The Decline of the Mid-Size Suburban Postwar Church

From the Kansas City Star

Full article: HERE

Medium-sized postwar churches, a formidable institution at one time, are in demographic free-fall.

Other kinds of churches are thriving.

LARGE: Hope Lutheran in Iowa

SMALL: Robinwood Church in California

Is There Any Such Thing As Race?

 

Lecture (Acton University 2017) by Ismael Hernandez, executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute and author of Not Tragically Colored. 

Was very blessed to hear Hernandez’ talk, buy his book, and speak with him afterwards. I had a lot of questions…

One quote was my big takeaway:

If you don’t see my race, you don’t see me. If you see my race first, rather than my humanity, you also don’t see me.

Racism is very real; brutally real. But race, that on which racism is based, is not real.

Biologically speaking, there is no such thing as race. We are all part of the human race. “Race” is just an arbitrary set of traits based on superficial and subjective similarities and offering no objective boundaries.  It is often used by rulers to divide and conquer. Or to curry favor with factions by creating divisions and emphasizing them. Skin color is handy for that. Slavery cannot exist without the sword of government protecting it. If Caesar does not back the slaveholders with iron, the slaves run away and never come back.

For instance, what is a “Latino/Hispanic?” This label is based totally on language and culture, and has nothing to do with physical traits at all. Virtually every skin color can fit under the so-calld race “Hispanic.” And the recent upsurge in genetic information shows that every one of us is a deep blend of all kinds of traits and “races.” Sweet Polly Purebread does not exist anywhere on this planet.

For the record, Hernandez appears to have the physical/linguistic traits of a Black Puerto Rican Hispanic man. He would embrace that heritage. Moving to the US South to go to college created all kinds of tensions for him, and helped him think especially deeply on the topic of race. Of all the thinkers on race, Hernandez makes an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly. 

All “races” have been hard on people who don’t look like them. There are no “noble savages” out there. Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and the Cherokee held slaves.

Racialism: Giving too much attention to race. Seeing race as the prime identity of any person. Left-wing/progressive and right-wing have a different (but in some ways chillingly similar) flavor of over-emphasis on race.

Human rights.

The West has been trying to institutionalize human rights since the Enlightenment. Everywhere except in the West, this institutionalization of universal human rights has been systematically resisted.

Personalism.

The Natural Law/integrationist approach to race.

The American Founders put natural law principles in their founding documents; throwing their hats over the fence, forcing us, someday, to go get them. They set the standard for human equality, even though most of them (nor us) live up to it. Something for which we have the opportunity to strive.

Personalism: Ethnicity/race is not the heart of human identity. Not intrinsic to who we are. It is a result of the Fall and of Babel. Pentecost overcomes Babel. Reverses the downward slide. Ethnic and racial chasms can be bridged.

The heart of human identity is the IMAGO DEI (We are made in the image of God, both male and female). The peronalist/integrationalist view is optimistic. The spark of God in us will prevail. Tikkun Olam–the creation will be healed.

Our duty as Christians is to invite ourselves and others to live up to these ideals. We must also challenge our leaders to do so.

Dialectical/Separationist Approach

A form of collectivism. In conflict with Personalism/Integrationist view. Personhood is the goal, not the a priori state of the human being.

Oppression obscures the person, so justice must prevail first before personhood can emerge.

“Sovereignal Freedom” releases the oppressed individual from isolation/marginalization in exchange for service, deference, and loyalty.

Departure point is the collective, not the individual. This is a pessimistic worldview. Martin Luther King was an integrationist. Malcolm X was a separationist. With the death of King, the civil rights movement gave way to a sublimated form of Marxism based on race, not class (as Marx envisioned).

This has manifested itself in diversity training throughout corporate America, assuming falsely that more information will lead to more appreciation of others. This doesn’t work in this case, because the difference between races and cultures is over-emphasized (with separationist assumptions) to start with in such sessions; creating even more division and sending honest conversation underground.

Conclusions

We do need more conversations about racism, etc. The world is getting smaller–but all such conversations need to be based on the dignity of the individual. And the identity of the individual being much more than just “race” or ethnicity.

All of us need to acknowledge:

  1. The beauty of true diversity
  2. The very real history of systemic oppression

Also, we should be able to challenge anyone’s assumptions. Many collectivist/separationists get super-defensive if anyone challenges their dialectical assumptions. It can go ad hominem really fast.

Truth is, everyone’s assumptions are fair game for rational challenge…

The 4 Secrets of High-Income Individuals

 

You need an MBA!

You need a credit score above 800!

You need a resume full of experience!

You need a folio full of certificates, degrees, and credentials!

Nonsense.

There are four things that will get you into six-figure pay:

 

ONE. Curiosity

Without curiosity, you are never going to help move an organization forward. The non-curious are better suited for carrying out orders than giving them. Curiosity’s twin sibling is imagination.

Are you the kind of person who is always looking up what new things mean? Wanting to travel to see how other people shape their lives? Eager to try new foods, learn new languages, hear from opposing viewpoints, take things apart to see how they work, and always asking questions?

Richard Branson was on a documentary my wife and I were watching last month. A quote from him which surprised me: “I’m a dyslexic drop-out with a low IQ, but I’m curious about everything.” One of the most creative billionaires on the planet!

Branson has always loved the Virgin Islands. His plane hop over to one of them was cancelled when he was a young man. So he rented a plane with a dozen seats and made a sign: Virgin Airlines! I’m flying to the Islands. Seats for sale!….So he got there for free. And the rest is history.

 

TWO. Ability to Connect the Dots

This is where a broad (not necessarily formal) education comes in handy. An ability for expansive thinking sees all kinds of new market opportunities, and creative upgrades of goods and services.

Henry Ford: People weren’t looking for a Model T; they were looking for a faster horse. Are you constantly making up puns in your head (fun with connecting linguistic dots)? Extra credit if you crack multi-lingual puns. When people mention something, your first thought is, “That reminds me of…..”

Tinkering (mechanically) is a good indicator of this skill. The Wright brothers, Edison, Curie, Tesla, Jobs, Bezos, Musk, and Gates were all rejects or peripheral at best in relation to our education system. But they tinkered their brains out. Always looking for new connections no one else had made: Taking pictures with your phone. Software separate from computers, bookstores with no walls, using bicycle technology to build a flying machine.

 

THREE. Ability to Win Over the Hearts and Minds of Your Team.

Either through raw charisma (Jobs, Branson), earning respect (Gates), infectious energy (Musk), or just plain good social skills, big earners see the team as essential to their success, and they never, ever take them for granted.

This is the one skill that trips up big-idea people most often. And many of them learn from team meltdowns or even getting fired from the companies they started.

Most people have had a controlling, bad-tempered boss. Notice how they never rise above the lower-level boss world? There’s a reason for that…

Being able to ask for help is perhaps the most important skill in the quiver of great leaders. If you often think: If I want to do it right, I’ll have to do it myself, you have two choices:

  1. Give up on leadership, because you’ll never be good at it.
  2. Completely change your mind-set.

To accomplish big things, you need a team, and those who do everything themselves will always be limited in what they can accomplish. If you can’t ask for help, you can’t lead.

And you can’t ask for help unless you have a team around you that has been won over to “the cause.”

 

FOUR. Grit

The ability to maintain a good temperament in challenging times will be necessary, because if you can do all four of these things, people won’t know what to do with you. You won’t fit into a neat little roles of an organization; you may not even bother reading (all of) your job description. You will likely get fired more than once.

Security and stability are often the first ballast to go for high-impact individuals. Most of the ones I know have gone broke once or twice. But unlike most people, they can bounce back to their previous level of abundance in just a matter of weeks.

If you are one of these folks, you may be tempted to take your creativity OUT of the work world and just have fun and quirky hobbies. What a waste!

Persistence and grit are required for every human, but especially for those who want to add big and inventive value to the world. They may have to muscle and elbow their way into the marketplace; to come back quickly from setbacks and failures.

 

On which of the four do you need to work?
If you have read this far, you likely have the potential to work at the highest levels in our economy.

These came out of a conversation last week with a friend of mine, Jay Gromek of Brooklyn, NY. Not sure where he got them. I’ve modified them somewhat for the sake of clarity.

 

Russell Moore on Religious Liberty

 

Keynote Address

Acton University 2017

Russell Moore heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.

His after dinner keynote at Acton University hit the power chords on the issues of freedom of conscience in a free society.

What follows is a combination of brief notes and my observations/commentary.

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Many secularists today encourage us to keep our beliefs out of the public marketplace of ideas. They have no place to put things like:

…being motivated by religious conscience…

We get the feeling that we have other motivations, such as some kind of power grab which they need to block.

We have two challenges before us:

  1. Internal. Helping religious-minded people understand why religious liberty matters. Is the state God? The final authority? What limits the state’s sovereignty? The first amendment starting with religious freedom shows a “priority of conscience” which limits the state.
  2. External. Helping secularists understand that freedom to believe is more than private thinking. It is a freedom to act in spiritually motivated ways. Helping secularists better understand spiritual motivation.

Some thoughts/points:

  • Is “majoritarianism” the solution to everything? Winner takes all?
  • Can those with exclusive truth claims exist with others? Of course, they tend to be the best at it because of clarity. Exclusivists (with deontological postulates) who believe in religious liberty don’t want to coerce others to believe what they believe. A coerced Christian message (or Gospel) is not a Gospel at all.
  • Growing secularism forces us to self-define. This is a good thing. But we have to do the work of making it happen. Intellectual laziness comes easily.
  • We don’t have more atheists today. We have more HONEST atheists.
  • A majoritarian view of politics is a problem, secular OR religious. 
  • The temptation to use state coercion (force) to eliminate OR establish religion runs totally counter to our founding DNA in America. The founders clearly opposed both. De facto elimination (from the public square) of anything supernatural is an intellectual gutter ball. The tension (and there is indeed tension) must be held, and common sense must prevail in case-to-case situations.
  • The state does not have the capacity or authority to referee between truth claims. Eliminating the Design Argument from classrooms is over-reaching.
  • Advocacy for religious freedom is an offensive (literally) act. We can’t just play defense.
  • Those of us who are religiously motivated need to claim the power to have honest discussions in the public square.
  • The state does not settle every issue. No one believes that the state does NOT equal “highest truth.”
  • A state that can pave over conscience can do anything.
  • People with vague beliefs and no real church/God often over-identify personally with a political movement (right or left).
  • We don’t want to be persecutors OR to be persecuted.
  • There is something more important than Caesar. Caesar is not God. 

 

 

How Long do Big-Name Pastors Preach? (Average Sermon Length)

 

Great article by Justin Trapp on his blog.

Full article: http://justintrapp.com/the-average-sermon-length-of-these-10-well-known-pastors/

How long are sermons at your church?

Most people think “shorter is better.”

Some very effective pastors would beg to differ:

For the record, my sermons at Robinwood Church in Huntington Beach, CA, average 36 to 41 minutes over the last half year.

You can listen to all of them on SoundFaith: https://soundfaith.com/profile/robinwood-church

Or just look us up on iTunes under “Podcast Robinwood Church.”

Dazzling Television from India

 

It’s a strong statement to make, but Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (SRT to keep my spell checker from having an aneurism) may be the best series I’ve ever seen on television.

Spectacularly filmed in a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, SRT uses a palette of rich but calm images that come straight out of the conflicts of the heart, but never losing a playful feel.

Set in Bengal in the early part of the 20th century, the growing pains of an emerging educated Indian middle and upper class get twisted up in old Indian traditions. Tagore, ever the master story teller, unrolls tales with rich and fallbile characters thrust into responsible positions but often exhibiting almost adolescent immaturity and inability to cope.

Lots of dancing outdoor light on a pre-electronic, pre-frantic but prosperous Bengal landscape.

Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-Euro/American to win the Nobel prize for literature. Without going aerobic, he runs an astounding emotional range from suicidal to childish/quirky. None of his characters resemble other characters. Far from being a one trick pony, Tagore gives us a whole emotional zoo.

You can catch the series on Netflix. 26 episodes.

“Public Choice” -Liberty Vocabulary

 

If you listen to political or economic podcasts, read blogs and journals, or go to lectures, the phrased “public choice” will be bandied about.

Once we get a working knowledge of any topic (say….econ or politics) we often stop learning terminology, because we can gather the gist of what is being said by the context.

Pubic Choice is a microeconomic tool used to critique political structures, especially constitutions and the like.

It is a peer-reviewed science, and tries to understand, in economic terms, why people do what they do and vote the way they do.

How does consensus work? And how much unanimity do you need? Does the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) affect group decisions, and if so, how? Is utility for the majority, or a sense of justice which drives most people in public decision-making?

One of the problems with “majority rules” voting is that, scientifically speaking, decisions are more often than not favored which are less beneficial and cost more, rather than the other way around. Hello, $20 trillion deficit. 

Public Choice thought has exposed the idea of rent seeking (which I will explore soon in Life & Liberty). Rent seeking happens when incentives get mixed up when the government can offer certain advantages to certain individuals or groups. These protected entities tend to become monopolies. Thus the government, rather than protecting us from monopolies, is often tempted (by self interest) to go on multiplying and creating them, knowing that people would rather earn rent (cash flow from a stake in something) than work for money.

Public Choice thought tends to have an anti-statist bent, mostly because of its ongoing critique of the misplaced incentives in public bureaucracies as opposed to those in private corporations. Bureaucrats owe their allegiance to those above them who appoint them, and they lead a large, protected class of civil servants below them. Their tendency (behaviorally) is to please their appointers rather than the public which they “swear” to serve. Whereas no one on the private sector food chain, from CEO to laborer, can afford to take her/his eyes off of the well-being of the customer for very long.

It is especially controversial right now, because of Nancy McLean’s jeremiad against libertarianism, Democracy in Chains.

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, her “bete noir,” who was prominent proponent of Public Choice thought. Buchanan and four other Public Choice scholars have won Nobel Prizes in Economics, including Vernon Smith whom I was privileged to meet in 2016 at Acton University.

MacLean sees a vast right-wing conspiracy, masquerading as science, which uses Public Choice data as a way to keep African Americans from voting. She presents no evidence for this; in fact, many Public Choice scholars were strident activists against Apartheid in South Africa.

This should be enough to get you started. But certainly not enough to explain it. Have a look around and let me know what you find.

For a great, simple slide show on Public Choice, click HERE.

For more info, check out the Wikipedia entry on Public Choice.

There is a Journal called Public Choice.

TrumpCare? ObamaCare? No thank you…

 

Both TrumpCare and ObamaCare are disasters.

Put together by politicians who have Cadillac health care plans and zero professional experience in medicine or insurance (with tiny exceptions like Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist). It’s ironic that John McCain could not make it to the vote because he was enjoying co-pay-free surgery at the time.

And what does Trump know about these things? He doesn’t even HAVE insurance because billionaires are simply self-insured by their net worth.

TrumpCare and ObamaCare are horrifically bad compromises between government control and free enterprise, somehow managing to avoid the benefits of either school of thought!

The benefits of socialized medicine:
  • It’s universal. Everyone has it and no one is left out. ObamaCare fails here, and TrumpCare leaves an even bigger “coverage gap.”
  • It’s streamlined. No layering of private/public bureaucracies which just over-feed each other and drive down efficiency and transparency, and drive up costs.
The benefits of a free enterprise health care system:
  • Competition. Which creates innovation and improvements. Look at the explosion of cell phone technology once government got out of the phone business.
  • Cost. What are the two fastest-improving segments of health care with dramatically falling prices? Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. Why? Because they aren’t under the control of government/insurance juntas.
  • The free market makes a huge effort to serve everyone (notice the dollar menu at the drive thru), and it is not incompatible with a basic social safety net for the poorest of the poor.
We end up with the worst of both systems with ObamaCare AND TrumpCare:
  • We have capitalism without competition (because of government control) which leads to price gouging and a total lack of pricing transparency. Heavy regulation favors the big boys of insurance and health care chains, because no startups can afford regulatory compliance. This is known as “regulatory capture” and monopolization.
  • We have “socialized” medicine without total coverage of the population; and so many layers of administration that the average person has no clue how to navigate the system.
  • The “Affordable Care Act (ACA)” has universally and dramatically driven up prices for both health care and insurance. It has been the polar opposite of “affordable.”
  • The truth is, it may not be feasible to administer any total-care system in a vast, continental empire of 335 million people. The necessary hierarchical layers would choke the whole thing. Poster-child examples tend to be little nations in Europe with the population of Orange County.
We have three options outside of the hideously dysfunctional non-option of ObamaCare or TrumpCare.
  1. Single-payer government health care. Even those who hate socialism can grant that it would be better than what we have now.
  2. A total free market. Don’t underestimate the power of the market to try to serve everyone, and to do it in better and better ways. The incentives are in the right place.
  3. Something way more creative which preserves competition and total coverage in a creative blend. That’s above my pay grade and certainly above the pay grade of your average senator.

The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.

Judaism and Natural Law (Daniel Mark, Villanova U)

 

What follows are my notes (with some editorializing on my part) of Daniel Mark’s lecture at the Acton University in 2017. Mark, who is Jewish, is professor of political science at Villanova University.

Why do Jews so seldom talk about natural law?

Let’s go back to Genesis. For one thing, Jews don’t extrapolate (as many Reformed and Roman Catholic theologians do) original sin out of the Adam and Eve story.

But natural law is “built in.” Adam was obligated to obey the command of God.

For instance, consider the many questions raised in the Jewish tradition about the justice of what happens in the Bible:

  • The binding of Isaac and the command to kill him
  • The conquest of Canaan
  • God harding the hearts of people so they don’t understand/hear.
  • The wiping out of the Amalekites.
  • And many more…

Where are these questions coming from? Not from revealed law, but from NATURAL LAW.

Leviticus 18:4–“Do my judgments and keep my statutes.”

Do my Judgments:  אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ  Mishphatim (pl). Having more to do with natural, rational, reasonable thought. What a judge does when she/he has to decide/discern. “Common law.”

And keep my Statutes:  וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ Khuqim (pl). Written statues, clearly defined. Not from human reason. Often used for revealed law as opposed to natural law. “Statutory law.”

Was natural law assumed and never made explicit? Is it true because it’s in the Bible, or in the Bible because it’s true (natural)? The Jewish tradition, unlike the Greco-Roman Catholic tradition, never wrote out extended proofs.

Judaism is less consistent with natural law than Roman Catholicism. RC thinking has “exceptionless norms.” There is daylight between Jewish ethics and natural law.

Whether or not the Torah is fully rational, the goal of Judaism is to spread ethical monotheism, not to make everyone Jewish. Truth cannot contradict truth.

Many fundamentalisms (of all kinds) teach some kind of anthropological ‘total depravity’ which robs us of our ability to reason. Human rationality is judged guilty and not redeemable.

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My comments: the entire oral Torah tradition (the original “Wikipedia” spanning centuries) is a skyscraper of natural reason interacting with the rugged fabric of the biblical narrative. As the Jewish tradition paralleled the Greek tradition, rather than flowing out of it, as the Roman Catholic tradition was birthed, it uses different vocabulary not dependent on Greco-Roman philosophical grammars.

Reading contemporary-friendly “plunges” into the oral Torah (see, for instance the work of Avivah Zornberg) is one of the most intellectually refreshing journeys one can make, and a feast of reason meeting narrative.