Posts tagged with: Lester DeKoster

It sounds like a late-night tv scam: make tens of thousands of dollars and don’t work at all! And yet, it turns out that the U.S. government is offering just such a deal. For instance, a welfare recipient in the state of Connecticut can make up to uncle sam's money$38,761, according to a new Cato Institute study. In Hawaii, the figure is $49,175, over 200 percent above the Federal Poverty Level. As The Heritage Foundation has pointed out, nearly half of Americans pay no income tax at this point in history.

Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes have written “Work versus Welfare Trade-off 2013: An Analysis of the Total Level of Welfare Benefits by State.” Tanner has this to say about paying people not to work:

To be clear: There is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy. Indeed, surveys of them consistently show their desire for a job. But they’re also not stupid. If you pay them more not to work than they can earn by working, many will choose not to work.

While this makes sense for them in the short term, it may actually hurt them over the long term. One of the most important steps toward avoiding or getting out of poverty is a job.Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, vs. 23.9 percent of adults who don’t work. And, while many anti-poverty activists decry low-wage jobs, even starting at a minimum-wage job can be a springboard out of poverty.

Thus, by providing such generous welfare payments, we may actually not be helping recipients.

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PowerBlog readers will be excused for missing this, as I suspect there are not many who frequent the MTV Teen Choice Awards. But don’t let your skepticism prevent you from watching this video of Ashton (really, “Christopher Ashton”) Kutcher’s acceptance speech, in which he exhorts the younger generation to get its hands dirty with hard work:

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” There are many connections to be made here with this insight, not least of which is with Lester DeKoster’s view that work is “a glorious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors by participating in God’s creative work through cultivation of the creation order.” Kutcher’s basic point is that work has some important lessons to teach us. “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than,” says Kutcher. He was, rather, grateful to have the gift of productive work, and passionately describes how each job, whether manual labor or minimum wage work, was a “stepping stone” to the next.

One of the great things about the speech, as Richard Clark writes, is the way Kutcher addressed his audience, how “he told them what he’d want to be told, and he treated them in the way he’d want to be treated.”

Kutcher concludes by invoking the example of Steve Jobs, who Kutcher plays in an upcoming biopic, and urges his audience to “build a life” through their work. Kutcher manages to include some insight about the nature of institutions and what it means to engage cultural realities as we live and work. This is something Millennials desperately need to hear, as David Brooks has written, and it’s something that Steve Jobs has to teach us about the nature of our jobs.

boss moneyIn light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.

Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:

What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.

How, then, do they relate? (more…)

The real estate crisis led to plenty of finger-pointing and blame-shifting, but for Phoenix real estate developer Walter Crutchfield, it led to self-examination and spiritual reflection.

“The real estate crash brought me to a place of stepping back and evaluating,” Crutchfield says. “I could see where I lost sight of the individual intrinsic value of work, of individuals, of community…Rather than asking ‘is the demand reasonable?,’ we just serviced it, and now we had a chance to think about what we had done.”

In yet another marvelous video from Nathan Clarke and Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, Crutchfield shares his journey from seeing work as aimless toil to being driven by the prospect of value creation:

Crutchfield concludes that work “pleases God,” and that through its fundamental function of serving others, it “declares the glory of God…just because it is.” For Crutchfield, this basic realization transformed his entire approach to doing business, leading him to focus on creating “real value,” rather than simply going through the motions. (more…)

Faithful in All God's House DeKosterIn Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef explore the range and reach of Christian stewardship, emphasizing that the practice of stewardship extends far beyond the handling of our money, stretching into life and time and destiny.

The practice of stewardship is “the supreme challenge of the Christian life,” they argue, and thus, we must strive to properly orient our thinking and behavior accordingly. The forms of stewardship are submitted to all of us. “None is beyond our reach — if the heart is aware, and the will bent to do God’s service wherever and whenever.”

Such awareness begins with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of stewardship, and DeKoster and Berghoef set forth five distinct principles to help lay the groundwork for their discussion. These principles, as revealed in Scripture, are summarized as follows:

  • God creates, sustains, and thus owns all things — man included. Not only in the beginning, but always. Every child born into the world receives life from God.
  • God brings us to life within this vast, beautiful, and challenging world and permits us to use and enjoy all that he sustains.
  • He intends, however, that his will shall govern our wills and his desires shall control our desires. He reveals his will in inspired Scripture. As we walk in his world, his word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our paths (Ps. 119:105).
  • Our use of God’s property, whether as faithful or rebellious stewards, is, therefore, what life is all about.
  • Our obedience, or disobedience, to God’s will revealed in his Word becomes the basis for the last judgment, which is the prelude to heaven or hell. (more…)

MonksInkWhat do markets have to do with monasticism? Quite a lot to the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Southern California, according to a recent press release. Their prior Fr. Joseph Brennan describes MonksInk, the monks’ business selling ink and toner cartridges:

Every monastery has something unique about them. For example, a monastery in Louisiana makes soap. Some make jellies and jams. The Camaldolese make amazing fruitcake. But we never developed anything like that. Until now, we only produced ceramics, and even these were designed by a brother monk in Belgium. We really needed to do something different. MonksInk was a good fit.

The article goes on to detail their offerings:

Product selection meets or exceeds what one could find at any big box office supply store — including ink and toner options for every make and model of printer, fax and copy machine, from HP and Epson to Xerox, and every brand in between. Buyers also have their choice of original manufacturer products, alternative cost-saving brands, or re-manufactured items. And, the monks are quick to point out, anyone can always add a prayer request or two as well! (more…)

downloadOver at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention  now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.

Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).

Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:

Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.

Although I disagree with where precisely Poulos draw his lines — sharing much of Rodney Stark’s skepticism about an explicitly Protestant ethic (etc.) — such divides do exist, labels aside.

Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)

I recently argued that although vocation is important, there is a certain something that goes before and beyond it. As Lester DeKoster puts it, “The meaning we seek has to be in work itself.”

Over at Think Christian, John Van Sloten puts forth something similar, focusing on our efforts to work for the common good— something not altogether separate from vocation:

There’s a lot of talk in faith/work circles about the idea of working for the common good – for the good of your neighbor, city, company, classmate, family member, environment and world.

It’s a good idea and an integral part of a balanced vocational worldview. But I think it falls short. And it’s not all that work is meant to be. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way.

Sometimes working for the common good is an impediment to what is work’s primary purpose: a real-time knowing and experience of God. Sometimes working for the common good becomes a works-based means of vocational salvation. And life with God becomes something that’s based on what we do for God as opposed to who we are before Him…

…Work must first be a gratitude-based response to a grace-filled encounter with our co-working God. It must be a place where we experience the presence of, are swept away by the creativity of, are enthralled by the beauty of, are humbled by the service of and are blown away by the mind of … God. (more…)

Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:

According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”

While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
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Joseph Sunde’s fine post today on vocation examines the dynamic between work and toil, the former corresponding to God’s creational ordinance and the latter referring to the corruption of that ordinance in light of the Fall into sin.

Read the whole thing.

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Joseph employs a distinction between “needs-based” work and something else, something privileged, a first-world kind of “fulfilling” work. The point DeKoster makes is right on target; we need to, in Bonhoeffer’s words, break through from the “it” of the work to the “you” (ultimately the divine “You”) that we meet in the work itself.

The discussions of these kinds of distinctions between “hard” work and “head” work have a long pedigree. There was a philosophical dispute running throughout the ancient and medieval eras about the value of the active versus the contemplative life. But I’d like to highlight a more proximate antecedent for some of this thinking, the British controversialist and critic John Ruskin (1819-1900).

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