Category: On Call in Culture

On a return trip from summer camp, Michael Hess’s young son was stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport on a four-hour layover. Having run out of his spending money, he soon grew hungry and called his Dad for help.
His father’s recommended solution: “go to any of the sit-down restaurants and ask if his dad could give them a credit card over the phone.” His son tried it, and everyone turned him down. “None would even try to figure out a way to help,” Hess explains.

wolfgang-puck-express

What happens next is quite delightful:

But as a concerned dad, I couldn’t give up. Knowing O’Hare practically by heart, and being addicted to pizza, I knew that there was a Wolfgang Puck Express (“WPE” in the dialog to follow) not far from where he was killing time, and with two or three calls I was able to reach them directly. This is how the call went:

Me: “Is there any way you can take my card and charge his meal? I’ll send a picture of the card, whatever you need to feel comfortable.”

WPE: “Unfortunately, we have no way of taking a credit card over the phone…”

Me (assuming that was the end of the sentence): “But, there must be some…”

WPE: “..so just send your boy in here and we’ll make sure he gets a good meal. My store manager and operations manager are both here, and we don’t want him to be sitting around hungry. You don’t have to worry about paying for it.” (more…)

boss moneyIn light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.

Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:

What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.

How, then, do they relate? (more…)

Domenichino Adam and Eve(1623-25)Courtesy of Web Art GalleryThere are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions. I use the word “prominent” here because I fully recognize that there are other more nuanced voices in the Christian diaspora. No “binaries” or “false dichotomies” are intended here. This is simply a distinction between the two dominant voices in a choir of others.

One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as a means for human beings to have a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven).

(more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, August 8, 2013

523470_10151545229211463_1028298364_nOver at the Kern Pastors Network, Greg Forster points to Rev. Robert Sirico’s speech from this year’s Acton University, drawing particularly on Sirico’s emphasis on Christian anthropology. “One may not say that we are spirits inside of flesh,” Sirico said, “but that we are spirits and flesh.”

Forster summarizes:

Christianity teaches that the human person is, in Sirico’s words, both corporeal and transcendent. We cannot make sense of ourselves if we are only bodies. How could a strictly material body think for itself and make its own decisions, much less be aware of itself as it did so? Yet it is equally mistaken to locate our humanity only in the transcendent, as if we are spirits trapped inside bodies. It feels liberating at first to think that the mind and the will are all that matters, and that the body is an appendage to be used and reshaped however we wish. But whenever we try to live that way, our lives quickly become arbitrary and meaningless.

How we approach such matters impacts everything we do. When it comes to economic life, that means everything from our daily work to the economic systems we work within:

The worker who knows that his spirit and body are integrated on equal terms is able to find satisfaction in work. Unlike the materialist, he knows that work can have dignity and meaning. Unlike the Gnostic, he knows that the ultimate source of that dignity and meaning are outside himself. He can see the possibilities for transcendent satisfaction in so-called “menial” work, and he hears the call to humility and service in so-called “mind work” that others would use to glorify themselves. (more…)

There’s a real business advantage to treating employees well, says Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco Corporation, an international membership warehouse club. Boasting the lowest employee turnover rate in retailing, Costco pays 40 percent more than its closest rival, Sam’s Club, and provides health insurance to more than 90 percent of its employees.

“Wall Street is in the business of making money between now and next Tuesday,” Sinegal says. “We’re in the business of building an organization, an institution that we hope will be here 50 years from now. And paying good wages and keeping your people working with you is very good business.”

Chris Horst, Matthew Horst, Costco

For Matthew Horst, Costco has become much more than an employer.

And the advantages don’t stop at profit margins and good wages.

In an open letter to Sinegal and president Craig Jelinek, Chris Horst of HOPE International shares a beautiful story about how Costco gave his brother a career, a community, and much, much more: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, July 30, 2013

holiday_beach_356527Over at Think Christian, Aron Reppmann asks whether there is a distinctly Christian way to vacation: “We have learned to approach our work as vocation, a calling from God, but what about our leisure?”

Reppmann notes that one major temptation in modern society is to view vacation as a form of escape. Put in your 40, week after week, and hopefully, in Week X of Month Y, you’ll be able to leave your day-to-day activities behind. Close your eyes, sip your fruity drink, and let it all just slip away.

But escape from what? What does such a view indicate about how we’re approaching our daily work?

The word “vacation” itself doesn’t offer much help for this kind of reflection; with its echoes of “vacant” and “vacate,” it mostly conjures up a sense of absence. Vacationers commonly express a desire to “get away from it all,” but it’s hard to derive a positive sense of vacational vocation from that atmosphere of emptiness. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, stepping away – in a word, sabbath – there is also a trap in holding a merely negative definition of vacation…. Vacation understood simply as “getting away from it all” is a sign of a negative concept of freedom.

Reppmann goes on to argue that modern society over-elevates negative freedom — freedom from something — which has led many Christians to forget or ignore the positive freedom — freedom for something — that Christianity is all about.

This, he concludes, leads to an unfortunate imbalance in our thinking on work and leisure: (more…)

It’s become increasingly common for Christians to openly ponder and discuss the ways in which we might glorify God through our work. Yet even with this newfound attention, it can be easy to forget that the very businesses launched to harness and facilitate such work are themselves declaring the glory of God, albeit in subtle, unspoken ways.

In an essay posted at Christianity 9 to 5, author and theologian Wayne Grudem explores this angle a bit further, affirming the variety of ways we can glorify God through business — worship, evangelism, generosity, faith — but focusing more closely on one in particular: the act of imitating God. “God created us so that we would imitate him,” Grudem writes, “and so that he could look at us and see something of his wonderful attributes reflected in us.”

To imitate God is to glorify him, Grudem argues, and business, in its basic design and function, has enormous potential to imitate God through a variety of activities. Grudem offers the following five.

1. Producing Goods

We know that producing goods from the earth is fundamentally good in itself because it is part of the purpose for which God put us on the earth. Before there was sin in the world, God put Adam in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15), and God told both Adam and Eve, before there was sin, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The word translated “subdue” (Hebrew: kabash) implies that Adam and Eve should make the resources of the earth useful for their own benefit, and this implies that God intended them to develop the earth so they could come to own agricultural products and animals, then housing and works of craftsmanship and beauty, and eventually buildings, means of transportation, cities, and inventions of all sorts. (more…)

The real estate crisis led to plenty of finger-pointing and blame-shifting, but for Phoenix real estate developer Walter Crutchfield, it led to self-examination and spiritual reflection.

“The real estate crash brought me to a place of stepping back and evaluating,” Crutchfield says. “I could see where I lost sight of the individual intrinsic value of work, of individuals, of community…Rather than asking ‘is the demand reasonable?,’ we just serviced it, and now we had a chance to think about what we had done.”

In yet another marvelous video from Nathan Clarke and Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, Crutchfield shares his journey from seeing work as aimless toil to being driven by the prospect of value creation:

Crutchfield concludes that work “pleases God,” and that through its fundamental function of serving others, it “declares the glory of God…just because it is.” For Crutchfield, this basic realization transformed his entire approach to doing business, leading him to focus on creating “real value,” rather than simply going through the motions. (more…)

tn-tithing-givingSelf-proclaimed “tithe hacker” Mike Holmes has a helpful piece at RELEVANT Magazine on how tithing could “change the world.” (Jordan Ballor offers some additional insights here.)

Holmes begins by observing that “tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation” and that “Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita,” proceeding to ponder what might be accomplished if the church were to increase its giving to the typical 10 percent.

His projections are as follows:

  • $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
  • $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.
  • $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
  • $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
  • $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.

Such broad hypothesizing can be helpful in offering a small glimpse into what we might call the economic potential of the church. But, in addition to noting the more obvious questions about whether $25 billion (or any amount) can actually “relieve global hunger” (etc.), I would simply emphasize that such estimates are small glimpses indeed. The divine impact of the tithe stretches well beyond the material, even as it pertains to the material. (more…)

Over at Christianity Today, Andy Crouch confronts modern society’s increasing skepticism toward institutional structures, arguing that without them, all of our striving toward cultural transformation is bound to falter:

t-root-systemFor cultural change to grow and persist, it has to be institutionalized, meaning it must become part of the fabric of human life through a set of learnable and repeatable patterns. It must be transmitted beyond its founding generation to generations yet unborn. There is a reason that the people of God in the Hebrew Bible are so often named as the children of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Like divine intervention in history, true cultural change takes generations to be fully absorbed and expressed.

Indeed, the best institutions extend shalom—that rich Hebrew word I paraphrase as “comprehensive flourishing”—through both space and time. Take one of my favorite institutions: the game of baseball. It is a set of cultural patterns that has lasted for several generations now, played at a professional level on several continents. A great game of baseball is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing and fulfilling in the way that all deeply human endeavors are. It embodies the playfulness and competitiveness that reflects our God-given creativity and ambition for excellence. It is an institution, larger than any individual player.

But alas, such suspicion exists for a reason. As Crouch goes on to note, a competing temptation often prevails — that of “succumbing to institutionalism,” wherein we seek the perpetuation of institutions as ends in themselves. “If the biblical language of principalities and powers is taken seriously,” Crouch says, “it seems that human institutions can become demonic, opposed to the purposes of God.” (more…)