Tag Archives: worldview

How Big is Your Drip Line?

This week I have been enjoying the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  Based off Psalm 1, he uses the metaphor of a tree to describe the stable life.

Look at a tree on the landscape out your window and you will notice that it is shaped something like a geyser, reaching up in the single column of a trunk to spray out in limbs, most of them bending back toward the ground. Follow the downward slope of those bending branches as if they were the fluid spray of the geyser, and you can sketch out a circumference on the ground around the trunk of any tree. That circle is called the “drip line.” Without digging below the surface, it offers a pretty good sketch of how far away from a tree its roots reach for the water and nutrients it needs to flourish. Trees vary a great deal in size, and any tree, given the time, can extend its reach through growth. But it is important for the life of a tree that its extension above the surface not exceed its growth below. Stability depends on a tree knowing that its root system beneath the surface limits its capacity to send out limbs and produce fruit. In short, everything depends on the drip line. For people on the go, the root system that a drip line traces may feel more like a limit than a gift.

As a young father, I often feel like the boundaries placed on my life limit my freedom, but this metaphor reminds me that by raising my children in a Godly way, I am actually expanding my root system. To put it simply: these boundaries are expanding my capacity to produce fruit! But don’t just take my word for it:

Paul Wilkes…reflects on his resistance to limits as a young person, saying, “I bridled at restraints; I moved again and again. There was always something more out there I wasn’t finding.” For Wilkes, this led to a midlife crisis about the true meaning of freedom. “I looked upon married life and children as punishingly restrictive and certainly not a path to holiness or heroism,” he confesses. “After my devoted attempt to be a man of the world, I swerved onto other paths, believing I needed to live with the poor, then to be a monk, do some work of great value to humankind. Something out of the ordinary.” All of this frenetic searching eventually led Wilkes to what he calls a “desperately unhappy existence.” Free to pursue any life he could imagine, Wilkes found himself unable to really live.Considering the practice of stability some two decades after this crisis, Wilkes is able to name how his own salvation has depended on accepting the limits of marriage. “With two sons embarking on their teenage years and a working wife, my freedom of movement is severely restricted, my own desires secondary at best. Yet I experience some of the richest days of my life.” No longer free to do whatever he wants, Wilkes sees that he is free to love particular people whose needs he knows. To be sure, that circle of people is limited, circumscribed by the drip line of his life. But as he establishes roots of love, Wilkes can see that he is now able to grow. The boundary lines of his life and love expand as his roots grow deeper.

This book won’t stop prodding me where it hurts, insisting that the grass on the other side of the fence is just that, more grass. In the long run, it won’t taste better than this grass, and the hassle of getting stuck in–or addicted to going through–barb-wired fences is just not worth the bother.

So how big is your drip line? Is it growing as you commit to a place, and to loving the people in that place? Or is it shrinking because you run away from your problems…


Don’t Follow Me, Stay Where You Are (And Follow Me!)

Sometimes it can feel like you aren’t a very good Christian unless you are a missionary half-way across the world. In the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I found this meditation on what it means to follow Jesus in the place you live.

Just as Jesus’ movement is picking up momentum, he tells a man not to follow him. This struck me as odd the first time I noticed it. The man is naked when Jesus meets him. Stripped bare, his spiritual torment is unveiled for all to see. He is alone—without family, community, or the institutions of love that humans need to flourish…Jesus commands the demons to come out of him and go into a herd of pigs. Filled with the demons that had tormented the man, the pigs run off a cliff and into the lake. The point is clear enough: whatever just came out of this man is a force that will run living creatures to their death. When the townspeople turn back from watching the pigs splash into the lake, they see the man who had been possessed “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” No longer constantly driven to flee, this man has been healed. He is seated at the feet of the One who stands immovable. It’s an incredible contrast to the scene when Jesus first set foot on the shore and the man came running, every muscle tense. Restless and distraught before, he is now seated, in his right mind…Yet the sight of this man seated at Jesus’ feet puts fear in the people of the town. We are, after all, accustomed to our demons. Despite our frustration and occasional acts of resistance, we accommodate ourselves to the ways they limit our own lives and crush the lives of others. However terrible our demons may appear when we look them in the face, their presence along the periphery of our lives feels normal. Maybe the demons kill, but we’re often more comfortable with the frenetic forces that drive us here and there than we are with the radical new way of life that Jesus brings. The people of this little town on the other side of the lake ask Jesus to leave. Respecting their wishes, he does. But as Jesus is getting into the boat, the man who has been made whole begs to go with Jesus. His peaceful posture is disturbed by the thought of Jesus leaving. For the first time in years, he has found peace with Jesus. Like a good disciple, he wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. Indeed, he wants to follow Jesus’ feet wherever they go. But Jesus says no. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Stay where you are. In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it. Jesus delivers the demon-possessed man and then offers him the gift of stability. Maybe the single most important thing we can do if we want to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.

Many early Christian writers understood the principle of stability. For example:

Someone asked Abba Antony, “What must one do in order to please God?” After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, “In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.” Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”

I wonder how many Christians are called to stay!


Is Fair Trade Coffee Bad for Trade?

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?


How This Year’s College Students View the World

Every year Beloit College releases a list of things that this year’s college Freshmen won’t know about. The tradition started to help college teachers not use references their students would be unfamiliar with. It is called The Mindset List. This year, the mindset list has been condensed to the following infographic:

Which item surprised you the most, let us know in the comments.

Related Articles:


The Cell Phone More Important than the Car as the Badge of Adulthood

In Al Mohler’s news podcast this morning, which I recommended earlier today, there is an interesting report on a news story by Sharon Terlep in the Wall Street Journal.

Apparently the vast majority of teenagers, when pressed would prefer to have a cell phone over owning a car. Fewer than 2/3 of 18 years olds had licenses in 2008 compared to more than 80% in 1983. This is partly because of economic factors, but teenagers also appear to have other priorities. Teens who once saw the car as necessary for independence now look to digital devices for the same kind of thrill. Meanwhile many of these teenagers, and even many in their 20’s seem quite content to let mom and dad serve as chauffeurs.

Is this true in Canada as well?