The Benedict Option; Is No Option

I have to be honest with you, I have been thinking about dropping out. By dropping out I mean stop using my IPhone, IPad, watching TV, especially the news, and giving up my laptop. I am discouraged about our society, politics, social morality, and generally this earth in general. However, I’ve decided my hope has been misplaced in a fallen system that has no ability to regenerate itself. I have decided that it is best to listen to what Psalm 121:1 says, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

David Skeel this morning wrote in the regular WSJ article, Houses of Worship, that “now isn’t the time to flee the public square.” He began the article by discussing the Benedict Option, which calls for Christians to stage a “strategic retreat from the culture.” This reminds me of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged,” where John Galt encourages all the creative and innovative leaders to leave society.

We could say, who is Rod Dreher, just like John Galt, who is calling for this disappearance? “Mr. Dreher, in a series of blog posts over the past several weeks for the American Conservative, has described the Benedict Option as my name for an inchoate phenomenon in which Christians adopt a more consciously countercultural stance toward our post-Christian mainstream culture.” I think it is very evident that we are in a post-Christian culture, so I think this is a relevant discussion to have.

In the early sixth century the Church decided to leave the world and move into monastic life. Subsequently, this has been attempted many times throughout history. In 2006, David Kuo, “a former special assistant to President George W. Bush,” wrote in “Tempting Faith” that he was “advocating that evangelical Christians take a timeout and abstain from politics for a few years.” Another person in 2010, James Davison Hunter, argued the same message. However, we are still here and still participating, and I think we need to continue to do this, but with keeping something in mind.

I understand scripture and its clear picture of the world. The world is fallen. Therefore, we cannot look to Politics, Religion, Capitalism, or Socialism to save the world it is just not possible. In fact, if we look to any of these isms to accomplish this we are practicing idolatry.

Timothy Keller in his wonderful book, “Counterfeit Gods: The empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power,” describes how we have focused on the wrong things thinking they will accomplish what God can only do. As I continue to read his book I am amazed at how accurate his words are. Let me give you a few examples.

Loving one’s country is a good thing, but Keller tells us what Reinhold Niebuhr think of extreme nationalism. Niebuhr stated that “when power and prosperity of a nation become unconditional absolutes that veto all other concerns, then violence and injustice can be perpetrated without question.” I think this is supported by history. Keller references Dutch scholar Bob Goudzwaard to make his point of how this end justifies the means, “Thus a nation’s goal of material prosperity becomes an idol when we use it to justify the destruction of the natural environment or allow the abuse of individuals or classes of people.” Thus we can make politics an idol, and God forbid that politics and Christianity ever become strange bedfellows again.

Neibuhr warned us against making your political philosophy a “saving faith.” We only have to look to recent history to see the reality of this failure. These failures are reflected in the Marxism of Russia, the excesses of Capitalism, and government in general. If we focus our hopes on any of the above, and look to these ideologies as absolutes, this will only lead to disappointment. C.E.M. Joad, states, “It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we are disappointed.”

These ideologies demand total commitment, yet they will never provide peace. Neibuhr “argued that human thinking always elevates some finite value or object to be the Answer.” Keller states, “In Marxism the powerful state becomes the savior and capitalists are demonized. In conservative economic thought, free markets and competition will solve our problems, and therefore liberals and government are the obstacles to a happy society.” The fact is, neither of these extremes are the truth.

Phew, I have righted the ship. Even though I think that business has an incredible ability to create positive social change, I understand what is in the heart of human kind. I don’t trust human systems, but I also think that good can be done through them. I just have to trust my God to work that out. Now my hold is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness. I will dare not trust the sweetest frame, but only lean on Jesus name. Yep, that is the truth.

And that is my thought for the day!

Jack Kemp And Bob Woodson: Great Ideas!

A while back there was a gentleman who played profession football. He was a quarterback for NFL teams San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills. He was the AFL’s Most Valuable player in 1965, and led the Bills to a couple of championships.

Eventually Kemp went into politics and served nine terms as a Congressman for Western New York and Housing Secretary under George H.W. Bush. He was very successful and well liked, and he considered himself an economic conservative. Although he advocated Supply-Side economics, he did have some pretty good ideas about how to combat poverty.

About thirty years ago Kemp telephoned a gentleman named Bob Woodson. Bob Woodson is an African-American who has espoused the idea that “low-income individuals and neighborhood organizations must play the central role in fixing their communities, and that these efforts benefit from free-market concepts like competition, entrepreneurship, efficiency, and metrics.” Reading about Woodson has been very interesting, especially in light of what the Eastlake Foundation did in Georgia.

Woodson is a “veteran of the civil rights fight,” but “became disenchanted with the left’s devotion to failed government poverty programs.” I wrote about the amount of money that has been spent over the last 50 years with mixed results. $20 Trillion is a lot of money no matter how you spend it. Woodson started an organization, The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, “which transforms low-income areas from the inside out.” I enjoyed reading about this man and his great work. As a result, I have written down some thoughts.

I think we first and foremost need government policies that don’t create continued dependency on handouts. Mr. Woodson believes the government “has created a poverty-industrial-complex, in which most federal dollars go to those providing the services – the social workers, the drug counselors. That entire structure is hostile to helping the poor, because these folks have their own financial interests.”

I also think Woodson makes sense in how he deals with poverty. He uses local resources, and a process tailored to the community, while using volunteers to get as much money to the needy that they possibly can.

The article I read that brought this to my attention was discussing the need to get this kind of information to the public to create better public awareness of what Republicans are doing to alleviate poverty. I really don’t resonate with that statement, but I really like the process Woodson uses.

A great example of this is what Starbucks has chosen to do. “Starbucks said Thursday it’s opening stores in 15 poor and middle class locations across the United States, including one in Ferguson, MO., as part of its bid to integrate more disadvantaged youths into the workforce.” They plan on opening stores in Queens, South Chicago, and Milwaukee, Wis. Starbucks will be hiring 10,000 youths “who are neither employed nor at school and are at risk of never achieving economic self-sufficiency.” They plan on employing local youth, and will dedicate space to training these young people.

This is also a part of a larger move by several companies to hire or train 100,000 at-risk youths. It seems to me this is the way to attack poverty. I have often wondered why Indigenous Reservations have such a hard time with poverty, gangs, and drugs. One of the answers that I have come up with is what kind of of opportunities do the people who live on the Rez have?

I think the Rez is just like our inner cities. And for a war on poverty to be successful, we can’t fight it from a central position in Washington, D.C., we need to fight it where it is actually happening. And we need to start doing this when people are young enough to break the cycle of poverty. Creating job opportunities that pay a livable wage is the way to do it. There is power in business to create positive social change.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Pope And Unbridled Capitalism

I like Pope Francis. I am not Catholic, but I do like this Pope. I agree with many of his social comments. It is being reported that “Pope Francis appealed to world leaders on Saturday to seek a new economic model to help the poor, and shun policies that sacrifice human lives on the alter of money and profit.” He also mentioned “Corruption is the plague, it’s the gangrene of society.” Great comments, however, I hope he is not looking for politicians to lead this charge, because their track record is not particularly good. In fact many of our politicians are in bed with the greedy capitalists who are being blamed for all of the world’s ills.

Don’t get me wrong, greed and corruption are evil, but to say that a particular economic system, one to favors owning private property is the cause of all of our social ills, is an incorrect assumption, one that ignores the spiritual reality of the fall. But, I do agree, “Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and education” are essential for human dignity. However, I think it is also critical that people are able to do meaningful work for a livable wage.

Over the last fifty years we have spent $20 Trillion on the war-on-poverty. We are now looking at approximately 50 million people in the United States who live below the poverty line. This has been defined as an annual income of $23,492 for a family of four. However, if I were investing as much as our government has and not see any changes I would want to look at what I was investing in. Daniel Henninger said this about our anti-poverty programs, “Arguably it is true that because of these anti-poverty programs, the black Americans who have lived for generations in virtually the same housing projects and attended the same schools – in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, the Bronx, Watts, the South side of Chicago, North City in St. Louis, Camden, North Philadelphia, Cleveland’s east side and in what’s left of Detroit, remain reliably Democratic voters.” I am not focusing on the comment about Democratic voters, I am focusing on 50 years of a lack of success for the overall program dealing with poverty. Obviously, many have worked their way off of the poverty list and many have gone on to the list. But, the fact is we have spent a lot of money and nothing has changed. Is this capitalism’s fault? I don’t think so. I think it is a failed political program.

We need more programs like Portland Leadership Foundation that are giving people from disadvantaged positions in society the skills they need to be successful. We need to tackle the inner city problems with better education and job skill training to allow people to improve themselves, not rely on big government to give them handouts. People need a hand up.

Los Angeles is contemplating raising their minimum wage toe $15, similar to Seattle. LA is home to many garment manufacturing companies. These companies are now going to move their operations from LA to places unknown. This is a tragedy. So where are the tax incentives to encourage these companies to stay in LA? If the government is going to force wage increases instead of allow market forces to drive them up, then they will need to give these companies incentives to keep them in LA, or they will move to lower their costs.

You see, the powers that be operate from a particular paradigm. The left operate from tax and spend, and the right operates from individual incentive, and neither of these will get he job done. So we need to figure something else out.

The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thin and expect different results. It is now time to stop bashing Capitalism, and focus on the real problems of greed and corruption. These are both products of a fallen nature. It is time to create innovative solutions to these huge problems, because when everyone works, then they can climb out of poverty.

And that is my thought for the day!

A Moral Understanding Of Wealth

I have to admit, I love watching a good movie. I like when it makes me laugh, when it makes me cry, and when the movie causes me to think. I recently watched a movie titled “The Outsider.” It starred Naomi Watts, one of my favorite actresses, and Tim Daly, who I love in Madam Secretary. In this movie Watts was a plain woman of the Amish faith, and Daly played a gunslinger. They fall in love, (she is shunned by her faith group) but at they end both plain woman and gunslinger come to a new found understanding of faith. Cheesy but fun!

A key moment in the movie is when Watts realizes, after marrying Johnny, that she no longer heard the music of nature. It happens because she falls into sin, and loses the ability to ear the music. To me this was very sad, and I think it reflects many today who are losing their ability to hear the music, as many are leaving the faith. That will be another blog entry. For today, I want to focus on the term music, at least as it applies to “Playing the Music of Capitalism.” I read this very good article the other day. It explored the conservative think tank, the Enterprise Institute, which I plan on becoming more connected with. The person that is leading that organization is Arthur Brooks. I have read his work, and find his arguments compelling. I’d like to share a couple of thoughts with you.

Brooks made a very interesting comment, “Our side has all the right policies, but without the music, the public just hears numbers, and we have no resonance.” In context he is talking about the ability of people to rise above their current situation. His point is that providing an opportunity for people to work and accomplish things is the right policy. However, I do think their needs to be strong social safety nets, but I agree that we need policies that help people achieve.

In the article there is a great example of what happens when we rely too much on government. The article discusses a Soviet Union poster from 1964 which displayed one worker who is drunk “scratching his head as he looks at the one-ruble note in his hand,” and the other worker, which “is a hale and hearty type proudly looking at the ten rubles he has earned. The caption: Work more, earn more.” We are talking about the Soviet Union, and this demonstrates to me the futility of big government and loss of incentive.

Brooks makes a great point, “In some ways, the Soviet poster serves the great AEI mission that began with its founding in New York in 1938: to cultivate a greater public knowledge and understanding of the social and economic advantages accruing to the American people through the maintenance of the system of free, competitive enterprise.”

Many times the conservative message lacks what Brooks call music, or emotional resonance. “Its what he means by the music. It begins by emphasizing that those who benefit most from freer markets are the have nots: those without inherited wealth, prestigious credentials, social or class advantages – in other words, people whose only hope for a better life is a social order that will reward hard work and enterprise.” All over the world economic development has helped people escape extreme poverty.

Brooks argues, “Capitalism has saved a couple of billion people and we have treated this miracle like a state secret.” I, for one, believe in the power of business to do social good. Many people, through entrepreneurism and hard work, have lifted themselves out of horrible social conditions. I still believe in the Horatio Algiers story.

Sometimes we drink the Koolaid, and believe that working hard is a bad thing, and we just need more help from the government. Arthur Brooks states, “Capitalism succeeds not because it is based in greed, but because the freedom to trade and do business with others is in harmony with our God given nature.” Although I have a problem with connecting God with politics or money, I think he has a good point.

Are there problems with Capitalism? Absolutely! People are fallen and therefore use something than can produce good for evil. Making money is not the only thing that is twisted and made bad.

I still believe in the free market and I still believe in our country.

And that is my thought for the day!

Designing A Winning Team

What makes a good team? I have been pondering this all morning after reading a great article by Rich Karigaard and Michael Malone. Their article was about various political leaders who have developed great teams while have accomplishing great expectations. It is my opinion that the team made these leaders great, not the person themselves.

One example they give of a good team involves Abraham Lincoln. They use Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “A Team of Rivals”, to show how a diverse team can actually be led to accomplish great things. Two other examples the authors mention are Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton current presidential candidates. Bush has amassed a team of superstars, “some of the best names in the campaign business.” While Clinton, “has pulled together staff based primarily on their compatibility and loyalty to her.” In both of these examples one can see future failure. Meredith Belbin did a great deal of research on Apollo Teams, or teams made up with PhDs, the so-called smartest people in the room. He found these team fail the majority of the time. So in the Jeb Bush scenario we have an Apollo Team. The only way that will be successful is if the very smart team members can actually work together and not think the other team members are stupid. It will be interesting to watch.

However, just as bad is putting together a team of sycophants. For a team to be successful, you need people who trust one another while telling the truth. Sycophants won’t do that, especially if the leader is insecure needing constant reinforcement.

So what does it take to have a successful team? First, you need to have the right amount of people. In the class book, “The Wisdom of Teams,” Katzenbach and Smith describe six team basics. The first critical element is to have a small number of people. The number they mention is three to twelve. Any more than that you are going to have a highly inefficient group. According to Karigaard and Malone, “There is, in fact, a mathematical argument against” large teams. “Every new node in a network adds many more potential connections. Thus, with a team of four has just six interconnections, a team of 16 has 120 interconnections.” Much more complicated.

Another important team basic is having team members who have complimentary skills. “In other words, recruit for maximum diversity.” This does not mean finding people who look differently, it means finding people that think differently and can compliment others on the team. “Bill Clinton’s 1992, war room, with its crazy quilt of personalities such as James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, and Paul Begala, is a defining example.” There are many roles that people play on teams, so making sure that you have the right people on the team is critical.

Another important part of creating a strong team is shared leadership. Teams don’t need a strong leader that drives the team. They need a skilled facilitator who can help guide the people. ”Great teams need an active manager to hold them together” while moving in a productive direction. The manager can make sure the right people are on the team.

While the team gets into the minutia, they must never lose sight of the big picture. Teams need to understand what they have been put in place to accomplish, and they must work on a common understanding of what that goal is. They must then work to create a common definition of the goal and how they are going to work to accomplish the goal.

Teams can be an incredible waste of time or they can be highly productive. Most of the time upper management does not allow the team the time needed to be successful. Upper management also does not give the team the training they need to be successful. They will assign a certain number to the project, call them a team, and expect high performance. Instead they get horrible results.

Teams can work really well, and a few will make it to the high performing category, however, most teams languish in mediocrity.

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons From Charleston

I am about ready to give up Facebook. I am a little tired of hatred that I am seeing from people, as they complain about racism, history, and other intolerant comments about liberals and conservative Christians, it seems like we have an axe to grind on things we have no control over. There is this space that has been created to connect people and we are using it to tear each other apart.

Don’t get me wrong injustice has occurred, and is occurring, but violence and hatred will not solve the past or the future. My wife and I have been on the road for 3,000 miles now, and we are on the home stretch, and I have spent many hours thinking and praying about how to handle this morass of issues that we are all dealing with. I have nothing to say to those who hate, or tell people they are now going to have to sit at the back of the table. I have nothing to say to those who want to destroy and burn. I have nothing to say to those who wear hoods and want to blow up Churches just because black people worship there. And I certainly don’t have anything to say to those who blame Christ for all of the problems of society.

Here is what I do know, and I learned it from the people of Charleston. Even though something horrible has happened the people of Charleston, local black leaders were denouncing the “public call to violence by Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice.” In response to this article, and those that are calling for violent actions, a local activist, James Johnson stated, “They are more than welcome here, but take their hate home with them.”

Daniel Harrington, an editorialist for the WSJ, wrote about what he saw in Charleston, he titled the article, “What Charleston Knows: The Churchgoers of Emanuel AME know some things a secularized society does not.” He described people were upset about the “moral weakness of Dylann Roof,” but then wanted to make sure he took care of himself, and a housekeeper who gave him a hug. He also described Tee shirts that were being sold that said, “Charleston Strong: Standing as One Race.” Then there were the banners that stated, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity – Psalm 133:1.” But what really got me was a couple of things that Harrington said at the end of his editorial.

“Is Charleston the promised land of racial comity? Hardly. But since the shooting, many have noted the remarkable shift of conciliation in Charleston. Where did that come from? It didn’t come from their religion alone. It came from their habits of religion.” Maybe we who call ourselves Christians in this age of consumerism have lost our habits of religion?

Another comment that I think hits home, “In the North, on campuses and in sophisticated circles, we are rapidly becoming unchurched, secularized. Which raises a question: Where will a predominately secularized society learn virtue?” What a great comment, one that I have spent miles thinking about. And now that we are in a state of liberal McCarthyism, I am very concerned about what will occur in the near future.

And Harrington’s last statement that I find incredible, “Our smartphone-based politics has a way now of moving on quickly from anything that happens. But if there is a road away from hateful racial bigotry, it will require a few things. It will require politicians able to accept the possibility of racial progress. It will require a lot of people learning what the members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church knew long time before.”

I find Harrington’s word to be enlightening and hopeful. I for one am tired of the hateful rhetoric that is creating a polarization in our country. When did we start demonizing people who disagreed with us? I remember the 50’s wen Joseph McCarthy was the Chairperson for federal investigations of Communists in the U.S. government. Many people had their lives ruined during these investigations. This is an incredible event that polarized our country. Now it seems we are at the other end of the spectrum where we have a liberal McCarthy state, where just because someone is conservative and may not want to violate their convictions, we denigrate them and ruin their lives.

Now is the time for helpful dialog, not hateful demonization. I just may give up Facebook, because I grow tired of the hate that is being dressed up as positive social change. No thank you!

And that is my thought for the day!