Posts tagged with: community

Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

virtual-choir-whitacre-water-nightThe rise of globalization and the expansion of trade are continuously decried for their disruptive effects, particularly as they apply to “authentic community.”

Indeed, our strides in global connectedness have often come at a local cost, with the small and familiar being routinely replaced by the big and blurry, the intimate with the superficial, and so on. The shift is real and widespread, but it needn’t be the framework of the future.

Disruption is sure to continue as collaboration expands and innovation accelerates around the globe. But while we’re right to be cautious of the merits of such change, we mustn’t forget the opportunities it presents, not just for our economy or personal wellbeing, but for community itself.

Examples of these fruits abound and surround us, from trade to technology to niche hobbies to global missions and so forth, but I was reminded of it recently while watching a “virtual choir” performance by Eric Whitacre, the famous composer and conductor.

Known best for his choral works, Whitacre continues to leverage the technological tools of globalization to gather singers from around the world, each submitting an individual video to contribute to a massive global choir. (more…)

halo-effect1As church attendance continues to decline across the West, many have lamented the spiritual and social side effects, namely a weakening of civil society and the fabric of community life. What’s less discussed, however, is the economic impact of such a decline.

In a new study published by Cardus, Dr. Michael Wood Daly of the University of Toronto explores this very thing, researching the “economic value” of ten Toronto congregations, and finding “a cumulative estimated economic impact of approximately $45 million,” based on a combined budget of only $10 million. The study refers to this as the “halo effect,” noting the church’s value to the community, whether through social capital, community services, or physical resources and infrastructure.

The research builds on an existing framework from a pilot study done in 2010 by Partners for Sacred Spaces and the University of Pennsylvania, which resulted in similar findings. Focusing on 12 congregations, the Pennsylvania study found an economic contribution of roughly $52 million, concluding that local congregations can “now be viewed as critical economic catalysts.” Both studies evaluated a range of variables in the seven key categories, including (1) open space, (2) direct spending, (3) education, (4) magnet effect, (5) individual impacts, (6) community development, and (7) social capital and care. (more…)

pikachu

Pikachu, a popular Pokémon | Bulbapedia

The long awaited augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go, based on the long running video game franchise, was released in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand late last week. The game allows players to find and capture Pokémon, like the famous Pikachu, in the real world as they walk around streets and parks throughout their cities.

While the game is an entertaining diversion, it serves as a catalyst for something greater. With Pokémon Go, a beautiful emergent order of community has already started. Neighbors and strangers alike come together to track down another Pokémon, or team up to take down a rival Pokémon gym. The free-to-play game simultaneously provides exercise (as players must walk to catch anything), amusement, community, and friendship.

This is partially by design. Archit Bhargava (an employee Niantic, Inc, the game’s developer) says “It’s all about getting people moving, getting them exploring the world around them…We want players to have those real-world experiences either with people they know or people they meet because of the game.” The game provides the opportunity for building social institutions, but it’s the actions of the individuals in the game that build it, forming a beautiful spontaneous order “of human action, not human design.” (more…)

image1We live, work, and consume within an increasingly grand, globalized economy. Yet standing amidst its many fruits and blessings, we move about our lives giving little thought to why we’re working, who we’re serving, and how exactly our needs are being met. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” feels more invisible than ever.

In response to our newfound economic order, big and blurry as it is, many have aimed to pave paths toward more “communitarian” ends, epitomized by recent waves of “localist consumerism,” “artisanal shops,” and “social entrepreneurship.” Such efforts can be tremendously fruitful, and insofar as they meet real human needs, we should heed their resistance to blind marches toward “progress.”

I only wish that such movements would appreciate the broader range of possible solutions. The slow and local is all well and good, but something as mundane and mainstream as a local McDonald’s can serve community needs just as well as the trendy mom-and-pops of the future. The big and global is not necessarily the enemy of the small and local.

As Chris Arnade demonstrates through a series of stories, for many low- and middle-income areas, “McDonald’s have become de-facto community centers and reflections of the surrounding neighborhood,” offering a hub for the very sort of social fabric-weaving that crunchy communitarians crave. (Note: I was an employee and then shift manager of a McDonald’s during my teenage years.)

One can be resistant to the nutritional risks of the food — just as I remain resistant to the budgetary risks of overpriced “artisanal donuts” — and still perceive the value that such enterprises bring to local communities everywhere: economic, social, and (dare I say) spiritual. (more…)

Americans are growing in their distrust of the U.S. government and its leaders, with polls typically showing approval of Congress somewhere around 11%. As Senator Ben Sasse put it in his first remarks to the U.S. Senate, “The people despise us all.”

“No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation,” he said, “No one. Some of us lament this; some are angered by it; many are resigned to it; some try to dispassionately explain how they think it came to be. But no one disputes it.”

In a recent interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge, Sasse expounds on this further, noting that the problems in Congress have less to do with nefariousness (though that surely exists) than with efficacy. “There is a gigantic deficit of vision,” he says. “We have generational challenges, just at the level of federal policy.”

Sasse traces the decline of American government from Teddy Roosevelt onward, highlighting the 1960s as the eventual tipping point away from constrained constitutional governance. The federal government has now expanded into far too many areas, he argues, and the culture has responded in turn. (more…)

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)