Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Supreme Division

There are no winners in the Brett Kavanaugh melee. The U.S. Senate had to make a Hobson's Choice. You know, that's when "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

As it stands, with the Senate's confirmation, the United States now has a Supreme Court justice who will forever live in the shadow of the events of the past two weeks. Maybe he's a sexual predator. Maybe he's a pawn of right-wing special interests. Will he ever be able to render impartial judgments on sensitive legal questions? Will there be more accusations of sexual misconduct? Will he use his judicial rulings to exact revenge against his accusers and their political interests?

But consider the alternative. If the Senate had rejected the nominee on the basis of the accusations, then politicians would be emboldened to use accusation as a weapon. By finding one person to make uncorroborated accusations, politicians can mount a campaign against any nominee for any position. Truth becomes a secondary consideration in the battle. If the accusations are true, that is fine. What matters is whether the accusations work.

As some posted on social media, "Anything to stop the confirmation of Kavanaugh." Really? Anything? 

Politicians have led us to this point of division. We have willingly followed. May God have mercy on this divide country.


Friday, October 5, 2018

The Threat of Urbanization

According to National Geographic, by 2050 66% of the world's population will live in cities. Most Americans probably greet that news with a big yawn. We have seen the trend of urbanization here for decades.

But we don't consider what comes with urbanization. As people coalesce into cities, there are inherent challenges and problems. All people have needs for food, water, and shelter. When a population is spread out in villages, the land can more easily provide for those needs. Crops and livestock provide for the dietary needs. Streams and wells provide adequate water. Natural building materials can be used for constructing homes.

But when millions of people live in close proximity, the immediate area can't support the population. Food must be shipped in from far away. Local water sources must be supplemented with water piped in from other locations. Sewage must be treated and returned to waterways. Garbage must be hauled away.

As the world's population becomes more concentrated, more fossil fuels will be needed to transport food and garbage. Clean water will become more scarce. Sewage will be more difficult to dispose of.

We need to consider what large cities do to the environment. If the trend around the world mirrors what we see in the United States, there could be significant issues ahead.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

What I like about Fall

I like all the seasons. I like it hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and in between in the fall and spring. I feel gypped if winter goes right into summer, or if summer lingers so long that you need air conditioning at Thanksgiving.

It's been too hot here for October, so this blog post is an effort to hurry autumn along. These are the things I like about fall.
  • Stew--The cooking, the eating.
  • Harvesting--I've actually got a few grape tomatoes still ripening.
  • Cooler temperatures--duh
  • Crisp, night skies--The stars shine brighter in the fall, it seems.
  • Going to the Blue Ridge Parkway--I don't always make it in the fall, but it's a great time to go.
  • Fires in the chimenea--I love to sit around the fire and listen.
  • Driving through falling leaves--It gives me such a charge to drive along, cutting a path through the drifting leaves.
  • Apples--Fall is the season for apples, and we have some great ones here in NC.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Team Preaching and "Holy Double-Take!"

For the past few weeks, my wife Lisa and I have had a blast preaching together! It's kind of a tag-team effort, as we share different perspectives and applications of the scripture. Here's a look at what's coming up.

Often God catches us by surprise. We have to look at God through fresh eyes as we come to know him more and more. He really likes to challenge our assumptions. He also challenged the conventional religious wisdom of many people in the scriptures.

Our series "Holy Double-Take!", explores the surprising experiences of Bible characters. This coming Sunday we will explore the experience of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Matthew has to do a double-take when Jesus calls him to follow. A tax collector in league with the hated Romans seems like an unlikely candidate to follow a Jewish Messiah.

On October 14 we will dig into the double-take of Pontius Pilate. He really doesn't know what to do with this hated but apparently guiltless prisoner named Jesus.

Holy Double-Take!, a team preaching experiment
October 7, Confounding Common Sense, a look at the disciple Matthew
October 14, Transcending Authority, a look at Pontius Pilate

Image may contain: Lisa Bailey and David K Bailey, people smiling, hat, outdoor and closeup

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Moments of Clarity

The moments are all too rare, but sometimes it all makes sense to me. I envision myself with feet firmly planted on the ground, standing on the solid Rock, connected with God through his power. In those fleeting episodes, this world, and God's plan for it, seem good and right. I feel my place in the heart of God and the work of God.

I want to capture those moments of clarity, because I always descend again into the fog. I capture them as best I can by writing, or just deciding to remember. Then later I read or recall. There are times when I understand what worship is, how evangelism expresses the heart of God, how God absolutely works everything to his glory and our good.

I can't manufacture these moments. But I can provide opportunities for them.

For example, when I'm too busy or overwhelmed, I live with a buzz in my head, static that reduces me to shallow reactions to challenges. So, I need to find time and space to be quiet and still.

When I'm tired, I become thin in my soul. I don't have the bandwidth to process. So, I need to rest.

When I allow resentment to grow, I become critical. I can't tolerate the weaknesses of others and I feel the frustrating burden of fixing them. So I need to find the source of my resentment and forgive--myself or others.

The better I keep my soul, the more moments of clarity I experience. The more I unclutter my soul, the better my spiritual vision. This is how I want to live every moment. I can almost see it.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Kavanaugh, Ford, and Whom to Believe

I couldn't avoid seeing the circus last week. And of course I've heard countless analyses of the proceedings, most of them predictable. You know exactly who will take which side.

But what bothers me is the way people choose whom to believe.

There was a time when a woman's testimony was considered suspect at best. There was a time when an African American's testimony could never compete with a white person's. People were categorized, and considered trustworthy--or not--based primarily on the group to which they belonged.

So, the content of the testimony mattered less than the external characteristics of the witness.

Today, Kavanaugh cannot be believed because he is a white male. Of course they are sexual predators. Of course they lie about it.

And Ford can't be believed. She's an opportunist. She's confused. She's a Democrat.

Now, someone is either lying or confused, for sure. But let's not dismiss either party categorically. Can't we listen and weigh evidence? Do we have to ridicule? Do we have to make the ugly scene fit our prejudices?

We need to step back from the vitriolic accusations and care about people, even people with whom we disagree.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hardship and Softship

Everybody has problems. We grow the most through the difficult times. Everybody knows that. But no one wants the difficult times. They just come as a part of life.

And no two people experience the same level of difficulty. Some people scavenge for food, dodge bullets, face chronic pain, deal with depression, cope with financial pressure, struggle in relationships, fend off criticism, dread the future, or regret the past.

For others, life is easy. The bills are paid, people are healthy, work is rewarding, problems are few, the future looks bright.

Everyone experiences hardship and "softship." The degree of each varies with every individual. Sometimes I wonder what the perfect balance is.

And we actually do have some level of control in our balance of hardship and ease. We can load up our schedules with challenges. We can attempt difficult tasks. We can push ourselves to the limit with exercise or academics or business goals. When we do this, we create our own hardships, and we create opportunities for personal growth. Remember, we grow the most through the hard times.

So, we challenge ourselves and we grow.

But sometimes the challenges are not of our choosing. We have an accident, contract an illness, lose a job, lose a loved one. Or we lack education, live in a crime-ridden community, find ourselves betrayed.

Similarly, some good things are not of our choosing. You can't choose where you are born or your family of origin, whether good or bad. And, of course we all know people who just get all the breaks. They get the promotions, the looks, the health, the opportunities. They make the good grades without even trying. Everything comes so easily for them. Not much hardship there.

So, how do we find the balance of hardship and softship? Here are my thoughts.
  • Go for the challenges. Sign up for some hard things.
  • Embrace the unwanted struggles. You don't want them, but you can leverage them for powerful growth.
  • Trust God to bring the right balance. He wants you to thrive, and he wants you to grow.
  • Don't rob others of the growth that comes through struggle. Don't rescue too much.
Ultimately, the balance between hardship and softship is a mystery of life. We want to avoid the hard things, but they are the source of soul transformation. It's where we become all that God created us to be.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Vontae Davis and the Hit of Reality

Yesterday at half-time, Buffalo Bills corner back Vontae Davis decided that his football career was over. He retired after 10 years in the NFL, in a way that surprised everyone. News outlets covered his retirement and he explained his decision on Twitter.



He found criticism and support on social media. Critics faulted him for letting down the team. Supporters praised him for following his heart.

What strikes me is the way he came to his decision. "But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn't be out there anymore." He could no longer live up to his high standard of competition. It was time to quit. Right now.

I applaud him because he could see that the "warrior mentality" no longer served him well. It had kept him playing football at the highest level for a decade. But he had to move on. There is more to life than the next game, the next playoffs.

He has dished out and received countless hits on the field. But this time he was hit by something harder than a 300 lb. offensive lineman. He was hit by reality.

I applaud him because he realized what was really happening. He had to take a good, hard look at his life and where it was heading. He stopped doing the next thing, and made a life-altering choice. He had the courage to make that choice, suddenly and publicly.

What do we do when reality hits us? Too often we ignore it and try to deaden the pain. We stay busy. We turn the music up louder. We double down on the same old stuff. We stubbornly refuse to change. Maybe we lack the support we need. Maybe we lack the courage. Maybe we prefer to deny reality and continue in our dream world.

For Vontae Davis, it did not take a career ending injury. It did not take divorce papers from his wife. It did not take being cut from the team. He chose to make a change because he woke up when reality hit him.

I need to wake up like that every day.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Two Roads to Good Food

A few years ago, I became interested in agriculture. When the family farm became my responsibility, I knew there was a lot to learn. I began to talk to people about farming. I had county extension agents tour the farm with me. I asked friends about farming methods. I began to read. I visited other farms.

The more I learned, the more I knew I needed to learn. A friend introduced me to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va. I have read several of his books and toured his farm twice. Gardener friends have recommended eye-opening books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry. I watched a Netflix documentary called, The Magic Pill, which shows the health problems associated with the typical American diet. I became a regular at local farmers' markets.

I only wanted to make the Garrett Family Farm a profitable enterprise, no matter how small the profit. A debt-free farm ought to be able to generate a little something. What I got was a look inside the American food supply and food culture, the abuses of agribusiness, the soil destruction of conventional farming. I realized that I really did not know where my food came from. I couldn't even tell on which continent it was produced. Like most people, I thought that food came from grocery stores, and that it should certainly be wrapped in plastic. The idea of knowing the farmer who grew my food never crossed my mind. I learned the huge benefits of eating local food, food that is fresh, food without preservatives, food not tainted with pesticides or herbicides.

This quest to make a farm profitable led me to a whole new philosophy of eating. I realized that I was eating without thinking. That's what everybody does. Now I see the vast benefits of eating good, healthy, local food. It helps my body, helps local farms, helps the local economy, reduces transportation costs, restores the soil, reduces erosion. Most of these I never considered with a bite of food.

Meanwhile.

Meanwhile my wife was on the road to fitness. Her trainer gives clients a butt-kicking workout three or more times per week. Last summer, the trainer also suggested a new kind of diet, the Ketogenic diet. This diet reshapes the metabolism so that it will burn fat. A key element of this diet is clean eating. All the processed foods and refined sugars mess with digestion and other elements of health. The Keto diet eliminates these foods, calling for a regimen of high fat, moderate protein, and low carbs. The documentary mentioned above, The Magic Pill, highlights t
he remarkable health benefits of this diet, including reduced symptoms of autism and diabetes. (There is plenty of info on the keto diet available, and my understanding of it is limited.)

The quest for better health led my wife to a new philosophy of eating. She now shops the perimeter of the grocery store and rarely buys any processed foods for the family. We frequent the farmers' market. Unfortunately, the coupon section of the newspaper rarely saves us money now, because most coupons promote processed foods.

Our two very different roads led both of us to clean eating. We have better digestion, better sleep, and better mental clarity. She has lost dozens of pounds, and I have taken up my belt another notch.

I'm so glad that we have been on this journey together, because it would be really annoying for both of us if only one cared about good food.

When two roads lead to the same healthy conclusion, there must be something there.



Monday, August 6, 2018

When will we have enough roads?

Every time I go to Oak Island, NC, there is another new road to get me there. We usually go there as a family at least once a year, and that has been our tradition for about 25 years. And every time we make that journey in recent years, I have to find my way again.

I remember going to Long Beach back in the 1970s, long before it became the municipality of Oak Island. Any journey to the beach takes too long, and traveling 200+ miles from Greensboro on the two-lane U.S. 421 was the price to pay to get there. Years later, my own family began the annual tradition of vacationing on that same island. We would allow about 5 hours to make the trip. This year we made it in 3 1/2 hours.

New roads have whittled down our travel time more than I could have imagined. Interstate 40 was extended beyond Greensboro all the way to Wilmington. Then Interstate 140 allowed us to by-pass the whole Port City, extending farther south every vacation. Only this year did I learn that I-40 was the slow way to make the trip. Now we have interstates 73 and 74 that dump out on the doorstep of Oak Island. And I-73 is only about 5 miles from my house. It feels like a secret passage way from home to vacation.

I like to save time as much as anybody. But when will we have enough roads? Are we going to keep on paving huge swaths of countryside? The urban loop around Greensboro is almost complete now. Theoretically the new roads reduce traffic. Does anybody really believe that theory? I have seen traffic worsen considerably in Greensboro as the new roads are completed.

The American mind says that faster is better. If we can get somewhere faster, we must make it happen. It's like a moral obligation. Cities only look at building more roads. No one ever suggests removing them. But there is a finite amount of real estate in this world. If we keep paving, eventually there will be too much pavement. I wonder if we will think of that before it's too late.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Today's Enlightenment: What Our Stupid Ancestors Missed

We know so much more than all previous generations. We can now look down on their backward thinking, especially concerning these things we now know:
  • When people disagree with you, they are intolerant.
  • Marriage is optional for sexual relations. It offers no real benefit to society or individuals.
  • Every sexual expression is fine, as long as it’s consensual.
  • There is nothing sacred about sex. It’s just recreation.
  • There is no reason to associate sex with parenthood. We can make sure of it.
  • Nature is wrong to confine people to either femaleness or maleness. Now we can fix that.
  • Nature is wrong to assign people to maleness of femaleness. Now we can switch it.
  • Almost everything can be digitized, even friendship. 
  • Algorithms should do much of our thinking.
  • In-person contact is overrated. Communication is much easier when digitized.
  • Life without entertainment is unbearable.
  • All risk must be eliminated from childhood play; nothing is more important than children's safety.
  • It is bad for children to be bored. Someone has to fix it.
  • Pain is always bad and must always be avoided, if at all possible.
  • There is a pill for that. Ask your doctor.
  • There’s an app for that, whatever it is.
  • Negative consequences for any action should be eliminated everywhere possible.
  • When something bad happens to you, somebody else should have stopped it.
  • We have rights because the government says we do.
  • Majority rule determines what is right and what is wrong.
  • We have a long list of absolute necessities, including: cars, TVs, cell phones, internet service, and air conditioning.
  • The only meaning to life is what we bring to it.
  • The world is an accident, but we can make the most of it.




Thursday, July 12, 2018

Transforming Self-Talk

Parents, be careful what you say to your children, because your consistent words will become their self-talk. Our minds are always working, talking, thinking. This is our self-talk. What we say to ourselves may be the most important aspect of our mental health and our trajectory in life. The words of affirmation or criticism of our parents certainly shape our current thinking, but those words need not determine our lives.

So, have you ever listened to yourself? I mean all those thoughts coursing through your mind. Are you saying helpful things to yourself? Would you talk to a friend like that?

The most important message is the Good News of Jesus, the gospel. This the Good News: God made us, forgives us, and gives his life to us by way of the cross of Jesus. When we receive this News, it changes everything.

All the worries of life pale in comparison to the love of God for us.
He is in charge.
He is our Father.
He won't leave us as orphans.
He puts his Spirit in us to encourage us.
He transforms our pain into strength and hope.
He knows we mess up, and he loves us anyway.
His heart is tender to us.
He transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ.
He lets his love flow through us to a hurting world around us.

This is the gospel message, and we need to preach it to ourselves. This is the self-talk of truth. It is self-talk that shapes my soul for good. God uses our own thoughts to transform us. And he lets us choose how we will think.

God wants to transform my self-talk to reflect the gospel, so that my self-talk can transform me to be like Jesus.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Abortion and Personhood

The abortion debate is heating up again. Unfortunately the "debate" often consists of screaming and name-calling. Rarely does anyone approach the subject with a calm tone.

Abortion advocates speak of choice and reproductive rights. Abortion foes speak of murder and the "two victims" of an abortion procedure. Each side screams its point, joining others of like mind, until we have two choruses, deaf to any other point of view.

What is abortion? In the generic sense, to abort is to terminate. One might abort a mission or a job search. In this context, abortion is the termination of a human egg and sperm, united by fertilization. The termination of this unit must cause the natural progression of developing life to stop. The fertilized egg is alive in an interdependent sense. Abortion causes this life to cease.

It seems to me that the abortion debate hinges on the nature of this embryo or fetus. If we call this mass of cells a "person," then it has a whole range of value that sets it apart from, say, a tumor or a kidney. No one would argue that a vital organ is a person, in and of itself. So diseased kidneys are removed and defective hearts are replaced with transplants. The cells in these organs are alive, but they are not in any sense full persons. At most they are parts of persons.

The human embryo, however, has certainly the potential for personhood. No full grown kidney is an actual person. A full grown embryo is a human being. We agree in our society that once the fetus exits the womb, it is a person. Prior to that exit, personhood is debatable. If I understand abortion law correctly, a fetus may only be legally terminated in the womb. If that fetus, at any stage of development, exits the womb alive, then the fetus becomes a person. To kill that group of cells outside the womb is murder.

The mantra of abortion advocates is "choice." Women should be allowed to choose whether or not to carry a fetus to term and have a baby. We don't allow women to choose to kill their newborns. That is not a legal choice, because the baby is a person. If it is not a person, then to kill it is not murder.

The pro-choice argument, then, is that pregnant women may choose whether or not the life within them is a person. If it is not a person, then it has no rights, and it may be terminated without moral harm.

But allowing citizens to choose personhood or non-personhood for others is dangerous moral ground. This same reasoning was used by many to defend slavery. In fact, the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 declared that the former(?) slave Mr. Scott could not be a citizen of the U.S., and therefore had no legal grounds on which to petition the court. He was denied a key element of personhood, and his case was dismissed.

Although the language of "pro-choice" was not used in antebellum America, there were those who personally opposed slavery, but honored the right of others to choose to own slaves. The slaves could be owned because they were not persons. Now these slaves could speak up for themselves, but as long as their personhood was in question, their arguments and objections were also in question.

Throughout history, genocides are fueled by denying the personhood of others.

And our society debates the personhood of the voiceless fetus. If it is not a person, then it may be discarded. If it is a person, then it is sacred and worthy of protection. If this choice of personhood is left to each individual pregnant woman, then we have placed upon her the weight of life and death. It would be just as wrong to have a designated committee vote on the personhood or non-personhood of any woman's pregnancy. This is not a choice for people to make. This is a life created by God or by Nature.

Only a society intoxicated with the belief that it controls everything could make this a choice. But it appears we live in such a society.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Slow, Terrifying Dawning

How can I repent of my great misunderstanding? I have hacked away at life, looking for triumphs, wishing for success, claiming wins. Bur somehow I have severely misunderstood this thing called life.

I thought it was about making a living, about survival and then success. It was about amassing enough income and wealth that I could provide and be comfortable; about having accomplishments of career that validated me. It was a game, and I was to prove that I could compete. I did not have to win, but I could not lose. I could work the system at least enough not to starve.

But life isn't about working the system. It's not even about being comfortable. Its about active, aggressive, loving abandonment to God. It's about selflessly loving those around me.

How could I have missed it so? How could I have been blind to the work of God's reconciliation all around me?

I have this growing belief that I have been so shaped in my thinking by this American culture that I can't even recognize how God wants me to live. My pattern of thinking is so distorted that I can barely fathom what Jesus says in scripture. How can I possibly understand what he says to me in prayer?

Like Descartes, I need to start at the foundation. What is this thing called life? What's it for? What's my role in it? How does God communicate it all to me? Am I even listening? How does the framework of my mind need to be restructured?

I know I need to repent. That is, I finally realize that every perspective and belief I hold is suspect, and I must be brought under the authority of Jesus. May he somehow break through my Westernized encoding and renew my mind. May he transform me.

May more scales fall from my eyes. How I long to see.

I want to repent, and I don't know how to start. I don't even know what's wrong with my assumptions. I am unaware of my preconceptions. I have been blind, but maybe now I am beginning to see. It's a slow, terrifying dawning.

I see my old self in the attitudes of others. Inwardly I cringe. I feel more and more isolated because I see the flaws, the hypocrisy. I see the arrogance, the pride, the shallowness. I see myself, my old self, I hope.

It's hard to repent when I barely understand my sin. But I know it's there. I know my perspective is much more Western than Christian. That's why it's so hard to see myself through the eyes of Jesus. I already know what he sees, but my knowing is mostly assuming, and now I fear it is mostly wrong.

I can't keep conforming to the pattern of this world--even church world--but I must be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

God has his work cut out for him. But then, he is God, and in the cross and the resurrection, he has already done the work.

Lord, help me repent.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Conservativism

In this age of instant communication, we have become exceedingly poor communicators. Outrage and condemnation are the default modes for public discourse. Only rarely do we find a fair, reasonable voice on today's issues.

We have to work on listening. With that in mind, I want to consider the term, conservative. As my pastor during my graduate school days said, right is right. And I agreed. I ascribed to conservative theology and conservative politics.

But if conservative means holding on tenaciously to the status quo, then I have to think again. There are clearly problems with the way things are. Women have been mistreated. Justice has been denied to large categories of citizens. Too many indulge their greed and take advantage of the poor or uninformed.

The term "conservative" sounds to a lot of people like, "defender of the status quo." So a conservative is one who wants nothing to change. The system is just fine. If the poor and disadvantaged would just get with the program, they would find their own slice of prosperity. The real world treats everyone the same, so deal with it. Stop whining.

I don't want to defend the status quo. I'm beginning to see the problems with our culture and society. I see injustice. I see my own privilege. I see how the good-old-boy culture has tainted politics, sports, and entertainment. I see the dark underside of capitalism.

Meanwhile, I do believe in small government, personal responsibility, traditional morality, compassion, and freedom.

It's hard to hear voices of reason now, because everyone is yelling. No one is listening. There is plenty of reason not to trust anyone, because everyone seems to be promoting some corrupt agenda. Maybe shedding the labels is a good place to begin. I'm not a defender of the status quo.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Money Economy

Watching a documentary about Wendell Berry (Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, available on Netflix), I heard him use a phrase that struck me: "a money economy."

The term almost seems redundant. What other kind of economy is there? When we talk about "the economy," of course we are talking about money and wealth. The word economy comes from the Greek words oikos (house) and nomos (law). So economy means the rule of the house, or how we do things.

Berry's phrase helped me see that there can be many kinds of economies. Relationship economy, reputation economy, moral economy, friendship economy, intellectual economy, compassion economy...

So, which economies do I pay attention to? In which economies am I investing? Am I learning about the economies that really matter?

In our society, we know which economy really matters. Economists believe that every resource will be used in whatever way will produce the most profit. So, you won't find a vegetable garden along the street in Manhattan...or virtually any other city. That prime real estate can make more money with retail, office, or housing. The pressures of the market force the property to be used for more lucrative purposes. If not now, some day that property will be used to make money--as opposed to food.

(And why would anyone grow food if not to make money. I don't know. . . maybe to eat.)

And that's the way we think. We just assume that money is everything.

Show me the money.
Follow the money.
Go and make money.
Live long and prosper.
Win the lottery.

What would our world be like if we paid more attention to other economies? How would I be different if I cared about the economies that really matter?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Rethinking Capitalism


I have heard a lot of criticisms of capitalism lately. Those evil capitalists are exploiting the masses.
All they care about is profit.



For those who criticize capitalism, I wonder if they know what capitalism is, and what the alternatives are. Dictionary.com defines capitalism as: an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.


Capitalism can also be described as free enterprise, free market, private enterprise. In this system, people who own things can use those things as they choose. They can use their property to produce something. Land can be used to produce food and fiber. Buildings can be used to store goods. Ships and trucks can be used to transport goods. Equipment can be used to manufacture goods. (And of course there is the exchange of information and services as well as goods.)


When people own things, they have the right to use those things to produce something worth selling. That's freedom. The theory of free enterprise was spelled out in The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, published 1776. He goes into great detail about specialization of labor, means of production, and the labor force. Many European governments operated as monarchies at the time, so Smith advocated for a system driven by the marketplace, not the whims of a king.


One alternative to capitalism is socialism, as defined by Dictionary.com, a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. Typically in a socialist system t
he government makes all the business plans, determining what will be made, when, where, and by whom. It is all done for the common good, so everyone has to get with the plan to make it all work. Socialism tends to limit personal incentive to work, as the fruits of one's labor simply go into the collective pile of everything made by everyone. 


I found a list of other alternatives to capitalism, and they are esoteric and complex. Really, they are more like philosophies than economic systems. So, when people criticize capitalism, I wonder what they really want instead.


However.


We need to rethink the way capitalism works here today.


Government interference in the marketplace distorts the market. 

Lawmakers work with big industry to enhance private sector profits, favoring large corporations over small businesses. Small farms, for example, are squeezed out of existence as U.S. farm bills subsidize grain production. 

  •  Subsidies create artificially high prices, which keep farmers growing grain.
  • Struggling farmers, of whom there are many, seek to plant more and more grain, knowing they can turn a profit, thanks to the government.
  •  Government policy explicitly encourages large operations, giving the message, "Get big, or get out."
  • Large farm operations buy up the smaller ones and work their farms with huge, expensive equipment.
  •  Farm equipment manufacturers gladly sell bigger and bigger tractors and combines.
  •  Production of grain keeps increasing, yielding an overabundance of grain.
  • Meanwhile, the food industry has a growing, cheap supply of grain, which is processed into all sorts of food products. 

This crony capitalism forces small farmers out of business, results in a glut of grain, and allows food producers to create cheap processed foods. Cheap, abundant, unhealthy food then creates an obese, sickly population.


The pursuit of the dollar above all else harms society. 

Disregarding the health of the population, private industry markets foods that harm consumers. At some point, food companies need to consider public health above higher profit. 

  • Food companies give grants to universities to do food studies. Over and over, these studies find that people need to consume more of the foods produced by food companies. Ever wonder why the base of the government food pyramid is grain? Follow the money.
  • The health issues resulting from the American unhealthy diet provide great opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry. They make pills that fix the ills of unhealthy eating.
  • The public pays the price for the profits of big industry with diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic pain, and autoimmune diseases.

Today, capitalism in America is missing a key ingredient, emphasized by Adam Smith: morality. The free market system only functions well when capitalists care about consumers, when factory owners care about workers, when marketers care about truth.


I’m not ready to throw out capitalism. But it can do a whole lot better than this.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Revenge of the Fire Ants

Joseph made the Israelites promise to take his bones for burial in the Promised Land. It took 430 years, but his descendants finally made it happen.

I spent years destroying fire ant mounds in Fort Worth, Texas, and apparently they passed word along for generations to come get me. It took about 30 years. They caught up with me last week.

For those blessed with ignorance of fire ants, please enjoy your bliss. But they are aggressive, prolific, and angry. They are especially angry when you disturb their mounds, even accidentally. The first time I encountered a fire ant, I was delivering the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper along my paper route. I was walking through the grass of an apartment complex when a bagged newspaper slipped out of my hand. I picked it up from the turf, and moments later, I felt a searing pain on the back of my hand.

Ouch! It felt like fire! In just a moment I realized that I had been bitten by a fire ant. I learned to look for ants, and avoid them like I never needed to in NC.

A few months later I got a new job working for the landscaping crew at my graduate school. This put me in close, regular contact with those evil creatures. My job was mowing grass...not putting out insecticide. So I had to learn real well how to spot the signs of fire ants. When I was promoted from push mowers to riding mowers, I learned to take great delight in scalping those ant hives. I would go out of my way to scatter their six-legged bodies far and wide. I don't think I ever suffered a bite while rolling along in my 60 inch swath.

Now understand, fire ants live in the hot, dry sandy parts of North America, like Texas and along the Southeast coast. They have been migrating ever so persistently toward colder, less sandy realms.

Then last week. Last week came after last winter. Remember that cold winter that would never let go? Remember the first 7 days of 2018? It never got above freezing. I walked repeatedly across my farm pond. I felled trees on that frozen reservoir.

If ever cold weather would halt the march of the fire ant, this winter had to set them back. But they found me. Innocently I pushed my mower through the lush, front yard turf. I noticed some ant hills, of course as I casually paced along. Then I had this pain up near my knee. Ooh, what was that? Then another, another, another. Nearly a dozen of those sensations made me wonder if I was having some sort of neurological episode. I saw no creatures, and at first saw no evidence of bites.

It never occurred to me that I was fire ant lunch. We don't have fire ants in Rockingham Co. I had heard rumors of them in neighboring counties, but not this far north. When the welts showed up, I came to the sobering realization. They had found me. After all thee years they found their revenge.

From now on, I will have to watch my own yard for those hateful insects. I'm getting some Spectricide. Game on.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Consumerism and Capitalism

We live in a consumer-driven society. So much of life is driven by commerce. We are constantly buying or selling. The inescapable barrage of ads reminds us that life here is about making purchases. You can't even pump gas anymore without hearing some product pitch.

As soon as a new means of communication is created, someone harnesses it for advertising. We need people to consume, so that we can sell. We need people to consume so that we can earn a living. Consuming makes our world work.

Some products are necessary, like food and clothing. Some products aren't necessary, but potentially desirable for something other than survival. Those who produce unnecessary products have to create demand for those products. Go see this movie. Buy this car. Eat at this restaurant. Ask your doctor if [some drug] is right for you. The trick is to make you think you really need this product. We know that advertising works, because sellers keep advertising.

This consumer culture seems to be a necessary byproduct of capitalism. One makes a living by producing and selling a product or service. We receive pay for our work. We may provide a service to an employer, or we may sell our product directly to consumers. Our income depends on others spending money. And the better our products are marketed, the more we sell, and the more income we receive.

In a free market, we can sell our products or services to anyone who agrees to pay for them. And so a free market becomes driven by the art of persuading people to buy.

I like capitalism, for the most part, but I find consumerism repulsive. That's hard for me to reconcile.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dread

Attitude is everything.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life, Proverbs 4:23.

The enemy wants to hijack my heart, making me expect and anticipate bad things. This world is evil, but the devil wants me to believe that I face this evil world alone and unprotected. Somehow, I fall for this trick over and over.

Jesus has promised us that he is with us always, even to the end of the age. Paul tells Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline.

It is up to me, with the help of God, to guard my heart, my attitude. When I believe that God has good things for me, even today, I trust him even when the going gets hard.

No trouble has ever come on me that God has not redeemed, either in the short run or the long run. I can trust him with my schedule, my conversations, my safety, my future. I'm not an orphan. I have a Father, and he walks with me through all the shadows of death.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday Brokenness

We call it "good," but that term never quite captures the spirit of the day. I can think of plenty of other names for it:
Sad Friday
Somber Friday
Justice Friday
Mercy Friday
Grace Friday
Holy Friday
Costly Friday
Atonement Friday
Agony Friday

But somehow the Church decided that this is Good Friday. On this day, I always feel like I should have done more to prepare for Easter. The occasion leaves me feeling like I have not done enough.

Clearly I am missing the point. Good Friday is the day when Jesus did it all. I will never do enough. Of course I am unworthy, sinful, needy, lacking.

For me, for us, Jesus willingly died on the cross and paid for our sin.

My responsibility is not to prove myself worthy of his sacrifice, but to receive the gift of his sacrifice.

I feel as though I need it now more than ever.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weather or Not

It's snowing. Again. Sometimes here in NC we get enough snow to get tired of it, but never get enough to shrug it off. So, when snow comes, we hunker down. Only the brave souls with 4WD take their vehicles out...like I did today. I had to get a haircut, which surely qualifies as genuine, necessary travel.

All winter the 6:30 news has covered storm after storm, shutting down highways and airports. It is news because, well, we should not have to stop our plans for something as primitive as weather. After all, surely we have more than conquered nature, so that we can plan our lives without weather interruptions.

That seems to be our attitude today. "OMG, the weather was so bad that it changed our plans!" This must be a very new attitude for humanity, the belief that weather is a non-factor in most daily routines. I mean, we have to have everything planned out, don't we? And usually we can work around weather contingencies. Who plans an outdoor wedding without a Plan B?

But we have built an illusion that we have conquered weather for all intents and purposes. Only the most extreme meteorological event could impinge on us. And so we can be the masters of our supply chains and board meetings. We can plan out our lives and strategies without seriously believing that anything is outside our control.

But James reminds us,  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. (James 4:13-14)

When everything depends on us, we can control everything. Before we conquered nature so thoroughly, we had a little more humility. People actually let the weather dictate their schedules. Fishermen and farmers still do. Maybe we could learn a little from them.

It's still snowing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Something is Wrong


We all knew it was coming. We knew there would be another shooting. At a school. Or a church. Or a concert. Or a nightclub. Or a post office. It was just a matter of time.



Sure, we are shocked. But are we surprised? This is just the world we live in. And the country we live in. What shocked me most was the number of school shootings this year. The year is barely six weeks old, and there have been eight school shootings resulting in death or injury in 2018. Eight.

Here we go again with the politics. We need more gun laws. We need better law enforcement. we need metal detectors…everywhere. We need more vigilance to catch unstable people. We need counselors to help troubled youth and troubled adults. We need to spend money on…something. But this is just the surface of the problem. There is something deeper.

Something is wrong.

Has there ever been a society in which innocent people were routinely targeted by member of that society? What leads people to be so depressed, angry, lonely, rejected, despondent, frustrated that they plot and carry out mass murder?

Something is wrong with the soul.

Too many people fail to see the value of human beings—others and themselves. Too many people have no hope. The mass shootings are only one example of the flagging American soul. The #MeToo movement reaches back decades with disturbing stories of abuse. Men have been objectifying and mistreating women for more than a generation. The rabid support for abortion in some circles stuns me. Laws must allow women to choose whether or not their fetus is a baby. It will have rights if I say it does.

Our society has been heading down this path for quite some time. It is not a problem of laws or politics or funding. 

Something is wrong with the soul of America.

Somehow we have strayed from the belief that “all men are created equal.” Along the way we have forgotten that “all men” includes Native Americans and Africans. It also includes all of mankind, not just the males. We have also forgotten that these equally created persons are all “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

In other words, we have forgotten that people matter. We so personalize our own rights that we forget the value of others. Our selfishness becomes magnified when we find likeminded people and stop listening to dissenting points of view. People who disagree with us are just stupid. Maybe they don’t deserve to live. The world would be better off without them. We can “otherize” people very effectively. Ask any hate group. 

The soul of America needs compassion, hope, forgiveness, love, justice, redemption. Our country needs the Good News.

God help us.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stop me, Coach!

We forget to stop. Sometimes we choose not to stop. We know we should, but maybe we are addicted to action.

That's why we are doing a series called "Stop." Stopping is a lost art these days. How can you take a break? It seems like we only stop for a day or two when we have a good snow.

We were actually designed to take regular breaks. God made us that way. He even gives us one day out of seven to let go and remember that he's in charge. No one can live without rest. Life has natural rhythms. We function better when we work with those patterns.

Jesus tells us that we can know his rest. He even promises to rest us, if we will come to him. (Matthew 11:28) Think of a basketball or soccer coach. Why does he pull players out of the game and sit them on the bench?
  • For an attitude adjustment
  • For strategy instruction
  • To deal with an injury
  • To rest and prepare for a big moment
  • To remind the player to listen to the coach
  • To remind the player to be a team player
  • To give another player time to lead
God rests us for all the same reasons. But we choose to ignore that call to rest. And we become worn out, cynical, discouraged, selfish, preoccupied, dull. The world cannot possibly go on without us. We don't need to rest. We like to be busy. Rest won't work with our schedule. Rest really isn't necessary.

But is life without a break really life? Life with no rest fills us with all the shallow things. It leaves us wanting more value, more meaning, more depth. We only get that when we take a step back.

Wouldn't life be great if you knew that you were never more than 6 days away from laying down every burden? That cadence of rest gives you the drive and the depth you need for real living.

And what is life without real living?

Let's Stop. Join us for the last two messages in this series.
January 28: Stop and Receive
February 4: Stop and Give

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Need to Feed

Sometimes you notice something for the first time. I have read this passage countless times, but generally I have just blown past Jesus's question here.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. --Jesus (Matthew 24:45-46)

Yeah, yeah, be a good disciple, blah, blah, stay ready for Jesus's return.

But, have another look. There are some servants of the Lord who are charged with feeding the other servants. This is a huge responsibility. Surely those of us who have food also have a clear call to feed those who don't. We need to "give them their food at the proper time."

It's hard to miss the point here. Jesus expects his servants to take care of each other, specifically by providing food. So, let's get busy.
  • Food pantries
  • Famine relief
  • Help with healthy eating
  • Community gardens
  • Friends for dinner

Jesus uses food to communicate his love. So let's step up and share his love with heaping plate of spaghetti and a dozen glazed doughnuts!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Opioids and Hope

Seems like everywhere I hear about the opioid crisis. People are addicted. More people. This is a different kind of drug crisis. Two years ago I had never even heard the term opioid.

So yesterday I attended a meeting about addressing the opioid crisis. I'm beginning to learn what this is all about. The opioid crisis looks like the perfect storm of societal trends coming together to allow an epidemic of addiction like we have never seen.

Here's what I'm learning, and I haven't fact-checked this stuff, so don't quote me as an authoritative source. Some time in the 1990s pharmaceutical companies created a new type of drug that can be used to treat chronic pain. They said that it was not addictive. Boy were they wrong. But doctors began prescribing these drugs because, well, they don't want their patients to be in pain. If pain can be eliminated with a pill, then let's do it. And patients gave their doctors glowing evaluations because who knew that you could have *that procedure* so painlessly?

Meanwhile, the public buys into two dangerous beliefs:

  • No pain is profitable. All pain should be eliminated if possible.
  • Whatever your physical problem, there is a pill for that.
Well, now doctors are realizing that pain meds are causing too many problems. And new regulations limit the during for which a doctor can prescribe opioids. So people can't get their scripts for these pills, and have to look for the meds elsewhere. On the street the illegal stuff works just as well, and it's cheaper. Dope dealers see the growing market, and want to make sure the supply meets the demand.

Mix all these ingredients together, and you get something toxic. That's where we are. It will take a lot of cooperation to turn this around. We need help from law enforcement, drug companies, hospitals, doctors, community organizations, churches, and first responders. At least we are beginning to work together.
There is hope.

Today I saw a friend for the first time in about 15 years. He tells me that two of our mutual friends are dead from drug overdoses. This is hitting home.