Posts tagged with: community

ferguson_t580The events in Ferguson, MO and the tragic death of Eric Gardner have brought a variety of tensions to the forefront of our thinking and to the streets of many a city. But while the ensuing discussions have ranged from politics and policy to cultural attitudes about this or that, few have noted what the events might signify as it relates to the intersection of faith, work, and vocation.

Over at MISSION:WORK, Vincent Bacote fills this gap, noting how the current response against law enforcement and the criminal justice system is fundamentally a reaction against distortions of human dignity, and thus, “the relationship of human dignity to the opportunity to do work that contributes to one’s flourishing.”

Pointing to the stewardship mandate in Genesis, Bacote reminds us that, despite America’s largely positive legacy, our country has at many times resisted “opportunity for all persons to properly express themselves as image bearers in the world of work,” particularly when it comes to African Americans. “The problems magnified by Ferguson show we have not escaped the reverberations of a society where racial discrimination was part of the structure of society,” writes Bacote, “including ways that such discrimination impeded the path to full flourishing in the world of work for African-Americans.” (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

The sociologist Robert Nisbet has some useful insights here. In his 1953 work The Quest for Community, he developed the case that greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.
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tusAt the bottom of this storm and tornado roundup from The Weather Channel, there is a powerful slideshow on the devastation in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The death count in the region stands at 31. Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant described yesterday as “The most active tornado day in Mississippi history.”

Some people forget that it is denominational church agencies that often are the first to meet the material needs and bring comfort to the afflicted. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is well known for their rapid response. I covered that agency more in depth in the “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast” in the Spring 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty. The article is a good introduction into how church agencies are more efficient and effective than governmental agencies when it comes to disaster response. This is in part due to the fact that they already have built in relationships and organizations on the ground.

The Southern Baptist Church has almost 90,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding. They have chainsaw teams, power generators, shower and laundry facilities, water purification devices, and offer child-care, to name just a few of their services. I saw firsthand how Hurricane Katrina really multiplied the power and commitment of religious agencies to provide lasting hope through a long-term commitment to rebuilding. It might surprise some readers that Christian churches are still sending volunteers and money to the Gulf Coast which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

People who face devastation need to feel like they are not alone. A human touch that has the power to reflect the incarnated Christ who was sent to lift up and resurrect a disordered world is invaluable. The great promise of Christianity is that the Lord is a God of recovery and restoration. While government can offer services and help, it can’t offer the kind of hope that has overcome the things of this world.

Selfsmall“Christian discipleship is nothing less than conformity to Christ—as individual believers and as local communities,” writes Charlie Self in Flourishing Churches and Communities, CLP’s Pentecostal primer on faith, work, and economics. “The very life of God is in us.”

Most of us have heard the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in their basic forms, but understanding the relationship between the two and living out that combined imperative can be difficult to wrap our minds around.

How do we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves? How do we love ourselves without descending into selfishness?

Self argues that “all of these ‘loves’ grow together,” and thus, we should be wary of drawing unhealthy divides, focusing on one area or group of areas to the detriment of the other(s). Fruitful stewardship depends on a healthy and holistic focus not just on who we ought to be serving, what we ought to be doing, and how we ought to be doing it, but first and foremost, from where such activities are sourced and directed.  (more…)

inner-city-main

Several months ago, in the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the flurry of discussions surrounding it, Chris Horst and I co-wrote a post on how Christians mustn’t forget or neglect the role of business in our attempts to rebuild, restore, and reinvigorate failing cities.

In the latest issue of The City, we return to the topic, expanding a bit more on what exactly businesses contribute — materially, socially, and spiritually — and how Christians might adjust their imaginations in response. If a city’s economic future is driven in large part by entrepreneurialism, high levels of human capital, clustering of skilled workers and industries, or in the case of North Dakota’s Bakken region, bountiful natural resources, what role should the People of God play therein?

Of  course, churches musn’t pretend to be economic chess players — surveying cities and placing pawns accordingly — but certain economic drivers and actions are bound to influence the way our witness ultimately takes shape. What do we miss if we ignore such factors? (more…)

In a new video from Dégagé Ministries, a non-profit based in Grand Rapids, Mich., Jim Wolf, a formerly homeless U.S. Army vet, receives a striking physical makeover. The video was created for a Veteran’s Day fundraising campaign designed to raise money for homeless and disadvantaged veterans.

As their web site states, “Dégagé’s goal is to assure that every man and woman who we serve knows that he/she is not alone.” Offering a host of services to 400-500 people daily, from meeting immediate needs like food and clothing to “walking alongside and affirming individuals as they navigate obstacles and work toward housing, jobs, sobriety, health, and independence,” Dégagé seeks to “reflect Christ’s love in action and word” through close community. (more…)

“Detroit developed best when it was bottom-up,” says Harry Veryser, economist and professor at University of Detroit Mercy. “When small communities, small parishes, small schools were formed… that’s when Detroit prospered.”

In a recent discussion on what makes cities flourish, Chris Horst and I argued that cities need a unique blend of local community action, good governance, and strong business to thrive. Cities like Detroit have monstrous and complex problems, and the solutions will not come from additional top-down tweaking and tinkering. Rather, any such solutions will stem from complex networks of strong families, life-giving churches, healthy businesses, and intersecting institutions, all of which is furthered when governments rightly relate to their citizens. (more…)

greek foodGreece is, economically, a mess. With a youth unemployment rate exceeding 65 percent, leaving two-thirds of the nation’s young people unable to find a job, there is not much to celebrate in a country where family life – like many cultures – revolves around meals. Greece is also facing a sharp decline in population. Here is a story of what happens when people who love to cook, but have no one to cook for, meet people who love to eat, but have little money for food. (more…)

little-way-ruthi-lemingIn his forthcoming book, author and journalist Rod Dreher chronicles his journey back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana, in “the wake of his younger sister Ruthie’s death.”

After spending time in St. Francisville during the final months of his sister’s life, Dreher, who left his hometown as a teenager and bounced around from city to city in the years proceeding, was struck by the support and generosity his sister received from the community.

In a column written shortly after Dreher’s decision to move back, David Brooks summarized the key drivers of Dreher’s homecoming:

They wanted to be enmeshed in a tight community. They wanted to be around Ruthie’s daughters, and they wanted their kids to be able to go deer hunting with Mike. They wanted to be where the family had been for five generations and participate in the rituals ranging from Mardi Gras to L.S.U. football. They decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.

The book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, sets out to further explain this experience and, in the process, emphasize the importance of community. Dreher, who writes regularly at The American Conservative, is well known for his communitarian views, yet despite falling short at times on the role of the market in shaping community life, he is not overly eager to push us into a Wendell-Berry cookie cutter, recognizing that technology does have its benefits, even in community life. In a recent back-and-forth with Acton’s very own Jordan Ballor, Dreher noted that “the localism and the kind of conservatism I favor will in many cases only be feasible through the Internet.”

Finding a “balance” or “fusion” or “integration” in this wide overlap between and across economic mobility and stable community life is a tricky thing for us to understand and respond to. Based on what I’ve heard and read thus far, I trust that Dreher’s latest work will offer plenty of good meat for us to chew on when it comes to processing this and challenging our various perspectives.

In the latest Acculturated podcast, Dreher discusses the book with Ben Domenech and Abby Schachter, offering some strong challenges to modern America’s often distorted approach to flourishing. Toward the end of the discussion, Domenech asks what advice Dreher would give to a young person struggling to preserve some sense of community while contemplating things like vocation, career, and basic economic wherewithal.

Dreher’s response hits just the right notes, explaining how there’s no single path to the features he’s elevating. For Dreher, it ultimately comes down to active obedience, discernment, and attention to both individual calling and our basic human need for community: (more…)

IkariaThe New York Times has a fascinating profile on Ikaria, a Greek island located about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. With roughly 8,000 inhabitants, the island is known for its slow and relaxed lifestyle, thriving communities, and healthy citizenry.

As Ikarian physician Dr. Ilias Leriadis says in the article: “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? …We simply don’t care about the clock here.”

Brendan Case offers a good summary of the article at Call and Response (HT), pointing to some significant themes:

“For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle,” reports Dan Buettner in a recent issue of the “New York Times Magazine,” “they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible.” Buettner’s exploration of the Aegean island of Ikaria, where people are 2.5 times as likely as Americans to live past the age of 90, showcases the inseparability of individual and communal flourishing.

On Ikaria, a constellation of factors yields long lives: a great diet, and few chances to deviate from it; lots of physical activity (little of which could be classed as “exercise”); even regular napping.

But the likely keys to Ikarian longevity are harder to map. Buettner suggests that social structures — the marriages, families and friendships that knit Ikarians into a densely woven fabric of village life — are what sustain these communities in healthy practices.

At a superficial level, it can be easy for us to overly romanticize such places, especially for those of us who are routinely exhausted by fast-paced Western culture (though I still prefer a widespread concern for clocks). Buettner, for example, often seems over-sold on the notion of Ikaria as Utopia–likely, no doubt, because of his research interests in longevity (understandable). (more…)