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.”

Acton On The AirTime for another roundup of recent appearances by Acton folks on radio outlets; today we focus on Acton’s Director of Research, Dr. Samuel Gregg.

On March 16, Dr. Gregg joined host Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing efforts to highlight and reconnect Europe with its Christian heritage. The interview is 14 minutes long and available via the audio player below:

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Yesterday, guest host Sheila Liaugminas welcomed Sam to The Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio in order to participate in the continuing discussion on the role of unions in society, especially in the aftermath of the Wisconsin protests over legislation to restrict public sector union collective bargaining rights. You can listen to Dr. Gregg engage both host and callers below:

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A commentary by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg titled “Deficit Denial, American Style” which was published in Acton News & Commentary on March 9th appeared today in the Detroit News as “It’s time to curb welfare growth” and was also picked up by RealClearPolitics. Gregg provides an enlightening examination on the growth of the welfare system, and with our current budget problems, the need to also reform it:

If, however, the results of a much-discussed Wall St Journal-NBC News poll released on March 2 indicate what Americans really think about fiscal issues, then much of the country is clearly in denial – i.e., refusing to acknowledge truth – about what America needs to do if it doesn’t want to go the way of many Western European nations.

While the poll reveals considerable concern about government debt, it also underscores how unwilling many Americans are to reduce those welfare programs that, in the long-term, are central to the deficit-problem.

Here are the raw facts. America’s federal social security program has become the largest government pension scheme in the world in terms of sheer dollars. It is also by far the federal budget’s single greatest expenditure item.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, “human services” ― Social Security; Medicare; Health-expenditures; Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services; Veterans benefits; and the euphemistically-named “Income Security” (i.e., unemployment-benefits) ― were consuming 4 percent of America’s GDP in 1949. By 1976, this figure had increased to 11.7 percent. In 2009, it was consuming 15.3 percent of GDP.

During the same period, human services began consuming a steadily-increasing size of federal government expenditures. In 1967, human services spending was 32.6 percent of the federal budget. By 2009, this figure had increased to 61.3 percent. It is predicted to rise to 67 percent by 2016. In 2010, 75 percent of human services spending was on Social Security, Medicare, and Income Security ― in short, the core welfare state.

These disturbing numbers make it clear any serious federal deficit reduction must involve spending-cuts to federal welfare programs. That doesn’t mean other areas of government-spending should be immune from cuts. But the deficit simply can’t be properly addressed without a serious willingness to reduce welfare-expenditures.

The original Acton commentary by Samuel Gregg can be read in full here.

Ballor and StraussAt long last, here’s the audio from our latest community event. On March 10 at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids, Acton hosted an open mic discussion on “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal for the American Debt Crisis” featuring Gideon Strauss of The Center for Public Justice – one of the drafters of the statement – and Acton’s own Jordan Ballor.

A mea culpa – in my effort to make sure that the equipment used to record the event was set up correctly and working properly, I managed to neglect to start the recorders on time, and thus the recording begins with the event in progress. The good news is that I realized my error in time to catch the meat of Gideon’s opening argument; the bad news is that I missed his rather witty opening comments, and for that, I apologize to Gideon and to our listeners.

Regardless, the audio of the exchange is available to you below; have a listen and let us know what you think in the comments.

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Blog author: jballor
Monday, March 21, 2011
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A piece in Fast Company, “Why True Grit Matters in the Face of Adversity,” focuses on the virtue of “grit” in various fields, including public lobbying and business. Dan and Chip Heath distinguish “true grit” from “hard work,” as they write:

Grit is not synonymous with hard work. It involves a certain single-mindedness. An ungritty prison inmate will formulate a new plan of escape every month, but a gritty prison inmate will tunnel his way out one spoonful of concrete at a time.

True grit: "You put your butt in the corner, you'd be surprised what you can achieve."

They continue, contending, “Grit is often undervalued in business, because businesspeople like breakthroughs, which are good ideas that you’ll have next week.” But in the case of innovation and entrepreneurship, “grit” is essential, and juxtaposing perseverance with breakthrough is a false dichotomy.

It recalls to my mind the story of Brad Morgan (as documented in The Call of the Entrepreneur). True grit in the face of adversity means not giving up, even when it seems as if there is no way to survive.

As Brad Morgan put it, “Our county extension agent, first year we was in business, he come here and look me right square in the eye and says, ‘You’re broke. Get out.’ I looked right back at him and I says, ‘What have we got to do to get this right?'”

That’s true grit. Or as Morgan also says, “You put your butt in the corner, you’d be surprised what you can achieve.”

See more about what Brad Morgan has achieved here.

Metropolitan Jonah

Julia Duin, a veteran religion reporter, has written a profile of the embattled leader of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Jonah, for the Washington Post weekend edition. She does an admirable and fair job of not only telling us about this American-born bishop but explaining why his short tenure has sparked so much controversy within the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States. (Let me bring to your attention, right away, that Jonah is our plenary speaker on June 16 at Acton University.)

The metropolitan’s outspoken stances on issues like marriage and abortion, and his desire to operate from a base in Washington, has sparked a palace revolt in the OCA. As Duin puts it:

Jonah’s move to Washington strikes at the core of the traditional Eastern Orthodox reluctance to be on the front lines of the culture wars, much less political conflicts. The religion’s 1 million American adherents, who remain split into 20 separate ethnic groups, are more likely known to the general public as sponsors of bazaars featuring Slavic or Mediterranean food, crafts and dancing than as societal firebrands.

“Orthodox Christianity tends to be heavily theological and more concerned with matters of doctrine, liturgy and belief than evangelical Protestants and certainly the conservative Christian right,” said Rabbi Niles Goldstein, a senior fellow at the Utah-based Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy. “They’re wrestling with how to find this balance between Christianity and activism, which makes it difficult for them to speak with a unified voice on social policy and foreign affairs.”

But Jonah sees American Orthodoxy at a crossroads where the choice is either to remain in ethnic enclaves and be irrelevant or jump into the stream of culture and politics and make a difference. He dreams of Orthodox Americans speaking out “as a conscience for the culture.” They would have clout in Congress, advocating for persecuted Orthodox around the world, such as the Egyptian Copts. They would stand equal with evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics in opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, cloning and euthanasia.

Fr. Gregory Jensen, a writer for Acton News & Commentary and contributor to this blog, says the battle that Jonah is waging goes beyond polemics on “hot button” issues. On his Koinonia blog, Fr. Gregory says the real fight is whether or not the Orthodox Church will proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the public square. I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly.

Fr. Gregory:

Especially in the historical centers of American Orthodox experience, what is unique to the person or the parish has often been minimized if not ignored and even rejected. Our managerial approach to Church polity has historically often confused communion with conformity and consensus with capitulation to the group. And it has done so to the detriment of the individual believer (clergy AND laity), parish and diocese. To those who have become conditioned to think of Church life as a zero sum game (which more often than not means “I” lose and “they” win) an entrepreneurial approach, that is to say an unapologetic evangelical approach that embraces an explicit proclamation of the Gospel in the public square, would be terrifying. We are wrong when we think that new people, new ideas, can only come at our expense.

So I’m clear, this fear is understandable but wrong and based in a Satanic lie and must not be allowed to take hold in our hearts, in our parishes or our dioceses.

Yes, there is a power struggle in the OCA and really in all the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. I would even suggest that this conflict is being played out internationally among all the Orthodox Churches and it is happening for the same reasons we see it in America—we’ve adopted an implicit zero sum model of Church that confuses position with self-aggrandizement. But in Christ power, ecclesiastical or civil, is always in the service of others and His promise to us is that we will spread to the ends of the earth and always overcome the powers of sin and death.

Read “Metropolitan Jonah goes to Washington” in the Post.

From our friends at CEF in Rochester, N.Y.:

The Catholic Education Foundation, an organization committed to ensuring a bright and significant future for Catholic high schools in the United States, will be hosting its biennial, day-long celebration of Catholic secondary schools on March 25 in New York City. The theme of the event will be Catholic Education – Holistic Education: A Tribute to Pope John Paul II, Promoter of Catholic Schools. Presenters will include Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P., Principal, St. Cecilia Academy, Nashville; Dr. Michael Van Hecke & Dr. Andrew Seeley of the Catholic Textbook Project; Dr. Gerald Cattaro, Director, The Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-based Education at Fordham University, Dr. William Thierfelder, President at Belmont Abbey College; and Mr. & Mrs. Richard Hough. The cost for the day, including lunch, is $100.

The Solemn Mass for the Annunciation will be celebrated at the Church of the Holy Innocents on 37th Street and Broadway by Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, with the schola of the Church of Our Saviour at 6:00 p.m.

Holy Mass will be followed by a formal banquet to honor outstanding Catholic educators, with Mr. Frank Hanna, Acton board member and Catholic school philanthropist, speaking on “Why I Support Catholic Schools.” Dinner, for table of ten, will be $4,000 or $500 a plate.

A program for the day is available here. For more information or to register for either the professional day or the dinner, please call: 732-914-1222 or email: fstravinskas@hotmail.com

During my seminary days at Asbury Theological Seminary, Tony Campolo spoke at a chapel service and offered a litany of denunciations of greed and corporate America. However, one thing he said especially caught the attention of a professor of mine. During his talk, Campolo equated material poverty with spiritual righteousness. Later in the day during class, while the rest of the campus was still gushing over Campolo’s visit, the professor rebuked Campolo rather harshly. He said he stood with him until he started declaring the poor were righteous because of their poverty. We were of course reminded eloquently and emotionally that our righteousness was in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In Campolo’s zeal for building a new kingdom for the poor on earth, perhaps he did not mean to imply that righteousness is found apart from Christ, but he gave a window for a wise professor to impart correction.

Having graduated from a Wesleyan seminary, I was fortunate to hear many stories about the holistic care for the poor that is at the heart of Methodism. Nevertheless, John Wesley always understood first that the spiritual condition must be changed if the social condition was to be improved. Even when Christ heals somebody physically, there is a deep spiritual symbolism with somebody like a paralytic. Paralysis in the gospel represents the crippling power of sin and the inability for man to change not just his physical condition, but his spiritual condition as well. Blindness, leprosy, death, the woman with the issue of blood, deformities, deafness, sickness, and Jesus’ healing of those maladies all carry deep spiritual symbolism about mankind.

Just as I talked about the problem of reducing Christ to political activist in “Jesus as Budget Director?,” there is also a danger in reducing “poverty” to just the material and stripping it of its spiritual components. This is especially true with a glib and partisan quote like “What Would Jesus Cut?”, in a budget-cutting context.

Many Great Society programs point to the unintended consequences of ignoring the spiritual components of poverty for the material. One such example being the crumbling of two parent homes, especially modeled by what has occurred in American inner cities over the past forty plus years. It is always essential to think holistically and spiritually about poverty. The state is unable to do so, and is ultimately not able to address any deeper needs. At the Acton Institute, we understand the main way that poverty is alleviated is through enterprise and access to markets. We also understand that there are important moral foundations for a society and that it is essential that one is a moral agent within the market.

During our discussions last week in the office around some of the issues of “What Would Jesus Cut,?” I also posed the question “What Would Judas Cut?” It was in part for humor, but there is an important lesson there too. It was a question I formulated with the help of my pastor when we were discussing the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign. If we strip the Gospel of its spiritual source in addressing these issues and hardly discern the holistic need of the poor, we are making demands for the poor with the wrong intention (John 12:4-8).

In his evangelistic fervor across 18th century England, John Wesley brought the Gospel to the poor and marginalized. The man who encouraged him to take his ministry outside of church walls was the fellow Methodist evangelist George Whitefield. There is a story about Whitefield that is one of my favorites. Whitefield first took the gospel message to the poor working class coal miners of Kingswood, England. They were disliked for their rowdy unclean ways and disdained by society. After preaching from Matthew 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Whitefield recorded the scene in his journal: “Miners, just up from the mines, listened and the tears flowed making white gutters down their coal-black faces.” One miner declared, “I never knew anybody loves us.”

Jesus is the “Bread of Life” and a social gospel without him or one that dilutes his saving power ultimately leads back to the same spiritual maladies symbolized so well in the scripture.

Below is the full-length version of “The Rich Young Man: The Law Versus Privilege,” an essay published in the winter 2011 Religion & Liberty. John Kelly’s essay was shortened because of space limitations for the print issue. He was passionate about sharing the full version, which he edited himself for readers of the PowerBlog. Mr. Kelly, a financial advisor, also authored a piece in 2004 for Religion & Liberty titled “The Tithe: Land Rent to God.”

— — — — — —

THE RICH YOUNG MAN: THE LAW VERSUS PRIVILEGE

by John Kelly

As Jesus conducted his public ministry, he drew considerable crowds. Within the throngs were, of course, the peasants of the neighborhood, along with longer-term disciples. There were many who wished to see miracles, many who wished to hear his sayings of peace, love, hope and promise. There were those who wanted reinforcement of the Law and those who wished to see some of the Law abandoned. And within all these groups were many who were troubled by personal doubt.

Jesus spoke with these people, engaging them, answering their questions, asking them questions, all the while proclaiming the authority and the efficacy of the Law. He said, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish – but to complete them.” He then goes on – he’s trying to make sure his listeners understand: “In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved.” (Matthew 5:17-18 – NJB)

Some of Jesus’ most engaging images come from these conversations. Rich and poor, titled and powerless, legalists and apostates, disciples and strangers all had encounters with Jesus that fleshed out for them his view of the Law. However, our lack of knowledge regarding the economic, political and cultural environment in which Jesus lived and preached sometimes hampers our understanding of his message.

One of the more famous of these encounters was with the rich young man. This story is found, in almost identical versions, at Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23. He approached Jesus and asked what was necessary to be saved. “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied that the young man should keep the commandments. “I have kept all these,” stated the rich young man, “What more do I need to do?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor … then come, follow me.” This was too much for the young man. Scripture says that he “went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.”

This story seems too hard for most of us. What is fundamentally wrong with being rich? Preachers try to make sense of this passage by assuming that the rich young man was too materialistic, and that the story is a warning to us about that failing. That much may be true, however, that interpretation is about the young man’s reaction, not about Jesus’ words. Jesus instructed him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Why? (more…)

Blog author: dhugger
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
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The always challenging Peter Berger has a fascinating post up on the history of Bad Boll Academy:

The Academy was to have two goals: to train the laity for service to society; and to be a place for free and open discussion about problems facing the society, especially between groups (such as management and labor) which did not normally meet under such conditions. This second goal was the most innovative. The Academy was not to be a place for evangelism. Nor was it to take positions of its own. That was its most interesting aspect. Mueller summed it up in the phrase describing the Academy as “forum, not factor.”

Mueller’s vision for the Academy is one that needs to be embraced by the Church today. This vision is one of the Church as a place where issues of social justice and economic policy are framed by a Christian moral vision and anthropology but where questions of prudential policy are left open. Sadly churches have often abandoned their role in preserving Christian liberty in favor of prophetic grandstanding. Berger rightly complains that, “The ascription of prophetic status to statements put out by committees of church bureaucrats is not very persuasive, to say the least. More troublesome is the simple fact that many of these statements are very far from any ‘truth’ that can be empirically assessed. The monotonous flirtation with leftist illusions by denominational and ecumenical organizations is a depressing case in point.”

Jordan Ballor’s recent book Ecumenical Babel documents and critiques this failure within the ecumenical movement and would be a great place to start this discussion.

A social witness grounded in a Christian anthropology while simultaneously soliciting a broad range of perspectives in economics might bring the church once again to the center of a broader discussion of a just society. Too often it is reduced to being simply a shrill voice unwilling to be challenged, learn, or dialogue. Such a voice earns itself a place at the margins.