Posts tagged with: virtue

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
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My contribution to this week’s Acton News & Commentary:

Flash Mobbing King’s Dream

by Anthony B. Bradley

Every black person apprehended for robbing stores in a flash mob should have their court hearing not in front of a judge but facing the 30-foot statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his Washington memorial site. Each thief should be asked, “What do you think Dr. King would say to you right now?”

I was not angry when I initially saw the news footage of young blacks robbing convenience stores across America; I was brought to tears. In fact, as we approach the dedication of Dr. King’s memorial we may all need to take a closer look at his chiseled stone face for the presence of tears. Tears like the one shed by Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody in the 1970s public service announcement about pollution. The historic PSA shows the Native American shedding a tear after surveying the pollution in an America that previously had none. It ended with the tagline, “People start pollution. People can stop it.” If Dr. King were alive today he might proclaim, perhaps with tears, that “people start flash mobs. People can stop them.”

Dr. King’s dream has been realized by many African Americans who have been able to take full advantage of the opportunities made available through his martyr’s quest for justice. Would Dr. King ever have imagined that 40 years after his “I Have A Dream” speech that a black family would be in the White House, not as maintenance or kitchen staff, but as the First Family? Yet, years after the civil-rights struggle affirmed black dignity, we have young black people ransacking stores in groups.

Every time a flash mob loots, it is robbing Dr. King of his dream. All over America, from Philadelphia to Chicago, from Washington to Detroit, young people who could be contributing to common good are trading in their dignity for the adrenaline rush of stealing from others. “We will not tolerate such reprehensible behavior here,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray in a statement responding to recent mob thefts there. “Some news coverage of this incident has reported residents questioning whether the robbery could have been morally justified,” he added. “Actually, both morality and the law are quite clear: It is wrong to steal from others. And if people do not obey the law, they will be apprehended, arrested and prosecuted.” What Gray highlights is a troubling regression of public virtue and civil rights.

Dr. King’s dream was one that harmonized morality and law. However, King’s dream will never be realized in America as long as this country continues with the mythology that freedom does not require personal integrity and character. Proponents of dubious sociological and psychological theories allege that these flash mobs loot stores because minority young people feel disenfranchised and marginalized from mainstream society. What King taught us is that political and social frustration does not justify breaking the law. Perhaps if these disenfranchised youth where familiar at all with life under Jim Crow, or cared about the legacy of civil-rights heroes like Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Young, and others, they could tap into the imagination of an heroic generation, formed by the virtues of religion, who pursued public justice by pursuing public virtue.

An ailing American culture is responsible for this spectacle. In a society that does not value forming young people in the way of prudence, justice, courage, self-control, and the like, why should we be surprised that convenience stores are being robbed by youthful mobs? In a society that does not value private property and fosters a spirit of envy and class warfare through wealth redistribution, why should we be surprised that young people don’t value someone else’s property? Radical individualism and moral relativism define the ethics of our era and criminal flash mobs expose our progressive failure.

As we celebrate King’s memorial, we must lament the fact that America’s abandonment of virtue is destroying the lives of young black people and undermining the legal and economic catalysts that could end our recession for good. In solidarity with Mayor Gray, I stand in front of the King statue, called “The Stone Of Hope,” with a new dream: that a resurgence of virtue would give rise to a generation of moral and law-abiding citizens. In this way will young blacks truly experience the dreams of King and others who died for justice.

A recent Rasmussen poll reflects what many are feeling in this country, a deep disconnect with Washington and its leaders. According to the polling firm,

The number of voters who feel the government has the consent of the governed – a foundational principle, contained in the Declaration of Independence – is down from 23% in early May and has fallen to its lowest level measured yet.

Seventeen percent of likely U.S. voters think the government has the consent of the governed and Congress has a record low approval rating with only 6 percent ranking their performance as “excellent” or “good.”

The problem is exacerbated by the massive concentration of power in the Beltway. The model of federalism put forth by the Founders seems like a dim memory. Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neil famously declared “All politics is local.” The quote has a wide breadth of meaning for elected officials at all levels of government. But concentrated power is raising the partisan stakes as the jostling for entrenched power gets uglier. So much so, that politicians are now calling concerned citizens sounding the alarm on federal spending “terrorists.” Not only is the virtue of self-restraint dismissed when it comes to spending, but it is similarly dismissed when it comes to rhetoric.

Below is an August 1 clip that aired on ABC World News Tonight that speaks to this disconnect, especially felt by middle America or as some dismiss simply as “Flyover Country.” It is making the famous quip by William F. Buckley that “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than I would be by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University” all the more relevant.

In Allan Bloom’s translation of The Republic of Plato, Socrates sets out to define the meaning of justice, and if the just life can be seen as being more profitable than the unjust life.  Thrasymachus, an acquaintance of Socrates, in book I of the Republic of Plato, offers his reckless opinion on justice saying, “Justice is the advantage of the stronger” (338c), and that “injustice, when it comes into being on a sufficient scale, is mightier, freer, and more masterly than justice” (444c). Thrasymachus’ definition of justice should be an alarming one because it can be used to explain the economic crisis and situation today: The unjust man benefits in good and bad times, by the laws and contracts made by those in power, while the just man is punished in both good and bad times.

It is interesting to see that this example of injustice, that was discussed more than two thousand years ago, is still in effect today when considering the bailout of banks, government spending, and the national debt in the United States. Time and time again the government is sending us the same message Thrasymachus gave us: it pays to be unjust in today’s unjust society. Banks and government spending are being rewarded for reckless exhaustion of money through raising taxes across America to cover-up their own debt. The government is benefiting in both good and bad times by rewarding themselves for making their own mistakes, while citizens are being punished in good and bad times because of the advantage of those in power.

So, in a society that rewards injustice, why is the just life one that should be considered more profitable and desired? Why should will still push to create a more free and virtuous society? If we look at the interpretive essay of Allan Bloom we may begin to understand why the just life is worthwhile. According to Allan Bloom:

“Justice is human virtue, each gains his fulfillment in the prosperity of the whole”… and that “injustice is not a virtue, but a vice because it is contrary to wisdom, which is a virtue.”

It isn’t hard to believe that the practice of virtue in society can lead us to a more free and virtuous society; and, that the practice of virtue in economics and politics will permit justice in these areas. Explained again in his interpretive essay of The Republic, Allan Bloom states:

“Justice is to be desired (rewarded) because it is the health and perfection of the soul. It therefore follows that justice, as the virtue of the soul, is desirable in itself. Everyone wishes to have a healthy soul.”

If justice, not injustice, was rewarded in our society, with the practice of virtue, then economies, politics, and lives in general would reflect that of a healthy soul; and would, in turn, help society flourish.

We can find this same message in what is said through the prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1). By doing what is right and practicing what is just, we are living-out virtue; but more importantly, we are seeking first the kingdom of God.

Hear Chuck Colson, Acton’s Michael Miller, Scott Rae, John Stonestreet, and others at the Doing the Right Thing conference on Saturday, May 7, 9am – 1pm, at Christ Church of Oak Brook, Ill. Preview a new ethics curriculum; explore issues of truth, morality, virtue and character; and learn how to educate others to discover the framework to distinguish right from wrong and begin doing the right thing. Cost is $25 (pastors and students free). To register, visit this link.

This event is part of a nationwide tour to preview a six-part curriculum produced by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, “Doing the Right Thing: A Six-Part Exploration of Ethics.” This DVD-based series and the live tour events explore topics such as How did we get into this mess?; Is there truth, a moral law we can all know?; If we know what is right, can we do it?; What does it mean to be human?; Ethics in public life; and Ethics in the marketplace.

Event participants will preview extended clips from the video series, hear presentations from leading experts on the topics, and have the opportunity to pre-order the DVD series at a special advance rate in order to begin with others conversations on ethics, morality, virtue, character, truth and issues of right and wrong.

Co-sponsors for the event include the Acton Institute, BreakPoint / Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, WMBI / Moody Radio and WYLL-AM.

Thrift almost seems like a lost virtue among much of our governing class. It is also true of the general population. We don’t have to just look at our staggering public debt, but consumer credit card debt tells the story too. In a past post on the virtue of thrift, Jordan Ballor reminds us that “thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, we had a lot of second-hand office equipment. The boss was always serious about saving tax dollars. I know there are still representatives out there that take thrift seriously. However, we should also let the illustration provided by Amity Shlaes on Calvin Coolidge over at National Review sink in, especially given some of the lavish entertainment we hear about in Washington:

For Coolidge, no savings was too small to overlook. Recently William Jenney, the archivist for the state of Vermont at the Coolidge homestead, pulled out for me an old looseleaf notebook. It contained the White House housekeeper’s journal of outlays for White House entertainment. The White House, even then, received tens of thousands of visitors a year; the Coolidges hosted Col. Charles Lindbergh and Ignacy Padereweski, the pianist and politician. There were many days when Coolidge shook 2,000 hands. But he also kept an eye on the budget. For 1926, the housekeeper itemized each purchase for each event; the total was $11,667.10. For 1927 she managed to get the amount down to $9,116.39. The president reviewed this and wrote her a note: “To Miss Riley, very fine improvement.”

Shlaes, who has a forthcoming book on Calvin Coolidge coming out soon, was interviewed in Religion & Liberty’s 2009 fall issue. She discusses her book The Forgotten Man and the Great Depression in the interview.

I have also touched on Coolidge on the PowerBlog. In a post titled “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” I linked to a great recording on Coolidge talking about the cost of government spending. Have a listen:

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Over at CNN, Bob Greene has an opinion piece titled “4-star general, 5-star grace.” In it, he retells the story of how White House aide Valerie Jarret confused Four-star Army General Peter Chiarelli for a waiter. Greene said:

Graciousness can pay priceless dividends. And it doesn’t cost a thing. You may have heard the story about what happened between White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a recent Washington dinner. As reported by the website Daily Caller, Jarrett, a longtime Chicago friend of President Obama, was seated at the dinner when a general — later identified as Chiarelli, the No. 2-ranking general in the U.S. Army hierarchy, who was also a guest at the gathering — walked behind her. Chiarelli was in full dress uniform. Jarrett, apparently only seeing Chiarelli’s striped uniform pants, thought that he was a waiter. She asked him to get her a glass of wine. She was said to be mortified as soon as she realized her mistake, and who wouldn’t be? But the instructive part of this tale is what Chiarelli did next. Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.

I suppose the story in and of itself says something about a town that makes a big deal out of the general’s actions. General Chiarelli may not have even felt as if his character was out of the ordinary. I wonder if I would be wrong in saying that these are the type of social graces that were once very common and are still common in many homes and communities. I also once heard a friend remark that “in New York City it’s about how much money you make, Los Angeles is about what you look like, and Washington D.C. is all about who you know.” You get the point.

When I was in college, sometimes I would notice the chancellor walking around campus with a bag picking up trash. I remember cynically wondering if he was doing it so everybody could see him. Maybe I just thought that because I found myself disagreeing with him a lot. And then one day I had to get up early on the weekend, and sure enough, there was the chancellor picking up trash before the sun was even up. It was the worst possible time to try and impress anybody with his actions.

I reviewed Joker One on the PowerBlog a couple of years ago. It is an excellent book and it is essentially about servant leadership and the greater love principle (John 15:13). I commented at the time, which is still true, that the book taught me more about leadership than all my seminary classes on leadership.

The general’s actions serve as a good conversation starter for leading with humility. It also serves as a nice contrast to Senator Barbara Boxer’s attitude on Capital Hill in 2009:

There is a great 18th century hymn “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah” by William Williams. It is, of course, well known today, but the last verse is missing from most modern hymnals. I don’t really know why it is often omitted because it seems most appropriate today. Especially during the Lenten season, it is a powerful reminder of the type of leaders Christians should be. The last verse speaks to the very self-centered and vain world we inhabit:

Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heav’nly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
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Following up on my post from earlier this week, “Gritty Entrepreneurship,” fellow PowerBlogger Ken Larson pointed me to a previous issue of InCharacter, the now defunct online publication focused on “everyday virtues.”

The Spring 2009 issue is devoted to “Grit,” defined by Joseph Epstein as “the overcoming of serious obstacles through determined effort.” Sam Schulman says, “Grit is the business of the task of civilization — delaying gratification, defending something bigger than your own family, building a community rather than a household or a campfire.”

Picking up on the false dichotomy between innovation and perseverance, the following is listed as one of the top 10 gritty moments: “December 1879: After more than 10,000 failed experiments, Thomas Edison gives a demonstration of his new incandescent bulb.”

Check out the issue for more on the virtue of “grit.”

I read with considerable attention “Congressional bosses from Hell: Sheila Jackson Lee” in the Daily Caller today. From the article:

Congress was in recess, and the 435 lawmakers who drive the frenetic pace on Capitol Hill were home in their districts glad-handing constituents. For that reason, the door to [Sheila] Jackson Lee’s office was open and the sounds emanating from inside were pleasant laughter and conversation.

‘You could tell when she wasn’t there,’ Stephens said. That was because on a day in which Congress was in session, a different set of sounds often came through closed doors to Jackson Lee’s office: screaming and, many times, crying.

Having worked for a U.S. Congressman, former member Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss), I find some of the congressional staff dynamics and stories both entertaining and troubling. Many of the stories and anecdotes I tell from my time working on a congressional staff are among the most popular for audiences. I also learned a lot of valuable people skills, patience, and greater compassion for helping those in need. In my case, I had the privilege of helping many military veterans with federal issues.

Recently, I attended a social event where some staff of several well known Michigan lawmakers openly unloaded on the arrogance and temperament of their bosses to me in conversations. It did not surprise me. I have heard many similar stories before. It continually reinforces the well known Lord Acton adage about the corrupting nature of power.

I learned a lot from working with and for a congressman and his staff. Many of the lessons I will retain forever. In contrast to the piece in the Daily Caller, here is just one important lesson I pulled from a talk and essay I wrote for Acton on Tap:

The congressman I worked for, Gene Taylor (D-Miss) did help to reinforce something timeless and virtuous.

One day I was dispatched with the duty of locating him in the Rayburn House office building. The reason was simple; the Secretary of the Navy was waiting for him in his office. Some of the staff was panic stricken and mildly embarrassed because they could not ascertain his whereabouts and he was terribly late for the meeting. Congressman Taylor was not frequently attached at the hip with his cellular phone or pager. I remember looking in all the places you would look for a House member in the Rayburn building and not being able to locate him. After I had given up, I preceded to walk up the stairs and found him talking with a maintenance worker in the stairwell.

I told him that the Secretary of the Navy was in his office and he nodded his head and introduced me to his friend, whom he treated like a celebrity, bragging up the individual’s fishing skills. While I did not always agree with the positions or votes he recorded on issues, Gene Taylor always reinforced the significance of treating people the same. He also taught me a valuable life lesson when he told me:

‘You know why I’m friends with the capital police, the maintenance workers, and the common fisherman down at the harbor? It’s because they will continue to be my friends when I am no longer a congressman.’

On Thursday, Acton kicks off the 2011 Acton Lecture Series with an address by Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico entitled “Christian Poverty in an Age of Prosperity.” (If you haven’t done so already, you can register to attend the lecture at this link.) To set the stage for the 2011 series, I’ll be posting video of last year’s lecture series on the Powerblog all week long.

In January of last year, we welcomed Dr. John Pinheiro to the podium to discuss “Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding.” In his lecture, Dr. Pinheiro – associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids, Michigan – examined the American Founders’ understanding of liberty as rooted in a classical and Christian understanding of virtue. His talk touched on the reasons why George Washington argued that public happiness could be attained without private morality and why John Adams wrote that, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

My friend John Armstrong examines “How Market Economies Really Work.” Armstrong concludes, “The gospel makes people free and teaches them to be virtuous. This is what is inherently Christian and no economic system can thrive long-term without them.”

He cites a piece by Stellenbosch University economist Stan du Plessis, “How Can You be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today.” The du Plessis piece was of great help to me in writing the third chapter of my book, Ecumenical Babel, in which I examine the argument of the Accra Confession.

And we were able to distribute hundreds of Accra Confession study kits at last summer’s Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. These kits included a copy of du Plessis’ paper, and you can download a PDF yourself here.