Category: Virtue

strong-weak-chart-andy-crouch12In our discussions about politics, society, and culture, the vocabulary of “human flourishing” has become increasingly popular, moving dangerously close to the status of blurry buzzword.

Yet at its best, the term captures the connective tissue between the material and the transcendent, the immediate and the eternal, pointing toward a holistic prosperity that accounts for the full complexity of the human person.

In his latest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch examines the broader ideal. ‘“Flourishing’ is a way of answering the first great question,” he writes. “What are we meant to be? We are meant to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to exist, but to explore and expand.”

In order to actually embody that answer, Crouch believes we have to grasp the underlying “paradox of flourishing.” “Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak,” he writes, requiring us to “embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.”

In truth, most of us tend to elevate one to the detriment of the other, relishing in abuse of power or pursuit of poverty. Yet as humans created in the image of God, and as citizens of an upside-down Kingdom, we are called to embrace and combine each together. Such is the path to real life and abundance, both in the now and not yet. (more…)

odufrathouseThe implosion of Donald Trump’s campaign is a reminder that at the end of the day, character matters more than professional success or political commitments. At the beginning of the second presidential debate Donald apologized again for the lewd comments recorded during a private discussion with Billy Bush in 2005 in which he boasted of romantically pursuing married women and groping others. In his apology, he referred to that discussion as regular “locker room talk.” In other words, Trump believes he is just a normal locker room guy. If lewdness is normative, America is in deep trouble. But should we be surprised?

What I found especially interesting was the attempt to contextualize Trump’s comments as something we might expect from younger men but not from older men. For example, during the October 8 edition of The News Hour on PBS, Roger Simon, Chief Political Columnist for Politico commented that Trump’s comments emanate from “frat boy culture” before adding, “but he’s no longer a frat boy.” Simon may have uncovered the root of the problem. Young men do see moral virtue celebrated as a young man’s norm.

For example, teenage and college male fraternity life has been depicted in the exact terms that Trump used in movies as old as Animal House (1978) or Porky’s (1981), and even as recent as the series of Neighbors films starring Zac Efron, in 2014 and 2016 respectively. This “frat boy” culture was evident in the political scandals of President Bill Clinton and Congressman Anthony Wiener.
(more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
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In an Acton Commentary two years ago, I wrote about the significance of toil:

In the midst of the now-common Christian affirmation of all forms of work as God-given vocations, the image of Sisyphus, vainly pushing his boulder up a hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again, might serve to remind us of the reality of toil, the other side of the coin. While human labor does have a divine calling, we do not labor apart from “thorns and thistles” and “in the sweat of [our] face” (Genesis 3:18-19).

As for the good side of work in general, I can’t think of a better illustration than this clip from For the Life of the World:

This shows the amazing reality of how everything we interact with is the fruit of the labor of others. It connects us to them and ought to inspire a deep gratitude for that fellowship.

But then there’s Sisyphus. (more…)

“Our problem [with education] today is not to enforce conformity; it is rather that we are threatened with an excess of conformity. Our problem is to foster diversity.” –Milton Friedman, Capitalism & Freedom

800px-France_in_XXI_Century._SchoolThe education reform movement has set forth a range of strategies to combat the leviathan of public education. Yet more often than not, those solutions are couched only with boilerplate about the glories of markets and competition.

There is plenty of truth behind such rhetoric, but as Greg Forster outlines in an extensive series of articles at EdChoice, a revival in education policy and educational institutions is going to require much more than free-market talking points and surface-level solutions.

“It’s not that the things we’re saying are wrong,” he writes. “We just aren’t getting to the heart of the matter because we are not challenging our nation to re-ask itself the big questions about education: What is the purpose of education? Who has final responsibility for it and why?”

Indeed, while our aversion to technocratic solutions has prodded us to focus on things like improving accountability, expanding competition, and removing barriers to information, many of the subsequent reforms have fallen prey to the same technocratic temptations. As Forster reminds us, in education, “technocracy fails more importantly because it is based on a wrong understanding of what education is for.” (more…)

Given the overpopulation of American jails and prisons, it would stand to reason that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump be pressed to explain how they would dismantle the unfortunate relationship between low-performing schools and the criminal justice system. Last February, The American Bar Association (ABA) released a report in the school-to-prison pipeline. According to the ABA, the pipeline is a metaphor for how the issues in our education system facilitates students leaving school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system. The process is a cycle of compounding issues ranging from low engagement, lack of relationships (including family breakdown), harsh discipline, and various problem with authorities in law enforcement and juvenile justice being involved in school discipline. For the ABA report, researchers conducted eight town hall meetings across the country to try and understand how the issue affected local communities by gathering testimony and exploring how bias plays a role in the system.

According to the report, minority populations are especially affected by the pipeline–a fact known across the academic world. Recent data from reports like this one show the magnitude of the problem, one that the ABA report says is “unacceptably large and out of proportion to the population of our young people.” The problem manifests itself during pre-k through high school years, from the juvenile justice system to adult prisons, and both for students of color and those with disabilities. For example, students of color, regardless of gender, were found to be disproportionately punished by harsher and more frequent methods, failed to graduate as often, had lower education retention and learning, and were more often referred to authorities for arrest. (more…)

Wall-E1Humans have a tendency to daydream about a day or a place where work is no more, whether it be a retirement home on a golf course or a utopian society filled with leisure and merriment.

But is a world without work all that desirable?

In a recent lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the question is explored by Dr. Hunter Baker, winner of the Acton Institute’s 2011 Novak Award and author, most recently, of The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life.

Countering the cultural priorities and pressures of the day, Baker outlines a robust Christian vision of work and the economy, drawing on thinkers such as Wilhelm Röpke and Lester DeKoster, as well as science fiction fixtures such as WALL-E, 1984, and Beggars in Spain.

“Work is a gift from God, not a curse,” says Baker. “…The science fiction dreams of human beings released from all labor should probably better be seen as nightmares…We are made to continually be in fellowship with one another, working, creating value, giving, receiving. This is who God has made us to be.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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pearl-and-leavenIn its 2,000-year history, the church has actively integrated evangelism and social action in powerful and transformative ways. Yet for many of today’s Christians, we feel as though we must choose between a life of ministry and cultural engagement, that our vocational paths are inevitably torn between “saving souls” and “serving justice.”

In the Bible, however, we see both calls woven together — “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). They were not meant to be taken separately, pieced apart and divided up among believers based on our individual strengths or giftings.

We are called to a life of holistic discipleship, filled with a faith that’s integrated with cultural witness. We are called to be both “a pearl and a leaven,” as Jessica Driesenga puts it in The Church’s Social Responsibility, a new collection of essays on evangelicalism and social justice.

“When we survey Christians’ posture toward the world, it can seem as though there is an either-or decision to be made: either choose to be a part of the world or separate yourself from it for the sake of the gospel,” Driesenga writes. “But these tasks ought to be seen as necessary counterparts to each other.” (A partial excerpt of Driesenga’s essay is available at Letters to the Exiles blog.)

Pointing to a metaphor used by theologian Herman Bavinck, Driesenga reminds us of Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a leaven (Matt. 13:33) and a pearl (Matt. 13:45–46). “These two metaphors, mixed as they may seem, are Bavinck’s way of understanding the dual tasks given to humanity: to preserve and preach the good news of Christ and to take the world that has been given to us and make something of it.” (more…)