Archived Posts September 2012 | Acton PowerBlog

J.Q. Tomanek of Ignitum Today interviewed Rev. Sirico about life, work, human flourishing, and his new book, Defending the Free Market:

JQ Tomanek: Back in the day, holiness was misinterpreted as a cleric or religious life thing. How can a lay Catholic practice their faith? What are some ways to sanctify our work as lay Catholics? Is “ora et labora” just a monk thing?

Reverend Sirico: Yes, religious people are often tempted to become so “heavenly minded they are no earthly good” – as someone once said.

Ora et labora—prayer and work—should be a motto for all Christians, and the monks intended that to be the case. We need to respect the concrete reality of the world in which people spend most of their time: the “mundane” existence whereby people earn sufficient resources to support their families and fulfill their vocation to steward the earth. It is important that as Catholics we clearly communicate that work has great dignity and eternal significance. The Incarnation of the Lord was not so much Christ coming to earth as though he were an alien of some kind, but that he came through human agency (of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and worked in a carpenter’s shop.

Read more . . .

Faced with the prospect of a professional athletic career, a nearly-half million dollar salary, and a perfect lady, what’s not to like? Apparently, for Grant Desme, it was the noise and unrest of  the world.

Can a culture of life and the noise and tumult of the marketplace co-exist? Rev. Robert Sirico, reflecting on this, says they can, so long as it is not a place where:

[C]apitalism…places the human person at the mercy of blind economic forces…What we propose, rather, is a free economy that puts the human person at the center of economic actions because the human person is the source of all economic initiative.

Grant Desme is a young man who seems to understand this type of freedom: the freedom to choose the life that God is calling one to, even if that means living a life that appears to be outside the marketplace. Desme had signed a professional baseball contract with the Oakland Athletics, but felt something was amiss.

All the success he craved left him numb. Desme would sit on the bench and talk with his teammates about God. He and Steve Kleen, a non-denominational Christian, engaged in deep philosophical debates long into the night. Desme wouldn’t proselytize, either; he was just there to talk, a father as much as a Father. And the more he thought about it, the more something occurred to him: “I’m getting more enjoyment out of this than hitting the home run I did the other inning.”

He left baseball behind for the quiet, regimented life of a monk at St. Michael’s Abbey in California. Now, instead of hitting homers and rounding bases, Desme’s life is taken up by scheduled prayer 10 times a day and manual labor around the Abbey grounds. He even gave up his name, and is now Frater Matthew (“frater” is Latin for “brother”, “Matthew” being the name the community bestowed on him.) Someone who understands Desme’s choice is Father Ambrose, of St. Michael’s, who chose the monastery over a Rhodes Scholarship:

“It’s sort of like the terrible curse of success…I thought, ‘Well, OK, I’ve got what I’m dreaming about. I’m still miserable. My heart is restless. So what does that mean?’ That restless heart – I had to tend to it in a way that before was about attaining something like the Rhodes Scholarship. When there’s still a restless heart, that requires a much more supernatural explanation.

“That’s how God speaks to young men and women in our culture: when the world and what it has to offer will never be enough. Young people want to be heroic. They want to do great things. Not just what the world tells them will be great.”

Of course, one might note that even the abbey is not a place completely removed from the marketplace, as they host an annual summer camp for boys, and sell a few books and CDs. And that’s the point that Fr. Sirico makes: in a culture centered on the human person, imbued with dignity and free will, the marketplace will be a fruitful extension, no matter one’s career choice or path in life.  It is the human who chooses the market and invests in it not just money but values, not the market creating the human. Grant Desme – Frater Matthew – seems to understand that, from both sides of the abbey walls.

Read “From prospect to priest: Grand Desme leaves the A’s, becomes a monk and tries to find his peace“.

What is so special about 1837? That was the year Abraham Kuyper was born. September 29th is his 165th birthday. So we thought we would go back to 1837 and see how people were being On Call in Culture back then.

We don’t know if they were all believers on a mission to bless the world, but by seeing what was going on 165 years ago, we hope you are encouraged to engage your world in 2012!

How did people bless the world in 1837?
• Charles Goodyear received his first rubber patent
• Oliver Twist is published by Charles Dickens
• Samuel Morse showcased the electric telegraph for the first time
• Charles Tiffany opened his jewelry store
• The steam-powered threshing machine was patented
• Issac Pitman invented the steno system
• “Requiem” is premiered by Hector Berlioz

Sources:
http://www.historyorb.com/events/date/1837
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1837
http://www.brainyhistory.com/years/1837.html

Thanks to Andrew Walker for a great review of Wisdom & Wonder appearing in the fall issue of The City:

It is important to remember that for Kuyper, reflection upon these disciples is not for the sake of their own merit, but instead, in an attempt to bring a coherent understanding of how, as the foreword states, ‘the gospel, and thereby the practice of the Christian faith, relates to every single area of society.’

Many who profess an interest in Kuyper have often become Kuyperians by reading about Kuyper instead of reading him. For many, Kuyper’s influence is mediated through second-hand sources. Wisdom & Wonder is an important step in bringing Kuyper’s cultural theology to bear on new audiences.

Wisdom & Wonder consists of the last ten chapters of Volume 3 in the larger Common Grace set by Abraham Kuyper. Common Grace Volume 1 will be released in early 2013. Click here for more information on the Kuyper Translation project. Read Walker’s entire review here, and connect with the Common Grace project on Facebook here.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, September 28, 2012
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Why Should Christians Care About Economics?
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

If Christ’s dominion extends over the whole of creation, why is economics often treated as if it is exempt from His reign? If all truths are God’s truth, why do we act as if our intellect is exempt from discerning truth in the discipline of economics?

Are Religious Institutions and Individuals Being Treated Like Second-Class Citizens?
John G. Malcolm, The Foundry

Religious freedom is one of the core principles on which the American system of government is based. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Analysis: India’s narrow path to religious freedom
Steven David, Compas Direct News

In August, the high court of India’s Himachal Pradesh state rejected a portion of the state’s laws regulating religious conversion.

Lacking A First Amendment, Great Britain Is Hostile Toward Religion
Doug Bandow, Forbes

Great Britain and the United States might enjoy a “special relationship,” but they do not share the same commitment to religious liberty.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 28, 2012
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Article: “Big Questions and Poor Economics”
James Tooley. “Big Questions and Poor Economics: Banerjee and Duflo on Schooling in Developing Countries.” Econ Journal Watch 9, no. 3 (September 2012): 170-185.

In Poor Economics, MIT professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo set out their solutions for global poverty. Their key premise is that development experts have been sidetracked by the “big questions” of development, such as the role of government and the role of aid. This approach, they say, should be eschewed in favour of adopting carefully tested “small steps” to improvement. The book ranges widely, covering topics such as food, health, family planning and microfinance. Here I treat only their arguments on education in developing countries. Poor Economics points to evidence that shows that governments have not been successful in bringing quality education to the poor. Nevertheless, the authors bring their own big-think judgments to suggest why, despite the evidence, governmentally owned and operated schooling should remain central. Part of their own evidence concerns how private schooling, including for the poor, is burgeoning and outperforming government schooling. But private education cannot be the solution, they argue, because private schooling is not as efficient as it could be. The problems identified by Banerjee and Duflo are, however, clearly caused by bad public policy. I suggest that development economists are quite justified in forming and exercising judgment on the big questions, and that when they do exercise such judgment they should be aware that they are doing so.

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At the height of the housing crisis, it was estimated that 11 million homes in America were mortgaged for more than they were worth. That debt crisis may soon be dwarfed—if it hasn’t been already—by the student loan debt problem:

With college enrollment growing, student debt has stretched to a record number of U.S. households — nearly 1 in 5 — with the biggest burdens falling on the young and poor.

The analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 22.4 million households, or 19 percent, had college debt in 2010. That is double the share in 1989, and up from 15 percent in 2007, just prior to the recession — representing the biggest three-year increase in student debt in more than two decades.

Unlike an negative equity mortgage, student load debt is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy. It’s also non-transferable—the college degree that was “bought” with the debt cannot be sold or traded. That makes degrees that are not “marketable” or that were acquired for reasons of personal growth an expensive luxury good.

Obviously many people (including me, with some qualifications) believe that the value of obtaining a liberal education is worth taking on debt. But what about graduates who will receive neither a life-broadening education nor a vocationally useful skill-set from getting a college degree? Should we continue to encourage them to take on debt to pay for higher education?

I recently wrote about Hobby Lobby’s billionaire CEO, who, in a recent Forbes profile, made it clear how deeply his Christian faith informs his economic decision-making.

This week, in Christianity Today, HOPE International’s Chris Horst profiles another Christian business, Blender Products, whose owners Steve Hill and Jim Howey actively work to elevate the practices of the metal fabrication business and, above all, operate their business “unto the Lord.”

Their company’s foundational verse? Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

“The metal fabrication business is extremely cutthroat,” says Hill. “Workers are given a singular task, and maximum output is demanded. They’re simply a factor of production. As a general rule, they have no access to management. There is very little crossover between guys on the floor and guys in the offices.”

Hill and Howey aim to subvert the us-versus-them mentality. Many days they walk the shop floor, engaging their workers as peers. Employees on the floor are treated as importantly as the managers, undermining the adversarial culture simmering in many manufacturing businesses.

“The company has tried to abide by a simple philosophy concerning our employees,” Steve said. “Pay them well, provide great benefits, and invest in lives…The guys in our shop… know that I’m a human too. I have many of the same struggles they do. Showing humanness to people is key to disarming those stereotypes.”

And the employees aren’t the only ones who benefit:

The very work that Blender employees accomplish benefits a broader community. On the shop floor, talented metal artisans convert stacks of sheet metal—what looks like an oversized stack of paper—into massive fans that improve the efficiency of machinery by mixing airstreams. Their proprietary mixing designs decrease pollution, reduce machinery fire risks, and improve ventilation wherever they’re installed. Fastened in hospitals, schools, office buildings, and factories, they silently make buildings and machines work better and safer.

But although Hill and Howey’s Christian values inform the way they conduct their business and treat their employees, the approach has impacted far more than employee paychecks, customer satisfaction, and environmental stewardship:
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 27, 2012
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Child Welfare Legislation Outlaws Spanking
HSLDA

When Governor Jack Markell signed into law Senate Bill 234 on September 12, 2012, Delaware became the first state in the in the nation to effectively outlaw corporal discipline of children by their parents.

The Story Behind One of the Most Ironic Religious Freedom Lawsuits Ever Filed
Tobin Grant, Christianity Today

The religious discrimination complaint against the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom moves closer to trial.

Pope urges interfaith dialogue in Mideast, defends religious freedom
Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI signed a major document calling on Catholics in the Middle East to engage in dialogue with Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim neighbors, but also to affirm and defend their right to live freely in the region where Christianity was born.

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Economics & Serving Others
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

How do we accomplish what love requires? How do we serve others? How do we give sacrificially? How do we transform the world for the coming Kingdom of Christ? We start by re-integrating of our faith and our vocation.

In a recent New York Times article (here), Ted C. Fishman offers and in-depth feature on the Kalamazoo Promise:

Back in November 2005, when this year’s graduates were in sixth grade, the superintendent of Kalamazoo’s public schools, Janice M. Brown, shocked the community by announcing that unnamed donors were pledging to pay the tuition at Michigan’s public colleges, universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district’s high schools. All of a sudden, students who had little hope of higher education saw college in their future. Called the Kalamazoo Promise, the program — blind to family income levels, to pupils’ grades and even to disciplinary and criminal records — would be the most inclusive, most generous scholarship program in America.

Since 2005, all graduates from Kalamazoo public schools who have attended since they were freshmen have been eligible for a scholarship program that sends them to college while they (and our government, for that matter) incur little to no debt at all. Given our country’s looming higher ed bubble, this fact alone makes the Promise a significant achievement. However, Fishman’s article highlights many social gains and lessons worth highlighting here as well. (more…)