I read a book not too long ago called: Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Jack Eswine. This quote stood out to me because although I am part of a Pentecostal college, it seems like sometimes modern Christians don’t believe in the supernatural:
Francis Schaeffer once asked a penetrating question: “I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” The potential of doing ministry without or contrary to God’s Spirit is real. Schaeffer’s question asks us to examine whether our weekly practice would be impacted at all if the Spirit and his appointed means of piety were removed from our ministries.
Often I wonder if most modern Christians are either practical atheists, or just deists at best. If we are honest, is Schaeffer correct?
I am preparing to record a podcast episode for my podcast Rocket to 30 about what it means to be a citizen of the world. For this reason, I am reading an economics book called “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. The book has made me question an assumption I had never thought about before: Is fair trade coffee a good idea from an economic perspective?
Fair trade coffee “seems to be a sensible way to help poor coffee growers earn more money. But the general consensus of economists is that it does not do much good and might even do some harm. Economist Victor Claar points out, ‘Fair trade coffee roughly represents just one percent of the coffee markets in the United States and Europe.’ But Claar points out an economic harm that comes from an artificial increase of the price of some coffee above what the world market will bear (that is, higher than the price set by the world supply and demand). Paying some growers a higher price than the world market price for coffee encourages them to grow more coffee than the market actually demands. Claar writes: Thus, while there is too much coffee being grown relative to global demand in general, there is also not sufficient demand to purchase, at the fair trade price, all of the coffee being grown as fair trade coffee. In both cases, there is simply too much coffee. The larger supply of coffee then depresses the price for other coffee growers that are not part of the fair-trade movement. (This is something like what occurs because of the agricultural subsidies that the United States pays to certain farmers, giving them a price above the world market price for their crops, and then ending up with surplus crops which it ‘dumps’ on the world market, depressing agricultural prices for other countries.) Claar goes on to say that artificially raising the price for coffee just prolongs the problem of too much coffee on the world market: If the fundamental problem with the coffee market is that prices are low because there is too much coffee, then it would appear that the fair trade movement may be making matters worse rather than better because it increases the incentives to grow more coffee. An additional problem is that, by paying a higher price than the world market price for coffee, the fair-trade movement encourages farmers to keep producing coffee when they would be much better off shifting to alternative crops for which there is more demand (he shows how Costa Rica shifted its production to new exports and significantly increased the value of its exports). We noted earlier that Paul Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and former director of development research at the World Bank. He writes this about fair-trade coffee (but the arguments apply to ‘fair-trade’ campaigns for other products as well): The price premium in fair trade products is a form of charitable transfer, and there is evidently no harm in that. But the problem with it, as compared with just giving people the aid in other ways, is that it encourages recipients to stay doing what they are doing—producing coffee. . . . They get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty. We agree with these economic assessments, and therefore we cannot recommend that people support the ‘fair-trade’ movement. Charitable contributions to the poor are more efficiently given by other means, and such charitable transfers will never lead to a long-term solution for world poverty.”
These arguments are complex, and in some ways, hard to understand. As I have been reading this book, I have started to wonder if fair-trade is actually something that just makes rich people feel better about how they spend their disposable income. I’m sure that companies which support these farmers are not malicious and probably have the best intentions in mind, but if it is a broken system for solving poverty on a large scale because it is hurting other growers, how should I respond if I want to be a responsible and ethical agent for change as a Christian?
While reading Charles Fernyhough’s book, A Thousand Days of Wonder: A Scientist’s Chronicle of his Daughter’s Developing Mind I came across this brilliant metaphor for reading Scripture (I bolded the part I like the most):
Athena is seventeen months old. It is January, and we are relaxing in our living room with the fire glowing. She is wearing an orange T-shirt and green cardigan with dark blue detailing. Although steady on her feet, and capable of dexterous, focused movements, she still looks more like a walking baby than a little girl. Her hair has never been cut: it is blond, silky, and straight on top, finely curled around her ears. She has set up her little wooden table and she is going to do her puzzle. There is a board with cutout shapes for twelve colorful pieces. The train has been missing for as long as we can remember, but we still have the fish, the bee, the car, the sun, the teddy bear. The animals all have cheesy, sheepish grins and wobbly outlines, drafted, like most of her toys, in faraway China. ‘Pah, pah,’ she says (for puzzle), picking up the board from the floor. With Lizzie’s help she gathers all the pieces and sits down.
She has one piece already in her hand: the horse, which she places in its horse-shaped cutout in the top right-hand corner. “Horse ‘nere.” Horse in there. She picks up the duck. “What’s that one?” Lizzie asks. “Duck. ‘Nere.” She places it in the correct slot, but it won’t settle down and she glances up at her mother with a little gasp of frustration. Then it clicks into place, and Lizzie responds: “Good girl.” Parental involvement in these routines is as much about emotional support as it is about intellectual. Positive stroking keeps her focused on the task, and, ultimately, gives her a way of managing her own emotions, independently of Mum’s tireless encouragement. Athena has found the cat. “What’s that?” Lizzie asks. “Cat… Miaouw” Their minds meet across a little colorful concept; they are sharing attention. Athena is captured by the immediacies of the objects in front of her, while Lizzie’s focus is more strategic. She wants to get things named, make connections with Athena’s other known facts. She wants to elaborate. This is not about getting a job done–no one is really interested in whether the puzzle gets finished so much as taking time to think things through in collaboration with another person. Thinking starts off like this…Thought has a social life. It connects people, and parents have a big role in ensuring that the channels stay open.“
While reading James Smith’s new book, Imagining the Kingdom I came across this brilliant thought:
“I cannot “choose” to fall asleep. The best I can do is choose to put myself in a posture and rhythm that welcomes sleep. ‘I lie down in bed, on my left side, with my knees drawn up; I close my eyes and breathe slowly, putting my plans out of my mind. But the power of my will or consciousness stops there.’ I want to go to sleep, and I’ve chosen to climb into bed—but in another sense sleep is not something under my control or at my beckoned call. ‘I call up the visitation of sleep by imitating the breathing and posture of the sleeper. . . . There is a moment when sleep ‘comes,’ settling on this imitation of itself which I have been offering to it, and I succeed in becoming what I was trying to be.’ Sleep is a gift to be received, not a decision to be made. And yet it is a gift that requires a posture of reception—a kind of active welcome.
What if being filled with the Spirit had the same dynamic? What if Christian practices are what Craig Dykstra calls ‘habitations of the Spirit’ precisely because they posture us to be filled and sanctified? What if we need to first adopt a bodily posture in order to become what we are trying to be?”