Weekly Meanderings

Ben Sternke, the cost of non-discipleship: “At our Missional Community gathering this past Sunday someone paraphrased Dallas Willard: “If you think it’s hard being a disciple of Christ, you should try living the other way.” This is exactly what Jesus was saying in these stories: living to make a name for yourself or secure your own future is way too expensive. Stop now before you ruin yourself utterly. Jesus was talking in these stories about the cost of non-discipleship, and it’s breathtakingly high.”

Speaking of discipleship, Pastor Derwin writes about this too.

Ted Olsen, at CT, sketches the church discipline story of Mars Hill, with a recent development.

Good reminder from my friend Tom Smith about helping the poor: “It strikes me as odd that the people who decide on the effectiveness of these programs are not the poor themselves but the “top experts” sitting over the sea in some of the most prestigious universities. These top experts use “scientific methods” that are quantitative rather than the biased reporting of the NGO’s. They know how to “rigorously assess.” The experts decide, “The experts who were polled are not anti-laptop, but given the more basic needs in poor countries, they said donating computers was highly cost-ineffective compared with the alternatives.” What do the poor themselves say?”

John Fea: “Obama may be the most explicitly Christian president in American history. If we analyze his language in the same way that historians examine the religious language of the Founding Fathers or even George W. Bush, we will find that Obama’s piety, use of the Bible, and references to Christian faith and theology put most other American presidents to shame on this front. I think there may be good reasons why some people will not vote for Obama in November, but his commitment to Christianity is not one of them.”

Just in case you’ve not seen the Decorah Eagles.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: “I had a neighbor growing up, Alan, who worked for the power company. He was a young guy then and didn’t mind danger or odd hours, so the company put him on call for emergency repair jobs. Early one morning, Alan was called out to fix a stoplight at a busy intersection. He parked his ladder truck in the middle of the intersection, put out his caution cones, and climbed to fix the light, some 20 feet in the air. While he was working, a drunk driver raced through the intersection and clipped the back of Alan’s truck. Alan flew off the top of his ladder, cut a back flip in the air, and somehow landed on his feet in the intersection. Miraculously, he wasn’t hurt. But Alan had a hard time trusting ladders after that. Wanting to keep his feet on the ground, Alan found another job.”

Roger Olsen reflects on “renewalism.”

Tim Dalrymple on the GOP process: “When all of this is combined with Romney’s previous positioning, it makes for an ominous situation.  In some ways, the Romney campaign in the 2012 cycle is an eerie reflection of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008.  Being the putative frontrunner, being “inevitable,” having the superior organization and network of powerful and well-healed supporters, is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a boring story — and if there’s one thing our rapacious media machine cannot stand, it’s a boring story.  Every stumble from the “frontrunner” and every victory from a “challenger” creates new narratives the media want to tell.  It’s also not inspiring.  Americans don’t like to be told whom they’ll vote for, and they love the underdog.  America is an underdog story.  Romney has run a Competency Campaign — and that’s just not as inspiring as a Movement Campaign.  Competency, excellence, superlative achievement — these things are nice.  But we believe in causes, visions, uprisings.  Happily for Romney, there is no Republican version of Candidate Obama to go up against Romney the Inevitable in this cycle.  But many conservatives seem to be deciding that Santorum is close enough.”

Meanderings in the News

How to use social media to promote women.

We need more Phone Booth Bookshelves.

Walter Russell Mead: “The typical American church today is organized around the ideas and realities of blue model America. Denominational structures (weakened by years of cutbacks in many cases) are bureaucratic staff organizations. Most local congregations own a large building and land; most of their budgets are eaten up by professional salaries and building maintenance. The mainline Protestant churches — Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, most Lutherans — are the most committed to the old model, but many others are in the same general condition. Church organizations, especially in America, move with the times or die, and the ways Americans are re-imagining and re-engineering their social institutions are beginning to change the way churches work….”

Judea Pearl’s poem to his slaughtered son, Daniel Pearl.

So cool!

While we are thinking about it, let’s get some exercise: “Moving the body demands a lot from the brain. Exercise activates countless neurons, which generate, receive and interpret repeated, rapid-fire messages from the nervous system, coordinating muscle contractions, vision, balance, organ function and all of the complex interactions of bodily systems that allow you to take one step, then another. This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled. What’s more, the finely honed energy balance that occurs in the brain appears to have implications not only for how well the brain functions during exercise, but also for how well our thinking and memory work the rest of the time.”

A free campus, 217 acres, 54 buildings. Free.

Deborah Blum: “I hate to admit this but for some time – okay, almost the two years since it was published – I cherished an attitude about Theodore Gray’s dazzling e-tribute to the Periodic Table, The Elements. It was too jazzy, I told myself, too flashy. Of course, what I meant was that it was so successful. It’s easy to maintain that envy about The Elements even today. As The Wall Street Journalnoted in a recent story on e-publishing, this virtuoso exploration of our chemical world remains “a runaway best-seller”, selling more than 250,000 electronic copies and generating more than $2.5 million in income for Touch Press publishing. But I’d like to here to get past author envy and take a serious look at what makes this publication so exceptionally successful – and, in fact, so exceptional. I should say at this point that I am superficially acquainted with Theodore Gray – we’ve both been part of programs on communicating chemistry. And that one of his comments about communicating chemistry has stayed with me- the idea that we can reach people afraid of the subject by showing them that it can also be beautiful.”

Panera pay-what-you-can. Not to self: if you ever decide to do this yourself, don’t do it near a college campus.

Two articles on sleep patterns, the first by Stephanie Hegarty: “In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep. Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists. In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.” And aging eyes may be the culprit to disrupted patterns of sleep!


Meanderings in Sports

A good story about Jeremy Lin.

Go Andi!

If you haven’t seen this about Gary Carter, take a look.

Look at the size of those hands on Dr J: yowzers!


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  • Pat Pope

    Phone Booth Shelves? Finding a phone booth, at least in Ohio, is difficult. For the best impact, it probably works better in an area like New York that still has a good amount of phone booths around.

  • Susan N.

    Holy $@#% — “Cost-Effective Compassion” — That this article was even published in ‘Christianity Today’ is shameful. As I read, I was literally muttering expletives and, alternately, pushing away from the laptop and pacing the room in agitation and disgust!

    Who is this “Bruce Wydick?” If his views on compassion and giving are any indication, then the term “Christian economist” is truly an oxymoron. When Christ told the rich young ruler (who must have been a little too attached to his “stuff”) to go and sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus didn’t qualify the advice with a suggestion to be sure and do a scientifically-rigorous cost-benefit analysis first! I’m so annoyed…

    This guy took a pot-shot at World Vision (an org that I gladly and wholeheartedly support through child sponsorship), to which I would strongly object and challenge. Even as he affirmed the “high rating” of child sponsorship, he questioned the efficacy of “community development” efforts, citing the rationale that it makes the results on the individual child harder to quantify (dilutes the impact or some such garbage).

    Look, one of our sponsored children in Ethiopia is physically disabled and not in good health. I am SO, SO thankful that WV works to lift up Kebede’s *entire* community (ADP). I keep thinking that if and when WV completes the ADP, if that community hasn’t been genuinely transformed (hearts) by the love of Christ, then what are Kebede’s chances? He will need support and care for his whole life. If the community in which Kebede lives is not either enabled to care for ALL its members, or has the spiritual/ethical conviction to do so, then my Ethiopian boy is screwed. Not unlike a lot of poor Americans are screwed right now, precisely because of the mentality that Bruce Wydick and others like him are pushing!

    Also, the focus on community development is smart and beautiful in a way that, apparently, economists can’t grasp. The community is given the help to stand on their own (e.g., “teach a man to fish vs. give a man a fish.”)

    I do place my trust in World Vision, because I believe in what they are doing, and that they, being “on the ground” will do what’s best with the money we give to them. I do pray that God would multiply the “loaves and fishes” to go far and bless our sponsored children AND their communities beyond my feeble imagination or expectations.

    One good thing from the CT article to consider, go and learn directly from the poor what they need and be moved with compassion (like Jesus!!!) to help in ways both tangible and intangible. Lord, help us. Save us from ourselves!

  • The Tom Smith article is interesting. I couldn’t find anything at his blog that described him so I couldn’t put his remarks in context. I think Smith is responding to a long history of abuse by “development experts” but I think he pushes too far. I think the CT article is very good.

    The CT article is about poverty, “economic deprivation.” Economic growth happens when matter, energy, and data are transformed from less useful forms to more useful forms. And this begs the question of which things to transform in which order. Here Smith is right that development “experts” have frequently been imperialistic in their approach. But I don’t see the CT article deifying the US Dollar. If “economic” improvement happens, than it can be measured. Monetary value (bang for the buck) is the medium for measuring value and he is right to use it.

    But while everything is economics, economics isn’t everything. The ministry of the church has at its core the involvement with people in face-to-face community. While there are economic variables involved in face-to-face community, decisions are rarely made on narrow economic calculations. People know each other intimately and there is accountability to each other. Economic loss is often the right thing to do. Smith is right to emphasize the centrality of this connectedness. But face-to-face communities are not the only way we are in relationships with each other.

    Face-to-face community is a micro economic element. But there are also messo and macro economic connections. While face-to-face community is essential to Christian mission, the vast majority of people in wealthy nations can’t live in face-to-face community with people in poverty in emerging nations. But many will want to be involved through these more expansive connections. That requires relationships that will be more narrowly devoted to specific aims and where there will be much less personal connection and personal accountability. Different types of ethical considerations are involved. It will not do to conceive of these more expansive connections as a family (face-to-face community) writ large. Other more objective types of accountability, transparency, and measurement must be in place (and there is lots of room for debate on how to do this well.)

    Face-to-face community and meso/macro level economics are not in opposition to each other. They are (or should be) complementary. But the interaction between to the two is often messy, particularly in cross-cultural dynamics where there are unequal economic players and a history of injustice and dysfunction at many levels. If the CT article is too dismissive of the face-to-face community Smith see’s as central (and I don’t think the article is), then I think Smith errs in the direction of casting the meso/macro level structures as a family writ large.

  • #2 Susan

    “As I read, I was literally muttering expletives and, alternately, pushing away from the laptop and pacing the room in agitation and disgust!”

    The same emotional agitation I had reading your comments. 😉

  • #2 Susan

    You challenge Wydick’s critique that money raised for supporting a child should be spent on that child and measured. Some of these organizations perceive that community development is important (a value you seem to affirm) but they can more easily raise money by soliciting money for particular children. It makes it hard to see what the impact is. He in no way impugned community development.

    You wrote:

    “I do place my trust in World Vision, because I believe in what they are doing, and that they, being “on the ground” will do what’s best with the money we give to them.”

    How do you know what they are actually doing? How do you know that what they are doing is the most effective way of doing things? If trust is not based on some objective measure of impact, then why do you trust them? (I’m not picking on World Vision. I’m saying we ask this of ANY NGO we support.) Wydrick says we need to measure what is happening and be reflective on how to do better. Wydrick wants evidence. What I hear from is cursing at anyone who would ask this and would instead have us (Westerners) insert our “feelings” toward organizations or methods based on anecdotal stories as the arbiter of effective mission. In other words, it’s all about me (a Westerner) and how I feel about it rather than the actual impact it has on people.

    I’ve been working with and studying economic development for 25 years. If Christians are to contribute to economic development, it must be done with warm hearts and cool heads. It requires understanding economics at the micro/messo/macro levels. It requires that the poor and their welfare be the center of analysis, not our cherished ideologies and institutions.

    And I’ll also add that it is not enough to teach a man to fish. That is a first step. Economic development is when he owns the lake, is stocking the lake, and employing fisherman, bringing about tangible and intangible benefits to the whole community. 😉

  • Susan N.

    You know what, Michael @ #4? I don’t care. Agitation is good. Let us allow it to move us from our complacency and rationalizations/self-justifications into compassion.

    We have had this conversation before, you and I. I am not surprised to receive your rebuke and pushback. Bring it.

  • DB

    Although the article was not about poverty in the US, I’ve maintained for years now that the US approach to the poor is systems that cost the affluent just enough to keep the poor right where they are.

    As it relates to the subject matter of the article, the primary problem of economic disparity and poverty is economic segregation. Lazarus sat right outside the gate of the rich man. So close and yet so segregated from the table. And integration has been going in reverse with suburbanization and heavily gated affluence.

    The only way to impact generational and systemic poverty is face to face integration. Of course, certain political entities thrive on segregated systems. The US, both internally and globally, has struggled to integrate racially, socially and economically from its very start.

    How far our national culture really is from the “no rich or poor, no male or female, no citizen or alien” when it comes to social and economic classification. The reality of a “Christian” nation is not a micro/macro debate; it is a kingdom of God or kingdom of the world ethic.

    Everything flows out of the recognition that a society centered in Christ is one that is absolutely pre-occupied with face-to-face encounters with Him in those most different from us. In him there is no “other”.

  • Susan N.

    Michael (#5) – Your specific responses to my arguments would be comical if the issue weren’t so deadly serious. It seems to me that you are reading into my comments what you want to hear. And, do you actually know anything firsthand about World Vision and their mission? Allow me to enlighten you. In our association with and sponsorship of WV children, we receive regular ADP reports that detail the variety of ways that the community is lifted from helplessness to empowerment. Yes, first, meeting dire needs. Then, teaching the community to “fish”, then OWNING their prosperity by becoming self-sufficient. The goal is always to become (I hope) not independent so much as interdependent in a very biblical, relational, community, mutually-caring kind of way…Addressing deep, systemic roots of poverty and oppression versus strictly applying band-aids to the needs in order for the giver to cop a good feeling about him/herself. How insulting!

    Michael, I would have a much greater ability to listen to the wisdom of economists if the message didn’t come across as so cold, calculating, and rational at the expense of real people and real suffering all around us, near and far.

    Sometimes, Michael, loving and giving is entirely impractical, and if we analyze it too much, we can’t find one scientifically-verifiable or prudent reason to put ourselves out. A heart that is moved with compassion matters. Too much head knowledge can truly be a hindrance to the intangibles of loving and sacrificial giving, imho.

    I would give you the point that there is a balance to be sought. Loving God and others with our WHOLE heart, mind, soul, and strength. I wish you and I were able to see eye to eye and speak with each other instead of past each other, for God’s sake. While people like us are pontificating on the logistics, real needs go unmet. Meanwhile, we fail to realize that the negative impact hurts us all and must grieve God, I have to believe.

    Congratulations to CT for this article which will, undoubtedly discourage some people from giving at all, because it might not be cost-effective or based on the right motives. If God is moving your heart to get involved and be a part of some compassionate giving, listen to the Holy Spirit and trust God to give you discernment and cause your giving to be a blessing…and to teach you and transform you in the process.

  • Michael,

    Thanks for your thoughts on the CT article. You always put things in perspective for me.

    I am currently serving what is my second downtown church. We deal with the poor and homeless every day. From my perspective being concerned about our outreach to them being cost effective is not cold and hard-hearted. It is actually an act of compassion that stretches the resources we have to offer. Thus more people who are in need get helped. The impact of our mission does indeed matter. And in my experience, what keeps people from giving is when a mission is not cost-effective because they begin to feel that their money is being wasted. If you have a ministry to the homeless and people are giving to that ministry we must be good stewards of that money too, just as any other money given for other missions. Again, in my experience, when people know that a ministry to the homeless is cost effective and implemented effectively, they will give even more because their dollars are truly helping those in need.

  • True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.

  • #8 Susan

    Susan, you’ve missed my point. I think Word Vision is a fine organization. I’ve had affiliation with many people who have worked with them ion the past and present. My impression is that they are a very responsible organization. What I particularly like is that they do all those things that you find so contemptible in Wyrick and myself: The try to measure, not output, but outcomes. They try to adapt accordingly.

    You are selling me on World Vision based ADP reports and personal stories. You make the case to me based on impact: “the community is lifted from helplessness to empowerment.” Yet elsewhere you say we are supposed to be impractical and not worry about impact. Then why should you are I care what World Vision ADP reports? We are supposed to be compassionate and give without question. Am or am I not supposed to evaluate the impact? You can’t have it both ways.

    If I have cancer, would I not want the doctors to do a cool headed analysis of my circumstances? And even with their cool headed analysis, am I not wise to seek a second opinion? Suppose my primary doctor prescribes a treatment regimen that she has had success with 65% of the time. The second opinion doctor informs me of more recent studies that show a different treatment is successful 85% of the time. Is the second doctor some a heartless SOB who did a cool headed look at the facts “at the expense of real people and real suffering?” There is real suffering in the world! And that is precisely why … like doctors, with warm hearts for the patients, offer cool headed analysis of the circumstances so they can partner with the patient for the most optimal outcome … economic development must be done with warm hearts and cool heads with an eye to what is optimal. Why is the second opinion doctor noble while asking similar questions in economics is so contemptible?

    I’m going to press this point again. We are called to love others. Love in the biblical sense is not having warm fuzzies about people. Love is about being in community, knowing the other, knowing their aspirations and needs, and seeking the good of the either in particular applications. Questions of economic advantage often do and should take a backseat. But none of us can love, in this sense, more than a handful of people. That does not mean we are without obligation to others outside of our face-to-face community but rather it is a simple acknowledgement of anthropology. The ways we connect and work for the common good beyond this level requires different modes of relating and accountability.

    “Congratulations to CT for this article which will, undoubtedly discourage some people from giving at all, because it might not be cost-effective or based on the right motives.”

    I’m mystified about where you are getting this notion that when Wyrick says we should measure and analyze on an ongoing basis that he (or I) are somehow suggesting that people are off the hook for compassionate giving. If I suggest we should really study cancer to see what happens, am I saying doctors are of the hook for offering treatment? That’s ludicrous! If you read the article, the compassionate person might be less likely to give less to fair trade coffee and more to clean water delivery. And if he is right, just like with the second opinion doctor, there will be more optimal outcomes, not fewer.

    “If God is moving your heart to get involved and be a part of some compassionate giving, listen to the Holy Spirit and trust God to give you discernment and cause your giving to be a blessing…and to teach you and transform you in the process.”

    Good intentions and emotional attachment do not trump outcomes. Justice for the poor demands that it be otherwise. Part of the discernment God gives us the minds to analyze be prudent.

  • Susan N.

    You miss my point as well, Michael @ #11.

    I am thankful for the ADP progress reports, as well as the correspondence between my sponsored children (facilitated by translators) and I, because it allows me to know specifically how to pray for my sponsored children and their communities. I learn of their needs, through those who are “on the ground” and can pray more specifically for the whole situation.

    But I am not sure that I wouldn’t continue supporting WV if not for the ADP reports, and photos and correspondence from my sponsored children. When my husband and I decided to sponsor two children internationally, we were first moved to compassion by the devastation and dire need caused from the Indonesian tsunami. We diligently researched several faith-based, NGO’s, and trusted WV the most.

    You are correct. I am not physically in Africa (or India) to see our charitable giving being applied. I’m thankful, again, for the reports which help me to stay connected to my sponsored children and their communities so far away. But the reports are not what motivate me to continue giving. If in the short term, it appeared that little “progress” were being made, I would not stop caring for or loving my sponsored children. Is WV wrong to “play on emotions” of potential sponsors by promoting individual children for sponsorship? For me, it is putting a real face on the need, and not just some abstract condition of poverty “out there” somewhere else.

    Coming up close and personal in our own communities with those who suffer in poverty in all its forms, and “being with” them instead of maintaining our distance is no less an urgent calling than sponsoring a child internationally. It is a global world. We are not oblivious to the suffering on the other side of the globe, are we? Is it somebody else’s problem? If we see a need, and our hearts are burdened to help, act on it. This takes nothing away from accountants crunching their numbers and economists theorizing and doing their cost-benefit analyses. Have at it.

    Michael, maybe it would do the economists well to live on the wild side and be impractical in extravagent, sacrificial giving every now and then, and conversely, for those who lead with their hearts to analyze how profitable their offerings look “on paper.” Maybe, I guess… Someone I thought was my friend actually told me something very similar once: “On paper, we have nothing in common to justify our friendship.” [Insert sound effect from being punched in the gut.] I thought love was still a worthy “cause.” As it turns out, not many people feel that way.

    Your turn, Michael. I will defer to you in having the last word, or closing argument. I sincerely pray that this discussion lights a holy fire under all the butts of those reading to awaken, see the needs of those around us with compassionate eyes, and act. If all our dialogue does that, then God is glorified. Forged in the purifying fire, to be fitted for heaven. Yes. I’m willing. I’m trusting that there’s a “fourth man” in the fiery furnace with me. Blessings to you, Michael. Thanks for your thoughts today. Duly noted and, believe it or not, appreciated. 🙂

  • As I’ve reflected on the CT article, Smith, and the comments , I think another piece that figures into the conversation is the distinction between relief, rehabilitation, and development. (Thank you Corbett and Fikkert.)

    Relief is about stopping the bleeding … addressing the immediate devastation of famine, tsuami, earthquake, or some human made devastation. Matters of long-term economic impact recede to the periphery.

    Rehabilitation is about bringing people back to health and stability once the bleeding has been stopped. While we still want to evaluate the most effective means of rehabilitation, economic growth is still not our major concern.

    Development is about the ongoing effort to achieve a more prosperous and shalom-filled reality for a somewhat healthy and stable community. Here, measurement is front and center.

    The CT article is about development, not relief and rehabilitation. When people are at death’s door, it is not the time to be doing controlled studies and measuring outcomes. When you are talking about how to get the cycle of prosperity moving upward for a relatively stable healthy community, it most certainly is. I have the sense that you are conceptualizing ALL attempts to address poverty as relief efforts. If that were true then of course my cautious methodical approach would be callous … leaving people bloody and dying while we analyze. But it isn’t the case. There is a significant measure of stability in most poor communities most of the time. Treating development as a relief effort, aimlessly throwing money around hoping something sticks, is toxic to the poor. It breeds abuse, corruption, waste, and dependency. I’d really encourage folks to read a copy of Corbett and Fikkert’s “When Helping Hurts” and Bob Lupton’s “Toxic Charity.”

    What I find particularly perplexing is that you link careful analysis with lack of generosity or compassion. I have friends that could have had a well-paying corporate job who live in emerging nations with few creature comforts and low pay in order to figure out how to make economic development (as opposed to only relief and rehabilitation) happen. They aren’t just giving some money. They have given their whole lives. I know economists and businesspeople who give generously toward risky development efforts with no expectation of return, hoping to find something that works. Why is reckless abandon in pursuit of development somehow virtuous?

    Thanks for the conversation. I expect we will have more opportunities for follow up conversations in the near future. 😉 Grace and peace.

  • Jeremy

    Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett’s “When Helping Hurts” should be required reading for anyone that wants to even consider charitable giving, particularly to extremely poor areas like Africa. We’ve done waaaaay too much damage by engaging in feel-good, extravagant generosity that ultimately destroys everything it touches.

  • Mark h

    Read a great book on ways we typically enable in our service to the poor called Toxic Charity. Worth the read.