Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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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.

The Bunny Book, Richard Scarry, Little Golden Book“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question we are routinely asked as youngsters, with the more cliché responses ranging from “fireman” to “astronaut” to “explorer.”

Yet, as I’ve argued previously, we needn’t limit such contemplations to work outside of the home. As Karen Swallow Prior recently noted, using terminology from a Knot Yet study, family needn’t be viewed as a “capstone” to personal achievement, but should instead be seen as a “cornerstone” — an anchor and foundation from which those who are called to marry and have children will find increased fulfillment and vocational clarity, not less.

The other night, I was reading Richard Scarry’s The Bunny Book to my two toddlers, and I was struck by how clearly and effectively this same message was conveyed. The takeaway: When we think about work and vocation, we must also think about family.

The story begins with a daddy bunny tossing his baby in the air, asking that infamous question: “What will our baby be when he grows up?” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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Religious freedom lures many to U.S. from Asia
Joel Kotkin, Orange County Register

Immigrants, particularly from Asia, increasingly are coming to the U.S. less out of economic distress and more as a result of what may be called ‘lifestyle’ migration.

Louisiana Supreme Court rules school voucher funding unconstitutional
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

The Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled 6 to 1 on Tuesday that the way the state funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional and that public money now being used to pay private and religious school tuition should instead be going to public schools.

The mass exodus of Christians from the Muslim world
Raymond Ibrahim, Fox News

A mass exodus of Christians is currently underway. Millions of Christians are being displaced from one end of the Islamic world to the other.

Foreign aid more about helping friends at home
Jared Pincin and Brian Brenberg, USA Today

The goal of foreign aid should be to assist the needy, not to protect special interests or serve the re-election goals of politicians

At the beginning of the month, Rev. Robert Sirico traveled to El Salvador to speak at ENADE XIII (Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa Privada,). This event is put on every year by the National Association for Private Enterprise of El Salvador and its theme this year was “bettering business, transforming lives.” Rev. Sirico gave the closing presentation at the event and spoke about the effectiveness of businesses in the fight to end poverty.

He said that neither piety nor charity can ultimately end poverty.  The best thing that businesses and entrepreneurs can do to break the circle of poverty is to be successful. It is a moral obligation, not a bad thing to be successful in business. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) illustrates this point.  What’s more, entrepreneurs are given the same calling that Adam and Eve were given in the Garden of Eden: “be fruitful and multiply.” Labor is something sacred and not simply a means to wealth and riches.

The state has a role in helping the poor, but it is limited. Governments should work to create environments where businesses can thrive and provide opportunities for employment. Profitable private businesses are closely linked to poverty reduction and the overall progress of communities. He asked which is better: a powerful state with a powerful bureaucracy or a competitive and productive private sector that creates employment? (more…)

After being sentenced to federal prison in 2001 for racketeering, Louisiana’s former governor Edwin Edwards, long famous for his corruption and political antics, humorously quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I have been a model citizen.” In his 1983 campaign for governor against incumbent David Treen, Edwards bellowed, “If we don’t get Dave Treen out of office, there won’t be anything left to steal.” The kind of illegal corruption once flaunted by Edwards is on the decline. There is less of a need. Legal corruption in government is more prevalent and easy enough to secure. (more…)

tyndaleAfter apparently recognizing the absurdity of arguing that a Bible publisher is not a “religious employer,” the Obama administration has dropped its appeal in the case of Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius. “For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court,” said Matt Bowman senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Tyndale in the case.

Following the government’s request, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday dismissed the administration’s appeal. This means the preliminary injunction temporarily halting the mandate — as it applies to Tyndale — will stand as the case moves forward.

The Obama administration required most businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate by August 2012. Some faith-based organizations — including hospitals and universities — have a so-called safe harbor until August of this year. Tyndale does not qualify for the extension.

While this is a victory for Tyndale, there are still fifty-nine other lawsuits currently challenging the mandate. Maybe if the administration loses a few more of these cases they’ll decide that it’s not worth continuing to fight to allow the HHS to violate the religious liberties of Americans.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to SuccessWhen discussing economics, we frequently encounter the zero-sum fallacy: the notion that the economic pie is fixed, that there is always a winner and a loser, and that, for someone to grow rich, another must become poor.

Yet in a market wherein rule of law, contracts, and property rights are properly established, the pie will surely grow. We are not static balls of flesh nestled comfortably in a static universe. We are spiritual beings made in the image of a creative God, and mutual trade and exchange help accelerate our efforts to create and collaborate alongside our neighbors. As Jay Richards notes, the uniqueness of the human person feeds into how economic value is actually determined.

But although we typically discuss the errors of such thinking in matters of basic material exchange, we should note that such a fallacy can just as easily filter into our broader social and spiritual activities in the workplace. Such limited thinking can trap us in a sort of self-centered tunnel vision, whether with our clients, co-workers, or competitors, leading us to assume that success cannot come if we allow any wiggle room for generosity, whether in basic service, various collaborations, or even end-game negotiations.

In an article for The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith touches on these themes by highlighting a new book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, wherein organizational psychological Adam Grant seeks to challenge such zero-sum thinking, arguing that by having a fuller, more healthy perspective of mutual gain, we can move forward together toward a more productive, more fulfilling economic and social environment. (more…)