Posts tagged with: civilization

Braekeleer_Ferdinand_de_A_Peasant_Family_Gathered_around_the_Kitchen_Table_Oil_on_Panel-largeWith the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal empowerment and vocational choice. This is a welcome development, and it can be seized for good in any number of ways. But it also comes with its own risks and temptations.

As with any surface-level “freedom,” unless we seek God first and neighbor second, our action will quickly be steered by pleasure, pride, pursuit of power, or plain old personal preference — leading to shackles that may be looser, but remain shackles nonetheless. Such illusions are nothing new, and lurk no matter what the sphere of our stewardship. But if modernity has wielded a tangible, visible blow to one area in particular, it’s that of the family.

Over the last few decades, marriage has increasingly been misunderstood, and our misaligned approaches to business, education, and politics haven’t helped. Rather than a basic starting point, a foundation of a flourishing society, the family has become just another optional perk in the worship of narrow self-fulfillment.

“Oh that? It’s not for me. Not now.”

As a result, marriage is increasingly seen as a mere contractual arrangement, a 50-50 partnership for the purposes of personal pleasure rather than duty and sacrifice. In turn, culture and family have “evolved” accordingly. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and those who do are doing so later and later and having fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Divorce is routine. The basic definition of marriage is constantly questioned. (more…)

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

poor-working-class-family-after-the-days-workCapitalism is routinely blamed for rampant materialism and consumerism, accused of setting society’s sights only on material needs and wants, and living little time, attention, or energy for much else. But what, if not basic food, shelter, and survival, was humanity so preoccupied with before the Industrial Revolution?

As Steve Horwitz argues in a preview of his forthcoming book, Hayek’s Modern Family, our newfound liberty and accelerated activity in the Economy of Creative Service has actually freed us to devote more to other spheres of stewardship, not less:
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katy-big-snow-virginia-burton“No work? Then nothing else either. Culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and to keep happening — by God the Holy Spirit, through our work.” –Lester DeKoster

As we begin to discover God’s design and purpose for our work, there there’s a temptation to elevate certain jobs or careers above others, and attempt to inject our work with meaning from the outside. Yet as long as we are serving our neighbors faithfully, productively, ethically, and in obedience to God’s will, the meaning is already there.

We can wrap our imaginations around this reality in a number of ways, but one helpful thought experiment is to imagine what would happen if a particular job or task were to be left undone. With our newfound prosperity and privilege, it is sometimes easy to dismiss certain forms of manual or “unglamorous” labor (the plumber, the builder, the garbage collector) in favor of supposedly “higher pursuits.” Yet if any of the workers in these areas vanished, what would happen to civilized society? Indeed, in a way, the simple, tangible nature of such work often provides the clearest illustration of the service and sacrifice God has called us to, bearing fruit we can quite easily taste and see.

I was reminded of this when reading my kids Katy and the Big Snow, the classic children’s story by Virginia Lee Burton (author of another timeless tale about work). Burton tells the story of Katy, a “beautiful red crawler tractor” who was “very big and very strong” and was able to push either a bulldozer or snowplow, depending on the season. (more…)

As Christians continue to turn their attention to the intersection of faith and work, it can be easy to dwell on such matters only insofar as they apply to our individual lives. What is our purpose, our vocation, and our value? How does God view our work, and how ought we to render it back to him? What is the source of our economic action?

These questions are important, but the answers will inevitably point us to a more public (and for some, controversial) context filled with profound questions of its own. Stewardship is step one: calling, work, service, generosity, and so on. But what about the ripple effects of all that? How does the personal aspect connect with the public?

As Greg Forster explains in his talk at the recent Faith@Work Summit“You can’t separate stewardship from economics.”

Whether we recognize it or not, our work has profound implications for the broader social and economic order beyond gross domestic product. As we glorify God through our work, we are also creating and cultivating social and spiritual capital with our neighbors, yielding service and fostering trust as we bless strangers and receive similar blessings in return. Lester DeKoster calls it the “fabric of civilization,” weaved together by the Holy Spirit to restore “the broken family of humankind.” (more…)

gift-of-magi-ohenry-della-jimAmid the wide array of quaint and compelling Christmas tales, O. Henry’s classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” continues to stand out as a uniquely captivating portrait of the power of sacrificial exchange.

On the day before Christmas, Della longs to buy a present for her husband, Jim, restlessly counting and recounting her measly $1.87 before eventually surrendering to her poverty and bursting into tears. “Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim,” the narrator laments. “Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

Wishing to buy him a new fob chain for his gold watch — his most valuable and treasured possession — Della decides to sell her beautiful brunette hair — her most valuable and treasured possession. “Rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters,” Della’s hair was so long “it made itself almost a garment for her.” And yet, shedding but a “tear or two,” she goes through with it, trading her lovely hair to secure the $20 needed to buy a present for Jim. (more…)

In a new video from The High Calling, Howard Butt, Jr. shares the story of David Magallenez, a garbage man who daily serves the people of San Antonio by removing their trash, and does so with a happy heart.

“If I’ve done my job well, people don’t even know I’m there,” David says.

As the narrator concludes: “Neither job title nor position earns a person true stature. But in any field, dedication in serving others exemplifies the high calling of our daily work.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 6, 2014
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cutting-roomCan something as simple as a shoe build civilization?

I recently had the pleasure of touring the Red Wing Shoe Museum in Red Wing, Minnesota, home of the Red Wing Shoe Company, and the answer became quite clear.

Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoes has from the very beginning focused on producing boots and shoes for those who “work on their feet.” At a time when blacksmiths, carpenters, lumberjacks, and farmers had few options for footwear, founder Charles Beckman grew frustrated with the status quo, and responded by building “purpose-built” footwear to meet the needs of manual laborers.

Their slogan: “Work is our work.”

The company quickly gained a reputation for high-quality shoes and boots, and still maintains its status as a premier shoemaker for specific trades, supplying footwear for everyone from snake handlers to skyscraper builders to oil rig workers to restaurant chefs. Although most of us wouldn’t think to look at the feet of those who provide such services, the company continues to quietly empower labor of all kinds across the world. (more…)

The West has made some remarkable steps forward culturally in the past several generations, as, for instance, in the areas of civil rights (the unborn being a notable exception), race relations, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions. We shouldn’t indulge a false nostalgia that overlooks this progress. That being said, you can visit almost any major city in the free world today and find evidence of cultural decay on a host of fronts: malls dripping with images of sensuality and hedonism; girls from respectable, law abiding families dropped off at school dressed like prostitutes; boys sitting beside them in class able to pull up a world of pornography on their smartphones and often doing so; chronically high divorce rates; a plummeting number of homes with the biological father present; commercials telling you, implicitly or explicitly, to Obey Your Thirst; recreational drug abuse—on and on we could go.

The challenge extends even to what many of us would characterize as “good homes.” (more…)