Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities In A Global Age

Posted by stefanialt

Zygmunt Bauman’s book Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, is a collection of essays and lectures given by Bauman at different times. I had a hard time following him and seeing the connection between the chapters.

There is one interesting thought that I had while reading this book. As Christians, we cannot get near the kingdom of God while we’re stepping over people to get there. We can make excuses, but none of them are valid. You cannot pass people by on your way to the temple and expect God to be pleased… and it seems like that’s what we’re doing. For the sake of financial stability or comfort we walk over people, marginalize people, and cast out those who are not like us.

“The term ‘collateral damage’ was coined by the military “to denote unintended, unplanned – and as some would say, incorrectly, ‘unanticipated’ – effects, which are all the same harmful, hurtful and damaging.”[1] So in other words, collateral damage means that the possibility of damage has been considered but viewed as a risk worth taking. “Thinking in terms of collateral damage tacitly assumes an already existing inequality of rights and chances, while accepting a priori the unequal distribution of the costs of undertaking (or for that matter desisting from) action.”[2] As a society we accept a certain amount of casualties due to inequalities without questioning the rightfulness of the social system.  “Casualties are dubbed ‘collateral’ in so far as they are dismissed as not important enough to justify the costs of their prevention, or simply ‘unexpected’ because the planners did not consider them worthy of inclusion among the objects of preparatory reconnoitring.”[3]

Bauman’s definitions of collateral damage wouldn’t be so disturbing if he was talking about a building that became ‘collateral damage,’ or a tree that was cut down because of expansion, but Bauman is talking about people. People who have become collateral damage. People that are not worth our time or sacrifice… it’s not a sack of potatoes, but a breathing, living human being that was created in the image of God. This is heartbreaking to me. It’s soo sad that we have come to accept that some people are not worth fighting for.

One example of “collateral damage” in our society is the illegal immigrant. She is the one that fall through the cracks. She is the one used and abused for the sake of a few dollars. She is the one that is a causality in this war for wealth and power.

[1] Zygmunt Bauman, Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities In A Global Age (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011), 4.

[2] Bauman, 5.

[3] Bauman, 8.

We Shop; They Drop

Posted by stefanialt

The way I see it, there are two problems with consumerism. Actually, there are a lot more than two, but for the sake of this post I will only focus on two. First, “Consumerism is a type of spirituality… it is a way of pursuing meaning and identity, a way of connecting with other people.”[1] Most Christians will either roll their eyes at such a statement or agree with it but quickly point the finger to others in the Christian community. As Christians, our first desire is to make Christ the center of our lives. It’s hard for us to admit that in fact we gain our identity and meaning from the things we own.  

Second, consumerism has caused us to be “detached from the producers, the people who actually make our things.”[2] Those people are are invisible to us, therefore we can continue to sustain our consumer habits because we are blind to the consequences. We are detatched from people and things. Detatchement takes away value and importance. It’s easy to throw away the things you don’t value… things, or people.

A few years ago Voice of the Martyrs held a conference in Portland. I took my youth group because I wanted them to hear the stories of what Christians go through around the world. A young woman from China told her story. She was imprisoned in a work camp for being a Christian. She told us of how for years she was made to work in a factory for 14 hours a day making Christmas tree lights that were later exported to America. “My fingers were bleeding as I was putting these lights together,” she said. “When you look at them, you see beautiful things… when I look at them I see pain and sorrow,” she continued. That year I was determined not to buy Christmas lights made in China… but do you know how hard it is to find Christmas lights not made in China?  It was impossible… Our tree went without.

Consumerism is evil packaged in beauty. It’s sorrow packaged in joy. It’s my freedom at the cost of anothers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” I think that God will hold us accountable for our relationships with those that make our stuff… the people that go without so that I can have the freedom to throw things away.

[1] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Prapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 36.

[2]  Cavanaugh, 43.

Twelve Books that Changed World: What about the Movies?

Posted by msteelemark

Now don’t get me wrong, I love books and they have changed my life for the better; but what about the movies? I thoroughly enjoyed Melvyn Bragg’s book, 12 Books that Changed the World. Bragg is an Englishman who chose all English books by male authors. He summarized the books and shared why they changed the world. His list included:

  • Principia Mathematica (1687) — Isaac Newton
  • Married Love (1918) — Marie Stopes
  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • Book of Rules of Association Football (1863)
  • On the Origin of Species (1859) — Charles Darwin
  • On the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1789) — William Wilberforce 
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
  • Experimental Researches in Electricity (three volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855)
  • Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769) — Richard Arkwright
  • The King James Bible (1611)
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)  - Adam Smith
  • The First Folio (1623) — William Shakespeare

My favorite chapters were on Isaac Newton, Magna Carta, William Wilberforce, the King James Bible, Adam Smith and Shakespeare.

Anytime a person makes a personal list of world changing anything, others will have their own list and will dispute the choice. I am sure the United States, Canada, China, and France will have their own lists.

Books are one medium where ideas are shared, what about the movies? I believe more people today watch movies than read books. Have you ever heard a person say that since they graduated from college, they have read very few books but love to watch movies? I Googled movies that changed the world. A typical list includes The Birth of a Nation, A Thin Blue Line, Triumph of the Will, An Inconvenient Truth, Jaws, 2001 a Space Odyssey and others.

Other movie news clips that changed the world I remember growing up were the landing on the moon, the first pictures of the atomic bomb, the assassination of JFK and 911 towers collapsing.

We all have our favorite lists of books or movies. What is important is the personal reflection about why we choose these books and movies. Over the years, I have developed a list of books that have formed my thoughts and values about leadership. My leadership favorite books are:

  1. 1.     The Bible( Proverbs, Nehemiah, The Gospels and Acts)
  2. 2.     Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  3. 3.     Master-planning by Bob Biehl
  4. 4.     The Franklin Time Management System, by Hyrum Smith
  5. 5.     The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard
  6. 6.     Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey
  7. 7.     Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
  8. 8.     Hiring the Best by Martin John Yate
  9. 9.     Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
  10. 10.  In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

11. The New Organization by Tom Peters

12. 21 Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

13. Leaders by Warren Bennis and  Burt Nanus

14. Business Process Improvement by H. James Harrington

15. Good to Great by Jim Collins

16. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner

17. Developing the Leader within You by John Maxwell

18. Servant Leadership by Greenleaf

19. Getting Things Done by David Allen

20. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

21. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

22. Personal and Executive Coaching by Jeffrey Auerbach

23. You Already Know How to be Great by Alan Fine

This list is in pencil and updated every few years. It helps me to share with others about what my leadership values are and why. I have used this list to encourage other leaders to develop their own leadership values and favorite leadership book list. The importance is that no one has the best list or the right list – it does get us to reflect about our own thoughts and values.

What are your favorite leadership books and why?

The Tour Guide and the Citadelle

Posted by richard-rhoads

Over the years I have come to love reading and books.  Throughout my life many books have had great impact on the way I think, process and even the way I live.  A few books which stand out as great refiners are, The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen; Sabbath  by Dan Allendar; The Bible; Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero; Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh; The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg; Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.  Each of these books have played significant roles in my development and over all decision making.  However, while reading this past week one writing rose to the surface, this was On the Abolition of Slave Trade by William Wilburforce.  For me, the significance of this work returns me to a hill I stood on in Haiti in the late 1990’s.  Having lead a small missions trip to Haiti for a period of three weeks, mid trip we decided to give our team a break.  During that break we decided to take in The Citadelle Laferriere.  The Citadelle Laferriere is one of the largest stone structure forts in the Americas.  This massive structure was built by over 20,000 workers between the years of 1805 and 1820 in an attempt to protect the newly formed nation of Haiti from the French incursions.  While on the tour that day, our guide began to lay out the history leading up to the creation of the fort.  He began with William Wilburforce and his and his writings in 1789.  Wilburforce’s greatest obstacle was the French Revolution which was also taking place in 1789.  The combination of these two forces at work sparked a slave rebellion in St. Domingue (Haiti) in 1790.  During this rebellion liberated slaves turned on their former masters, punishing and executing in many cases.  I now stood on the very spot outside the Citadelle where many of these acts took place.  It was surreal.

This past week while reading 12 Books That Changed The World: How Words and Wisdom Have Shaped our Lives by Melvyn Bragg I was struck by the significance of how Wilbur Williamforce’s words have shaped my life.  More particularly on how his words have shaped my understanding of slavery issues throughout time.  During my reading, three key ideas emerged on what I learned about slavery then and how it applies to our global digital society.

Three Emerging Ideas

Alive and Well Today…  The effects of slavery are alive and well today.  Having lived in South Carolina for four years, I saw the after effects of third generation slavery.  Though slavery has been abolished in the United States, certain areas and cultures still feel the after affects in decisions, governmental structures, class values and even corporate opportunity.  During my time working in this environment, I realized very quickly that most upper middle class and white collar jobs were only afforded to those who were white.  Though some African American individuals were afforded these positions, most simply took lower paying or lower valued work within the organization.  Generational position, organizational mindsets and holistic lack of education were all factors, giving the affects of slavery the ability to be alive and well.

Still exists…  Though slavery has been abolished in North America, various forms of slavery still exist around the world.  Indentured servants, family debts, race related slavery all still exist in various forms around the planet.  Where ever the idea exists that one human is superior to another for any reason, slavery has the opportunity to flourish.  Behind this abuse of power, one human places themselves in the position of control, devaluing another who is created in the image of God.  Regardless of the form or reason, it is less than what God intended.

Comes in other forms…  Though the slave trade existing for hundreds of years in the Americas’ has come to an end, many other forms are alive and well.  Today, sex trafficking of woman and children has risen in epic proportions.  Often, individuals seeking a better life, find themselves being taken advantage of, enslaved and losing their subsequent freedom.  These individuals aren’t all in distant lands, but rather in your own neighborhood.  A few weeks ago, a large sex trafficking ring was busted here in the Lancaster area.  Those arrested consisted of doctors, lawyers, business men and one city official.  All to common in many of our home towns.  Same issue as the late 1700’s, just a new look.

That day standing at the Citadelle I was captured by the loss of value a slave may have felt.  Hopeless, de-valued, shamed… I began to sit with just a small portion of the need to always stand against slavery in any form, regardless of the cost to oneself.  What forms of slavery are around you?  What books have you read, which shaped your understanding of the oppressed? 

Keep Calm and Incarnate

Posted by mitcharb

              Reading, or should I say more honestly, perusing, the book The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society by Murray Jardine, I felt I was shifting from reading a book of history to one about political theory, then one on economics, and then on consumerism, then philosophy and another on theology, even a bit on scientific principles, and urban planning, and then a shift again to postmodernism and neoclassicism. “Man!” I thought, “This guy is well versed in so many subjects.” But the underline current that ran through his entire thesis was how western humanity is in the grip of a crisis of how humans, with their creative capacities to change the world, morally handle this capacity that is manifested through the technology that they are able to “speak” into existence. He states, “Western societies are suffering from severe moral confusion because we cannot make moral sense of our technological capacities; premodern ideas about how people should live were based on the idea that humans are part of unchanging God-given natural order, and we now realize that we can change our environment.”[1] Yet this freedom to create was not always evident to humans. For without this understanding, this revelation - that humans were created in the image of God and could, like God, create – humans were not free to create and therefore could not change their environment.[2] 

            Jardine takes us through the evolution and crisis of modern technological societies, setting the stage for how we have arrived at the current situation. Then, within Christianity he finds the formulation of a solution that would rescue us from the crisis. He goes extensively into the Ancient Pagan world describing the myths of such societies and the orality and human condition of such societies as a way to establish a comparison with the world before and after Christianity. With the entrance of Christianity the world changed as never before, so much so that Jardine refers to this transformation on the scene of humanity as “The Cosmological and Anthropological Revolution of the Biblical Narrative.”[3]

            Thinking back to last week’s reading by Hunter, though we learned many ways how not to  change the world, we learned that the faithful presence of Christians in and among society is a constant opportunity to affect and infect others with the love that transcends all and can bring about positive change. Jardine takes the opinion that the Western civilization is ultimately exhausted having destructive tendencies that will eventually bring about the annihilation of the society. His suggestion is to build local communities that “can eventually bring about a new social and political order, recalling that such a new culture will not bring about heaven on earth, but only allow for the survival of humanity long enough for God to complete his purpose.”[4]

            Jardine understands, as both Hunter and Douthat did in their books, that the modern world is “ultimately a distortion of the political and social order implied by Christianity, and that this distortion is the direct result of failures on the part of Christianity.”[5] And as Miller and Cavanaugh, and to some degree Heath and Potter showed that, “The consumer economy and its expressive individualist culture are thus the primary concrete embodiments of the modern moral crisis.”[6] With all these indictments against Christians, what is a modern day Christian to do with all of this? Evade being a consumer, stay home and make your own bread?  Don’t enter into politics, do not attempt to change the world, try to live a Christian presence in a post-Christian nation that suffers from moral failure knowing that our concept of freedom in the West is ultimately nihilistic? With all these things one would want to simply “stick head in sand and wait for return of Jesus.” But as the called – the ecclesia of God – we are called out to be different, to be change agents, to be ambassadors. We must be willing to walk with confidence that the word of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us is the most moral change agent this world has ever seen. Truly it is a cosmological and anthropological revolution. So my alternative response to “head in sand” would be a more radical approach. My reply bubbles up with a statement that could be put on a t-shirt, like the many I saw when visiting England – “Keep Calm and Incarnate.”

[1] Murray Jardine, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004), 96.

[2] Ibid., 174.

[3] Ibid., 171.

[4] Ibid., 281.

[5] Ibid., 137.

[6] Ibid., 97.

A Transformed community transforms society

Posted by taliilef

The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society” by Murray Jardine offers thoughtful analysis on the Western societies current moral crisis as the result of Christianity’s failure to engage with the culture of technology. Jardine writes, “ the present-day Western societies are indeed facing a moral crisis, and that this crisis is far more profound than most people realize; the danger of terrorism is by comparison minor and indeed is best understood as one manifestation of the crisis. Specifically, I will argue that the source of this crisis is our inability to make sense of our scientific and technological capabilities—the very capacities that most people regard as making human progress possible.” The author argues that the solution for this moral crisis lies within Christianity. “However, for Christianity to address this situation, it must itself be transformed… and recapture the original Christian ethic of unconditional love that that has been seriously distorted over the course of two thousand years ”(p.14)

I agree with the author’s argument that transformed Christianity can bring about change on the current moral crisis of the Western technological societies. The question is: which Christianity is Jardine talking about? What does the transformed Christian community looks like? It is clear that he is referring to Protestants and Catholics, and he strongly argues that “ both Catholic and Protestant traditions can contribute to a moral orientation that may be able to address our current situation” (p.15). I am not as optimistic as Jardine is on this issue. Do the Protestants and Catholics hold the same view on “virtues of faith, hope, and love” (p.236)? How about the Christian ethic of charity, or unconditional love?  I also wonder how realistic is Jardine’s idea of redesigning the cities and neighborhoods in order to establish local communities of face-to-face interaction. Having said that, I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s central argument on the necessity of establishing face-to-face community for effective communication among families, neighbors and strangers (p.257).

 This makes me think about my culture, and the challenges that churches are facing due to their own failure to recognize their doctrinal differences. My culture although is less advanced technologically, but it highly a communal culture. However, Christian churches—Protestants and the Ethiopia Orthodox Church alike are very much divided and often look at each other with indifference. They often focus on the things that divide them rather than finding ways to work together for the common good of others in their societies. Churches have been gripped with this unhealthy attitude toward each other since their inception, which continues to hinder them for experiencing a true transformation. Where does the solution for our issues should come from? What does it take for our Christian communities to cross their denominational lines and move toward unity, respect, and love for the sake of the kingdom? The answer to these question lies at the hands of local church leaders and faith communities to work out themselves the approaches that are necessary and appropriate to deal with their current circumstances (p.255). In spite of all these challenges, it is quite amazing to see Churches continue to grow in my country. Jardine briefly discusses the situation of other world cultures and religion at conclusion. He argues “ although much can be learned, about many subjects, from other world cultures, they cannot assist us in addressing the issue of human creativity” (p.281). The author goes on pointing “both the tremendous danger and a tremendous opportunity. The danger is obvious: a spiritual void of this magnitude presents horrifying possibilities for tyranny and violence. But the opportunities is that Christianity can develop in these other societies …” (p.280). ” I understand where he is coming from and I agree with him that every culture needs to be transformed by the gospel. But, in my opinion, I do not think it is helpful to go to others cultures thinking in the ways Jardine describes them above. Also in some cultures have negative experience with Christianity and they do not want to have anything to with this religion. But, in my ministry experience, I had great conversation about Jesus with my Muslims friends and they like him as much as we Christians do. So, for me, if a person is willing to learn or follow Jesus without calling her/himself Christian what do I bother about converting them Christian. As Jardine states, “ A good society, or a good community, would therefore be one that in fact create these places for individuals” to ask questions and listen to others responses and share his or her insights (p.240).



Are We Becoming PC? (No…it doesn’t stand for “politically correct”)

Posted by mmendezblog

America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities (PC) in its place. [1] This is Douthat’s argument throughout his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Herectics.

Douthat believes that America has been invaded with “heretical” versions of Christianity and that this has weakened America’s cultural heritage. According to Douthat, there are two popular explanations for America’s current predicament – one offered by the Christian right, and the other by the secular left.[2]

“The right holds that Americans have lost their way because they have fallen away from faith of their fathers…their prescription from the 1970s to the present day, has been a religious counterrevolution, aimed at restoring faith to its rightful place at the center of American culture, politics, and law.  The left insists that the United States is in decline because it’s excessively religious…a once-great nation brought low by piety and zeal. Yet both sides have embraced a wildly simplified vision of our culture…children of light contend with children of darkness…every inch of ground is claimed by absolute truth or deplorable error. This is the real story of religion in America. For all its piety and fervor, today’s United Sates needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.”[3]

So who are the heretics and what are the heresies that Douthat mentions in his book? According to Douthat, orthodox belief is most threaten by the bad religion fostered by the pseudo-Christianities found in our society. The danger that we face is not from the shortage of religious thought and feelings in America but from an excess of lite Christianity which adjusts itself to the ultimate self and every fad in society.  In the second part of his book Douthat devotes three chapters to three pseudo-Christianities that have taken over our cultural landscape. He identifies them as the “prosperity gospel,” the “God within” and the “God bless the USA” nationalism.

These pseudo-Christianities offer a cafeteria or buffet style Jesus.  Douthat states that a choose-your-own Jesus mentality encourages spiritual seekers to screen out discomforting part of the New Testament and focus only on whatever Christ they find most congenial.[4] Our culture is dominated by these pseudo-Christianities that encourage a choose-your-own-Jesus.

The choose-your-own-Jesus mentality offers quick fixes and band-aids. The prosperity gospel offers a plate of quick fixes. Douthat mentions that Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living your full potential” tells us that it’s all about you…if you have faith in yourself…in your strength…if you work harder…if you think positive…you will succeed.  The “God-within” selection offers a “do it yourself religion.” “You have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace with God.”[5]  It provides an excuse for making religious faith more comfortable, more dilettantish, more self-absorbed—for doing what you feel like doing anyway, and calling it obedience to a Higher Power or Supreme Self.[6]  Basically, the God-within encourages you to do what pleases you and to do what feels good to you. 

To this Douthat writes that the prosperity gospel is a theology of striving and reaching and demanding. The gospel of the “God within” is a theology of letting go. The prosperity gospel makes the divine sound like a broker; the theology of the “God within” makes him sound like your shrink.[7]

This buffet style Christianity is also served “over easy” in politics with a “side order” of patriotism. Douthat stresses that the heresy of nationalism’s co-option of Christian faith has left the faith too weak to play the kind of positive role it has often played in our public life. He argues that the Christian body has less moral authority today than it did generations ago, and patriotism in its various forms burns far brighter than most religious Americans’ affections for their churches and denominations.[8]

On the 4th of July, Americans in the United States celebrate Independence Day. Our churches are decorated in red, white, and blue. Flags, small and large, decorate the sanctuaries and altars. Anthems of “God Bless America,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” are sung. One can say that there is a spirit of profound freedom and dedication. Yet this freedom does not free believers from the obligation to strive in political affairs as they strive in all things, to do what God would have them do.[9]

According to Douthat the future of American religion depends on believers who can demonstrate, in word and deed alike that the possibilities of the Christian life are not exhausted by TV preachers, and self-help gurus, and demagogues.[10] It is about living a holy life and living in the image of God. It is about turning to God first. It is about taking God’s character for our pattern in life. Matthew 6:33 reminds us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The Kingdom of God offers no quick fixes, no band-aids, and no choose-your-own Jesus.   When Jesus spoke about the kingdom he was not offering a piecemeal, fix-it-up remedy for the wrongs suffered in this world. The Kingdom of God is something new. Something different. Something that replaced one reality — that of a sinful, broken world — with a new reality, a world made whole and living in covenant with God’s design for shalom and love. May God help us from becoming “PC.”

[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012) p. 3.

[2] Ibid., p. 2

[3] Ibid., pgs. 2-5.

[4] Ibid., p. 175

[5] Ibid., p. 214.

[6] Ibid., p. 230.

[7] Ibid., p. 217.

[8] Ibid., p. 274.

[9] Ibid., p. 276.

[10] Ibid., p. 292.

World Changers

Posted by samstephens99

Major shifts in history are a combination of a variety of elements which would include contemporary political and economic climate, needs and aspirations of the populace, available technology etc.  The tipping occurs with a single individual or a group of people with a vision of transformation,  passionately committed to something they firmly believe in,  willing to take the risks to see its fulfilment and possess the skill to articulate and communicate it.  

12 Books That Changed the World by Melvin Bragg is quite a facscinating compilation of a few of those historic landmarks that have paved the way for life lived by a good part of the world.  Arguably, the title is somewhat a misnomer, it is misleading and from my perspective a bit too presumptuous. First of all, the list comprises of writings that have emerged from Britain alone.  And then, one must not forget that millions around the world still remain, totally unaware and oblivious to the existence of these “books” and untouched by the changes that Bragg claims they have produced.   Thirdly, as the author himself apologetically includes: “This may seem, at first glance, a curious addition to the list of twelve (Bragg 2006, 239).” I would argue that at least a couple in the list, may not fall under the category of “books” in themselves. Nevertheless, what cannot be argued is the fact as Northrop Frye rightly said: “The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book (Inspiring Quotes n.d.).”  The written word has always held enormous power to effect change whether it is for the better or for the worse.  In stating his case for the inclusion of Richard Arkwright’s Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769), Bragg admits: “His patent is not a flower of English prose but, like many other examples in this book, it proves the force of the written word and its ability to spin its web around the globe and transform it (Bragg 2006, 257).” My strong recommendation to the author and the publishers is to bring out the next edition with a more appropriate title.

Now, having cried my heart out about the title, let me add that I found the contents fairly absorbing and engaging.  Bragg’s accounts of each context and even a few minute details manifests his brilliance; the time invested in studying and investigating and articulating these details certainly need to be applauded. It was important for me to be reminded how life is impacted and changed by a combination of a variety of circumstances and yet directed by intentional individuals. My take away from the reading: The difference my life will make in history will not even be a proverbial drop in the ocean; it is nowhere in comparison to the those enumerated by Bragg, nevertheless how I live my life with intentionality and a commitment to the values of God’s reign and transformation of people’s lives might render the tiny insignificant things I do worth the effort.  I fully agree with Christena Appleyard’s judgment that “This book is a delight.  It can charm almost anyone of any age (Back cover).”  In Niall MacMonagle’s words: “An inspiring, fascinating and stimulating book (Ibid).”

Bragg, Melvyn. 12 Books That Changed the World. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006.

Inspiring Quotes. (accessed April 12, 2014).

Let’s Talk!

Posted by jwoodward12

Murray Jardine’s book The Making of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself got me thinking about my church.  Let me describe for you what a typical Sunday morning service is like.  About five hundred people swarm into our large building, most arriving within a minute before (and just after) the beginning of the service.  Most walk directly into the sanctuary, only speaking to the door greeters and those passing out bulletins, sharing a brief “good morning.”  Our services are exactly one hour with no room for error, as there is only half an hour to get one group out and another in.  There are four songs played by talented musicians, a 20-minute (lightly humorous) sermon, an offering and communion, and a greet-your-neighbor moment.  And then there is rush back out to the parking lot.  I have stood in the lobby on a number of Sundays to watch people leave the service (manning an information booth on service opportunities that few take notice of). It is an amazing sight to see 500 people exit a building in a less than a minute.  In little over an hour, hundreds of Christians have done their Sunday duty, most without ever saying more than good morning to two or three people.  

Herein lies a major theme of Jardine’s book, the idea that “we must redirect our orientation at least somewhat away from vision and toward speech and hearing, and this can be done only by constructing local face-to-face communities whose people do indeed talk with each other more.”[i] Jardine suggests that at the heart of our modern Western society are two major issues: work and time.  He describes the long history of changing attitudes toward work that led to the consumer and capitalist society we have today. This further resulted in our passion to work harder and longer, which is having devastating effects on our families and our communities due to the loss of humanity and morality.  He reminds us of the importance of personal interaction in a quote from Leon Kass: “Who we are to ourselves is largely inseparable from who we are to and from others; thus, our own exercise of dignified humanity will depend crucially on continuing to receive respectful treatment from others.”[ii]  Here is where Jardine’s analysis is most thought provoking and simple: The lack of face-to-face interaction within our neighborhoods (due to urban sprawl, closed off subdivisions, separation of workplaces and shopping centers from most homes, all resulting in longer commutes) and in our families (where working long hours provides less and less actual family time) have contributed to a moral and social breakdown.  We have forgotten that who we are is not determined by what we do (work, earnings, accumulating of stuff) but by our relationships.  And today, there is just so little time for those. 

 Jardine’s solution is very simple (so simple it is rather shocking at first glance). “First of all, I argued that in order to really recapture a sense of speech-based place, we will need to reorient ourselves away from our currently intensely visual orientation toward a more oral orientation.  This is turn would required that people would spend more time actually talking to each other” (italics added).[iii] Shocking isn’t it?  The answer, he suggests, is that less work and more thoughtfully designed neighborhoods will provide greater opportunities for interaction with others, and this will have tremendous effects on personal worth and dignity, on the health and functioning of families, on values and attitudes toward material possessions.  This is because less work means more time for family, for neighbors, for community and for service.  But in order to do this, there must be a change in both our attitudes towards work and towards our neighborhoods.  Jardine writes: “Thus what is required is the formation of local communities that can put the biblical understanding of human agency into practice to develop an alternative to liberal capitalist democracy as it approaches its collapse.”[iv] 

Where is it best to formulate these alternative communities?  The answer to this is the Church.  If the Church is going to lead the way in this charge, then it needs to a place that embodies the very idea of face-to-face interaction, where people actually talk to each other, where people take time for each other.  Yes, a truly radical idea. And yet, as I look at my own church, I don’t see this!  I see instead a reflection of our disconnected culture. We have structured our worship services to accommodate our busy, modern, disconnected society, where we require no more than an hour out of one’s busy week to worship without ever having to engage with anyone.  If our deepest need as God’s creations is to “image” the divine relationship and love of the Trinity, to find dignity and direction in our involvement with others, and if the key to fixing family and morality in society is finding “speech-based space” for real interaction, then I see many of our modern churches as unable to provide a way forward for our dying and hurting society. 

My solution: Our churches should gather around tables of food on Sunday and celebrate Eucharist as the early church did, recapturing the Eucharist as a shared meal.  How often do we sit down and eat a meal with others (even strangers) that does not illicit conversation and create connection? Yet, every Sunday, my church shares in the Lord’s Supper – where we share the same cup and bread, symbolic of our deep unity and connectedness in the love of God, and yet we never say a word to those sitting next to us at the table.  Frankly, we just don’t have time to really enjoy a meal with each other!  The Church is best equipped for creating connection and community that is so desperately needed for the individual, for the family, for the neighborhood, and for the society today. But only if the Church because a place where people take time to simply talk…and care.  

John F. Woodward

     [i] Murray Jardine, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself (Grand Rapids, MI: Bronzo Press, 2004), 236.

     [ii] Ibid., 272.

     [iii] Ibid.

     [iv] Ibid., 279.

Liberal equals free

Posted by richardvolzke

Jardine explains, in his book Technological Society, that the term liberal was originally associated with one who is free. In contrast, the term conservative was used to define an individual who wanted maintain the status quo.[1] I have always considered myself a conservative, however based on this definition I realize that lean towards being liberal. The book focuses on how liberalism shapes a culture with regards to individual understanding of freedom within a society.  Jardine outlined liberal theologies seen throughout the history of the United States:  classic, reform, and neoclassical liberalism.

Classic liberalism is a system in which no government or group of individuals infringed upon an individual’s rights to worship or imposed any form of class division among groups of people.[2] This type of liberalism sought to achieve its goal by instituting a constitutional government, free-market economy with private property ownership and religious tolerance at the core. This is the system that the United States was founded upon, but unfortunately this idyllic form of society has never fully materialized. Because the country was established by Protestant middle-class Europeans with a distinct belief that hard work leads to monetary success and individual freedom, the classic system was never fully attained.[3]  If we define our freedom by “more work or more stuff”, then we aren’t really free.  Looking at corporate America today, I believe that few workers would define themselves as being free. Instead, most would say the freedom doesn’t come until retirement, if they even get to retire.

Reform liberalism suggests that the government should have more control, but this is a conflict to the capitalist economies that have developed in America and Western Europe.  In the early 19th century, many free market economies were devastated by the collapse of the U.S. and European stock markets. Karl Marx and others believed that a strong central government was the only way for society to achieve equality among all individuals. This led to the development of the Communist political system in the early 1920’s. The economic collapse in Russia, after World War I, allowed the Communist to overthrow the monarchy in Russia and establish a new social order. It is interesting that this form of liberal theology collapsed 60 years after its inception and never achieved its goals. A system that isn’t designed with Christ at the core is at a high risk for the human sin of greed and coveting to corrupt.

Neoclassical liberalism is similar to classic liberalism, but instituted in a different format. “It is based on a thoroughgoing skepticism about moral good.”[4] This system suggests that economic markets are able help people to develop moral character, as it doesn’t judge an individual in any way.  An individual has freedom to choose what’s best for him or her. Unfortunately, neoclassical liberalism has the same weakness as classic liberalism in that the system never achieves fairness across all individuals. A small handful of individuals and powerful corporations tend to influence or dictate norms to the society or culture around them.  Further, this form of liberalism is self seeking.  If each individual, government or company made choices based on what is best for themselves, there would be conflict between people and systems would collapse in disorder.  We don’t need more self-seeking people!  The world needs those who will look around them and seek to help those in need.

The Status Quo isn’t working for today’s culture.  People aren’t truly free and are being hurt by unhealthy norms that we have adopted into our culture. We have yet to find a way that dictates true freedom in society.  We spend countless resources and hours trying to fix things that are broken in our society, yet we need to instead work towards finding a way to provide freedom for individuals in our societies in a manner that doesn’t cause harm.  Jardine’s book claims that it is our inability to morally apply and use technology that has lead us to the current lack of freedom that we see in society today. He further argues that it is only Christianity that can give us the clear vision to morally create and use technology to drive positive progression for the human race.  However, for Christianity to work, it must be transformed back to the original Biblical intent of unconditional love. [5] 

For mankind to survive, we must see social and political change at a grassroots level.  We do not know what levels of stress we can place on our environment and societies before they reach breaking points, nor what amount of damage we have done that is irreversible. We see indications that we are quickly headed downward (national debt, taxes, social security, pension funds, healthcare and Medicare, etc.).  There is a general feeling of discontent and unrest as protestors are beginning to speak up, as seen with Occupy Wall Street. “Declines in income and high unemployment are not always followed by unrest. Only when economic trouble is accompanied by other elements of vulnerability is there a high risk of instability. Such factors include wide income-inequality, poor government, low levels of social provision, ethnic tensions and a history of unrest. Of particular importance in sparking unrest in recent times appears to have been an erosion of trust in governments and institutions: a crisis of democracy.”[6]  Unless entire communities and societies turn toward Christ and start living with love for one another as He has called us to do, then the damage and destruction will continue.  Our society will effectively break down.  We can no longer rely solely on technology and advances to solve the world’s problems.  It is time to move into a new era, characterized by love and respect towards humanity and the environment.  In order to do this, we must refocus the world on Christ and begin living in the manner in which God intended when He appointed us to be good stewards of His creation.  I agree with Jardine that true, uncorrupted Christianity is the ideal form of liberalism.

[1] Jardine, Murray. The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society. Brazon Press. Grand Rapids, MI. (2004). P. 30-31

[2] Ibid p. 61

[3] Ibid p. 62

[4] Ibid 103

[5] Ibid p. 14

[6] “Protesting Predictions” M.S.L.J, December 23, 2013, accessed April 8, 2014.