Monday, December 05, 2005

week 10 analysis

I read some more of Global Transformations by Held and Co, rather than The Weight of the World.

“The most public symbols of globalization consist of Coca-Cola, Madonna, and the news on CNN . . . Despite the complexity of cultural interactions between societies over the last three thousand years, the intensifying movement of images and symbols and the extraordinary stretch of modes of thought and modes of communication are unique and unparalleled features of the late twentieth century and the new millennium” (327).
I can’t remember what my initial thoughts were when I read this statement and chose to include it, but I suppose I just found it interesting. Even in the small amount of world traveling I have done, I can testify to this firsthand. I went places in India where they were living in pieced together huts, but they had Coke.

“We argue that from around the late eighteenth century onwards, the centrality of these older forms of cultural globalization was displaced, on the one hand, by the emergence of nation-states, national cultures, and national cultural institutions . . .” (328)
This and the next two are comments that interested me in connection with my concerns about nationalism. It would make sense, in light of this statement, that nationalism would be a problem peculiar to our time, at least in its extent and power. After a couple hundred years of this process becoming normal, nationalistic ways of thinking are now taken as common sense.

“For the faiths that are usually dubbed ‘global’ have only been described as such once the spatial extent of the faithful has already greatly exceeded its place of origin and creation. As Mann puts it, ‘they became significant because of one shared characteristic: a translocal sense of personal and social identity that permitted extensive and intensive mobilization on a scale sufficient to enter the historical record’.” (332)

“They are systems of belief and ritual that have had the capacity at crucial historical moments to reach out from their place of origin and embrace, convert and conquer other cultures and other religions. Most clearly in the cases of Islam and Christianity, the mobilizing capacity of religion was coupled with the capacity to extend military power and cultural influence . . . Christianity would have to wait until the military and colonial expansion of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to acquire a global presence” (332-3).

These quotes I found noteworthy for obvious reasons. The above quote speaks of the church’s (and others) ability to provide the people with a sense of self that transcended their other national and cultural boundaries. What bothers me is that the second quote makes it clear that this process happened in tandem with military expansion. How ironic is it that the ‘religion’ that claims to be centered on a crucified messiah experiences its most potent growth through military warfare? Something is seriously with this picture.

“The nation is a cross-class community, whose shared sense of identity, solidarity and interest is rooted in an ethic identity and common historical experience (real, imagined, or interpreted) and whose central political project is the possession of a distinctive state in a bounded territory. Nationalism, in this perspective, can be seen as both a psychological and a cultural affiliation creating a connection with the community of the nation, and a political and cultural project which seeks to achieve self-determination and to create and shape states” (336).

“The historical record suggests that even where a proto-sense of the nation existed prior to the eighteenth century – for example in France, Sweden or England – it was always but one identity or point of allegiance. It necessarily competed with larger transnational identities and more particularistic, local and regional identities” (337).

These quotes again discuss the issue of nationalism. In the past, even when certain geographical groups began to act like ‘states’, they always had to compete with other identities, to the extent that national identities were always secondary. Now the situation has reversed to a large degree. There is still competition, but nations seem to be winning.

“There is considerable evidence to suggest that processes of national cultural fragmentation are at work in the contemporary world” (373).
Overall I take this to be a good thing. I hate the personal anguish caused by a person’s realization that they have no idea who they are or where they belong, but I see it as yet another opportunity for the church to be the church.

Monday, November 28, 2005

week 9 reading analysis

Here are a few comments on the reading for the week. I found this book fascinating (it was my favorite so far). I will follow the standard quote-comment layout.

1 – “Cultures are arenas in which different ways of articulating the world come into conflict and alliance. . . . Meaning is always a social production, a human practice; and because different meanings can be ascribed to the same thing, meaning is always the site and the result of struggle” (x,xi). There are obviously a lot of philosophical assumptions here that I don’t have the space or ability to discuss well, but aside from this there is clearly much truth in this statement. We as the church must learn to talk about ourselves as an alternative “culture,” a way of seeing the world that doesn’t have to fit itself into existing categories, that doesn’t have to share the assumptions of other cultures. Our task is in part to create meaning for people, to help them see reality from God’s perspective and align with who he is and what he is doing.

2 – “The culture industry has depoliticized the working class – limited its horizon to political and economic goals that could be realized within the oppressive and exploitative framework of capitalist society. . . . The work of the culture industry is to arrest and imprison our cultural and political imaginations, thus making it increasingly impossible to think outside the prevailing structures of power” (28,29). This is so prevalent in the church! Every time I talk to someone about politics or economic issues they assume that we aren’t allowed to think out of the bounds of the present system. As mentioned above, our task is to equip and train people to resist “the culture industry,” offering real, creative alternatives to the tired ways of dealing with the problems in the world today.

3 – “By supplying the means for the satisfaction of certain needs, capitalism is able to prevent the formation of more fundamental desires” (29). I was thinking about this one in connection with our inclusion of capitalism as one of the factors that has led to our current economic problems. It pretty much speaks for itself.

4 – “Modernism’s self-image – an exclusive and excluding cultural practice – disguises the fact that modernism’s autonomy as a cultural practice . . . is dependent on the very market economy it pretends to despise” (42). This, too, I found intriguing, although I don’t have a lot to add by way of comment.

5 – “[Hegemony] produces a situation in which the interests of one powerful section of society are ‘universalized’ as the interests of the society as a whole. In this sense, hegemony is used to suggest a society in which, despite oppression and exploitation, there is a high degree of ‘consensus,’ a society in which subordinate groups and classes appear to actively support and subscribe to values, ideals, objectives, cultural and political meanings, which ‘incorporate’ them into the prevailing structures of power” (49). Along the same lines as 2, this quote helped me understand why people react the way they do when presented with real alternatives in the real of socio-political identities. We as the church are expected to underwrite liberal democracy and the free market system, systems that, while supposedly upholding equality and the possibility of success for anyone, often end up oppressing and exploiting the very people they supposedly aim to assist.

6 – “Culture is no longer ideological, disguising the economic activities of capitalist society; it is itself an economic activity, perhaps the most important economic activity of all” (65). To be honest, I don’t really understand yet what this quote means, but I do find it interesting and I get the sense that it is important. Maybe someone out there can help me get it.

7 – “National borders are becoming less and less important as transnational corporations, existing everywhere and nowhere, do business in a world economy” (107). On the one hand, this presents the positive result of the demise of nationalism. While it arguably replace it with something just as harmful, it would be nice if Americans released the grip of the “American” identity being primary, with its attendant allegiances and assumptions. However, Storey later presents the view that globalization is really more like Americanization – where everyone drinks coke, eats at mcdonald’s, and so on. He writes, “In this scenario globalization is the successful global imposition of Americanization, in which the economic success of US capitalism is underpinned by the ideological work that its commodities supposedly do in effectively destroying indigenous cultures and imposing an American way of life on ‘local’ populations” (109). While he points out the flaws in thinking about globalization in this way, this view is still popular, particularly among many of the people in the churches where we minister. This flawed but popular view of globalization reinforces the nationalism that should rightly be put to sleep by globalization. All that to say, our task still involves helping Christians see “Christian” as a legitimate alternative socio-political identity.

"I believe those were my thoughts; I hope I've crystallized them for you." (Brian Reagan)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

week 9 analysis

I’m going to again focus on what may go into the wiki rather than directly commenting on the reading (and yes, part of the reason is that I didn't do a whole lot of it).

Here is my proposed final answer to the question: Why ought Jesus-followers be involved? I have tried to keep things relatively simple and very clear, and I have included Scripture references where appropriate. Let me know if there is anything I need to add or remove. If a person came to our site who wasn’t quite sure if we should indeed be involved, would this information help them think in the right directions (and, hopefully, convince them)? If not, why not?

*God has always given his people economic responsibilities. From her inception Israel was commanded to be a society who cared for people in need, both Israelites and non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 15.1-11; Exodus 22.21-27; 23-6-12). During the days of the monarchy, the ideal king was one who would look after the poor and needy within the kingdom (Psalm 72). Especially notable are the prophets, who called Israel to embody God’s love and justice in their economic practices (1 Kings 21; Jeremiah 22.13-17; Micah 3.9-12; Isaiah 3.16-26; Amos 4.1-3; and many more).

*Jesus places economic demands on his disciples. He called all of his disciples to abandon the pursuit of wealth and instead trust God to provide what is needed (Matthew 6.11,19-34; 13.22) and taught that it was easier for poor people to follow him than for those with lots of money (Mark 10.17-31; Luke 7.20,24). He also placed a demand on his people to care for the poor and needy (Matthew 25.31-46). The bottom line is that it is impossible to confess Jesus as King and not have that affect the way we handle our financial resources (see also Luke 4.18-19).

*The NT church developed distinct economic policies and practices. To name just a few, special care was offered to those who couldn’t provide for themselves (Acts 4.34-35; 2 Corinthians 7.13-15), economic sharing was an integral aspect of their life together (Acts 2.44-45; 4.32), and economically-driven favoritism was strongly condemned (James 2.1-13). Everyone was expected to work in order to contribute to the needs of the community (2 Thessalonians 3.6-12), even to the point that ignoring the needs of the poor was considered sub-Christian behavior (1 John 3.16-20).

*Money is an unavoidable aspect of life in our world. Since it is at least partially true that “money makes the world go round,” it is impossible for us to ignore economic issues. Paul’s instruction to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” necessarily involves the way we spend our money (Col 3.17). We have to buy, sell, shop, save, and so on, so as followers of Jesus it is our responsibility to do so in a way that honors him.

I still haven’t gotten to develop my answer to the “what should we do” question, but here are some thoughts that I will be developing and working through. I welcome any suggestions that you may have.

*Refuse to be seduced and driven by consumerism, materialism, and capitalism.
*Develop spending and saving habits based on the teaching of Jesus. (for instance, refuse to support companies who engage in child labor overseas).
*Develop business goals and practices based on the nature of the kingdom of God.
*Develop and implement ways to provide for the needs of the poor within our churches.
*Practice ‘economic sharing’ within smaller groups of Christians.
*Support holistic ministries in poorer parts of the world.

As you can see, many of them are very general, so I may develop the specific subpoints and then do away with the general headings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

week 8 analysis

One thing that I found interesting from the reading was a statement made on page 53 of Globalization & Culture, “[Hybridization] subverts nationalism because it privileges border-crossing. It subverts identity politics such as ethnic or other claims to purity and authenticity because it starts out from the fuzziness of boundaries.” This seems to me a good thing, because of my thoughts on nationalism and all. It also seems to pose a challenge to the church, seeing as how our task is to create a corporate identity that forms our political allegiance.

Since we’re getting so close to the end, I wanted to focus on what may get into our wiki. I want to give you guys a heads up on how I will be fleshing out my sections (especially question four, for you guys doing the examples of Jesus-followers) so we can keep our project tied together tightly.

I haven’t gotten to do a great deal of thinking about question three, but I think my answer will follow something like this:

Why ought Jesus-followers be involved?

*God has always cared about economic issues. I will quickly survey some of God’s actions and saying with Israel throughout her history. I will probably draw attention to certain specific issues (such as the gap between rich and poor, taking care of those who have nothing, etc.) and specific epochs within Israel’s history (the prophets).

*Jesus talked about money a great deal. While it is probably an overstatement to say that he talked about money more than anything else (as some people do), his idea of the kingdom clearly included economic dimensions. I may point to a few key passages/events from the life of Jesus, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to make this point clearly and quickly.


*Jesus places economic demands on our lives. I don’t know exactly how this one will flow in relation to the last one. I will probably embed this in the others, but I haven’t yet so I went ahead and made it its own point. The bottom line is that it is impossible to confess Jesus as King and not have that affect the way we handle our financial resources.

*The NT church developed distinct economic policies and practices. This will also involve a quick of survey of some key passages, and I will also highlight a few key practices (which will come up again in the next question. To name just a few, special care was offered to those who couldn’t provide for themselves, economic sharing was commonplace, everyone was expected to work in order to contribute to the needs of the community, etc.

*Money is an unavoidable aspect of life in our world. In a time when “money makes the world go round,” it would simply be impossible to ignore economic issues. We have to buy, sell, shop, save, and so on, so as followers of Jesus it is our responsibility to do so in a way that honors him.

There’s that for now. As far as question four (micro level) is concerned, I will be addressing how individuals, families, and “small groups” can engage in certain economic practices that will embody faithfulness to the gospel. I know that I will talk about economic sharing on some level, and also about general spending habits, ways to fight consumerism, rethinking savings and retirement, embodying generosity, doing business with kingdom-oriented aims and goals, etc. I know that there are great examples of people practicing economic sharing, and on the last one I think about the Campolo student projects that Justin talked about.

Anyhow, there is that for now. Let me know what you guys think.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

week 7 analysis

I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t yet read all of the assigned chapters. I will try and catch up this week and offer analysis of more of the key ideas. In the reading I did complete, there were a couple of statements that caught my attention in terms of nationalism being one of the reasons we Americans spend money the way we do.

“Although the USA emerged from the war with a combined trade surplus and low domestic interest rates which ensured it became the major international creditor, it refused to take over from Britain the role of global financial hegemon. Domestic priorities rather than international obligations dominated policy.” (199.3.2)

“John Maynard Keyes, as Britain’s chief negotiator at Bretton Woods, consistently and emphatically maintained that national monetary autonomy was essential to the successful management of a macroeconomic policy geared to full employment. Harry Dexter White, the USA’s chief negotiator, agreed and successfully resisted Wall Street’s orchestrated opposition to capital controls.” (199.4.2-3)

These statements, which refer to specific decisions made by the leaders of this country (and others, of course, but I’m focusing on ours), which to some degree both reflected and shaped the wants and needs of our citizens, catalog our tendency to look out for ourselves at the expense of others. Once again, it is what we assume about ourselves that matters. If we assume that, as Americans, we have a natural obligation to value the needs of people within our borders more than the needs of others, we will spend in our money in certain ways. If, on the other hand, we assume that we belong to an international entity, the church, we will spend our money differently.

Apart from the book, our lectures and discussions in class have got me thinking about the complexity of a problem like the one were tackling. As we attempt to formulate a resource that will actually help Christian pastors and laypeople, we are going to have to be realistic, simple, and extremely clear. We’ve been talking a lot about the kingdom of God in class, and I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom of God does have answers for our present economic dilemmas, but we shouldn’t fear starting small. On a practical level, I have been thinking of two things we need to do:

1) Teach
We need to inform people of the economic injustices in our world and in our own country. Most people have a vague sense that something is wrong, but we need to provide numbers and stories and pictures for them that will capture their minds, their imaginations, and their hearts.
We also need to teach people who they are in Christ. Usually “identity in Christ” messages have to do with all of the blessings made available to us in Christ. This is true, but this identity certainly also brings new responsibilities, not least political and economic responsibilities. People may object at first, but if we continue to tell the Jesus stories in the right ways, some of them will certainly come around.
We then need to teach them what practical steps they can take to do something. If we get people to the point where they are ready to make positive economic impacts in the world and yet have nothing to tell them to actually do, we’ll lose their support much quicker than we gained it.

2) Start conversations
Along the same lines, we need to get people talking. Most churches structures include some type of small group, and this seems to me to be the best place to start. Give them a list of statistics about sweatshops or big business practices, and ask them how they think Jesus-followers should respond to such realities. Give them a list of ways they can cut embody the kingdom in their finances (like the list from Foster I posted a couple weeks ago) and see what they come up with.

Those are my thoughts for now. I’m looking forward to our breakfast this week. We should get a great deal accomplished.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

week 6 analysis

Week 6 Analysis:

I found the introductory chapter extremely insightful (even though a good portion of it sailed right over my head!). Particularly helpful was the separation of the three primary responses to globalization—hyperglobalist, skeptical, and transformationalist. This helps us to think about our own proper response as followers of Jesus, which I would think falls squarely within the third category. Throughout the life of Israel and the church, both seem to have incorporated various aspects of the culture into their own vocation.

What struck me most from the first chapter was the first section, “From Empires to Modern Nation States.” As you all know, my initial thoughts on our topic centered around nationalism. I hypothesized that one of the major factors for how Americans spend their money is their assumption of the superiority of our country—or at least the sense that their primary responsibility was to fellow members of the United States. This section of our book helped me understand historically how we got to the point that the nation-state has become the entity to which we pledge our allegiance. As far as followers of Jesus are concerned, I take this willingness (to pledge allegiance to the USA) to be a serious problem—a fundamental mistake in who we should understand ourselves to be.

As the authors walked us through this historical process and the associated globalization of politics, another thing that caught my attention was the presence of international regimes, unofficial groups made up of members from various nations who join together for the sake of a cause that transcends their individual national identities. In a limited sense, the church is this type of entity. While the international nature of the kingdom is difficult for many peoples to come to terms with on a personal allegiance-pledging level, no one seems to hold so tightly to a national identity as United States citizens.

By showing the factors involved in our nation’s rise to prominence after World War II, the second chapter helped me to understand this assumption of superiority even more. The United States assumed and enjoyed its position as a national superpower. Unfortunately, the Church, who should have provided a prophetic voice during this process reminding followers of Jesus that they must never devote too much faith and hope and love to Babylon, I mean Rome, I mean the USA, seems for the most part to have jumped on the bandwagon. How the church can wholeheartedly support a nation that relies on military violence to protect the lives of those on the inside I will never understand. I’ve talked about this a lot before so I won’t belabor the point again, but one of our tasks must be to teach people who we are as an international pilgrim people.

On the whole, globalization seems to be tearing away at some of the foundational assumptions of previous generations. I see this as a good thing, because it forces us to reassess what fits within the parameters of a “Christian worldview.” I hope that globalization forces the church to rethink political allegiance in the same way that postmodernism forced us to rethink epistemology.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

week 5 analysis

I want to speak to the question about what practices we can encourage that will move us forward.

But before I get into that, I wanted to include Richard B. Hays’ summary points on embodying the message of the New Testament teaching on economics:

1. The New Testament’s direct commands and general rules about possessions are embedded in a canonical context that complicates simple literal application.
2. Very little direct appeal is made in the New Testament texts to principles of equality and justice . . . For the most part, the texts call the church to acts of sacrificial service far beyond what simple justice would require.
3. The New Testament texts address us on this issue primarily through the medium of narrative. . . . On this matter, then, [our application] of the New Testament will involve retelling these stories in such a way that we find our place within them.
4. To ask such questions (as how can we be the type of people who embody the message of these texts) in a serious sustained way will require of us not only imaginative reflection but also costly change.

Hays emphasizes economic sharing as being at the heart of New Testament economic practices, assuming the central importance of community (as opposed to an individualistic mindset) and imaginative conversation—we need to be creative in our application of these sharing principles.

It seems to me that a great starting point in terms of practices is to get people talking about these issues. Many churches already have conversation-centered outlets (small groups, “bible studies”, affinity groups, etc.) that could easily be channeled in these directions. For starters, we could give people a list of NT passages about money (the stories Hays mentions). It would be wise to provide some guidance to those who will be leading these groups (basic hermeneutics, how to handle probable defensive responses, etc), but then we could just let them talk. We could also have them talk through possible ideas for implementation, such as the list Foster provides on “simplifying.”

1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation.
7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

Some of these are obviously better than others, and the whole list is directed more to individuals, but we could easily communitize the list, turn the statements into series of conversational questions, and see where people take them.

I know it seems small, but if change is to actually happen in the church it will at some level have to be from the ground up, and getting people talking about these issues seems to be a great place to begin. If all this seems unclear, I am basically saying that an excellent place to start dealing with these issues practically is to facilitate conversation among followers of Jesus.

week 5 resources

N.T. Wright –The New Testament and the State -- a great article by Wright on many issues that relate to the way the kingdom of God interfaces with the forces of this world. I will do more commenting on some of this later, but I strongly recommend this article, as it will provide a solid foundation for thinking about Christian economics.

Richard Bauckham, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation 18.” This is chapter 10 of The Climax of Prophecy, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 (ISBN#0.567.08625.9). A very intriguing and important look at Revelation 18.

Richard Foster, “Simplicity.” Celebration of Discipline. Rev. Ed. New York: Harper, 1998. On pages 90-95 he lists ten practical steps for simplifying our lifestyles. Very practical (more anon).

Richard B. Hays, “Sharing Possessions: A Challenge to the Church.” This is in the last section of his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp. 464-470). New York: Harper Collins, 1996. This is a short conclusion to his whole book, summarizing some of his thoughts and focusing on the New Testament’s teaching on money. This contains the best short summary of New Testament teaching on this topic that I’ve ever seen. This book is in our library.

US census cite on US economics contains many statistics on imports, exports, payrolls of businesses, etc..

Hundreds of tables and charts containing detailed analysis of poverty in the US. See especially poverty rates from 1959-2004 and poverty rates by age and rates by states.

Poverty tables for 2004, see especially the table on 2004 poverty thresholds (to see how the US gov’t measures poverty).

Statistics on US poverty over the past few decades.