When I consider the state of the world, the total obscurity enshrouding our personal destiny, and my present imprisonment, our union—if it wasn’t frivolity, which it certainly wasn’t—can only be a token of God’s grace and goodness, which summon us to believe in him. We would have to be blind not to see that. When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that “houses and fields [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,” it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to that world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”
Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.
But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.
And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”
A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.
“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.
Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.
For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.
Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.
When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)
In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.
Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.
“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons
When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”
But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?
In For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, they call this space the Economy of Wonder, and over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons has been leaning on heavyweights like Peter Kreeft and Hans Urs von Balthasar to remind us of its importance. In a society where everything is weighed and rewarded and justified according to its pragmatic use, how do we relish in God’s divine mystery? (more…)
Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.
Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.
Topping the list of hot trends in 2014 were “Victimism” (i.e., posturing as a victim for political advantage and media attention) and “Annoy-Thy-Neighbor” activism. There were many groups that combined both to great effect, so it would be difficult to choose the best representative case. But the lamest example of the year is much easier to find: it’s by Jex Blackmore and the Michigan Satanists.
Unfortunately, that’s not the name of a band trying to hard to be clever. Blackmore is a real person (I think, but who knows nowadays) and a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. As is typical of most modern-day “Satanists” they don’t really believe in Satan at all. On their Facebook page they explain, “As Satanists, we believe that elevating revolt against arbitrary authority and defiance in the face of oppression is the highest of callings. We stand in solidarity with groups who are subject to institutionalized forms of discrimination and state oppression.”
In other words, they’re the typical lefty Social Justice Warriors—only more clueless and annoying. Secular Satanists think they’re being edgy and ironic and sticking it to Christians, while everyone else considers them as cringe-worthy in their lack of self-awareness. Seriously, is there anything sadder than a secular Satanist? They’re so pathetic you want to give them a hug and offer them some hot cocoa. You want to tell them that if they’d just stop drawing pentagrams and scribbling “I ♥ Richard Dawkins” in their notebooks and go out into the Real World they too could make friends .
Instead, they try to hide their loneliness by doing stuff like erecting a “Satanic holiday display” at the Michigan statehouse:
Over at the Calvinist International I’ve posted the text of a Christmas meditation from Abraham Kuyper, made possible by the work of Jim DeJong and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. It’s a rich devotional reflection inspired by the text of Luke 2:8, “And there were shepherds in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock at night.”
Using the pastoral trope, Kuyper enjoins his readers to:
Think only about your own situation. Think about your shepherding. Think about the flock entrusted to you. Think about your own responsibility to keep watch over that flock at night. What does your conscience say to you about that? The year is coming to a close. Days are flying by. Give an account of yourself; hold a reckoning of your own soul. Brothers and sisters, what, I ask what, have you done with your flock? What have you done with those about whom the Lord said to you, “I entrust these to you!”
Each one of us has been entrusted with the care of something. That’s the basic stewardship reality taught in Scripture. And the waiting of the shepherds, like the Advent waiting of Zechariah, was done in faithful commitment to their stewardship responsibility, whether in the field or the temple. So too must our waiting be a faithful waiting.
Or as John Milton put it in Sonnet 19, alluding to the parable of the workers in the vineyard, “They also serve who only stand and waite.” Let us wait in ready anticipation of the Jesus. Of him Kuyper confesses: “The Shepherd of all shepherds is the Lord, the great Shepherd of our souls.”
My favorite psychology professor, when I was an undergrad, had a saying: “We are all more alike than we are different.” While most of us would never know the horror of paranoid psychosis, he said, we all know the fear of walking into a room and thinking, “Why is everyone looking at me? Is something wrong?” It’s in this realization of the common human experiences that we could begin to see even the most ill person in a compassionate manner.
It seems as if Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, has come to a similar revelation. After taking part in the Vatican’s Humanum conference, Warren came to this conclusion:
I think the beauty is that we have far more in common than we have what separates us. When you think about it, what is a Christian? They believe in the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believe in the Resurrection. They believe in the Bible. They believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins. If you believe those things, we’re on the same team. We may have different disagreements on other issues, but if you love Jesus Christ, you’re my brother, my sister.
In his reflections on art and common grace, Abraham Kuyper affirmed that “the world of beauty that does in fact exist can have originated nowhere else than in the creation of God. The world of beauty was thus conceived by God, determined by his decree, called into being by him, and is maintained by him.” Beauty is, in this deep sense, a creational good, and even though beauty is often pressed into the service of evil, beauty, like all good things, is a creation of God.
During last week’s symposium at Calvin College on common grace and business, Dr. Vahagn Asatryan of Redeemer University College presented on marketing and common grace. To open his paper, Dr. Asatryan used this advertisement. Be sure to watch to the end and pay special attention to the message at the conclusion of the commercial:
Asatryan noted the deep beauty of the story told in this piece, and yet ultimately it depicts a situation that conflicts with God’s will for human social life. In the old days it was referred to as “living in sin.” What might a marketing piece that is more affirming of God’s common grace as reflected in his will for the human institution of marriage look like?