Reading List 2014

books

I’m several months late but I thought I’d share with you what has been on my reading list this year. It’s an ambitious list and may spill over into 2015. For the books I have finished I’ll include a brief review. I’d love to hear about what’s on your reading list too!

1. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
I will write a whole post on this book soon. What an interesting read! I highly recommend reading this book no matter what form of education you have chosen for your children.

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This is a quick and entertaining story about a boy, born with a severe facial birth defect, who is attending public school for the first time in his life…and at middle school no less! I picked this book up because I had heard such great things about it from teachers and parents alike. It’s a great story about good friends, facing challenges, and not allowing the difficulties we encounter define us but rather shape our character. This is will be a book my children read when they are a little bit older.

3. A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling
An autobiography about one of the primary student leaders of the Tienanmen Square protests and the massacre that followed. She shares her whole story from childhood to present day. I found the section about the events at Tienanmen Square the most interesting mainly because I knew so little about the uprising and the politics involved. Ling flees China as a most wanted fugitive and eventually becomes a Christian and starts an exciting and legitimate foundation to fight female gendercide in China.

4. Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
I’m almost finished with this book but the chapter I’m currently on is the most convicting and personally challenging so I’ve slowed down my reading a lot in order to process the conviction I’m feeling. Too often I read a good book and the information remains just that, information…head knowledge. Hatmaker’s writing is enjoyable, very funny, and approachable. She does not use guilt or flowery language to cajole her reader into making changes. She simply and honestly shares her experiences and thoughts and leaves the reader to make their own personal applications. That’s what I’m trying to do.

5. Just Moms Complied by Melanie Springer Mock & Rebekah D. Schneiter
I stumbled across this book accidentally at church and I’m SO glad I did. I thought it was going to be a “How To” book about conveying the ambiguous concepts of justice to our children. Instead it is a compilation of (mostly) blog posts from (mostly) Mennonite and Quaker authors who (mostly) live in the Pacific Northwest and are wrestling with how to teaching their children how to love, live, and think like Jesus, namely how to care for the least, our environment, and live a life of non-violence. They don’t give five steps to make your kids love justice, they just share their daily revelations and struggles. I found each chapter encouraging and refreshing and while I didn’t always agree with the authors I longed to discuss the ideas with someone. This would be a great book for a moms’ or parents’ group to read and discuss.

6. Pursuing Justice by Ken Wystma
After Kris’s great review of this book here how could I not add it to my reading list? 😉

7. Stiff by Mary Roach
Somewhere, I think on NPR, I heard a great review of this book and it’s a New York Times Bestseller. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

8. The Beloved Disciple by Beth Moore
Okay, confession time, I have never done a Beth Moore bible study or read one of her books. Gasp! Since I’m still here typing and not burnt to a crisp from a lightening bolt I’m guessing that despite what our Christian culture might think that’s not a mortal sin. But seriously I don’t have anything against BM, I just have never had the opportunity to participate in one of her studies. I’ve heard great things and I found this book on my mother-in-law’s collection so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about, plus I’ve always wanted to do a study on John.

9. The Educated Child by Bennett, Finn, Jr., Cribb, Jr.
I may not read this whole book. It’s thick…like 600+ pages! I intend to use it more like a reference book as my kids dive further into the public education system. I am SO thankful for the great school they go to and the unique education they are getting BUT just because they are going to school doesn’t mean that I don’t have a huge role to play in their education. I want to use this book to help guide me as I fill in the gaps and hopefully help my children be well educated children.

10. Overrated by Eugene Cho
Our community group voted to read this book together. We will discuss chapter one next week. I listened to his TEDx talk and am excited to work through this book as a group. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, he is pretty hard hitting from the beginning, but usually growth isn’t easy.

11. Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Our church is in the midst of a huge transition and this book feels like an appropriate read.

12. The Mary Russell Series by Laurie R. King
These books are my purely for pleasure books. I’m part of a little book club (very little, as in two people) and this is the current series we are reading and discussing. Sherlock Holmes has retired and taken to bee keeping and solving the occasional mystery for his brother. He crosses paths with an orphaned and outcast teenage girl (Mary) whose wit and insightfulness just might match his own. They form a partnership and eventually a friendship while they recover kidnapped children, evade murderers, and prevent political coups.
King is a smart writer who really does her homework. Even though I am reading for pleasure I feel like I am learning with these books. The series is long so we are just reading a few:
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Letter of Mary,O Jerusalem, The Game, Pirate King
I’m currently on The Game, which also happens to be my favorite so far.

13. The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
These are fast reads, somewhere in the genre with The Hunger Games but not as well written or compelling. The first book is by far the best. I read all the books because I was hoping they would continue to improve with each book. Sadly they don’t. Again, entertaining but little more. The movie for the first book is comes out this month.

The Commune Table

Here’s what we ate this last week with recipes or links whenever possible.

Monday–Cilantro Lime Chicken Salad (see recipe below) and Fresh Fruit Salad.

Tuesday–Chicken and Black Bean Soup, Chips

Wednesday–Cheesy Kale Stuffed Zucchini, French Bread
Recipe changes: Instead of turkey I used 10 pieces of bacon, baked and crumbled  up. Yum!

Thursday–Caprese Grilled Chicken, Green Beans

Friday–Leftovers

Saturday–Potstickers and Fried Rice

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken Salad
2 chicken breasts, well seasoned with Montreal Steak Seasoning (or something similar)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 head butter lettuce, chopped
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 can black beans, rinsed

Grill the chicken and slice. Toss all other ingredients into a big bowl. Top with dressing (see below).

Cilantro Lime Dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 TBS lime juice (more or less to taste)
2 TBS  red wine vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (depending on how much you like it)
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix until smooth and yummy.

Welcome Back…To Me!

It’s been a long time since I (Nikki) wrote a blog post, since March 2012 to be exact! Kris has added a lot of great content to this blog in the last two and a half years, including a new name. There have been times when I’ve been tempted to write a post but my menus and little everyday posts seemed insignificant posted next to posts about fighting malaria and social justice.

But I’ve missed writing regularly…okay, semi-regularly. I have quite a list of things I want to share with you from amazing books I’ve read to fun menu ideas. So Kris and I will attempt to merge our writing styles and create a balanced blog that represents both of us. Can it be done? Is it possible? I guess we will see! 

Ending Slavery

Last week, many came together to “Shine a Light on Slavery”, and raise awareness of the need to end slavery. It was encouraging to see how much support there was for the #enditmovement, echoing the call fight against slavery. A key part of awareness is going beyond just knowing that an issue exists, but understanding the causes and impacts. I know I am little late, but I thought I would try participate by doing a short post about slavery, and the causes and effects of slavery.

Causes

Modern day slavery is a particularly symptomatic issue. You can’t cure an illness with a fever by taking a cold bath, you have to determine what is actually causing the illness. Likewise, it is easy to think that we just need to go in free people from slavery, without understanding how they get caught up in slavery and stay there.

While precise numbers of slaves over time is difficult to obtain, most researches believe that there are more slaves now than any point in history. This is an anomaly among world maladies. We live in world with declining poverty rates, declining crime rates, and declining war and conflicts. Why has slavery grown at the same time? This question gives us a clue to the causes. In fact there are some growing global concerns that are clear causes of modern slavery.

First, modern slavery has been heavily driven by the sex industry. Now it would be difficult to make any verifiable claim that we have become more sexually driven than in the past; throughout history men have always been driven to depravity by their sexual desires. However, the sex industry has grown tremendously through the modern accessibility of transportation and the visual exploitation of women through internet pornography. The objectification of women has pervaded our societies, but it vastly easier now.

Second, unlike the slaves of centuries past, the majority of modern slaves are in debt bondage. This means that rather than being caught and held in slavery by physical force, modern slaves are often caught, enticed, and trapped through economic means. Poverty is widely understood to be the one of the biggest factors leading to slavery. Poverty alone doesn’t provide a complete economic explanation, though. Poverty makes people vulnerable to slavery, but large inequality means that the wealth and power exists to easily enslave those in poverty (rather than help them). And indeed, while global poverty has been gradually declining, inequality, probably a more correlated factor behind slavery, has been steadily increasing by most measures.

Together these two forces make a very simple formula for devastating consequences. Simple put, when there are women in poverty who are desperately trying to feed themselves and their family, and there are men who view them as inferiors, as objects and have the wealth to satisfy their desires, preying on them, the result is inevitable. Any society that objectifies and treats women as inferior and accepts extreme economic inequality is almost guaranteed to have a thriving slavery or sex trade.

As we seek to battle slavery, let us work to both provide direct, rescuing and protecting, as well as to fight more against the causes of slavery, pursuing more egalitarian societies that will not breed slavery.

Purchasing

The issue of slavery has also increased awareness of buying decisions. Certainly this has been valuable movement, encouraging and putting pressure on companies to use more ethical supply chains is helping to reduce slavery. However, this can be easily go wrong as well. Avoiding products can actually have negative consequences as well. Because many are enslaved due to economic shortfalls, decreased economic activity only worsens the situation. Slavery may deny people the full benefit of their productivity, but zero economic interchange can be even worse. While ethical supply chains are ideal, and some organizations are even specifically employing those rescued from slavery. But, simply choosing to prefer international products from developing countries over domestic products is the single simplest decision we can make between different products that benefit those prone to slavery. Or even more productive is to forgo spending, to give to organizations working to fight slavery.

End It

There are numerous causes of slavery that abound in our world, and many of them are complex and difficult to battle. However, for now, I will echo the voices of the #enditmovement, shining a light on slavery, and hopefully raising a little bit of awareness of how we should and can work to battle this oppression.

Our Utmost for His Lowest (a new name)

We thought it would be fun and perhaps helpful to give our a blog a new title. Our new name, “Our Utmost for His Lowest”, is probably recognized by many as play off of the famous devotional by Oswald Chambers (“My Utmost for His Highest). This is title is not intended to be a parody of or derogatory towards this great Christian literary work, but rather it is intended to pay tribute to giving our utmost for God’s highest glory by focusing on the complementary concept of God’s glory being manifested through care for the lowest, weakest, and most vulnerable of His creation. Almost paradoxically, the King of Kings equates actions done to the least of these, as done to him, and calls the least the greatest in his Kingdom. If we follow Oswald Chamber’s exhortation to be “determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone”, we believe that this must lead to obedience to Christ, who directed us to care for the poor and sick, free the oppressed, and reach the unreached.

This title is aimed at describing the goal of most of the posts here. However, this contents of this blog don’t strictly adhere to any specific subject (or timetable for that matter), nor do we intend for them to. But, the topics that we do tend to think about, research, and end up writing often can described by this title in a some way. We believe that loving and obeying God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”, by helping the weak, means more than just occasionally giving to a charity, but trying to give our “utmost” of our thoughts, resources, money, and energy. And following the Biblical principles of the least being the greatest, and what we do for the least being for Jesus, this leads us to not just give to any how are poor or weak, but to research and seek to help the very lowest of the most vulnerable.

And finally, we believe that this Biblical vision is not intended for mere isolated individual pursuit, but is intended to be pursued collectively, in community. We hope that we can together, give “*Our* Utmost for His Lowest.”

This concept of community is perhaps one of the main reasons why I do blog. This blog is not intended to suggest that we have already arrived at all (or pretty much any) of the answers, nor that we are appreciably living according to this principles on our own. In fact, to the opposite, I believe in writing because I believe we need each other, that in engaging and putting thoughts into writing, I can grow and learn from you. I have experienced much of my growth and maturity through reading, and blogs are a particularly powerful medium since they allow direct interaction with the writer. Our writings should be considered as our efforts at learning together in community, and we welcome dialogue and feedback from you, both affirming and critical. I believe that thoughts need to be criticized and defended to be tested, so I welcome any input you provide.

Freedom and Immigration

For a moment, consider what type of situation would drive you to get up and move to a different country? For most of us, unless their was a strong appeal of adventure or a cause, being faced with moving away from friends and family, all that we are familiar with, and being faced with learning a new language, culture, and starting over from scratch would be a painful prospect. Surely for many, it would take a dire circumstances. Perhaps being so desperate for work, and faced with a starving family, you might consider this? Or if you had a child that was in need in medical help that couldn’t be found where you lived?

A number of evangelical organizations have called for today to be a day of prayer and action for immigration reform. I thought I would try to participate and contribute by writing a short blog post on the subject. In writing this blog post, I wanted to draw our attention to consider the thoughts and aspirations of people around the world. Immigration is a contentious subject, many want to secure our borders to ensure that the rule of law is properly enforced. Others are focused on providing a path to citizenship for those who are here without any personal decision to break the law. Fortunately there is hope that a growing movement towards a bipartisanship solution that both recognizes the importance of consistently enforced laws, and values the dignity of those who are here and contributing to our society without any willful efforts to break laws. However, I am writing this post as an encouragement to not just look at these proposals from the perspective from how it will affect you or me, but from the perspective of those throughout the world. As we consider immigration by putting ourselves in others shoes, and how we might look at America from the outside, from a global perspective, from God’s perspective, I believe it should not only shed light on these hot topics, but point us towards changes that are needed that are rarely even discussed.

Certainly one of the most prized values in America is freedom. The high value placed on freedom has been primary in shaping our country, from social structures, government design, to our economy. America’s economy in particular, has had a history of being characterized by giving people the freedom to innovate and work hard to create something of value and to reap the benefits of their work and creativity. And this experiment in economic freedom has been nothing short of a spectacular success. America’s economy over the last century has revolutionized how we live in a way that has no equal in history. Now they are certainly problems with America’s economy, and economics is far more complicated than simply reducing rules (sometimes lack of certain regulations and interventions actually inhibit opportunity and freedom), but in general our economy, designed around the principle of giving people the freedom and opportunity to choose how and what they will do to innovate and contribute has been an incredibly productive system.

One of the most fundamental tenets of such a free economy is ensuring minimal barrier for people to take advantage of opportunities they see to work and participate. Taking advantage of opportunity can involve many things, but certainly one of them is the freedom to move to where opportunity exists. And domestically, America has basically always given its people freedom to move and find work where it exists. Restrictions on movement of laborers represents not only a economic drag, but a fundamental violation of the principle of giving people freedom to work, contribute, and innovate. And immigration restriction is exactly that type of violation of freedom. Giving freedom of movement at the state level, yet arbitrarily creating heavy restrictions at the national level represents an inconsistent, hypocritical treatment of the principles of freedom. Every visa denied, at least at economic level, represents a deterioration in the free global market, and a strike against another human’s opportunity to pursue using their God-given talents to create value.

When we, as a country, welcome an immigrant, we are taking our commitment to freedom seriously, and treating freedom as a value worth affording to every human, not just those born on US soil. We are giving a person, or a family a new opportunity, and making good on our claim to be the land of opportunity. As the great economist J.K. Galbraith said:

‘Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people to resist so obvious a good?’

Many fear the effects of immigration, but in reality, freedom of movement makes us all stronger. Some fear crime related to immigration, despite the fact that research has shown that immigration does not increase crime. Immigration gives us more of opportunity to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the culture and nations of the world, as well as diversifies our economy.

But more importantly immigration needs to be viewed not from the narrow perspective of just how we fear it may affect ourselves, but we need to consider the perspective of others. Again, what dire situation, or great opportunity might drive you to move to a different country? Anyone willing to face the incredible challenges of moving to another country has a tremendous drive for something better, for himself and for others, and this is exactly what we need to be rewarding. If we truly believe it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are created equal, we must treat freedom as a value worthy of every person, not just Americans.

This is not just philosophical argument. The Bible also continually commends welcoming immigrants. The Hebrew word for immigrant is “ger” (also translated to alien, stranger, and sojourner), and is mentioned 92 times in the OT. One of the clearest articulation of God’s concern for immigrants is found in Deuteronomy 10:17-19:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Another key principle Biblical principle for countries is importance of generosity. The Bible continually teaches us to be givers, and without delineation between individual giving and collective giving. In fact, in Ezekiel, Sodom is specifically condemned for their lack of generosity (despite usually being known for their sexual immorality):

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” – Ezek 16:49

It turns out that by far the most generous people in our society, in terms of sending money abroad, is our immigrants. Remittances, the transfer of funds by immigrants back to their country (usually to their family), far outweighs all international charitable contributions of all our charities combined. Immigrants make us a voluntarily more generous country.

In the debates about securing borders vs paths to citizenship, unfortunately it seems little is being said to advocate for simply allowing more visas, increasing the flow of immigration, and reducing excessive government restriction on the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, or even just a decent paying job to feed your family.

But, as I try to defend the alien, the poor in other countries, my post is a probably poor ramblings in comparison to the powerful and convicting words found at the pedestal at the Statue of Liberty:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Generous Countries are Happier

Generous people tend to be joyful people, and I think there is good evidence that the same is true of countries.

GivingJoy

I wanted to test this idea, so I created this graph of countries by their giving percentage and their happiness index (based on a number of measures of satisfaction). Further right are more generous countries, and higher up are happier countries. This isn’t a perfect correlation, the surveys for giving (based on development assistance) and happiness (based on a UN survey/research project) are certainly not perfectly precise or complete, and correlation doesn’t prove causation. But still, this does seem to show that more generous countries are generally more joyful.

To note some of the significant countries on this graph, on the upper right, Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) are distinctly the most generous countries in the world with aid, and also top the list of the happiest, most satisfied countries. On the bottom left there are some countries that still are struggling with developing, but there are also a few nations that stand out as being rather stingy despite being wealthy: Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Greece. And these countries have relatively low life satisfaction/happiness ratings (particularly in comparison to nations of similar wealth). It is also worth noting that the United States tends to have higher levels of private giving that aren’t recorded in this graph. While the US totals would still probably fall far short of the total giving of Scandinavians, it probably is closer to the middle-to-right in terms of giving than it appears on the graph (and more in line with our mid-to-upper level happiness).

The List: Mission Driven Political Advocacy

Yesterday we talked about how to prioritize which political issues to advocate. Today I promised to share my list with you.

Again, I recognize the limitations of my approach. There is still a lot of subjective analysis. Feel free to apply these in your own ways if you disagree with my assessment, I’d love to hear how you would assess them. Still I’d hope that it gives an insight in to how to prioritize. I have used this approach as a way to assess and prioritize what I want to invest in, since I believe it is a good guide to where I can most effectively bring real change aligned with God’s vision. This list is ordered from highest to lowest priority (so if you quit reading half way through, at least you will have read the highest).

High Priority

Global Poverty Reduction Efforts

  1. Globally 1.7 billion are destitute; in absolute poverty, about 18 million die each year
  2. Crippling impact on life and opportunities, many die
  3. Large opportunity for impact. American spends about $25 billion on total development assistance, a subset of that is specifically for those in absolute poverty (a tiny portion of the federal budget), not a strong partisan issue, both conservatives and liberals have championed this. There are numerous well-understood proven efforts that we know can save lives, and do save millions of lives each year. Groups that are advocating in this area have had very significant influence on policies.

Global Human Rights Protection
This encompasses human trafficking, religious persecution, and gender inequality.

  1. There are currently between 10 and 27 million in slavery, millions have some religious persecution (some estimate roughly 100,000 – 200,000 a year killed for their faith), gender equality affects billions of women, about 1 million females die each year because of gender inequalities leading to neglect or direct abuse and death.
  2. Huge life impact, slavery, particularly slavery, is tremendous violation of a person, near death.
  3. Good opportunity for impact. Impact can be made through legislation, diplomatic efforts, and education ($60 million dollars is spent on the combating trafficking agency, a tiny line item on federal budget). This tends to be a non-partisan issue and some aspects haven’t received much attention. However, concrete steps to solving this problem can sometimes be elusive, we can only do so much to change laws in other countries, for example. Also fighting poverty is a key part of mitigating some of these issues.

International Economic Issues
This issue covers the various international policy injustices that keep developing countries trapped in poverty, including tax havens, trade injustice, and national debt. It is estimated that as much as $500 billion a year is lost from developing countries and transition economies due to tax avoidance.

Tax havens rob developing countries of tens of billions of dollars, and debt relief. The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates subsidies and protectionism costs $24 billion in lost agricultural income for developing countries, which is the primary income source for the poorest (here is my post on this subject). Sub-Saharan Africa pays almost $13 billion in debt service to the wealthy nations and institutions every year, undermining their ability to meet basic health care needs.

  • Similar to global poverty in extent, over one billion affected
  • Significantly impact on life and opportunities
  • Somewhat limited opportunity for impact. These topics are rarely discussed, and advocacy can have a tremendous impact. But, our efforts can be somewhat limited due to the fact that these often involve international multi-lateral agreements to make a strong difference.

Medium Priority

Immigration
This is issue covers to what extent we are supportive of the immigrant population in America.

  1. Immigration provides an amazing opportunity for someone to go from poverty to real success. However, perhaps one of the most compelling and telling metrics in the story of immigration is remittances. Remittances are monies sent from foreign workers to their home country. The self-sacrificial support that foreign workers provide families in their home countries is enormous and has tremendous benefits on the recipients well-being and economic development. There is about $60 billion sent from the US to Latin American countries alone, supporting probably 10 million families. This is vastly more than all international charitable contributions combined. Encouraging and supporting immigration has a tremendous benefit for these families, and crackdowns on immigration have vast implications on human suffering due to the loss of these remittances.
  2. Those that have have immigrated are typically in desperate economic situations, and the employment and benefits are crucial for health, education, etc.
  3. Limited opportunity for impact. Unfortunately this is a deeply partisan issue, and is quite difficult to change policies on this issue. However, the ramifications are relatively clear, and it should certainly be a consideration in voting though.

Environmental Protection

  1. Everyone is affected by global warming to some degree, although it may be very slight for many, especially most Americans.
  2. This is another issue where the affects are predominantly outside our borders. America’s economy is composed of industries that are less sensitive to climate change, many people have A/C, and thus far our climate has seen relatively small changes compared to the rest of the world (2012, notwithstanding). However, the World Health Organization estimates 150,000 deaths per year can be attributed to global warming, and that this could double by 2030. This has impact beyond the human toll if we consider God’s creation to be of intrinsic worth as well (a more philosophical question).
  3. Limited opportunity for impact. Again, this is a deeply entrenched issue, but a consideration in voting.

Deficit Reduction

  1. Currently we are accruing roughly $1 trillion (more during the recession, less in a normal economy) in debt a year, which has economic consequences that affect almost everyone.
  2. The current deficit comes out to about $3,100 of financial burden per person per year. The current national debt is $16 trillion, which is about $51,000 of financial burden per person.
  3. Very limited opportunity for impact. The goal of reducing the deficit is a bi-partisan goal, basically everyone wants to reduce it. Yet basically everyone has different objections to the means by which we might reduce it, making it very difficult to actually achieve. Simple partisan voting is generally fruitless here, since both sides want to reduce the deficit. But, we can be guided how to reduce the deficit in a just way, and who will bear the biggest impact for deficit reducing measures, the poor, the rich, the military, etc.?

Healthcare

  1. Affects almost everyone to some degree, but biggest impact on uninsured.
  2. One way to measure health would be to compare with health in other developed countries. Most highly developed countries have life expectancy of 2-4 years longer per person than America, and some have half the infant mortality rate. Achieving the efficacy and breadth of healthcare available in other nations could possibly add a total of nearly a billion extra years of life to those currently living, and save about 14,000 infants per year.
  3. Limited opportunity for impact. Another highly visible, entrenched issue that is difficult to affect. Should be considered in voting though.

Programs for Domestic Poverty

This covers programs like food stamps, WIC, unemployment benefits, and EIC.

  1. About 46 million use food stamps, about 4.5 million on non-social security benefits
  2. Financial benefits that can be important for adequate nutrition and shelter.
  3. Limited opportunity for impact. Another issue that is difficult to affect. Should be considered in voting though.

Low Priority

Again, many of these are important and symbolic issues, but due to their limited scope or limited opportunity for impact, are characterized lower in my focus on quantified measurements.

Unemployment/Domestic Economics

  1. 12 million unemployed, 300 million people affected by the economy
  2. Economics impacts peoples’ finances to some degree. Those that are unemployed are financially impacted deeply, although it rarely leads to death in America.
  3. Extremely limited opportunity for impact. Everyone already wants a better economy and lower unemployment, and economic ideologies are deeply entrenched, and many economic issues are highly technical. Political rhetoric has lead many to believe that one party can fix the economy, but such claims ridiculously overstated, and any given policy makers influence on the economy is very limited, even the executive branch, and only one of thousands of factors that affect our economy. Again, partisan votes shouldn’t expect much better results from any one party.

There are numerous other issues that I would categorize as lower priority. Remember these may still be very important issues, but I am suggesting that they are relatively lower priority than the issues at the top. Issues like gay rights/marriage definition are important, but the breadth and severity of their impact is far less than the issues above (denying or allowing marriage licenses doesn’t result in death). Abortion receives a huge amount of attention from the right, even though it is largely a judicial or state issue, not something decided by elected federal leaders. Domestic religious protection is important as well, but the types of issues we debate in America (contraceptive mandates, school prayer, etc) are trivial in comparison to the types of religious persecutions mentioned in the global human rights issue.

Also, while I have certainly given lower priority to issues that I see as deeply entrenched, we must still remember faith in God’s often leads us to work for the impossible. While I believe that we should be strategic in recognizing potential for success, we also must reject apathy and discouragement that may come from not looking up to God who can ultimately accomplish anything.

Using Prioritization

With prioritization in mind, hopefully we can then proceed to channel our efforts and even assess candidates with much greater focus and clarity. I know that there are numerous other issues that could be assessed with this approach, as well as limitless ways of categorizing. This list is merely an example based on my perspective, and I would love to hear how you would measure other issues, or how you would assign different priorities to the issues I listed. Again, I hope it is clear that prioritization is not based on what is best for me. It is based on how we can be an effective instrument for bringing relief and support for those who are disadvantaged. I hope and pray that in stepping back and prioritizing, we may fully engage in pursuing God’s vision, a vision of a people glorifying Him as they defend the cause of the poor, feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger, both here and abroad.

Biblical Principles for Politics, Part 2

Continuing our discussion from yesterday… 

Humility

Again, this is a theme with too many verses to count, but probably a great summary verse would be Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” Not only does the Bible give us direction about where to focus our advocacy, it also directs how to do it: with humility. As long as we pursue political gain by mocking, through arrogant insults, through derision, we are not walking in the way of Christ, who humbled himself to the point of death (Phil 2:8).

Much attention is given to the negativity and derisive nature of political campaigns. However, this is merely a reflection of the citizens that they are appealing to, and how they act and what they are drawn to. Unfortunately, those who identify themselves as Christians do not seem to be above the fray. Many church-goers are just as quick to mock and deride politicians and candidates, and lower themselves into the mire of political bickering.

Let me take this opportunity to try apply this principle myself. I certainly don’t suggest that these posts are an error-free exposition of the Bible. This is just my attempt at faithfully applying scriptures, and assuredly I’m probably wrong on many levels. Its my intention to be respectful towards all our leaders and candidates, and I offer my apologies to any I have disrespected. I merely hope that I can provide a small piece of perspective that can contribute to a respectful dialogue on important issues.

Holiness

Holiness, the concept of a way of living, set apart by its distinct approach from the world, is another major Biblical theme. However, we must recognize that this concept isn’t just an arbitrary idea God decided to implement, but is designed to glorify God by demonstrating the wisdom of God, as a set apart people live out his principles (Eph 3:10). God is glorified when people, voluntarily choose to follow his ways, and experience the harmony and goodness that results.

However, I believe many of us apply this concept to politics in a backwards fashion. Attempting to coerce or have government endorsement to push people towards the behavior of holiness undermines the central purpose of this Biblical concept since it blurs the distinction of the set apart people. Only when people freely choose to walk in God’s holiness, is the distinct contrast of holy living truly made visible.

Christ’s Kingship

Another key theme of the Bible is the centrality of Christ. The old testament looks forward to and foreshadows his coming reign, and the new testament delivers and applies his teaching. Specifically the old testament focuses its narrative on a chosen nation, Israel, to be the reflection and conduit of his God’s grace that would demonstrate His glory and invite the nations to enjoy it. Part of this narrative was the Davidic line of kings. The OT is laden with prophecies that point this story forward. God clearly intended his people, Israel, to be expanded to all who follow him, and include all ethnicities. And even more prophecies point to the line of kings to culminate with the Messiah. Jesus ultimately fulfilled this, becoming the true and final king of Israel. Today, Israel is those that would submit to his authority.

There are some key implications to Christ’s sole, authoritative, and eternal kingship over the kingdom that had grown out of the seeds of Israel. First, we must understand that the theocracy of the old testament- the rules, regulations, commandments, ordinances, and even principles- are backed by the authority of God’s kingdom alone (and contextualized to a certain people). To hand the enforcement of these rules over to an earthly kingdom simply because “the Bible says so” is to misunderstand the line of authority, and risks the subversive act of give authority that is rightly God’s to an earthly kingdom that has not inherited such a constitution. It contradicts Biblical teaching on the line of authority to assert that biblical commandments must be enforced by an earthly government. No national law is good or bad because it matches or doesn’t match or reiterate a commandment in the Bible.

Not only did Christ inherit and define his kingdom as distinct from earthly kingdoms, he sought to govern in a way that is dramatically different than the standard governmental approach. Normal governments must ultimately rely on some type of threat of harm to deter it’s citizens from ignoring laws in order to protect each other. Governments act in power-over role to provide its services of protecting it’s citizens. Jesus on the other hand demonstrated a rule characterized by submissive servanthood. He taught and demonstrated service to those that were following him and acted in humility, ultimately allowing himself to be crucified. This is a kingdom intentionally built on principles of leadership dramatically different than the world’s. Engaging this in public policy is naturally tricky without falling into the politics and practices of coercion.

These principles provide some constraints of both the extent to which we influence government and the role of government itself. However, the Bible doesn’t condemn government.

Role of Government

The Bible says very little about explicitly what governments should do. To be certain, governments are not an end themselves, in the Bible. They are simply a tool, and their purpose is defined by our greater vision that God has given us. However, Romans 13 does provide some small insights into the role God has ordained appropriate for governments, as it is the most direct teaching in the new testament on the role of the government. This passage doesn’t say a lot about the exactly what the government is supposed to do, but it does indicate that we are to submit to governments as legitimate, ruling authorities. As a legitimate authority, there are two activities ordained: punishing crime, and gathering taxes (and thus implicitly distributing them appropriately).

What Romans 13 doesn’t say about the government is also important. It doesn’t indicate that it must enforce every moral standard of the Bible, it doesn’t suggest building large militaries, and it doesn’t even suggest protecting religious freedom. That doesn’t mean the government can’t or shouldn’t pursue these things, but the ordained activities should certainly advise what we hope to accomplish and focus on through the government.

Like other things in our life that the Bible doesn’t give us definite directions for, a proper view of the government is to view it as an instrument or tool. Like a screwdriver that can be used to construct a dwelling or stab someone, the screwdriver itself isn’t good or bad, it is the result of how it is used that is good or bad. We must not force the Bible to say more than what it really says about the government, the government’s role must be treated pragmatically. A law isn’t good because it matches an Biblical command (again using this is a basis subverts Christ’s authority), it is good if produces a beneficial outcome for society based on God’s vision, His mission. This might sound like minor semantics, but there’s a major difference in the real world of public policy. With God’s mission being central, we must consider the potential outcome or fruit of different possible policies and priorities. Many political endeavors have seemed very moral, but have little to no chance of actually bearing any real fruit.

Loving People Over Ideology

The central theme of Jesus’s ethic was loving God and your neighbor. This care for others trumps everything else, including political parties and affiliations. In the Kingdom of God, people are more important than ideologies. This is was vividly demonstrated when Jesus challenged the Pharisees about their understanding of the Sabbath on multiple occasions. Quite simply, the pharisees had come to understand that observing the Sabbath was an ideology of God that they must not deviate from. Jesus shattered this notion, asking them “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm”? The Sabbath existed for the purpose of benefiting people, not as an end in itself. What Christ demonstrated here was again that ideologies are only tools, and we must be ultimately concerned with whether a policy will benefit the welfare of others, rather than whether it matches the ideology of our culture.

We must also remember that we are people of with limited time and money. There are only so many battles that we can effectively fight. If we really care about achieving meaningful goals, it requires that we prioritize. When politics is not serving such purposes, it quickly devolves into ideological battles that accomplish nothing. Consequently I would suggest that even more important than being “right” on every issue, is prioritization, understanding where we can really make a difference. If you care more about winning arguments than prioritizing it isn’t important. But if you care about really benefiting people, we need to know on what issues we can make a difference and focus on them.

In the next post, I will try to look at what how we might prioritize our advocacy and involvement when we are driven by God’s vision.

Fight Malaria!

Today is World Malaria Day and I want to encourage you to take action.

Did you know that malaria is among the leading causes of child death globally, causing more than 2,000 child deaths per day? That means that a child dies every 45 seconds of malaria. Nearly 90% of those deaths occur in Africa. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is the second leading cause of death for children.  

Malaria can be prevented and treated using inexpensive, proven interventions. However, for the hundreds of millions of people, these life-saving interventions remain unaffordable and inaccessible. 

I strongly encourage you to take a minute today and donate to any number of organizations that provide mosquito nets and life saving medication. As little as $10 can save a life!

Here are a couple quick links (but you could also just type “World Malaria Day” into your search engine).
World Vision
Malaria No More
UNICEF

Also, would you consider joining me in asking Congress to fulfull our comittment to battle this leading cause of child deaths? If so, you can click the link below: 

https://secure2.convio.net/wv/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=231

Thank you so much for taking the time to join the fight against Malaria. If you do join the fight today, would you post it on Facebook or Tweet about it? Thanks!