Category: Virtue

kid-digging-holeLast Saturday was hot and humid in our corner of the world, and thus, my wife and I quickly decreed a pool day on the front lawn. The kids were ecstatic, particularly our four-year-old boy, who watched and waited anxiously as I got things prepared.

All was eventually set — pool inflated, water filled, toys deployed — but before he could play, I told him he needed to help our neighbor pick up the fallen apples strewn across his lawn.

With energy and anticipation, he ran to grab his “favorite bucket,” and the work quickly commenced. Less than three minutes later, however, his patience wore off.

“This is boring, Daddy,” he complained. “Can I be done now?”

More than anything else, the response was comical. Within mere minutes, this simple, ten-minute task had become a heavy burden he simply could not bear.

But it also signaled something profound about our basic attitudes about work, and how early they begin to form. Our kids are only beginning to edge upon the golden ages of chorehood, but as these situations continue to arise, I’ve become increasingly aware of a peculiar set of challenges faced by parents raising children in a prosperous age.

In a society wherein hard and rough work, or any work for that matter, has become less and less necessary, particularly among youngsters, how might its relative absence alter the long-term character of a nation? What is the role of work and toil in the development and formation of our children, and what might we miss if we fail to embrace, promote, and contextualize it accordingly? In a culture such as ours, increasingly propelled by hedonism, materialism, and a blind allegiance to efficiency and convenience, what risks do we face by ignoring, avoiding, or subverting the “boring” and the “mundane” across all areas of life, and particularly as it relates to work? (more…)

The StudentThe church has found a renewed interest in matters of “faith-work integration,” but while we hear plenty about following the voice of God in business and entrepreneurship, we hear very little about the world of academia. What does it mean, as a Christian, to be called to the work of scholarship?

In Scholarship, a newly released collection of convocation addresses by Abraham Kuyper, we find a strong example of the type of reflection we ought to promote and embrace. For Kuyper, the call to academic life is a “sacred calling,” one that demands wise and creative stewardship of the mind and a Christianly posture and position that connects with each other area of the Christian life.

Although the Economy of Wisdom may differ from other spheres in its emphases and modes of operation, those of us called thereto are at a fundamental level propelled by the very same stewardship mandate: be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth through truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

As Kuyper explains, the scholar’s very mind is his “field of labor,” one that must be cultivated actively and attentively:

In your mind lies your glory as scholars. That is your field of labor. Not merely to live, but to know that you live and how you live, and how things around you live, and how all that hangs together and lives out of the one efficient cause that proceeds from God’s power and wisdom. Other people, when evening falls, have to have sown and plowed, counted and calculated; but you have to have thought, reflected, analyzed, until at last a harvest of your own thoughts may germinate and ripen on the field of your consciousness. (more…)

vietnamReligion & Liberty recently interviewed former German war correspondent Uwe Siemon-Netto. He’s also the author of Triumph of the Absurd, a book chronicling his time covering the war in Vietnam. One of Siemon-Netto’s recurring themes is the still propped up line in the West that North Vietnam’s aggression was a “people’s revolution” or an act of liberation. A people’s revolution doesn’t execute soldiers who have laid down their arms or force large segments of the population in South Vietnam into reeducation camps. After the fall of Saigon, hundreds of thousands of boat people died or drowned at sea trying to flee their communist tormentors.

One of those young boys at the time was Vinh Chung, whose family was rescued by a World Vision aid ship in 1979. His Vietnamese and American story is chronicled in the new book Where the Wind Leads. In Parade magazine, Chung talks about his return visit to Vietnam and the importance of Christian sacrifice, stewardship, and what it means to be an American:

When I was a student in ­medi­cal school in 2002, I returned to Vietnam for the first time, to visit my relatives who are still there. I was shocked by the poverty. Their houses were shacks, the walls plastered over with newspapers; bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling on electrical cords. My cousins slept on the floor. Visiting them was like walking into a parallel universe—the life that would have been mine had the wind blown our boat in a different ­direction.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (12:48 NLT). I used to wonder who Jesus meant, because I sure didn’t think it was my family. The way I saw it, we had been given nothing, entrusted with nothing. I hoped that rich and powerful people would read Jesus’s words and take them to heart.

But when I went to Vietnam, I finally understood: He meant me. I was the one plucked from the South China Sea. I was the one granted asylum in a nation where education is available to everyone, and prosperity is attainable for anyone. I worked hard to get to where I am today, but the humbling truth is that my hard work was possible because of a blessing I did nothing to deserve. And that blessing is something I must pass on, in any way I can.

My story is true for all of us, whether you arrived in this country by boat or by birth: Much has been given to us—and much is required. That, I believe, is what it means to be an American.

Sacrifice is increasingly a virtue we are losing in our contemporary American society. We’ve got the entitlement part down but our solely lacking in the requirement of being citizens department. That fact is attested to by just glancing at our bloated federal debt, our culture of entitlement, and the rise of the grievance industry. In the epilogue of Triumph of the Absurd, Siemon-Netto makes a prescient observation, “When a self-indulgent throwaway culture grows tired of sacrifice it becomes capable of discarding everything like a half-eaten doughnut.”

The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political LifeChristian’s Library Press has now released The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life by Hunter Baker, a collection of reflections on the role and relevance of Christianity in our societal systems. You can order your copy here.

Challenging the notion that such systems are inevitably ordered by the “ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy,” Baker reminds us of the role of the church in culture and political life. Rather than simply deferring to and relying on the “internal logic” of various societal spheres, Christians are called to contribute something distinct and transcendent in its arc and aim — whether in business, politics, science, academia, or otherwise.

“The church is the soul of the system,” Baker writes, and springing from that root is a notion of freedom and the good that “transcends our worldly instrumentalities and principalities.”

As Baker explains:

Why not just leave out the church? Why not leave out that Christian particularity that you insist is so important to culture? Why can we not just have the freedom and democracy and ignore the rest? Fine, the faith may have helped us reach this point, but I do not know why we need it now. We have evolved socially and politically.

The simplest answer is to invoke Elton Trueblood’s magnificent metaphor of the cut-flower civilization. A flower grows and becomes beautiful because it is rooted in the ground where it can access the things it needs to live, such as nutrition and water. The roots are life. If you cut the flower at its stem and put it in a vase, it will remain beautiful for a time, but it will die and decay. What was beautiful will be lost. (more…)

moses and the burning bushI have recently offered several warnings against self-chosen sacrifice and self-willed religion, noting that, as Christians, ours is a service not of our own design or choosing, and when we orient our lives accordingly, it’s far more powerful because of it.

Over at Catholic Exchange, Benjamin Mann offers a nice complement to such warnings, digging a bit deeper into the question of discernment, which is central to all of this. (HT)

Writing specifically of our current attitudes about vocation, Mann observes an “unnecessary indecision and anxiety” in modern Western culture — one that is “shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by the consumer culture’s obsession with options and the ‘pursuit of happiness.’”

We are living in a world filled with choices and opportunities for “self-empowerment.” And yet with such tools comes a temptation to trust too highly in our personal plans and powers. If we give way to these temptations, our perception of calling is bound to suffer. “Consciously or not,” Mann writes, “we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation.”

So what is the purpose of vocation? (more…)

Golden-Calf-Painting1Last week, I wrote about the danger of self-chosen sacrifice, channeling evangelist Oswald Chambers, who warns us to “never decide the place of your own martyrdom.”

“Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” he continues. “Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service.”

As an example of how the process ought to go, Chambers looks to the story of Abraham and Isaac. God demanded something quite peculiar — the sacrifice of Abraham’s son —  and Abraham simply obeyed. “God chose the test for Abraham,” Chambers writes, “and Abraham neither delayed nor protested, but steadily obeyed.”

In Cornelis Vonk’s primer on Exodus, part of CLP’s growing series, “Opening the Scriptures,” he highlights an example of the opposite.

Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai, where God was to send down his law in written form. Yet down below, even as the Israelites had quite visibly witnessed the supernatural power of God — whether through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the fire by night, etc. — they gave way to their humanistic impulses. Anxious and impatient for Moses to return and eager for guidance and direction, they could wait no longer.

“Make us gods who shall go before us,” they said. (more…)

KuyperEtch (1)The Obama administration’s HHS mandate has led to significant backlash among religious groups, each claiming that certain provisions violate their religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for such groups, but other disputes are well underway, with many more to come. Even among many of our fellow Christians, we see a concerted effort to chase religious belief out of the public square, confining such matters to Sunday mornings, where they can be kept behind closed doors.

In navigating these tensions, Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Ons Program) offers a wealth of perspective, particularly when it comes to how Christians ought to think about their role in the broader society. Recently translated under the title Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, the book contains an entire chapter in opposition to a “secular state,” including a marvelous bit on freedom of conscience that’s worth excerpting at length.

“There should be freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of worship,” Kuyper writes, “but above all, the root of all these freedoms: freedom of conscience.”

The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross.

The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it.

There is only one power without limits: the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of “deifying” the state and favoring “state omnipotence.” That is not indulging in “oratorical phraseology” but simply indicating a purely logical concept. [emphasis added, here and in any bolded text hereafter]

Kuyper certainly believes that government has a role to play, noting that “government alone has public power,” granted by God, “whereas all other organizations in and of themselves are of a private nature.” (more…)

thenativity-WebIn the first episode of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons discovers a new approach to Christian cultural engagement. Revolving around “God’s economy of all things,” he proceeds to explore six key areas of human engagement, one in each episode, including the economies of love, creative service, order, wisdom, and wonder, and, finally, through the church herself — an organism and institution that runs before and beyond all else.

But it’s no wonder that the first of Evan’s subsequent explorations begins with the family — the economy love — for it is here, in the transcendent exchange of love and nurture and sacrifice, that deep and long-term transformation begins.

The family sets the stage for our service and the scope for our gift-giving. It is in the family where we first learn to love and relate, to order our obligations, and to orient our activities toward other-centered ends. It is in the basic, mundane exchanges between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child that we learn what it means to flourish.

As Koons explains in FLOW: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.” Or, as he says elsewhere in the episode, the family is the “school of love.” (more…)

Jamie Bérubé

Jamie Bérubé

In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:

The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.

At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?

Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”

Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)

NPG D681,Richard Baxter,by; after Jonathan Spilsbury; John Riley Richard Baxter, profiled in the latest issue of Religion & Liberty, penned The Saints Everlasting Rest in 1647. In the book’s dedication, Baxter wrote that he had no intention of serving God other than preaching. But he recalled, “sentenced to death by the physicians, I began to contemplate more seriously on the everlasting rest which I apprehended myself to be just on the border of.”

Baxter noted that because he was so near death that it quickened his “sluggish heart to speak to sinners with some compassion, as a dying man to dying men.” Baxter survived the ordeal, not dying until 1691, but he continually faced debilitating sickness and suffering. He was even imprisoned for refusing to cease preaching. Baxter is perhaps the most prolific author of theology in English history. He wrote 140 books, many of them while serving as a pastor. Baxter was a monumental influence on C.S. Lewis, who borrowed the title ‘Mere Christianity’ directly from his work.

The Saints Everlasting Rest
focuses on heavenly and holy pursuits, pushing us away from the fleeting priorities and agendas of our lives on earth. In an age of entertainment, with gadgets like smart phones, while great technology, cause many people to focus their gaze downward and not upward. With the myriad of distractions and moral chaos we face, Baxter’s writings easily retain their relevance. Below is an excerpt from The Saints Everlasting Rest on private meditation that is included in the book, From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey: (more…)