"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, May 9, 2013

Moral markets
Marvin Olasky, World

Americans are about to relearn the lesson, says Steve Forbes, that it is big government and not capitalism that causes economic instability

Three Girls in Cleveland… and Millions Worldwide
Ed Stetzer, Lifeway Research Blog

I cannot help thinking about the fact that this is, well, a horrible reality for several other families across the world. Yes, it is unusual that a man kidnapped and help hostage in this manner in a major American city, but kidnapping and sexual slavery is not unheard of– it is shockingly common around the world.

The Tech Poverty Fighter
Eileen O’Gorman, Christianity Today

How Andrew Sears at TechMission harnesses the Web to fuel urban ministry.

Is Your Work Useless?
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Our work is meant to develop the creation around us for the glory of God’s kingdom.

bitcoinLast month, in my series on Bitcoin, I wrote that for the crypto-currency to succeed it will one day have to become trusted by more mainstream consumers, which requires adding such features as regulatory oversight and a centralized monetary authority—the very features of other currencies that Bitcoin was created to avoid.

That day may be coming sooner than later:

“Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.” ― Oscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love

It is no secret to Christians that being one is not easy. However, the public practice of Christianity is becoming more and more difficult world-wide. The recent kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria is but one story of the on-going violence towards Christians in that country. Nigeria was recently cited for its attacks on Christians and Christian churches. Cadida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, is questioning the existence of Christian martyrs in the early Church. Rather than dying for their faith, she asserts, the stories of martyrs are myths created by a young church eager to establish itself as something worth dying for. Now, John Blake of CNN reports on American Christians as a “hated minority.” (more…)

Last week, Verizon Communications Inc. shareholders rejected a wireless network neutrality proxy resolution from two prominent Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility members, Nathan Cummings Foundation and Trillium Asset Management Corporation.

As this writer noted in a March 28, 2013, blog post concerning a similar proxy resolution submitted to AT&T Inc., advocacy of network neutrality is far removed from the ICCR’s goals of furthering social justice because it kills jobs, deters technical innovations and drives up consumer bills.  The NCF and TAMC resolutions singling out Verizon, however, are even more ludicrous as the company still awaits its day in court to appeal net neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Got that? The shareholders wanted Verizon to adopt the very same rules for its wireless service that it’s battling against for its wired networks in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The NCF/TAMC resolution reads, in part:

Verizon’s stated policies for customers who access the Internet via wireless devices are markedly different from those for customers who access the Internet via wired networks.

For example, on its web site the Company offers customers who gain Internet access via its wired network a “commitment” which includes: “We will not prevent you or other users of our service from sending and receiving the lawful content of your choice; running lawful applications and using lawful services of your choice…” and “We will disclose the types of practices that we use to manage our network…”

Wireless customers, however, are given no such assurances.  The Company tells wireless customers: “We will continue to disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language about the characteristics and capabilities of our service offerings so you and other users of our service can make informed choices.”

As investors, we are deeply concerned about this disparity in principles, policies and practices.  In light of potential reputational, regulatory, and legislative risk related to Verizon’s network management practices and the issue of network neutrality, this disparity is troubling.

There may also be reputational and commercial risk in not providing customers with evidence of open Internet policies.  On its public policy blog, a Verizon executive describes a high level of competition in the wireless market and says consumers “can vote with their feet if they want to” by choosing another wireless provider. (more…)

As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.

Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:

Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.

The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”

Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the dynamics between gift, gratitude, and stewardship. The proper response to a gift that has been given is gratitude, and the proper expression of gratitude comes in faithful stewardship.

I’ve heard it repeated in many times and in many places that for a gift to truly be a gift, there must be no responsibility of response on the part of the recipient. As I write in “Gift, Gratitude, and the Grace of Stewardship,” that view is precisely what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his excoriation of “cheap” grace.

One of the most striking illustrations to me of this dynamic came as I watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. One of the main characters is Tim Riggins, a fan favorite who begins the series as a student and ends it as a man. Over the last two seasons Tim’s maturation really comes through, as he has graduated from high school and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

Tim’s got a troubled background that doesn’t need to be explained here, but suffice it to say that the only family he’s got is his older brother Billy. Despite his better judgment and discomfort with the idea, Billy convinces Tim to help him with his new garage, which by night becomes a chop shop operation. The brothers are eventually busted, but Tim generously and lovingly takes the rap for his brother, who has a new wife and child that he’s trying to support.

After some time, Tim is paroled and comes back to Dillon, Texas. As you might imagine, Tim isn’t the happiest guy around after his stint in jail. But what really angers him is his sense that his brother Billy hasn’t done enough with the gift of freedom he’s been given by his brother’s sacrifice. After the brothers fight, Billy asks, “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?” Tim responds, “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

Tim has given Billy a great gift, and it’s clear that Billy feels a sense of responsibility. Tim recognizes it, too, which is why they both know that there is something, some obligation, to be “held over” Billy. That doesn’t make what Tim did any less of a gift. But it does illustrate that there is a deep connection between gift and gratitude, or what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”

Tim’s sacrifice, in this way, is an echo of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who showed the greatest love there is in laying down his life for us (John 15:13). The reality of this gift of costly grace ought to inspire in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility, to do something good with the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.