Posts tagged with: stewardship

Readings in Social Ethics: John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, part 1 of 3. There are six sermons in this text, based on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This post deals with the first pair. References are to page numbers.

Sermon 1:

  • There is danger in luxury: “In this way luxury often leads to forgetfulness. As for you, my beloved, if you sit at table, remember that from the table you must go to prayer. Fill your belly so moderately that you may not become too heavy to bend your knees and call upon your God (27).”

  • Our use of earthly and natural goods must be oriented toward higher and spiritual goods. Another way of saying this is that our desires and consumption must be rightly ordered: “…let us accustom ourselves to eat only enough to live, not enough to be distracted and weighed down. For we were not born, we do not live, in order to eat and drink; but we eat in order to leave. At the beginning life was not made for eating, but eating for life. But we, as if we had come into the world for this purpose, spend everything for eating” (27-28).
  • It is a natural and perhaps unavoidable feature of human nature to compare our situation with others: “the sight of another person in good fortune laid on him [Lazarus] an extra burden of anguish, not because he was envious or wicked, but because we all naturally perceive our own misfortunes more acutely by comparison with others’ prosperity” (30).
  • “You should think the same way about those who are rich and greedy. They are a kind of robbers lying in wait on the roads, stealing from passers-by, and burying others’ goods in their own houses as if caves and holes. Let us not therefore call them fortunate because of what they have, but miserable because of what will come, because of that dreadful courtroom, because of the inexorable judgment, because of the outer darkness which awaits them” (36-37).

Sermon 2:

  • A non-material definition of wealth and poverty: “We ought to consider this definition of poverty and wealth. So if you see someone greedy for many things, you should consider him the poorest of all, even if he has acquired everyone’s money. If, on the other hand, you see someone with few needs, you should count him the richest of all, even if he has acquired nothing. For we are accustomed to judge poverty and affluence by the disposition of the mind, not by the measure of one’s substance” (40).

  • Using one of his favorite metaphors, Chrysostom compares life to the drama acted on the stage. Wealth, luxury, and the trappings of affluence are temporary and transient: “…when death arrives and the theater is dissolved, everyone puts off the masks of wealth or poverty and departs to the other world. When all are judged by their deeds alone, some are revealed truly wealthy, others poor, some of high class, others of no account” (47).
  • There are sins of omission and sins of commission. We have negative duties as well as positive duties. We can act justly in one sense while acting unlovingly, and therefore sinning, in another sense: “Indeed Lazarus suffered no injustice from the rich man; for the rich man did not take Lazarus’ money, but failed to share his own. If he is accused by the man he failed to pity because he did not share his wealth, what pardon will the man receive who has stolen others’ goods, when he is surrounded by those he has wronged?” (49) This latter point is an argument from the lesser to the greater, showing that in some sense sins of commission are judged to be more weighty than those of omission.
  • Whence comes the responsibility to share our wealth? From a sense of stewardship and the absolute sovereignty of God: “By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it” (49).
  • How do we manifest responsible stewardship? “Therefore, let us use our goods sparingly, as belonging to others, so that they may become our own. How shall we use them sparingly, as belonging to others? When we do not spend them beyond our needs, and do not spend for our needs only, but give equal shares into the hands of the poor. If you are affluent, but spend less than what you need, you will give an account of the funds which were entrusted to you” (50).
  • What duties are incumbent upon us in our giving? Should we be liberal and promiscuous in our charity? Chrysostom argues the affirmative: “For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need” (52).
  • But don’t we have a responsibility to give only to those who deserve it? On the one hand, no, for gracious giving is by its very nature unmerited: “Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy” (52).
  • But if we must talk of desert, Chrysostom urges us to see that “need alone is the poor man’s worthiness; if anyone at all ever comes to us with this recommendation, let us not meddle any further” (53). In this we image the grace of God, to give liberally as his gifts have been given to us, who do not deserve them.
  • Don’t the needs of the poor, even as construed by Chrysostom, go beyond the realm of the material?

It happened last week. In response to Rep. John Dingell’s decision to hold of off consideration of an energy bill that would include new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, instead favoring directly targeting greenhouse gas emissions: “That brought a warm response from MoveOn.org, the liberal group that picketed Dingell’s office Wednesday over his stance on global warming and fuel economy standards. At Dingell’s Ypsilanti office, about half a dozen MoveOn supporters received an unexpected welcome from roughly 60 UAW members, including President Ron Gettelfinger, who rallied to support Dingell.”

That’s how the Free Press article concludes, but today’s Ann Arbor News has a longer piece devoted to the dynamics of the dispute between MoveOn.org and the UAW, “MoveOn, UAW face off on CAFE.” MoveOn.org protesters were picketing Dingell’s office, but then were swamped by many more UAW supporters of Dingell.

There’s some commentary over at Planet Gore about the targeting of Dingell by MoveOn, but it doesn’t pick up on the UAW presence.

David Roberts over at Grist thinks the MoveOn.org attack on Dingell is premature: “I don’t think people quite appreciate what Dingell’s done here. He’s the first member of Congress with any power or seniority to even mention a carbon tax, much less endorse it.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative has called for the federal government “to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”

I question the prudence of making such specific policy recommendations a matter of a lobbying platform, especially when speaking for the church. What if it turns out that cap-and-trade measures aren’t all that effective? Do you need then to revise your “call to action”?

Update: The WSJ editorializes on this topic today.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 21, 2007
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Do you consider gasoline to be a gift from God? You should.

Andy Crouch, editorial director of the Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, writes in a recent Books & Culture piece, “As our family sits together, eyes closed, we say grace. Today it’s Timothy’s turn. ‘God, thank you so much for all we have,’ he begins in what turns into a typically prolix nine-year-old’s prayer. Eventually he is done—’in Jesus’ name, Amen’—and I turn the key. We have just filled up our car with gasoline.”

The Crouch family has introduced a tradition of praying at the pump, to recognize the gift that is the ability to fill up with gas and drive around. I think that’s a great thing to do.

But even still, Crouch seems to have a hard time fully admitting that petroleum products ought to be seen as manifestations of divine grace.

“Unlike a well-prepared meal, gasoline does not prompt gratitude unbidden. The stuff is smelly, dangerous, and not at all self-evidently good in itself. It is a means to my ends, juice for a momentary sense of power and control. It is surprisingly hard to remember to stop and say thanks before I pull out, a little too quickly, into traffic,” he writes.

I have to say that I’ve had some meals of my own that were pretty smelly and/or dangerous, and the parallels between food fuel for the human body and gas fuel for the car could perhaps be expanded further. But seriously, it seems to me that, despite the new family tradition, Crouch is having a hard time admitting that something like gasoline is just as much a gift from God as our daily bread.

I’m not quite sure what this means: “I can reasonably expect that the food I eat today will be replaced by a fresh crop next season. But the gallon of gas I burn today is gone for good (though it does leave behind 19 pounds of carbon dioxide for the biosphere to absorb). In this fleeting historical moment that will be remembered as the petroleum era, saying grace seems like the least we can do.”

Maybe we all should think about thanking God for gasoline, not only when we are at the pump, but also when we’re sitting down to our “well-prepared meal,” which was made possible by the foodstuffs delivered from all over the world by petroleum-powered vehicles.

The Friday morning plenary address at last week’s Assembly of World-Wide Partners was given by Ruth Padilla deBorst, a 15-year veteran of work with Christian Reformed World Missions. Padilla deBorst’s talk focused on relations between the global north and global south, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century.” In the following I’ll summarize her talk and intersperse the summary with some of my own reflections. One general comment, with Acton University beginning today: the valuable uniqueness of a conference like Acton U comes into sharp relief given the economic, political, and ideological attitudes on display at an event like the Assembly of World-Wide Partners. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 11, 2007
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Here’s an interesting take on compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

Jerome’s letter to Demetrias:

Others may build churches, may adorn their walls when built with marbles, may procure massive columns, may deck the unconscious capitals with gold and precious ornaments, may cover church doors with silver and adorn the altars with gold and gems. I do not blame those who do these things; I do not repudiate them. Everyone must follow his own judgment. And it is better to spend one’s money thus than to hoard it up and brood over it. However your duty is of a different kind. It is yours to clothe Christ in the poor, to visit Him in the sick, to feed Him in the hungry, to shelter Him in the homeless, particularly such as are of the household of faith, to support communities of virgins, to take care of God’s servants, of those who are poor in spirit, who serve the same Lord as you day and night, who while they are on earth live the angelic life and speak only of the praises of God. Having food and raiment they rejoice and count themselves rich. They seek for nothing more, contented if only they can persevere in their design. For as soon as they begin to seek more they are shewn to be undeserving even of those things that are needful.

See also: “The North American Church and Global Stewardship,” and “Building on the Tithe.”

Representatives of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and the Evangelical Environmental Network faced off in informal debate Thursday, May 31, at the Family Research Council in Washington. Dr. E. Calvin Beisner and Dr. Kenneth Chilton represented the Alliance on a discussion panel about global warming hosted by the FRC. Opposite them were EEN representatives Dr. Jim Ball and Dr. Rusty Pritchard. To hear the panel discussion, click here.

Over the last week I’ve done a couple radio interviews related to my op-ed in the Detroit News, “U.S. must move beyond Earth Day slogans.”

Thanks to The Bill Meyer Show out of Medford, Oregon, who had me on in the morning last Thursday.

And thanks also to The Paul Edwards Program for having me on yesterday. I spoke with Paul at some length about the complications of owning Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). In the course of the interview (which you can listen to here), I referenced a couple webpages that I’ll pass along.

The first is 18Seconds.org, hosted by Yahoo!, at which you can track the sales of CFLs in your state or locality. Michigan has bought over 1.2 million CFLs since the beginning of 2007.

There is some information on the mercury in CFLs fairly deep into the “Why Switch?” section. Here’s a taste of the copy: “All fluorescent lights contain trace amounts of mercury. But don’t worry — there is far less mercury in CFLs than in thermometers or old thermostats. Plus, using these bulbs helps
prevent mercury from being released into the air from coal-powered power plants. When they burn out years down the road, recycle them.”

But here’s a second piece I talked about that might take issue with those claims: “The CFL mercury nightmare,” by Steven Milloy of JunkScience.com. Milloy describes the experience of Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, who faced a $2,000 clean-up bill when she accidentally broke a CFL, exposing mercury in her daughter’s bedroom.

Governments and corporations are engaging in huge campaigns to push the use of CFLs. The Home Depot gave away 1 million CFLs in an Earth Day promotion, and Wal-Mart is advocating them heavily. Check out this promotional video, “Energy Makeover,” from In Front with Wal-Mart, the company’s newest webcast program.

If the mercury in these CFLs, almost universally acknowledged to be a harmful environmental hazard, turns out to have serious health consequences, companies like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot could be opening themselves up to litigation. They may need to attach some sort of warning label (hopefully not a useless one that would win this contest).

In an Earth Day column last week that was skeptical about the gospel of global warming consensus, Glenn Shaw, a professor of physics at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, expressed hoped that the climate change debate might spark a more comprehensive conversation about humankind’s complex environmental responsibilities.

In fact the opposite seems to be happening: the activist buzz over global warming is reducing the broader concept of environmental stewardship to a litmus-test on climate change. That’s why I wrote a piece that appeared in today’s Detroit News, “U.S. must move beyond Earth Day slogans.”

In this op-ed I examine three aspects of environmental care that show the comprehensive nature of stewardship, complex realities that belie the free and easy slogans of bumper sticker environmentalism: planting trees, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), and plug-in cars.

For more information about the sources used in this story, see these related items:

As I alluded in a post last week, a number of EU governments are intent on making a switch from Windows to Linux operating systems. Part of the reason for this is the ostensibly cheaper cost of using open source software as opposed to proprietary systems.

According to reports out of the UK, “Shadow chancellor George Osbourne has estimated that the UK government could save in excess of ꍠ0 million a year if more open source software was deployed across various departments.” And of course costs are likely to be lower when regulators take an active hand in lowering the ongoing fees associated with open source compatibility. Such actions hide the true costs of open source operating systems, giving them an artificial cushion.

But one other interesting factor in the claim that Linux is cheaper to run than Windows comes from the environmental considerations involved. This article (HT: Slashdot) makes the case that Linux rigs are “greener than those running Windows” because “open source software has lower hardware requirements and needs less frequent hardware refreshes.”

Interestingly enough, that’s the same claim made by Apple in a recent Mac v. PC ad:


But then again, the costs associated with hardware upgrades aren’t the only relevant environmental factors to consider. Think about the ways in which companies have or have not worked to create responsible disposal methods for outdated or obsolete equipment. This latter consideration, in fact, is one of the reasons why Greenpeace has said that Apple “has the worst environmental policies among major electronics companies.”

PC manufacturers like Dell, on the other hand, have been praised for having “one of the best recycling programs in the industry.”

Judgments about the cost-effectiveness and environmental costs associated with the latest generation of computer hardware and software need to go beyond short-term examinations of the one-time costs of upgrades, or even the long-term hardware needs. The ‘greenness’ of computing can’t be measured by just one standard.