gospel in The King Jesus Gospel.) Its emphases — right and left — is forgiveness of sin, eternal life in heaven, assurance in the here and now, and either an act (decision) or acts (good deeds) are the precipitating element that gains a person access to salvation. ...
... They have an “empty allegiance” to Jesus. You’re in whether are a transformed into Christlikeness or not. ...
... On the Right, the gospel is “vampire faith” (they want Jesus for his blood), it is shaped by atonement theology and obsessed with atonement theology, and it is about “relief from the intrapsychic terrors of fundamentalist versions of hell” (149).
On the Left, the gospel is about “good acts” and activism and “self-determined acts of righteousness” (149). So the Right is about proper beliefs and the Left about proper behaviors. The gospel is about conformity to Christ in a God-bathed kingdom reality. ...
My comment in response:
I think part of the solution is recovery of the significance of everyday life and work. The primary locus of ministry for most of us is our home, our workplace, and our neighborhood. It is with and for those who are in our circle of influence. And when I say "ministry" here, I don't mean using these contexts as staging opportunities for evangelism (though evangelism will occur) or as opportunities right injustices (though righting injustices will occur). I mean seeing our participation in these aspects of life, the living and work that is done there, as integral with serving God.
I think it needs to be noted that the soterian gospel of the right and left places the locus of "ministry" in the pastors and ecclesiastic institutions, elevating the centrality and importance of those connected with these institutions. Conscious or not, there is considerable psychic investment to keep things the way the are because of the affirmation and status it brings. The rest of church becomes amateur helpers to the evangelism/justice professionals, which is okay by many of them because they can go do their good deeds as prescribed by the professionals while living most of the rest of their lives as practical atheists. All in all, an effective codependency.
... So much for everyday life—how about the business world? That’s where Adam Grant’s Give and Take comes in. Many people implicitly think that niceness is a virtue for the rest of life, but when it comes to playing business hardball, only the selfish survive. The message of Grant’s book is that this isn’t true, and he gives us both scientific evidence and entertaining profiles for understanding why. Grant divides people into three behavioral categories: givers, matchers, and takers. As their names imply, givers are sweeties who unstintingly share their time and talent, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of it. Matchers calibrate their giving to their taking and takers take whatever they can get. Who does best playing business hardball? It turns out that the givers do best and worst. When they succumb to the depredations of takers, they become doormats and chumps. But when they manage to work with other givers, they produce spectacular wealth and share the collective benefits. In other words, the costs and benefits of prosociality in the business world are no different than for the rest of life. ...
... In a video interview with one of us (David S. Wilson), Grant said that Wharton students are constantly coming into his office expressing a desire to give, which they assume must be suppressed in their business lives until they make a fortune. Only then can they express their desire to give by becoming philanthropists. If that’s the way that business school students think, then the message of Grant’s book is indeed revolutionary. We need to exchange lenses to see that giving can succeed as a business strategy from day one, as long as givers can keep their distance from takers. Businesses flourish when they create social environments that allow niceness to generate value, thereby winning the Darwinian contest.
Business Insider: Rising Wealth May Have Made Americans Less Generous
... Using Google's Ngram tool, Patricia Greenfield sifted through more than 1 million books published in the U.S. over the last two centuries to see which kinds of words went in and out of favor. The time period shows a shift in American society from a more rural way of life to a boom in urban populations, which tend to be wealthier and better educated.
Over time, she found words that implied individualism increased in use, while words denoting community and generosity decreased. For example, 'get' has increased in use, while the more generous 'give' took a nose dive over the years. Additionally, "words that would show an individualistic orientation became more frequent," Greenfield told NPR. "Examples of those words were 'individual,' 'self,' 'unique.'" ...
On a related topic, John Teevan has a good post, 10 Perils of Prosperity.
So Why is Sustained Prosperity a Peril? Nearly everyone on earth prefers a life free from poverty and from the need to focus on survival. Call it liberty or call it comfort, everyone prefers this life. Now nearly 2b people enjoy that level of living thanks to the growth of economic freedom. But there are problems.
Reclaiming the Mission: Create a New ‘Order’ of Clergy: A Recommendation to Denominations - David Fitch
... I suggest there is a need for a new order of clergy (if I may call it that): a missional leader who can understand the relationship between work and ministry so that it is seamless. He or she dedicates 10-15 hours a week to organizing the Kingdom community in their local context. He or she knows her gifting and can lead out of that gifting. He or she has a job that he/she can support her/himself and her family with. He/she can develop a job skill that can adapt to changing circumstances. Often, he or she adjust their work hours so that she can work a tad less than the average 40 hour week. He or she can then give time to the leadership of their community without disrupting a daily/weekly rhythm of being present with family and neighborhood as well. The small church community can offer a small stipend to make up the difference. He or she does all this with 3 to 4 other leaders who do the same. Each is recognized for one of the five-fold giftings out of which they minister and lead in relation to the other leaders. They are apostle, prophet, pastor-organizer, teacher-organizer, evangelist working together, 15 hours plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours plus 15 hours. They are doing more out of multiple giftings than one single pastor ever could. They are bearing each other’s burdens. They are a “band of brothers and sisters.” This becomes a sustainable missionary kind of ministry that changes the whole dynamics of ministry because they are present in jobs, families and neighborhoods and makes possible long term ministry in context. It is, in essence, a new version of the old monastic orders of mission adapted to the capitalistic societies in the West while providing the means to resist (and provide witness) to its more oppressive sinful patterns.
Denominations need to define a new order of clergy because anyone seeking to operate in ministry this way will easily get defeated. Some of the more obvious ways they will get defeated are: ...
... For all these reasons we need to fund a new imagination for a new emerging clergy class that are in essence self sustaining contextual N. American missionaries. But the denominations for the most part have not navigated this. My guess is, if the denominations formed a new order of clergy, helped developed imagination and supporting structures for it, there would be untold numbers flocking to this group. There are literally thousands of second career people, and thousands of younger seminary graduates dissatisfied with current options (dying small church senior pastor or mega church staff person) who would gravitate towards this kind of commissioning. But we have no larger imagination for it. A new order of clergy could help and support these kind of missionaries and stir up such an imagination. Such an order of clergy could seed a whole new mission for a renewal of the Kingdom in N America. ...
Business Insider: Scientific Advice On How To Spend Your Dollar To Buy The Most Happiness
... When we ask people to list all of their expenses in a given month, and then categorize them, it is always striking how much of their budget goes toward buying what we call—using the scientific term—stuff. Gadgets, music, books, lattes, and so on. As it turns out, buying stuff is not bad for our happiness—buying coffees and cars and even houses don’t make us unhappy—but stuff also doesn’t make us any happier. Buying experiences, in comparison, does seem to create more happiness for every dollar spent. Why? Consider the difference between buying a TV and buying a vacation. TV is great, sure, but the experience of watching TV pales in comparison to the experience of going to a special meal once a week with a partner or friend. A $4,000 high-end TV may seem like a great purchase, but taking that chunk of cash and devoting it to buying experiences (say, 40 wonderful meals that cost $100 each) creates much more happiness. And what’s more, we watch TV alone, but we eat dinner with others. The increase in social interaction—a key predictor of people’s happiness—means that experiences generally offer greater happiness bang for the buck than material goods. ...
...We often think about giving gifts to others as increasing the happiness of the recipient. Again, think of kids opening their gifts on Christmas morning… Our research, however, shows that gift giving offers benefits to an unexpected group: the givers themselves. In experiments we’ve conducted in countries ranging from the United States to South Africa, from Canada to Uganda, we consistently find that spending money on other people—whether buying gifts for friends or donating to charity—provides people with much more happiness than spending that money on themselves. ...
New York Times: The Gospel According to ‘Me’
The booming self-help industry, not to mention the cash cow of New Age spirituality, has one message: be authentic! Charming as American optimism may be, its 21st-century incarnation as the search for authenticity deserves pause. The power of this new version of the American dream can be felt through the stridency of its imperatives: Live fully! Realize yourself! Be connected! Achieve well-being!
Despite the frequent claim that we are living in a secular age
defined by the death of God, many citizens in rich Western democracies
have merely switched one notion of God for another — abandoning their
singular, omnipotent (Christian or Judaic or whatever) deity reigning
over all humankind and replacing it with a weak but all-pervasive idea
of spirituality tied to a personal ethic of authenticity and a liturgy
of inwardness. The latter does not make the exorbitant moral demands of
traditional religions, which impose bad conscience, guilt, sin, sexual
inhibition and the rest.
Unlike the conversions that transfigure the born-again’s experience of the world in a lightning strike, this one occurred in stages: a postwar existentialist philosophy of personal liberation and “becoming who you are” fed into a 1960s counterculture that mutated into the most selfish conformism, disguising acquisitiveness under a patina of personal growth, mindfulness and compassion. Traditional forms of morality that required extensive social cooperation in relation to a hard reality defined by scarcity have largely collapsed and been replaced with this New Age therapeutic culture of well-being that does not require obedience or even faith — and certainly not feelings of guilt. Guilt must be shed; alienation, both of body and mind, must be eliminated, most notably through yoga practice after a long day of mind-numbing work.
In the gospel of authenticity, well-being has become the primary goal of human life. Rather than being the by-product of some collective project, some upbuilding of the New Jerusalem, well-being is an end in itself. The stroke of genius in the ideology of authenticity is that it doesn’t really require a belief in anything, and certainly not a belief in anything that might transcend the serene and contented living of one’s authentic life and baseline well-being. In this, one can claim to be beyond dogma. ...
Business Insider: Why Some Companies Seem To Last Forever
... What explains this longevity? Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Charles O’Reilly calls it "organizational ambidexterity": the ability of a company to manage its current business while simultaneously preparing for changing conditions. "You often see successful organizations failing, and it's not obvious why they should fail," O’Reilly says. The reason, he says, is that a strategy that had been successful within the context of a particular time and place may suddenly be all wrong once the world changes.
Staying competitive, then, means changing what you're doing. But the change can't be an abrupt switch from old to new — from print to digital distribution, say, or from selling products to selling services — if that means abandoning a business that's still profitable. Hence the call for ambidexterity. You can't just choose between exploiting your current opportunities and exploring new ones; you have to do both. And the companies that last for decades are able to do so time and time again. ...
I think there is a message for congregations and denominations as well.
Dacher Keltner: We're starting to paint this really interesting picture of how wealth influences generosity. If you study at the societal level, who gives higher proportions of their income away to charity? Lower class people give more.
And what's really interesting is we're finding that lower class people just have a sharper sensitivity to need and to people who could use a little help. But when you simply prime, or you just get people from an upper class background, to think about the need in their environment, you see rises in generosity.
Paul Solman: Rises to the same extent that poorer people give away their money?
Dacher Keltner: Yeah. The very simple experiment that we've done is if we have upper class individuals going through an experience of compassion or see something that portrays suffering, you see rises in generosity to comparable levels of the poor. ...
... Dacher Keltner: Yeah, there's a lot of very deeply entrenched skepticism about altruism in western culture that goes back millennia, and one of the great advocates of this skepticism is Ayn Rand. I'll quote from her 1960 essay: "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." And she had this argument that thinking about the needs of others is an enemy of freedom, and strength and self-expression.
There are a lot of new data that show if you're generous, and charitable and altruistic, you'll live longer; you'll feel more fulfilled; you'll feel more expressive of who you are as a person; you probably will feel more control and freedom in your life. So the science calls that thesis into very deep question.
Paul Solman: And yet that's a thesis that has a lot of traction these days.
Dacher Keltner: It does, but, you know, I'm really encouraged by, you know, what's happening with the millennials and the interest that places like Facebook and Google are showing in terms of promoting charity and generosity and a consideration of other people's interests.
I'm lucky enough to be doing a bit of work on Facebook that's oriented towards making their site more compassionate, and they are actively interested in creating pieces of the social network that are for giving away things. So, it's going to be interesting to see if they deliver on that. ...
Last summer I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Thom Thomson, professor of finance at the University of Texas. Dr. Thomson was in Toronto a week ago preaching at his brother's church, Every Nation, Greater Toronto. The topic was "Business as Calling." This is a wonderful presentation! You can find the 30 sermon at Faith & the Marketplace Part 2: BUSINESS AS CALLING or by clicking below. For some reason my player indicates it will 78 minutes long but it is actually about 30 minutes. (Disclosure: At 11:40 into the sermon the author of the controversial Facebook post was me. I was intrigued that Dr. Thomson picked up on this post because I have privately used the responses to to the post as an example of the deep cynicism toward business held by so many theological professionals.):
Here is the sermon setup:
A leading personal finance magazine published its list of the 10 best fields of study based on the potential they had of offering a steady, well-paying career. Some of you may already be pursuing these studies or are in these business areas, such as Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Nursing, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Management Information Systems and Treatment Therapy Professions. As we read the New Testament in the Bible, we come across other popular professions: Jesus was a carpenter. Paul was a tentmaker. And Peter was a fisherman. All noble business pursuits providing a valuable service to the community and offering a means to make a good living. Our city – Toronto – is built on business. So how does faith enter the equation? Does it have a place? This week Dr. Thomas Thomson, a finance professor at the University of Texas, continues our series by giving us a fresh perspective on how faith can positively affect business and how business can be a worthy calling. Join us, and bring a friend, to Innis Town Hall at 10:30 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's working mothers are now the primary breadwinners in a record 40 percent of households with children - a milestone in the changing face of modern families, up from just 11 percent in 1960.
The findings by the Pew Research Center, released Wednesday, highlight the growing influence of "breadwinner moms" who keep their families afloat financially. While most are headed by single mothers, a growing number are families with married mothers who bring in more income than their husbands.
Demographers say the change is all but irreversible and is likely to bring added attention to child-care policies as well as government safety nets for vulnerable families. Still, the general public is not at all sure that having more working mothers is a good thing. ...
Christianity Today: You Can't Buy Your Way to Social Justice
I'm afraid of some American Christians.
I am an American, but I haven't lived in the United States in a while. I live in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, and when you pick me up at the Minneapolis airport, I might invite you to coffee and suggest the wrong place—you know, one that doesn't serve fair-trade coffee. I will arrive wearing the wrong jeans—ones sold by companies that don't offer fair wages. And I won't use the right vocabulary—the language used by Western bloggers to talk about social justice. ...
... If my generation cares so deeply about global issues of justice and poverty that they are willing to change eating, clothing, and living habits, where are they? A significant challenge for nonprofits and ministries remains recruiting people who will commit to serve long-term outside the United States.
I know there are a plethora of good reasons that concerned American Christians can't just uproot and leave the States, from family to health to finances. I know I simplify. But I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others.
They think they already are.
They think that with their pocketbooks and food choices alone, by sewing their own clothes and purchasing fair-trade coffee, by boycotting Wal-Mart and preaching that as gospel, they have already done their part to address global injustices. ...
... Consumer activism comes with the inherent danger of separating us from the very people we want to serve. To buy fair trade coffee, for example, we might need to drive across town instead of sitting in the corner café where people in our neighborhood mingle. We can buy that fair trade coffee and never know the family in Burundi who grew, harvested, washed, and roasted the beans. And still we can feel that have done our part. ...
... While remaining passionate and continuing to gently educate the ignorant (like me!) about how our purchases affect the world, we also need to ask whether current trends are becoming a convenient excuse not to delve into the complexities of social justice. We need to ask whether our consumer choices distort the words of Jesus, and whether they help us enter relationships or separate us from others.
As Matthew Lee Anderson notes in his recent CT cover story, Christians begin to fulfill the command to love our neighbor as ourselves "not when we do something radical, extreme, over the top, not when we're really spiritual or really committed or really faithful, but when in the daily ebb and flow of life, in our corporate jobs, in our middle-class neighborhoods, on our trips to Yellowstone and Disney World . . . we stop to help those whom we meet in everyday life, reaching out in quiet, practical, and loving ways." ...
There are some people who are deeply committed to social justice but go about it in ways that I think misunderstands the issues involved. I do not doubt their commitment or their sincerity. But there are also wide swathes for whom identifying with a social justice cause as a fashion statement, an identity signifier, communicating to the world how enlightened and moral they are. Digging into the economic intricacies of fair trade coffee to see how ineffectual it is (even damaging) for the poor, or realizing that Wal-Mart's ability to keep the staples of life inexpensive in our society is probably the single most important factor in keeping the cost of living for the poor manageable, or the reality that it is the poor who clamor for a Wal-Mart while their moralistic economic "superiors" block construction, does not sit well with the social justice crowd they seek solidarity with. And that is what too much of this is about -- solidarity with the social justice crowd, not with the poor. It is moralistic elitism from outside and above the poor, not action and contemplation in community with the poor.
... The app itself is the work of one Los Angeles-based 26-year-old freelance programmer, Ivan Pardo, who has devoted the last 16 months to Buycott. “It’s been completely bootstrapped up to this point,” he said. Martinez and another friend have pitched in to promote the app.
Pardo’s handiwork is available for download on iPhone or Android, making its debut in iTunes and Google GOOG +2.28% Play in early May. You can scan the barcode on any product and the free app will trace its ownership all the way to its top corporate parent company, including conglomerates like Koch Industries.
Once you’ve scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen. Scan a box of Splenda sweetener, for instance, and you’ll see its parent, McNeil Nutritionals, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson JNJ +0.56%.
Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. ...
“How can we create a congregation where work and discipleship are truly integrated?” This is a question I am hearing more often, even though much has been written about a theology of work in recent years.
Pastors and church leaders are looking for a programmatic strategy. I don’t think there is one. ...
This is a piece I wrote for the High Calling. They posted it yesterday. What do you think? What ideas do you have?
I recently received a copy of new book by Frank Viola titled God’s Favorite Place on Earth. The book uses a creative approach to reflecting on Jesus' visits to Bethany. Each of the six chapters begins with Viola role-playing Lazarus, narrating the various episodes from his viewpoint. Each chapter then presents the biblical text of the story, followed by Viola's reflections. There are discussion questions at the back for group study.
I confess that I am not typically fond of this genre where an author tries to offer a narrative through the mouth of a biblical character but this worked. I had never really thought about the place of Bethany in the larger scheme of things, at least not in the way Viola has done here. I found this to be an enjoyable read, prompting many moments of reflection. I encourage you to check it out if you are looking for a devotional or for a small group study.
To promote the book, Viola and the publisher will give you twenty-five bonus gifts if you buy by May 7. So jump on over to www.godsfavoriteplace.com and check it out.
Christianity Today: Why Tim Keller Wants You to Stay in That Job You Hate
There are few better places in the world where Tim Keller could write a book about career and calling. "New York City is a place where people live in order to work," says the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author most recently of Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton). "They basically live more in their work than in their neighborhoods. That . . . means that if you start talking about work, you get right at their hearts."
In a recent sit-down conversation with This Is Our City executive producer Andy Crouch, Keller explained why he wanted to write a more comprehensive book about faith and work, how he learned to answer congregants' questions about their work, and what Redeemer has done to equip laypeople to live into their vocations outside the church.
Andy: What's been missing from faith-and-work books that Every Good Endeavor was designed to address?
Tim: When I read faith-and-work books, they tended to pass by each other. I had the sense that they were drawing on different streams of thought, maybe different biblical or historical themes. I tend to be a complexifier. I like to hold the different biblical themes in tension. I got the sense that most books on faith and work tended to isolate a certain idea. This book is trying to bring the different streams together.
What streams of thoughts have been most missing when we talk about faith and work?
It depends on who you're talking about. It seems to me the evangelical tradition tends to talk a lot about how faith essentially spiritually helps you deal with the troubles and the stresses of work. You need help to face challenges.
Mainline churches tend to put more emphasis on social justice and basically did a critique of capitalism early on, so whenever the mainline churches or ecumenical movement did faith-and-work stuff, it was usually critiquing the market, not "how's your heart?"
The Lutheran stream emphasizes that all work is God's work. Worldview doesn't matter. You make a good pair of shoes, then you're doing God's work, because work is God's way of caring for creation.
The Calvinist stream was more like yes, it's not just you are caring for creation through work, but you are shaping it. and therefore your beliefs have an impact.
When you put those four streams together, I think they're very comprehensive. If you isolate them from each other, they can create idiosyncrasies at best and imbalances at worst. ...
Intercollegiate Review: How to Find Your Vocation in College - Gene Veith
... These are all struggles about your vocation. That word has become a synonym for “job,” so that colleges debate the extent to which higher education should be primarily vocational training or whether it should have higher goals, such as cultivating the intellect. But vocation is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” It is one of those theological words—like inspiration, revelation, mission, and vision—that has been taken over by the corporate world and drained of its meaning. The idea is that what you do for a living can be a calling. From God. That He has made you in a certain way and given you certain talents, opportunities, and inclinations. He then calls you to certain tasks, relationships, and experiences.
Your job is only a part of that, and sometimes not the most important part. We have vocations in the family (being a child, getting married, becoming a parent) and in the society (being a citizen, being a friend). There are also vocations in the church (pastor, layperson), but even if you don’t believe in religion, the vocations are operative. Not only that, according to Martin Luther, the great theologian of vocation, God works through vocation, including the work of people who do not believe in Him. God gives us our daily bread by means of farmers, millers, bakers, and the person who served you your last meal. God creates new life by means of mothers and fathers. He heals by means of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. He protects us by means of police officers, judges, and the military callings. He creates works of beauty and meaning by the talents He has given to artists.
The purpose of every vocation—in the workplace, the family, the church, the society—is to love and serve our neighbors. These are the “good works” that we are given to do. That may sound idealistic. Surely in our participation in the economy we are motivated by our enlightened self-interest. And yet it is surely true that if we are not helping someone by the goods or services we provide, we will not stay in business very long. Even our self-interests are taken up into God’s providential workings. In serving ourselves we also find ourselves serving others, whether or not that is our intention. Thus our work, our families, and our citizenship can be charged with moral and even spiritual significance. ...
... College students are often so fixated on what their future vocations may be that they forget that they have vocations right now.
Slinging burgers may be a dull and boring occupation with the sole purpose of earning tuition money. While it won’t be your vocation forever, it is still a calling, a sphere of service to one’s neighbors–customers, the boss, fellow workers—and a meaningful human enterprise.
College students also have a vocation as members of their family, with obligations to their parents, brothers, and sisters. They also have a vocation as citizens of the various communities they inhabit (their hometown, their college community, their state, their country). They also have vocations in their religious communities, if they have one.
Most notably, they have the vocation of being college students. This calling, like all the others, has its proper work—namely, to study, read, go to class, discuss ideas, and write papers. ...
Good stuff! In the popular vernacular we typically think of "vocation" as an "occupation." "Vocation," or "calling," is mission given to us by God. R. Paul Stevens talks about three vocations.
Human vocation - Doing all of those things we do that make our world run and contribute to human flourishing that God called us to do at creation.
Christian vocation - Caring on the work of Christ in the world.
Personal vocation - Our particular response to the first two vocations in our particular time and context.
Our occupation is an important application of our vocation but our occupation can change. It is only one among many possible applications. And vocation includes much more than our occupation.
Ampersand Photography: Thursday Q & A // Theology of Work
It’s Thursday! Time for another Q & A post!
A question someone posed to me a few weeks ago (I’m sorry, I forgot to write down who asked this…):
“I am a fellow photographer desiring to make a business and have been thinking through things such as: What is work according to God? What does it look like? What does rest look like? How have these two been redeemed by Christ? What are they going to look like for my life? … I would love to hear your mission statement: the reason you work and the way you should work. I would also love to hear any edifying words you have for someone starting a photography business.
This is such a great question, and a necessary thing for any person to think through, whether Christian or not— regardless of whether you are an artist, a businessman, a homemaker, or a student. I’m going to answer this in points, that could, perhaps, be an entire blog series, but I have so many other questions to answer that I’m just going to do this all in one shot. ...
What is work according to God? What does it look like? What does rest look like? How have these two been redeemed by Christ?
Answer: work is an expression of God’s character. It’s original purpose is the “advancement of human flourishing to the glory of God.” We were made to work, because we were made in th image of God, who is a Worker.
I attended The Gospel at Work Conference back in January. The opening session was entitled, “The Theology of Work,” and is to date, one of the best sermon’s I’ve ever heard. You can download the message here (and I highly recommend that you do so… like, NOW). A few basic points from that message: ...
Read the whole thing. You may not agree with her at every point but I love how she is wrestling with a practical theology of work in her in own context and being intentional about integrating her life.
Democracy: Of Freedom and Fairness - Jonathan Haidt
Someday I'm actually going to finish reading Haidt's book but in the meantime I found this article fascinating. I think it fits well as I try to listen to the narratives and values underlying confrontation over controversial issues.
... I conducted interviews to find out how people feel about harmless taboo violations—for example, a family that eats its pet dog after the dog was killed by a car, or a woman who cuts up her nation’s flag to make rags to clean her toilet. In all cases the actions are performed in private and nobody is harmed; yet the actions feel wrong to many people—they found them disgusting or disrespectful. In my interviews, only one group of research subjects—college students in the United States—fully embraced the principle of harmlessness and said that people have a right to do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. People in Brazil and India, in contrast, had a broader moral domain—they were willing to condemn even actions that they admitted were harmless. Disgust and disrespect were sufficient grounds for moral condemnation.
I had predicted those cross-national differences. What I hadn’t predicted was that differences across social classes within each nation would be larger than differences across nations. In other words, college students at the University of Pennsylvania were more similar to college students in Recife, Brazil, than they were to the working-class adults I interviewed in West Philadelphia, a few blocks from campus. There’s something about the process of becoming comparatively well-off and educated that seems to shrink the moral domain down to its bare minimum—I won’t hurt you, you don’t hurt me, and beyond that, to each her own. ...
... Drawing on the work of many anthropologists (particularly Richard Shweder at the University of Chicago) and many evolutionary biologists and psychologists, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that there are six best candidates for being the taste buds of the moral mind: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.
Moral foundations theory helped to explain the differing responses to those harmless taboo violations (the dog-eating and flag-shredding). Those stories always violated the Loyalty, Authority, or Sanctity foundations in ways that were harmless. My educated American subjects (who, in retrospect, I realize were mostly liberal) generally rejected those three foundations and had a moral “cuisine” built entirely on the first three foundations; so if an action doesn’t harm anyone (Care/Harm), cheat anyone (Fairness/Cheating), or violate anyone’s freedom (Liberty/Oppression), then you can’t condemn someone for doing it. But in more traditional societies, the moral domain is broader. Moral “cuisines” are typically based on all six foundations (though often with much less reliance on Liberty), and it is perfectly sensible to condemn people for homosexual behavior among consenting adults, or other behaviors that challenge traditions or question authority.
Everyone values the first three foundations, although liberals value the Care foundation more strongly. For example, they show the strongest agreement with assertions such as “Compassion for those who are suffering is the most crucial virtue.” But this difference on Care is small compared to the enormous difference on items such as these: “People should be loyal to their family members, even when they have done something wrong.” “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.” “People should not do things that are disgusting, even if no one is harmed.” Those three items come from the scales we use to measure the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, respectively. You can see how social conservatives, whose morality rests in large part on those foundations, don’t see eye to eye with liberals. Basically, liberals want to loosen things up, especially in ways that they believe will make more room for women, African Americans, gay people, and other oppressed groups to escape from traditional strictures, express themselves, and succeed. Conservatives want to tighten things up, especially in ways that they perceive will help parents to raise more respectful and self-controlled kids, and will assist the police and other authorities in maintaining order. You can see how those disagreements led to battle after battle on issues related to sexuality, drug use, religion, family life, and patriotism. You can see why liberals sometimes say that conservatives are racist, sexist, and otherwise intolerant. You can see why social conservatives sometimes say that liberals are libertine anarchists. ...
Business Insider: Why The Rich Don't Give To Charity
... One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
But why? Lower-income Americans are presumably no more intrinsically generous (or “prosocial,” as the sociologists say) than anyone else. However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support. Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Colorful statements aside, Piff’s research on the giving habits of different social classes—while not directly refuting the asshole theory—suggests that other, more complex factors are at work. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess? ...
... Wealth affects not only how much money is given but to whom it is given. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy prefer to support colleges and universities, arts organizations, and museums....
1. The Economist has an interesting graph showing the captialism has led to greater happiness in member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union countries excluding the three baltic countries.)
2. AEI has an informative piece on economic mobility in the United States: How’s the American Dream doing? Well, which one?
There are two ways to define economic mobility: 1) absolute mobility, whether each generation is financially better off than the one before; and 2) relative mobility, whether you can change your income rank vs. your parents. Most Americans probably think both measures important. We want to be more prosperous than mom and dad, but also be able to change our circumstances and make our dreams come true. ...
... A San Francisco Fed study – using data tracking families since 1968 — looks at both versions of the American Dream, finding one healthier than the other. Looking at absolute mobility, researchers Leila Bengali and Mary Daly find the United States “highly mobile.” Over the sample period, 67% of US adults had higher family incomes than their parents, including 83% of those in the lowest birth quintile, or bottom 20% (versus 54% for children born into the top quintile, or top 20%.) ...
3. Concerning gender income inequality, Mark Perry says ‘Studies’ that compare average wages by gender, without controlling for demographic factors, can’t be taken seriously
4. Clive Crook thinks an ownership society may be the answer to reducing wealth inequality: Liberals Should Embrace the Ownership Society
... It’s true that conservatives’ standard proposals for privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare would shift risk onto beneficiaries -- but this plainly isn’t a necessary consequence of the basic principle. I agree with Konczal that adequate insurance against economic risk, underwritten by the government, is essential. I also agree that most conservatives aren’t interested in providing that guarantee. That’s exactly why liberals ought to take up the ownership society themselves.
Ownership entails risk, it’s true, but insurance can minimize it. Ownership also provides control, independence and self-respect -- things it wouldn’t hurt liberals to be more interested in. And when it comes to inequality and stagnating middle incomes, ownership can give wage slaves a stake in the nation’s economic capital.
Done right, an equity component in government-backed saving for retirement could be the best idea liberals have had since the earned-income tax credit (oh, sorry, that started out as a conservative idea as well). ...
5. Scientific American: Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science
6.Scientific American also has interesting piece on how Brain Researchers Can Detect Who We Are Thinking About
FMRI scans of volunteers' media prefrontal cortexes revealed unique brain activity patterns associated with individual characters or personalities as subjects thought about them.
7. Gizmodo reports that Sex in Space Could Be Deadly.
Researchers already knew humans, animals and plants have evolved in response to Earth's gravity and they are able to sense it. What we are still discovering is how the processes occurring within the cells of the human and plant bodies are affected by the more intense gravity, or hypergravity, that would be found on a large planet, or the microgravity that resembles the conditions on a space craft.
According to estimations, engineers expect the the store to generate around 265,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Store operation will only require 200,000 kWh, so perhaps that extra wattage could be pumped back into the grid or used to power nearby utilities.
9. CNN reports on How online ruined dating ... forever
When people can browse potential dates online like items in a catalog, geo-locate hook-ups on an exercise bike just seven feet away, arrange a spontaneous group date with the app Grouper or arrange a bevy of blind dates in succession with Crazy Blind Date, it makes me wonder if all this newfound technological convenience has, in fact, made romance that much more elusive. Now, we may be more concerned with what someone isn't rather than what they are. And as that twenty-something entrepreneur reminded me over coffee, services like OkCupid, and even Facebook, sap a lot of the mystique out of those first few dates. So, sure, it may be easier than ever to score a date, but what kind of date will it really be?
10. Interesting piece on Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No Is Shorter?
11. Is the New Pope More Liberal Than the Last Two? Why It's Hard to Tell. Emily Chertoff offers some insightful analysis.
12. Michael Bird offer this quote from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew's "The Drama of Scripture" in his post The Importance of the Narrative of Scripture.
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits – theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore it’s divine author’s intention to shape our lives through its story. All humanity communities live out some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers! (p. 12).
13. Scot McKnight has a great piece on what constitutes legalism: Legalism: Old and New Perspectives
14. Thom S. Rainer on Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors
Read the whole thing.
15. Joseph Sunde rates the 5 TV Shows That Demonstrate the Importance of Ordinary Work
A thought provoking peace about how we think about charity. His characterization of Puritanism is way off but most of his substantive points are important to consider.
... The math of wealth is actually pretty simple: It all boils down to four things: 1. How much you start with, 2. How much income you make, 3. How much of your income you save, and 4. How good of a rate of return you get on your savings.
So one obvious thing we could do to make wealth more equal is - surprise! - redistribution. It turns out that income redistribution and wealth redistribution have much the same effect on the wealth of the poor and middle-class. Income redistribution is probably a bit better, for two reasons. First, people with higher incomes tend to save more, meaning they build wealth more rapidly. Second, people with higher incomes tend to have less risk aversion, meaning they are more willing to invest in assets like stocks (which get high average rates of return, although they are risky) rather than safe assets like savings accounts and CDs that get low rates of return.
In other words, giving the poor and middle-class more income will boost the amount they are able to save, the percentage they are willing to save, and the return they get on those savings. Part of the reason America's wealth distribution is so unequal in the first place is that our income distribution is very unequal.
But there are reasons to believe that redistribution can't fix all of the problem, or even most of it. If you do the math, you discover that in the long run, income levels and initial wealth (factors 1 and 2 from above) are not the main determinants of wealth. They are dwarfed by factors 3 and 4 -- savings rates and rates of return. The most potent way to get more wealth to the poor and middle-class is to get these people to save more of their income, and to invest in assets with higher average rates of return.
As I mentioned, income redistribution helps these things a bit, but it doesn't account for the whole difference. The rich probably save more than the poor for many more reasons besides the simple fact that they're rich. In fact, being willing to save more is probably a big part of how the rich got rich in the first place. "Cheap" is an insult, but being cheap is how you get rich. If you consume everything you earn, your consumption will be higher today, but lower twenty years down the road; in our consumption-focused society, a lot of people are caught in this trap. And government can and should help them get out. ...
I heard a lecture by economist Peter Rodriquez of the University of Virginia sometime back. He believes our saving problems of the past generation are partly tied to globalization. As emerging markets grew they had more money to invest than their local economies could profitably absorb. American markets were more stable and reliable so the trend was to invest in the American economy. That meant a flood of capital, keeping borrowing cost low, and rising real estate values as foreigners bought up land for investment, making borrowing to buy real estate seem inordinately attractive. Combine this with weak consumer protection against nefarious lending practices and a poorly overseen financial sector, and the circumstances were ripe for disaster.
The great majority of people who become wealthy without having been born into wealth do so through frugal living and dogged investing. Yes, some get hit with challenges that wipe them out and others get lucky breaks, but the bulk of wealth creation happens through discipline practiced over a lifetime. Somehow we have to recover these values.
Black, White, and Gray: Trends in the Religious Unaffiliated, the “Nones,” by Age - Brad Wright
A lot has been written recently about the rise of the "Nones," people expressing no religious affiliation. Sociologist Brad Wright offers a fascinating insight by looking at the percentage of people at various stages of life report affliation. Young adults are not suprisingly the group with the highest percentage but Wright offers this chart.
Once again, the percentage of being unaffiliated increased in each group, but relatively speaking, it’s increased most among the middle-aged and the elderly. In both the percentage of the unaffiliated more than tripled, compared to the 2.5x increase in the young. There is some lagged effect, as the elderly are catching up the middle-aged in the past decade, but overall, the rise of the religious nones is something that spans all age groups. Thus it’s a societal-wide change more than just an age or generational change.
This data doesn't tell us why there is the rise but I have a theory: Church offers little for discerning significance in life.
A few random thoughts (mostly intuitive perceptions.) For many older adults who grew up in the church, there is disillusionment with church life. Young adults have who are interested in the church are out starting up independent congregations that are narrowly targeted to their particular age demographic. Older Christians feel rejected. As a traditional congregation tries to become more appealing to the younger demographic, long-time congregants experience a loss of rhythms and routines that were meaningful for them. With those gone, worship no longer seems meaningful. Some look for other congregations but I sense many see the work of integrating into a new community faith community as too much work. As the number of congregations with familiar patterns dwindle and close, they slip out the door into the ether.
Dr. Eileen Lindner, Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning of the National Council of Churches USA, gave a presentation a saw a couple of years ago. She points out the fifty years ago congregations and denominations were engaged in a whole range of work that ministered to the world. Beginning the 1960s and 1970s, para-church organizations began to emerge to do the things congregations once did ... like Young Life and Habitat for Humanity. Many of the things churches once did have been replaced by nonprofit organizations that may not have an explicit faith connection. In one sense, the church is victim of its own success, having encultured values of service into the broader culture. But the downside is that it frequently feels like all we are left with is squabbles about internal politics. Congregations and denominations are struggling for an identity and purpose in relating to the world.
As I’ve written several times, conservative congregations typically respond by offering programming directed toward therapeutic healing, personal piety, or political action to stop the “barbarians at the gates.” Liberal congregations also offer therapeutic healing and personal piety, but also frequently include political action they discern is directed toward “social justice.” To me, much of it appears to a be a “me too” response to broader movements in the culture, hoping to leach off of the meaning people find in these movements rather than the church itself generating the meaning for congregants. Religion (right and left) becomes so captive to the categories and contours of cultural politics that theological understanding is lost. And if you want to do political action, there are far more dynamic venues than the church.
And that brings me back to my overarching theory: Church offers little for discerning significance in life. Too much of church is about a narrow personal piety (a niche market) while trying to make ourselves relevant to the culture with “me too” strategies from the periphery of culture. Until people see how daily life connects with God’s unending mission, I think the Nones tribe will continue to grow and prosper.
... The subject-area expert, the substantive specialist, will lose some of his or her luster compared with the statistician and data analyst, who are unfettered by the old ways of doing things and let the data speak. This new cadre will rely on correlations without prejudgments and prejudice. To be sure, subject-area experts won’t die out, but their supremacy will ebb. From now on, they must share the podium with the big-data geeks, just as princely causation must share the limelight with humble correlation.
This transforms the way we value knowledge, because we tend to think that people with deep specialization are worth more than generalists — that fortune favors depth.
Yet expertise is like exactitude: appropriate for a small-data world where one never has enough information, or the right information, and thus has to rely on intuition and experience to guide one’s way. In such a world, experience plays a critical role, since it is the long accumulation of latent knowledge — knowledge that one can’t transmit easily or learn from a book, or perhaps even be consciously aware of — that enables one to make smarter decisions.
But when you are stuffed silly with data, you can tap that instead, and to greater effect. Thus those who can analyze big data may see past the superstitions and conventional thinking not because they’re smarter, but because they have the data. (And being outsiders, they are impartial about squabbles within the field that may narrow an expert’s vision to whichever side of a squabble she’s on.) This suggests that what it takes for an employee to be valuable to a company changes. What you need to know changes, whom you need to know changes, and so does what you need to study to prepare for professional life.
Harnessing data is no guarantee of business success but shows what is possible.
The shift to data-driven decisions is profound. Most people base their decisions on a combination of facts and reflection, plus a heavy dose of guesswork. “A riot of subjective visions — feelings in the solar plexus,” in the poet W. H. Auden’s memorable words. Thomas Davenport, a business professor at Babson College in Massachusetts and the author of numerous books on analytics, calls it “the golden gut.” Executives are just sure of themselves from gut instinct, so they go with that. But this is starting to change as managerial decisions are made or at least confirmed by predictive modeling and big-data analysis.
As big data transforms our lives — optimizing, improving, making more efficient, and capturing benefits — what role is left for intuition, faith, uncertainty, and originality? ...
... Big data is not an ice-cold world of algorithms and automatons. What is greatest about human beings is precisely what the algorithms and silicon chips don’t reveal, what they can’t reveal because it can’t be captured in data. It is not the “what is,” but the “what is not”: the empty space, the cracks in the sidewalk, the unspoken and the not-yet-thought. There is an essential role for people, with all our foibles, misperceptions and mistakes, since these traits walk hand in hand with human creativity, instinct, and genius. ...
The High Calling: Want to be Missional? Equip Those in the Workplace
I was recently invited to teach a session of a seminary class called “Pastoral Functions” at an extension of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In this class, the pastors-in-training had been discussing such topics as Worship, Disciplemaking, Evangelism, Visitation, Funerals, Weddings, Pastoral Counseling, Children’s Ministry, etc.—topics we’d expect in a class like this.
But I was invited to talk about something significantly different and paradigm-shifting. Pastors need to recalibrate their ministry philosophy so that the members of their congregations are affirmed, encouraged, and equipped to serve God through their various vocations. I challenged the students to help the people of God participate in God’s mission on earth through their vocations. Thankfully, seminaries are beginning to understand that they will need to transition their curriculum beyond the traditional topics if they want to train pastors to lead missional churches. ...
An excellent piece by Bob Robinson. Spot on! Read the whole thing.
Business Insider: Five Ways Rich People Live Frugally
A fat salary isn’t the only way someone can strike it rich. Regardless of one’s income level, people who live below their means, invest wisely, and live modestly are on the path to real wealth.
Here are five frugal habits that many of the upper class have adopted to build long-lasting wealth and financial independence:
Drive a modest car. Your car should only serve the purpose of getting you safely and comfortably from point A to point B—nothing more. ...
Buy a modest house. Warren Buffett famously still lives in the Omaha, Neb., home he bought back in 1958 for $31,500. Take Buffett’s cue and don’t overwhelm yourself with a large monthly mortgage payment. Buy a modest and comfortable home and use the money you save to build your savings and retirement fund.
Don’t carry wads if possible. Try to avoid traveling with a wallet packed with cash....
Don’t pay full price. A great way to keep more of your money is by not paying full price on anything. ...
Have an action mentality. Almost all self-made millionaires have one thing in common: They are people of action. They don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves waiting for something good to happen to them, as opposed to the people who I would say have the “lottery mentality.” People of action take appropriate risks, are constantly looking to improve themselves, and are addicted to knowledge, as it is the best way to gain a competitive advantage in life’s financial endeavors.
This article reminded my of a book written several years ago called The Millionare Next Door. We tend to confuse high income with high wealth. A great many people with the expensive houses and cars are spending more than earn. Their net worth is zero or less. Most people with a net wealth of one million or more live in modest homes, never buy new cars (or at least not expensive ones), watch expenses like a hawk, and are proactive with their investing. I think the never ending challenge for a follower of Jesus is a three part balancing exercise between personal consumption, giving, and investing wisely to care for one's own needs as well as to have more to give to others. I think the balance can very considerably between individuals, as well as vary over our lifetimes, based on any number of issues ranging from vocation to stage of life. I don't think the church does a very good job of helping us think this through.
New York Times: What Data Can't Do - David Brooks
... Data struggles with the social. Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition. People are really good at mirroring each other’s emotional states, at detecting uncooperative behavior and at assigning value to things through emotion. ...
... Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.
Data creates bigger haystacks. This is a point Nassim Taleb, the author of “Antifragile,” has made. As we acquire more data, we have the ability to find many, many more statistically significant correlations. Most of these correlations are spurious and deceive us when we’re trying to understand a situation. Falsity grows exponentially the more data we collect. The haystack gets bigger, but the needle we are looking for is still buried deep inside. ...
... Big data has trouble with big problems. If you are trying to figure out which e-mail produces the most campaign contributions, you can do a randomized control experiment. But let’s say you are trying to stimulate an economy in a recession. You don’t have an alternate society to use as a control group. For example, we’ve had huge debates over the best economic stimulus, with mountains of data, and as far as I know not a single major player in this debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides.
Data favors memes over masterpieces. Data analysis can detect when large numbers of people take an instant liking to some cultural product. But many important (and profitable) products are hated initially because they are unfamiliar.
Data obscures values. I recently saw an academic book with the excellent title, “ ‘Raw Data’ Is an Oxymoron.” One of the points was that data is never raw; it’s always structured according to somebody’s predispositions and values. The end result looks disinterested, but, in reality, there are value choices all the way through, from construction to interpretation.
This is not to argue that big data isn’t a great tool. It’s just that, like any tool, it’s good at some things and not at others. As the Yale professor Edward Tufte has said, “The world is much more interesting than any one discipline.”
The Pessimist: The 20 Greatest Songs About Work
You might hate your job, but there’s nothing like a good song to make you feel like you’re not alone. (I mean, except when you think about it, and realize that the musicians who performed the song probably no longer have to work in an office, and are most likely drinking Champagne with supermodels in a brand-new Learjet 85, while you’re eating off-brand corn chips you bought from a convenience store that the health department should have closed down a long time ago.)
The point is, labor has been the single most popular subject of pop songs for decades (besides girls, cars, alcohol, parties, religion, and about 10,000 other things). So below, we’ve collected 20 of the best songs about the working life. Think of it as an extremely depressing playlist, like if your local radio station hired a German film director as its morning drive-time DJ. If we missed anything, let us know in the comments! (But be nice, or we’ll tell your boss you’re goldbricking again.) ...
Take a look at the list. Any songs you would add?
Catholic Culture: Is the Default Position Shifting to Subsidiarity?
Not so long ago, most ecclesiastical officials and Catholic academicians emphasized solidarity as a political ideal. Owing to a common misunderstanding of both government and solidarity, that emphasis was almost always at the expense of subsidiarity. In recent years, however, the tide in favor of subsidiarity has begun to turn.
It remains true that concern for the poor and marginalized must be a significant political priority, reflected in how we conceive and use government. But what too many Catholics missed for much of the twentieth century was that solidarity is not really a political virtue at all, whereas subsidiarity is. Solidarity is the concern of all for all. It is the sense of responsibility we are all supposed to have for each other. It leads to that true care and reciprocity which are the marks of a healthy society, and it is prior to politics and government.
But insofar as solidarity has been incorrectly viewed as a political virtue, too many Catholics have insisted on the need to mimic solidarity by using government to enforce what they think the results of solidarity should look like. ...
... In contrast, the principle of subsidiarity is distinctively a political virtue, though not exclusively so. Based on the truth that human dignity includes the right and the duty of persons to freely participate in the solutions to their own problems, the principle of subsidiarity states that everything should be done at the lowest possible level of organization, and that whenever something more is needed, higher levels of organization are obliged to assist lower levels rather than to supplant them. This means that in the political order the virtue of subsidiarity actually preserves and fosters the conditions within which solidarity can flourish, even if solidarity does not necessarily flourish as a direct result. ...
Scientific American: Happiness Means Being Just Rushed Enough
... However, despite this broad consensus, and its obvious health and quality-of-life implications, there seems little empirical survey evidence that daily life is truly speeding up. ...
... In that 1965 survey, we found 24 percent of respondents aged 18-64 said they “always” felt rushed, and 48 percent said they had no excess time. When we repeated the questions in the 1990s, these figures had risen to 35 percent “always” rushed and 55 percent with no excess time, where they remained, more or less, until we last asked the questions in a 2004 survey.
This set the stage, then, for our repeating these questions in two separate surveys in 2009-10. Quite contrary to our expectations, both of these surveys now show decreases in Americans feeling “always” rushed particularly among the busiest group of those aged 18 to 64 — a 7-point drop in feeling always rushed to 28 percent — and a drop to 45 percent in those feeling no excess time. ...
... Almost 50 percent of respondents who feel least rushed and who also feel least excess time report being “very happy”, almost twice as high as the rest of the US public. It is an elite group, making up less than 10 percent of the population. They not only seem happier by ignoring the “rat race” and subscribing to a philosophy of “Don’t hurry, be happy,” but by organizing their lifestyles to minimize spells of boredom and lack of focus as well. Thus, there seems dysfunction in having either too much or too little free time. In a society that otherwise seems obsessed with speed and the latest IT gadgets, this would seem to offer a path to a more contented lifestyle.