Worth Reading - 3/31

1. About the time we think the political situation is completely irreconcilable and we are stuck with years of belligerent railing, the Democratic Committee of Lynchburg, VA put out the letter to the editor below. It's good to see two distinct thoughts as they refuse to organize protests for Trump's visit to Liberty University for graduation: a. Protests are only appropriate when they are targeted at the subject of concern. In this case, the committee recognizes that the grandmother of the Liberty graduate is the one most effected by a protest and the least beneficial target; b. Activism in the community is better focused at productivity rather than trying to impede the progress of innocents. This is a good sign and a much appreciated effort by these individuals.

The Lynchburg Democratic Committee is organizing a Day of Action in Lynchburg on May 13, full of community service opportunities for willing volunteers. Rather than waving signs at grandparents attempting to get onto campus, we will be planting flowers, painting and picking up trash elsewhere in the city. We will take our emotions, our energy and our protest to communities most likely to be hurt by the actions of this federal administration.

We will go high. We will stay out of the way so the students can have their day. We were asked, “When will Lynchburg have another opportunity to protest” this guy? The answer is November 2020. May 13, 2017, is simply not about him, nor does he deserve to have it made so.

Graduation is not about the speaker. Graduation is a day to celebrate the hard work, sacrifices, and educational achievement of students. It is their day to celebrate with their families. We will not stand down to this federal administration. We will stand up for these students who have earned a diploma.

2. Many Americans believe they live in a world without slavery. While black chattel slavery may be a thing of the past in the U.S., the present reality for many--including many children--is continued worldwide slavery. This short article and photo essay by AlJazeera is powerful, and should help motivate us as we continue to fight against this global injustice.

On the West Coast of Africa, thousands of children are sold by their families, often for as little as $30. In exchange, they are offered the vague promise of a better life for their child. But what actually awaits is a life of slavery. The children endure physical and psychological abuse as they work from dawn until dusk far from their homes.

As part of its child protection programmes, UNICEF develops strategies to prevent trafficking, as well as working with local organisations to identify and care for those children who have already been trafficked. Alongside governments, civil society and NGOs, it provides medical, psychological and social care to rescued children, as well as facilitating access to education, vocational training and job opportunities.

NGOs Mensajeros de la Paz in Cotonou, Benin, and Carmelitas Vedruna in the Togo capital Lome, and Misioneros Salesianos in Kara and Lome, Togo, have cared for hundreds of child victims of slavery. By February 2017, these organisations between them had successfully reintergrated 1,527 children into communities.

3. A recent scientific study shows a correlation between reading and a longer life. This post from Smithsonian Magazine helps unpack the findings of the study.

A new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine suggests that elderly people who read books have what authors call “a survival advantage” over those who don’t. Researchers used information from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study, a large public resource on adults 50 years and older in the United States, to tease out correlations between reading and longevity.

The study includes a survey on activities that categorized aging adults’ reading habits. The researchers gave participants a reading score that characterized the amount of time they spent reading books or periodicals per week. They also assessed participants’ cognitive engagement using scores that take the ability to perform cognitive tasks, like counting backward from 20, into consideration. Then, they matched up each participant to information in the National Death Index, a central database of the names of people who died based on state reporting.

After poring over data from 3,635 participants and adjusting for factors like age, sex, race and education, researchers found that 27 percent of respondents who replied that they had read a book within the last week during the survey had died during 12 years of the study, compared to 33 percent of people who did not read books. People who read books lived an average of 23 months longer than those who did not. The amount of time people spent reading seemed to matter too: People who read up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely.

4. Jonathan Leeman posted a nuanced and helpful discussion of justice and racial relations. This is an essay that legitimately advanced the discussion and deserves attention. Leeman offers a corrective to both the narrow focus on the system and on the individual. Take the time to read it.

A just law and just government will uphold the inherent equality of every human’s dignity and worth.

In a society of angels, this is easy to affirm and implement. It’s much harder in a society of sinners.

One man spends his life making wise decisions, another man foolish decisions. The first offers his family a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood, the other abandons his children. The children of the first man enjoy health care, a good education, the benefits of their father’s Ivy League alumni status, and access to his network of friends with job offers. The children of the second are statistically more likely to end up in prison or on drugs.

And yet, the children of both men are equal in dignity and worth. What, then, does justice require? What does it require of us in regard to their now differently-situated children?

5. Thomas Kidd is one of the most prolific Baptist historians of our day. He writes frequently and well. He recently wrote a guest-post for the St. Andrews School of Divinity that explains his idea of a "writing pipeline." Writers take note.

The writing and publishing process has lots of starts and stops. Say your first draft of your revised dissertation/book is done. Or maybe just your latest chapter. You submit the draft, and then you wait for feedback from readers, editors, or an advisor. Often you wait for weeks, or even months. What do you do during that time?

One of the keys to long-term productivity in writing is “pipelining” projects. That is, when you’re waiting for the next step on a completed manuscript, you should have an early-stage project you’re working on. This can be difficult when you’re suddenly required to drop everything and go back to the other project, giving you a bit of intellectual whiplash. But having at least two projects at different stages means that you’ll know intuitively how to fill the down time when you’re waiting on a response from a professor, editor, or commissioned reviewer. (I am definitely aware that here I am envisioning a work schedule, like mine at Baylor, that allows for – and even requires – ongoing writing.)

Maybe for you this is as simple as plowing ahead with your next dissertation chapter. Or maybe working on an article you’ve had on the back burner. One of my latest experiences in the writing pipeline involved the later stages of writing my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin.

6. You should follow Anne Kennedy's blog if you don't already. In the meanwhile, this post she wrote on 30 March works through some of the ongoing social craziness about male-female relations and stay-at-home mothering with wit and grace.

Maybe a good place [to begin] would be Thanks Crazy Ladies for making femaleness irrational again. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a woman in, say, 1900, and the first thing I did think is that a corset would absolutely make me hysterical and constantly needing a lie down. When I consider what it would have been like living within the social and even material (as in clothes) strictures imposed on women of the day, I could see myself being unable, mentally and emotionally, to cope. The women way back then must have been super strong. And, you know, I couldn’t put a measure on how grateful I am for not only the right the vote, but for the right to speak and make choices about my own life. The women of the suffrage movement, as far as I can make out, would most definitely weep in despair over the existential, emotional, and intellectual weakness of the modern woman, me included.

The very idea that I, as an individual with agency, can do whatever I want is pretty amazing*. Besides being the recipient of an awfully good education (though, also, sorely lacking in some points, like, western civ, I kid you not, I spent way too much time wandering around gender studies and when I graduated all I was equipped to do was go back to school) there was not a living soul who would have presumed to tell me what to do. Not even my parents, though I often begged them to make up my mind for me.

Worth Reading - 7/22

1. Bernie Sanders is right. The economy is rigged. However, a recent article at Vox argues that the rigging of the economy is more a function of union protectionism and licensing boards than a corporate conspiracy.

Dentists rig the system against dental hygienists by working to make it illegal for hygienists to clean teeth without totally unnecessary supervision by dentists. Taxi medallion oligopolists rig the system against regular folks with cars who would like turn a buck giving people rides. Beauty school cosmetologists rig the system against hair braiders and sidewalk hair-clipper artistes. "Massage therapists" rig the system against anybody with strong hands who might want to give back rubs for cash.
About 30 percent of all jobs in the United States today require some sort of occupational license, up from 5 percent in the early 1950s. This rather dramatic shift is evidence that the economy has indeed become increasingly rigged — which is really just another word for "regulated."
But the rigging of the economy is not just the story of occupational licensing. It’s also the story of big-city gentrifiers who block construction projects that would reduce the cost of housing by expanding its supply, which has the effect of rigging the economy against workers who can no longer afford to live where the best jobs are.

2. Alan Noble, editor at Christ and Pop Culture and Star Wars aficionado, recently wrote a piece that calls for a different sort of culture in churches, including youth groups. There needs to be a space for struggle, and a reason for hope.

I needed to be told that God loved me and that whatever “authentic self” I was so desperately trying to piece together and display for all my peers to approve of, I would never really find it and I didn’t need to try to. I needed—and still need—a church that has space for sadness, fears and anxiety, depression and mental illness. I also need a church that doesn’t let me continue to believe the lie that my life is meaningless until I achieve something, or am loved by someone, or I craft some impressive identity.
All along, my identity was hidden in Christ’s finished work on the cross, an act of unmerited love that objectively grounded and sustained my being in the world regardless of how I felt or what I thought about myself.
The funny thing about working to make yourself good enough to be Christian is that you inevitably end up more self-absorbed and less assured of God’s love for you. If we are not careful, our youth groups and churches can easily develop a culture of image-making—Christians striving to define themselves, especially according to some Christian cultural norms, instead of resting in Christ’s definitive work. The gospel frees us from these endeavors and gives us the space to be fully human, with doubts and anxieties and loves, but also with the grace and love which flows from a heart unburdened by identity and committed to others.

3. Aaron Earls, author in residence at Wardrobe Door, explains that Christians need to embrace the role of villain in contemporary culture.

We are the villains.
Look at our culture’s obsession with radical personal autonomy. Society encourages us to be completely self-absorbed—look out for “number 1,” take care of you and yours.
While everything around us is saying your personal preference should be the deciding factor for every important decision, Christianity is asking us to put that aside for the sake of others.
Instead of getting our way and living how we want to live, we are asked to pick up our cross and die to ourselves. Following Christ means you should be interdependent with others. You should use your gifts to serve the church, working with others who are doing the same.
When others see this lifestyle, it—like our sexual ethic—seems odd and out of place in modern culture. In one sense, it seems too traditional. In another, too extreme.

4. From the New York Times, efforts at advancing renewable energy sources are pushing attempts to curb climate change off course. This includes the devaluing and shutting down of nuclear power, which is the best reliable, low-carbon energy source available.

In Southern Australia, where wind supplies more than a quarter of the region’s power, the spiking prices of electricity when the wind wasn’t blowing full-bore pushed the state government to ask the power company Engie to switch back on a gas-fired plant that had been shut down.
But in what may be the most worrisome development in the combat against climate change, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-carbon electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy.
The United States, and indeed the world, would do well to reconsider the promise and the limitations of its infatuation with renewable energy.
“The issue is, how do we decarbonize the electricity sector, while keeping the lights on, keeping costs low and avoiding unintended consequences that could make emissions increase?” said Jan Mazurek, who runs the clean power campaign at the environmental advocacy group ClimateWorks.
Addressing those challenges will require a more subtle approach than just attaching more renewables to the grid.

5. Egalitarians have taken to smearing all complementarians with caricatures of abuse. One wife in a complementarian marriage answers some of a recent, vocal critic's questions on her blog.

Jesus condemned a personal-power view of authority. He condemned men who exercised authority in a selfish, domineering manner. He said, “It must not be like that among you!” (Mark 10:43-45)
The misuse/abuse of authority is an abomination to God. He wants leaders to be shepherds after His own heart. (Jeremiah 23:2; Ezekiel 34:1-4; Zechariah 11:17). Some of the Bible’s most scathing condemnations are directed toward leaders who fail to exercise authority in a godly manner. The Lord’s anger burns hot against them (Zechariah 10:3).
According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband does not have the right to force or coerce her to do things against her will. He does not have the right to domineer. He does not have the right to pull rank and use strong-arm tactics. He does not have the right to make his wife submit. No. According to the author of our faith, it must not be like that among us!

6. From BBC, Switzerland is the nation that hates to be late. A fun, interesting read.

Whenever I visit Switzerland, I go through several stages of punctuality reaction. At first it delights me, especially if I’m coming from neighbouring Italy or France with their rather more flexible approach to timekeeping. By contrast, life in Switzerland is sturdy and dependable, like a Saint Bernard dog. If someone says they will meet me at 2 pm, they arrive at 2 pm not 2:05 (or 1:55, for that matter). I like this. For a while.  

Then it annoys me. The extreme punctuality strikes me as a kind of stinginess, and I find myself agreeing with the English writer Evelyn Waugh who said that “punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”

That is unfair though, and finally, invariably, I come to appreciate Swiss punctuality for what it is: a deep expression of respect for other people. A punctual person is a considerate one. By showing up on time – for everything – a Swiss person is saying, in effect, “I value your time and, by extension, I value you.”