Archived Posts July 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
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Just when you thought America’s Rogerian culture of prostrated self-worship couldn’t get anymore nauseating….

‘I boldly ask for what I want!’

….Enter, the Affirmation Blanket.

I am almost reluctant to give these people more publicity, but this is way too funny to pass up. Some of my favorite lines are, “I am perfect just the way I am,” (found on the “Serenity” blanket), “Success and prosperity follow me everywhere I go” (from the “Joy” blanket — because we all know success and prosperity constitute the deepest joy a human being can experience), “I am a magnet for ease and grace” (from the “Peace” selection), and “My courage makes me brave” (on the “Courage” fleece).

In all seriousness, though, what is wrong with a society of individuals who require constant reassurance of their own adequacy…and from a piece of cloth, of all things? I can anticipate how someone might compare an affirmation blanket to the harmlessly cliche, folksy pieces of Christianese “inspiration art” that decorate religious homes — things like, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” or the ubiquitous, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”

Tacky as these can be, at least they point to something outside the self. A dependence on Providence and an awareness of personal inadequacy used to characterize a healthy spiritual life, and a proper outlook on life in general. But with the rise of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and the Western self-esteem industry, it is now far more culturally acceptable to indulge in public self-admiration — however undeserved — than it is to acknowledge God in times of both weakness and success. (This reminds me of Jeremy Jerschina’s story, posted a week or two ago…)

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
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My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? – James 2:1-4

In today’s society it may seem a little odd that a politician might actually be averse to showing favoritism, as James discusses at the beginning of this chapter. At one time I worked for a U.S. Congressman from Mississippi named Gene Taylor. One day I was dispatched with the duty of locating him in the Rayburn House office building. The reason was simple; the Secretary of the Navy was waiting for him in his office. Some of the staff was panic stricken and mildly embarrassed because they could not ascertain his whereabouts. Congressman Taylor was not frequently attached at the hip with his cellular phone or pager. I remember looking in all the places you would look for a House member in the Rayburn building and not being able to locate him. After I had given up, I preceded to walk up the stairs and found him talking with a maintenance worker in the stairwell.

I told him that the Secretary of the Navy was in his office and he nodded his head and introduced me to his friend, whom he treated like a celebrity, bragging up the individual’s fishing skills. While I did not always agree with the positions or votes he recorded on issues, Gene Taylor always reinforced the significance of treating people the same. He also taught me a valuable life lesson when he told me: “You know why I’m friends with the capital police, the maintenance workers, and the common fisherman down at the harbor? It’s because they will continue to be my friends when I am no longer a congressman.”

The words of James specifically refer to the behavior of the Church and its members. One of the reasons the Free Methodist Church was born in America was over the issue of the Methodist Episcopal Church and their practice of selling and renting pews. The poor were therefore relegated to the back of the congregation, and there was a call for free seats for all. Favoritism can be one of the hardest sins to overcome because it’s so entrenched in the Church just like it is in society. Matthew Henry, an English clergyman who was active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, appropriately notes, “In matters of religion, rich and poor stand upon a level; no man’s riches set him in the least nearer to God, nor does any man’s poverty set him at a distance from God.”

It’s hard to be an authentic Christian in an unauthentic world, and that is why we look and lean on the power of Christ. One of the most beautiful characteristics of the incarnate Christ is that he was humbled so that we were made high. In the words of Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Charles Spurgeon, the famed British Reformed preacher, himself noted, “He became poor from his riches, that our poverty might become rich out of his poverty.”

My local library is apparently having a problem with youth gangs who are using the public computers to access social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. The hooligans are defacing each others sites, sending threatening messages, and causing other kinds of trouble.

From the Wyoming Advance, “A place that should be safe for children has seen graffiti, assaults, loud and vulgar language, patron intimidation, public sexual encounters, carving gang symbols in furniture, and more.”

What is the library to do? “As a solution, KDL has employed a part-time security guard who interacts with youths and is on-duty during key teen use times. They are also poised to install filters that limit access to social networking sites on all but six of the 40 library computers in an effort to quell the problems.”

That raises some first amendment questions, of course. The GR Press reports that the ban on some social networking sites will go through a six-month trial period.

“It is only a trial,” Martha Smart, KDL director, said. “It’s very important to provide freedom of access to information for the public. We want to protect people’s First Amendment rights.”

Here’s an idea: why not simply play some classical music instead of banning social networking sites? (HT)

“Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle’s KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.” Let’s just hope they don’t add any Wagner to the playlist.

Update: Still on the case, Tim Disselkoen summarizes the reactions of a KDL spokesperson: “Garrison said the library has acceptable use policies in place regarding the Internet, and Mish said they work to educate youth about cyber-bullying, online predators, and other potential areas of concern. While KDL has declined to block all access to the social networking sites, parents can restrict their children’s access to such sites through their library cards.”

The theme of the role of the libraries not acting in loco parentis has come up in a couple different quotes from library officials. “If parents are concerned about the use at the library, we can block children’s Internet use,” Garrison said. “We can block the total Internet, we cannot block certain access.” The story concludes, “But KDL officials have said acting in the role of parents is not a duty libraries perform.”

Readings in Social Ethics: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59. References below are to page number.

  • Bucer praises the deacon as an office of the institutional church and an artifact of the early church, commending it to reestablishment in the evangelical churches: “it was their principal duty to keep a list of all of Christ’s needy in the churches, to be acquainted with the life and character of each, and to give to individuals from the common offerings of the faithful whatever would suffice for them to live properly and devoutly. For those who, when they are able to do so, refuse to seek the necessities of life by their own industry and labors should be excluded from the churches” (256-57).

  • Since deacons are to be the primary means by which the church cares for the poor, individual almsgiving is discouraged. Bucer provides a fourfold justification for this judgment: “For when each person wishes to distribute his own alms for himself, there is violated, first of all, the institution of the Holy Spirit and the legitimate communion of the saints. Secondly, alms due to the least of Christ’s brethren, and therefore to Christ himself, are more often given to the unworthy than to the worthy. Nor can every single individual know and investigate each of the poor who happen to encounter him; for those who are least worthy are much better instructed at begging, indeed, extorting, the alms which should be dispensed to the poor alone. Furthermore, when everyone gives alms by his own hand, it is with great difficulty that he will exclude from his heart a desire for the appreciation and praise of men; and when he receives this empty reward from men, a real and sure one is not to be expected from God. Finally, since it is obvious that those who voluntarily give themselves over to beggary are men prone to every crime, what else do those people who foster them do but sustain and support very harmful pests of society” (257-58). There is a sense of the need for specialization and professionalization of the work of charity here. Precisely because individuals could not do all the work needed to make charitable giving effective and appropriate, deacons are appointed to take up the task, as representatives of the institutional church.
  • The church needs to be an example to the world and should not be put to shame by greater love and charity being shown outside of rather than inside the church: “And indeed we must be ashamed and grieve when the right care of the poor has already been restored in very may regions which still serve Antichrist, whereas the very ones who glory in the reception of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ, although they are not unaware how necessary this practice is, and how much it is a part of the salutary religion of Christ, still fail to reestablish it” (258).

Richard John Neuhaus, over at the First Things blog On The Square, posts an excerpt from the upcoming print edition that excoriates the NAB translation (also noted at Mere Comments).

Neuhaus writes of Jesus’ answer in Matt. 18:22 to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” that “Jesus obviously intended hyperbole, indicating that forgiveness is open-ended. Keep on forgiving as you are forgiven by God, for God’s forgiving is beyond measure or counting.”

It’s not so much that I think that Neuhaus’ comment is wrong as I think it misses perhaps the primary allusion in Jesus’ statement: a reversal of the commitment to escalating retribution that marks Lamech’s legacy.

Thus we read in Genesis 4:23-24 of Lamech, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

See also: “Can Neoclassical Economics Handle a Scriptural View of Forgiveness?”

Last week I linked to this R&L item, “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story.” And two weeks ago, I discussed the relationship between environmental stewardship and economics.

You may recall that the first story featured in Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer. Faced with huge costs to dispose of cow refuse, Morgan’s entrepreneurial vision took hold: “His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.”

Two news items sparked my curiosity as I opened my Sunday paper this week related to these themes of narrative and stewardship. One of the strengths of good stories is their perennial applicability. Narratives that speak to the human condition in a fundamental way will always be relevant, even if the particulars change. With that, I pass on these news items.

First, in “Turkey manure isn’t waste, it’s poultry power,” Ken Kolker and Susie Fair of the Grand Rapids Press write, “The biggest dairy farms in Michigan generate more sewage than the city of Lansing.

With livestock farms getting bigger than ever, all that manure poses a growing threat to the environment, sometimes running off into streams and lakes.”

The piece doesn’t mention Morgan Composting, but it’s clear that Moran’s entrepreneurial vision and practice of stewardship is being duplicated by other farmers facing the problem of waste disposal:

Turkey farmer Harley Sietsema plans next year to start building a turkey-litter-to-electricity plant in Howard City — the state’s first poultry power operation.

A similar plant opened recently on Scenic View Dairy farm in Fennville — manure from cows is heated and churned in enormous tanks, producing methane that powers generators.

A manure-to-electricity plant is expected to open in about a month at den Dulk Dairy in Ravenna.

The 1.2 million turkeys on Sietsema’s farms in Ottawa and Muskegon counties produce 10,000 to 12,000 tons of poultry litter a year.

Three tons of litter — which also contains bedding materials such as sunflower hulls, wood chips and alfalfa stems — is equal in energy production to a ton of coal, but it does not produce polluting carbon dioxide.

Slow-burning litter will heat a boiler, producing steam that drives a generator.

Sietsema plans to use the power to run his farms, saving him $300,000 a year.

And then there’s this piece from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Garbage in, profit out”:

Waste Management Inc., heeding the proverb that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, is spending $3.5 million to poke holes and run pipes to help the Spruce Ridge landfill expel gases that soon will run three electrical generators.

The project is part of a $350 million investment to be made by Waste Management over the next five years to turn 60 landfills across the country into sites for creating renewable energy.

These projects are examples of searches for alternative sources of energy, specifically from biomass, that results from the reduction or recycling of waste products.

These stories just reiterate the connection between sound economics and stewardship of the earth. Or, in the words of the Cornwall Declaration (PDF), “We aspire to a world in which advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

I wrote a few comments explaining why John Edwards’ recent poverty tour may serve as good rhetoric but, in the end, demonstrates very poor economic thinking. His ideas essentially represent the failed “war on poverty” initiatives that came out of LBJ’s “Great Society” foolishness. It’s a 2007 remix of a few old, tired, played out ideologies. The programs didn’t work in the 70s and 80s and they won’t work if Edwards becomes president. Edwards wants to raise the minimum wage to nearly $9.50/hour. Where does Edwards expect that money to come from? In the long run, these ideas eventually hurt the poor as we witnessed before Congress overhauled welfare in 1996.

You can read my comments at the Detroit News as well an extended version of the same editorial here at the Acton Institute.

Ray Nothstine’s Acton commentary on the the ethanol boom and its impact on the poor was published today in the Christian Science Monitor as, “The unintended consequences of the ethanol quick fix.” His timely article was also picked up by a slew of other newspapers and Web sites, including the Bakersfield Californian, the Fresno Bee and the Atlantic City Press.

Blog author: abradley
Friday, July 27, 2007
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For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”

Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:

• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.

• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”

• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.

• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.

According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”

So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)

Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, July 27, 2007
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In the July issue of Christianity Today, White House spokesman Tony Snow offers a moving account of his struggle with colon cancer in “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.” Snow, who delivered the keynote speech at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner, wrote this in response to CT’s question about “the spiritual lessons he has been learning through the ordeal.”:

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

Read the entire article on the CT site.