Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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Catching Fire

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Tyranny Is the True Enemy,” I explore the latest film installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” I pick up on the theme that animates Alissa Wilkinson’s review at Christianity Today, but diverge a bit from her reading. As she writes, a major aspect of this second part of the series has to do with fake appearances and real substance, and the need to “remember who the real enemy is.”

Wilkinson is upset with the marketing buzz surrounding the film, arguing that it “declaws” the substantive message of the books themselves. There’s an element of truth to this. It comes home especially when watching an interview like this, in which Jennifer Lawrence seems to embody the idea that for a celebrity in today’s culture, “you never get off this train,” as Haymitch puts it to Katniss and Peeta on their own promotional tour.

But in focusing on the distracting nature of commercial merchandising of the films, I argue that Wilkinson ends up distracted from who the real enemy is. There is much that is morally problematic about the way that the Capitol operates. Wilkinson rightly shows the shallow consumerism and sensuality of Capitol couture. But the fact that this isn’t the real enemy, so to speak, can be shown by a bit of thought experiment.

Suppose that the consumption habits of the Capitol were far less odious to our moral sensibilities. Suppose the citizens all lived chaste, upright, and responsible lives in their city. Their oppression of the districts would be no less troublesome for all their virtuous consumption. The decadence of the Capitol only puts the real tyranny over the districts into sharper relief. John Tamny argues that to read Catching Fire as “anything other than a polemic against communistic, brutal government is a certain act of willful blindness.”

I won’t go quite that far, and I don’t agree that the film/book has nothing at all to do with critiquing consumerism, but I do think that such alternative readings often forget who the enemy really is. As Tamny (mis)quotes from Catching Fire, Katniss herself identifies the enemy as the one “who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.”

In the opening sequence of “Catching Fire,” Katniss is illegally hunting in an attempt to provide much-needed protein for her family. At one point, Katniss and Gale come across a flock of wild turkeys. This image is especially striking at the release of this film during the Thanksgiving season.

Far from promising a “turkey in every pot,” President Snow has no regard for the welfare of anyone in the districts. The citizens of the Capitol are all that matter, to the point that people like Katniss have to resort to illegal hunting and the black market for basic necessities like medicine and food.

There is a connection between hedonism and what might be called a “soft” form of tyranny characteristic of the vicious circle between the citizens of the Capitol and the government. And while tyranny in all its forms is to be rejected, the real enemy in the Hunger Games is the hard tyranny of President Snow and his jackbooted thugs. Everything else is, in the end, a distraction.

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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macbethbloodEarlier this month, the Fairfield Mirror reported on a speech given at Fairfield University in Connecticut:

Many consumers are content in turning a blind eye to the injustices that save them cents on their dollars. While it may be challenging to understand the social responsibilities that affect the world’s most powerful corporations, one group of investors is constantly directing these corporations to increase their social responsibility: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Senior economics major Arturo Jaras Watts and Fairfield University’s Proactive Investment Club organized an event on Nov. 6 to explain how to invoke social justice in corporations through financial investment. The lecture was open to all but was mostly attended by economic and business majors.

Patricia A. Daly headlined the event at this Jesuit school. Sr. Daly, readers will recall, is executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, billed on its website as “an alliance of Roman Catholic institutional investors primarily located throughout the New York metropolitan area” and “the largest regional member of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).”

The Mirror quotes Daly:

[F]eatured speaker Patricia A. Daly knows the consequences that can come from certain companies’ financial choices.

She believes investors must know who they are investing in.

‘If you’re not engaged, then you might as well sell the stock if it’s really a problem … If it’s making money, then that’s blood on your hands,’ she said. (more…)

contraceptive-mandateThe Supreme Court has agreed to hear a pair of cases that challenge the HHS mandate requiring many private companies to insure contraceptive and abortifacients. The Obama administration asked the high court to review the issue after a federal appeals court in Colorado found in favor of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based crafts franchise. The court will combine the Hobby Lobby case with lesser-known case involving Conestoga, a Pennsylvania company that lost earlier bids for relief from the mandate.

If you haven’t been following the controversy, here’s what you need to know about the mandate:

What is this contraception mandate everyone keeps talking about?

As part of the universal health insurance reform passed in 2010 (often referred to as “Obamacare”), all group health plans must now provide—at no cost to the recipient—certain “preventive services.” The list of services includes sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacient drugs.

If this mandate is from 2010, why are we talking about it in 2013?

On January 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that that it would not expand the exemption for this mandate to include religious schools, colleges, hospitals, and charitable service organizations. Instead, the Administration merely extended the deadline for religious groups who do not already fall within the existing narrow exemption so that they will have one more year to comply or drop health care insurance coverage for their employees altogether and incur a hefty fine

Is there a religious exemption from the mandate? If so, who qualifies for the exemption?
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burden-bearingOver the past year, public discussion about the Affordable Care Act has led many Christians to question the proper roles of government and business in providing healthcare. Too often, though, the question left unexamined is what role the church should have in responding to the medical needs of the community.

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments.

As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.”
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CBS This Morning’s Charlie Rose and Sharyl Attkinsson report that a woman who once touted the Affordable Care Act as “NancyCare” is now forced to drop insurance for her eight employees, and let them fend for themselves on HealthCare.gov. It isn’t going well. In the report, White House spokesman Jay Carney tells reporters that, “This conversation doesn’t apply to you” when asked how the Affordable Care Act will affect small business owners like Nancy Clark.

As Charlie Rose says, “Another promise by the government isn’t holding up.”

CoolMy pastor made a good point in his sermon Sunday that the more secular we become as a nation the less we talk about “abundance.” Instead, the national dialogue of our politics shift to discussions about scarcity. Many politicians are stuck in the mindset of talking about things like wealth distribution and rationing. The more materialist and less spiritual we become as a nation, the more inclined we are to fight over the table scraps.

If we don’t look to God, we won’t believe the Lord can bless us. In turn, many only want to get what they can. This is all too evident in the excessive shopping we often see where consumers believe stuff equals being blessed. Sadly, some try and substitute stuff for what only the Gospel can provide.

In his 1925 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation , President Calvin Coolidge talks a lot about abundance, a word he used in most of his Thanksgiving Day Proclamations. The Coolidge presidency occurred over a time of unprecedented technological innovation in America as well as economic surplus and growth. Coolidge had a keen understanding of what blessings and abundance meant for the nation and why it was essential that the country “progress in moral and spiritual things.” Material advancement alone was not sufficient. Here is an excerpt from the 1925 proclamation:

The season approaches when, in accordance with a long established and respected custom, a day is set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for the manifold blessings which His gracious and benevolent providence has bestowed upon us as a nation and as individuals.

We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service.

As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.

Unfortunately, most politicians and leaders today are unable to speak with clarity about spiritual wealth and abundance, thus their vision is limited because it remains solely on the things of this world.

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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mission logo 2Derick Scudder, senior pastor at Bethel Chapel Church, an evangelical congregation in the northern part of Philadelphia, recently completed a 4-part series explaining why he is “done with urban ministry.” Bethel Chapel is a “Bible-teaching church focused on the Good News that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We are a racially diverse, multi-generational group of people who want to know Jesus better.” As a pastor of a church deeply embedded in a challenging section of Philadelphia, Scudder has experienced the joys and pains of living in a neighborhood that many would simply avoid.

I’m raising my family and serving my church in the same low income neighborhood. My youth group is almost all un-churched kids. Our car has been stolen. I’ve been the victim of a violent crime, counseled drug addicts, and preached at quinceaneras. I’ve helped start and run a non-profit for our neighborhood that’s brought local businesses together and attracted some development to our area. But I’m done calling this urban ministry

What changed? Scudder explains why the label “urban ministry” may be no longer appropriate. Here’s what he says:
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