The Pacifist and the Three Star General


In my day job as a Financial Security Advisor I have the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people.

In actuality, everyone is extraordinary in their own way, from the entrepreneur who discovered a new way to teach kids to love the Arts (my first client) to the 61 year old letter carrier who still works 10 hours a day with a smile on his face and love in his heart and the stay-at-home mom who stopped counting the hours she spends keeping her kids happy healthy and wise after she had her fourth.  I count all my clients not only as extraordinary, but I draw inspiration from them as I go about everything I do.  That’s why the person I met last Friday had such a profound impact on me.

About twice a year our office hosts a full meeting of all the affiliated Financial Advisors in our city.  In any given year there are about 150 of us.  The management gives some basic updates on our performance, recognizes a few of the top players in each product line and lays out some goals for the coming months, then they turn the morning over to a guest speaker.  Usually the guest is a top player from one of our offices in another city or someone sent down from head office with a specific message that corporate thinks we should here.

Ho-hum…

We mark our time, sign the attendance sheet for our Continuing Education credits and get out of there as fast as we can so we do what we get paid for.  But this year was different.  This year we had the opportunity to hear from a truly extraordinary Canadian; General Rick Hillier (retired) of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I’m an unapologetic pacifist.  (That doesn’t mean with you think it means, more on that in previous posts here and here)  So I am a bit skeptical of anything a military man might have to say but if there is one thing that the military can teach everyday civilians, pacifists included, it’s how to practice and cultivate leadership.  And there is no greater leader in the history of the Canadian military than Rick Hillier.

Hillier made his mark on history as the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2004 and as the Chief of Defence Staff, the Canadian equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2005 to 2008.

Here is what I, a pacifist, learned from Canada’s top military man on leadership.  Hillier calls it the two step cycle of leadership.  Step one, provide inspiration – tell stories, show the way, take concrete action and give people the tools to do their jobs.  Step two, draw inspiration – listen to their stories, ask them where they want to go, let them take action, ask what they need from you to do their job.  Repeat!

General Hillier spoke to a room of 150 Financial Advisors for an hour and half.  Honestly, it felt like ten minutes and at times there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  He told us a bunch of stories about showing the way, taking action and providing tools, and at the end he quoted another great Canadian to sum up it all up.

“Vision without a plan is just a fantasy and you’re wasting your time.” – Mike Babcock; Head Coach Detroit Red Wings and Canadian Men’s Olympic Team (2010 Gold Medalists)

Meek people can be great leaders.  In fact I am convinced that meekness is an essential trait for true leadership.  The key to Hillier’s two step cycle of leadership is meekness.  You have to be able to step back and allow others to lead you and inspire you in order to provide leadership and inspiration yourself.  You have to release your grasp on power and hold it in an open palm in order for true respect and power to be given to you.  At the end of the day, that’s the definition of true leadership and I’m glad that our military is staffed by men and women who get it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Meekness


Every once in a while I feel compelled to explain why I use the word meek to describe the work I do and the movement I’m trying to start through this blog, my books and my public speaking.  As I say in the introduction to “Meekonomics; How to Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy”; meek is one of those bible words we don’t use in regular conversation anymore and as a result it has lost much of its meaning.

This past week I finally started reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s seminal work on the Christian life; “The Cost of Discipleship”.

Originally published in 1937, at the height of Nazi Germany, it’s a clarion call directed at German Christians to reject the godless politics of National Socialism and return to an uncompromisingly orthodox understanding of scripture.  It’s precisely this kind of writing and preaching that landed Bonhoeffer in a jail and saw him hanged by the Nazi’s just two weeks before the allied armies would have liberated him.  That, and the fact that he was implicated in a plot to murder Hitler could apparently get you killed in the 1940s, go figure.

Now, over seventy years after it was first published, and in a Christian culture dominated by right wing political ideology, the message of “The Cost of Discipleship” remains just as relevant as it was in Hitler’s Germany, and for a book written in a different era, it’s a surprisingly easy read.

Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Matthew 5:5, which I base most of my writing on, is perhaps the most clearly profound explanation of this biblical passage I’ve ever read.  I don’t poach the work of other authors very often but I’d like to take this opportunity to quote Bonhoeffer at length and allow his writing to speak for itself.

“Blessed are the meek:  for they shall inherit the earth.”  This community of strangers possesses no inherent right of its own to protect its members in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ.  When reproached, they hold their peace; when treated with violence they endure it patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they yield their ground.  They will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice, nor do they insist on their legal rights.  They are determined to leave their rights to God alone – non cupidi vindicate, as the ancient Church paraphrased in.  Their right is in the will of their Lord – that and no more.  They show by every word and gesture that they do not belong to the earth.  Leave heaven to them, says the world in its pity, that is where they belong.  But Jesus says; “They shall inherit the earth.”  To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised, the very earth belongs.  Those who now posses it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the new earth.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer; The Cost of Discipleship

I really have nothing to add.  Instead I challenge you to meditate on that for a bit and ask yourself; are you ready to inherit the earth?

New Book Project – Political Meekonomy; Christian Ethics for a Post Christian World


I finally have the outline for my next book project and have starting jotting down ideas and concepts to pursue.  Here’s the working table of contents and a brief description of what I intend to pursue over the next several months.

Introduction; The World Has Changed

Chapter One; Turn Around (You’re Facing the Wrong Way)

Chapter Two; Salt and Light (The Core of Christian Ethics)

Chapter Three; The Community Hermeneutic (Service, Leadership and the Body of Christ)

Chapter Four; Rendering Unto Caesar (It’s not about money, but it’s about money)

Chapter Five; Yes Men (and Women, How to say yes to the needs right infront of you and on the other side of the world)

Chapter Six; What Do You Do When Minority Means You? (Living on the outside of power)

Chapter Seven; Say What? (Speak the truth in love)

Chapter Eight; The Cost of Discipleship (Come and die)

Chapter Nine; Alpha and Omega (The beginning and the end, has much changed?)

Conclusion; Being in the World but Not of the World

It’s been roughly 500 years since the protestant reformation.  We’ve lived the better part of the last few centuries, in the west at least, under what historians and anthropologists have called “Christendom”.  But somehow, over the last generation or so, there has been a major shift.  We’ve become a multicultural society.  As a result mainline Christian churches that were once the bedrock of the sociopolitical structure are losing influence.  How we react to that, and what we do to remain relevant is a large reason I chose to write this book.

But this is not a call to return to the old ways.  Nor is it a lament of what we are losing.  When you get right down to it, much of what we have already lost really had to go anyway and what we stand to gain is a far greater calling than anything we could have achieved under the old system.  This is a book about what we are gaining through multiculturalism and what our new role (or perhaps our true role) in society should be.

Stay tuned!

These Are The People In Your Neighbourhood


The title of this week’s blog comes from a song I learned watching Sesame Street 30 plus years ago.  I’m sure most of you know it, sing with me…

Oh, who are the people in your neighbourhood?
In your neighbourhood?
In your neighbourhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighbourhood?
The people that you meet each day.

The sketch that goes along with this song pits a human adult with various Muppet Characters explaining that people you see everyday doing routine tasks are valued members of society, even heroes because the jobs they do are what keep our neighbourhoods alive, safe and thriving.  The song has evolved over the years and the list has grown to include; Postmen, Firefighters, Bakers, Teachers, Barbers, Bus Drivers, Dentists, Grocers, Cleaners and Garbage Collectors, all getting their turn to play the hero.  The message is simple; every job has value, treat people with respect because these are the people in your neighbourhood, the people that you meet each day.

Thinking of this reminds me of something Jesus said a while back.  Jesus was once asked what it took to inherit eternal life and his response was to point out the greatest commandment of all.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbour as yourself.  [Luke 10:27]

But wanting some clarification (some people call it justification but I think that’s a bit self righteous, I think if we are being honest we all want some clarification on this point) the expert asked him a follow up question that on the surface seems pretty logical to me.  He asked “but who is my neighbour?” [Luke 10:29]

Much to the disappointment of my inner four year old Jesus did not respond with a quaint little song about Firefighters and Bus Drivers, or talk about people who act like me, think like me or look like me.  He responded with perhaps the harshest critique of society ever recorded, and little has changed in the past two thousand years to soften the blow.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” [Luke 10:30-36]

This familiar story was and is a harsh critique of society for at least three reasons.

First off it exposes the dangers of going it alone.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous, it was a rocky path that descended several thousand feet in elevation over a fairly short distance as the crow flies, as a result it took the better part of a day to travel as anyone who has tried to walk down a steep hillside knows, you can’t go very fast on a path like that.  Out running an attacker would have been difficult.  As a mountain pass it also provided quite a bit of cover for someone wishing to set an ambush.  For that reason it was a favourite of highway men and bandits and very few people would attempt the journey alone.  Although most commentators don’t talk much about this it’s worth noting, had the traveller been in a group he would have been a lot less likely to be attacked in the first place.

Second, and the most commonly sighted message of this story, it exposes religious hypocrisy.  First a priest, then a Levite, the traditional temple assistants, fail to provide aid to a dying man on the side of the road.  Maybe they too were travelling alone and were afraid they would be attacked if they stopped, maybe they were more concerned about ceremonial purity because Jewish law makes it clear that to touch a dead body means you need to go through an elaborate cleansing ritual before you can re-enter the temple and maybe they were just in a hurry and decided that their agenda was more important than a man’s life.  The point is, if you truly believe that there is no greater commandment then to “love your neighbour as yourself”, then there is no excuse for not demonstrating that kind of love every chance you get.  A priest and a Levite of all people should have known better.

Lastly, and the point that I believe is the most profound in the whole story and the one that get’s glossed over far too often by most commentators is this; the very question “who is my neighbour” assumes that there is a line between who God wants us to love and those who just don’t matter as much.  This point is alluded to in the fact that the real hero of the story is a Samaritan, someone who the first listeners would have considered an outsider and someone even the victim would refuse the help of if he could.  This last point is really driven home by the question Jesus poses back on his inquisitor when he’s finished telling the story.  “Who do you suppose was a neighbour to the man?”[Luke 10:36].  Jesus turns the original question on its head and makes it clear that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of who is my neighbour but who can I be a neighbour to?

On facebook I follow a group that calls themselves The Christian Left.  The self stated purpose of the group is to expose and shame the hypocrisy of the Christian Right and their hijacking of the political discourse of the United States away from a more socially responsible understanding of traditional Christian values.  The Christian Left is a volunteer organization that sustains itself and covers some its costs through the sale of merchandise.  It’s most popular t-shirt says on the front simply “Love Thy Neighbour”  on the back it says, “Love Thy Neighbour: thy homeless neighbour, thy Muslim neighbour, thy black neighbour, thy gay neighbour, thy immigrant neighbour, thy Jewish neighbour, thy Christian neighbour, thy atheist neighbour, thy disabled neighbour, thy addicted neighbour”.  While I like the sentiment of the list and the fact that it casts a broad net, it’s still a net and it still assumes that there are people who can fall outside of God’s love.

I’ve rattled on a bit too much on this and I’m sure most of you get the point by now but I just want to make one last personal clarification.  I do not condone murder, follow or even agree with the tenants of Islam and I don’t sanction gay marriage.  I don’t believe that the scriptural directive to love my neighbour necessitates that I do any of those things.  The directive as explained in the story of the Good Samaritan is to BE a neighbour, provide comfort hope and shelter when needed and by doing so I am demonstrating God’s love in a tangible and profound way.  Any opportunity to evangelize and speak the rest of my personal convictions into the situation will only be appropriate and accepted after I have shown that kind of other centred love.

To stretch the point of the Sesame Street song I learned when I was four; we are all people in our neighbourhoods and it’s high time we started acting like it.

Political Meekonomy


The following is a working excerpt from my upcoming book “Political Meekonomy; Christian Ethics in a Post Christian World”  I hope you enjoy it, any and all feedback is welcome at the bottom of the page or directly via email at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com.

The term “Political Economy” was the original term coined in the 18th century to describe the study and discipline of moral philosophy associated with the production, buying, and selling of goods and their relationship to law, culture and government.  That’s quite a mouthful but this was the definition that the earliest economist such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx used and understood in their writing on the subject.  Therefore; at the end of the day the study of political economy is really the study of ethics.

By the late 19th century however popular usage of the term had been shortened to the single word we use today; economics.  With the shortening of the term also came the narrowing of the focus and any thought of the morality and ethics of the issue slowly began to fade away.  A few years ago it was suggested by economist Steve Levitt, co-author of the best selling “Freakonomics” that morality actually has nothing to do with economics at all.  He said; “If morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world”.   I don’t know about you but I think that’s a pretty cynical way to look at things and it would cause Smith and the rest of the early economist to roll over in they’re graves.  The shift away from the moral and ethical considerations of the issue has caused a major, almost irreversible drift in the way the world works. Morality and ethics are no longer a political question and certainly not one we ask in a polite conversation.  “It’s a personal thing” has become the standard response to any question approaching the morality and ethics of any decision.

In my first self-published book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality”, I developed the idea that we were created for something greater than what we have become.  In the beginning God created mankind in his image both to rule over and take care of his creation.  This seemingly contradictory reasoning only makes sense in the context of God’s love and relationship with humanity.  Ever since the fall of mankind in Genesis chapter 3 and our rejection of God’s leadership, the original design for what I coined God’s Perfect Economy is broken.

My main argument in that first book was that in order to create a functional society we needed to balance the ruler and caretaker mentality that God had given us through what I called the Love Based Mentality.  The only way to do that is by keeping God in the centre of our lives, our hearts and ultimately our society.  It’s that last part, bringing God in to the centre of society that this book is designed to expand upon.

I define “Political Meekonomy” as the study of Christian Ethics as they relate to modern economics, moral philosophy, law, culture and government.

At the same time, as economics has slowly and moved to further and further subjugate morality and ethics out of the public sphere and into the realm of the personal, Christianity itself has become a less relevant political force.  We live in what politicians and anthropologists are now calling the “Post-Christian” age.

According to Wikipedia, Post-Christianity is the world-view in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion.  Society has instead gradually assumed values, culture and worldviews that combine a variety of influences.  By its very nature calling society Post-Christian assumes that the dominant values were once Christian and while culture slowly challenges the assumptions of Christianity the overall basis of our cultural values remain strongly rooted there.  This creates a cultural conflict between our traditional values and progressive ideology that threatens many conservative traditionalists and causes those who wish to re-examine our cultural assumptions to dismiss anything remotely Christian as old school, repressive and archaic.  Most millennnials, the generation that have come of age during the first decade of the 21st century and are now beginning to dominate the work force and the political discourse, view western Christianity in this way, as do most immigrants to North America and the emerging economic powers of Brazil, Russia, Indian and China, the so called BRIC nations.

In 2006 David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Research, a Christian market research firm dedicated to studying the intersection of faith and culture, conducted a survey of the millennial generation which asked a number of questions about how they view religion in general and Christianity in particular.  His findings were published in 2007 in the book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters.”  What he found should disturb as much as it excites and challenges the church leaders of today.

The overarching conclusion of Kinnaman’s research is simple; the millennial generation with its easy, almost instant access to information is the smartest and fastest moving generation in history.    They are able to make decisions quickly based on a lot of relevant information.  In short they have not dismissed Christianity without examining it first, on the contrary they have perhaps over-examined it and what they see does not mesh with what they believe a church founded on the principles of a man like Jesus Christ should look like.  The unchristian label is not a label that the millenials have assigned to themselves as much as it is a label that they have placed on the Western Christian church.

To quote Kinnaman;

When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions.  When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

It is that observation in part that has led me to write this book.  I contend that much of what we call traditional values have very little to do with what Christ actually taught.  Christian Ethics are still relevant and dare I say necessary for the maintenance of a just and fair society.   It’s the way in which we communicate those values that needs to change.

It is my hope that as we work through this study together many of you will see that true Christian values, the ethics that Jesus taught are precisely what society needs more not less of.  Our society needs a greater emphasis on community service, social justice and tolerance.  Sadly however I am afraid that many others who read this book and claim Christian tradition as the basis of their ethics quite frankly will disagree.  Those are the same people though who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He walked up and asked them for a hot meal, a la Matthew 25.

If we are to move our culture beyond stereo-types and truly embrace Christianity as a viable cultural, ethical and political movement in a our modern, multi-ethnic, pluralistic society we need to re-examine what it was that made it unique in the first place and what propelled “Christendom” to become the dominant cultural force it was for nearly two millennia.  We as Christians also need to be honest with ourselves and look closely and unflinchingly at what we did wrong, where we deviated from our own stated ethics and how we allowed culture to get so far off track.  Indeed much of what has been considered morality inside the cultural assumptions of Christendom is far from what the early church fathers could have envisioned in the so called Pre-Christian world, when they were being heavily persecuted for their faith.

As I mentioned earlier; Political Meekonomy is the study of Christian Ethics as they related to modern economics, moral philosophy, law, culture and government.  So I’ve divided this work according.

I start by defining Christian Ethics and ask the question, what does it mean to be ethical? Next I compare and contrast that to modern moral philosophy, the origins of law and the basis of our culture.

Jesus was a radical teacher who wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.  The religious establishment and the political leadership of the day at times demonstrated equal parts curiosity, offence and fear of him.  In order to hold on to power they had watered down and distorted the meaning of much of the Jewish law and built up an elaborate cultural code of conduct that was hierarchical and exclusionary.  Jesus wouldn’t stand for any of it.

The socio-political climate of today is not much different.  An honest look at what Jesus really said, the context that he said it in and the obvious implications of it is no less curious, offensive and fear inducing for those on power today than it was over two thousand years ago.

When I first started to formulate the idea for this book I asked my dad what he thought.  Before I give you his answer you need to know a little about this man.

My father was a Baptist minister in the mid 1960s and 70s. After some early success the church hierarchy took notice and he was placed on the fast track to one day lead a large urban congregation.  But somewhere around the time I was born he began to preach a version of what has become known today as the Emergent Church.  He dared to ask the question “what if Jesus really meant all this stuff?” and challenged his congregation to get radical about how they viewed the poor, mentally ill and developmentally challenged.  He met with a lot of resistance and a few influential (wealthy) individuals complained.  As a result he was banished to a rural backwater.  He languished there for nearly a decade and finally left the ministry for a position as director of a social services agency working with the very people he had earlier gotten in trouble for trying to help from the pulpit.

I may not have all the facts straight, all this happened when I was very young and most of my family memories were formed well after he left the ministry but this is the story I kept in the back of my mind as part of my personal narrative.  I came to the conclusion as a result that at the end of the day, church is a business and the pastor’s real job is not to offend anyone in order to keep the money flowing.  Sadly, thirty years later I witnessed the same thing happen again at a church I was attending when another pastor dared question the cultural paradigm of a long established and fairly wealthy congregation.  Very little has changed.

So I said to my dad, “I’m writing a second book on Christian Ethics in the Post-Christian world”.  He laughed and said simply, “There are none.”

What he meant was that the Christian church has utterly failed in its duty to spread Jesus’ ethics to the rest of the culture.  For the most part they church itself doesn’t even understand what those ethics are.

I’m going on ten years now since I declared personal bankruptcy and started to really study the impact of faith, economics and culture.  One thing has become crystal clear.  Our society needs to stay true to its ethical roots now more than ever and even though we are a Post-Christian society, our ethics remain rooted in the teachings of Jesus.  If our society is to survive we need to take another look there and begin to rebuild on the solid foundation that he laid for us.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. [Jesus, Matthew 7:24-27]

Scandal!


I don’t know about you but I’m getting sick of all the political scandal in the news lately.  This past week we have heard pretty much nothing but Crack Cocaine allegations leveled at the mayor of our largest city and how certain Senators don’t know the difference between a primary residence and a vacation home. 

 I won’t rehash the stories here, you can read them yourself, just Google, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Senator Mike Duffy for the details. 

What irks me about these stories is the sanctimonious way they are being reported.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of either of the men at the centre of these scandals.  They are both arrogant politicians who are behaving as thought they are above the law but the media is no less arrogant.  In the case of Rob Ford there is very little proof aside from a grainy cell phone video of a man who looks similar to the mayor and in the case of Mr. Duffy, he’s not the only Senator to try and make an end run around the system and claim a tax credit where he wasn’t really eligible for one.  At the end of the day both stories smell like an ideological battle between democratically elected officials and a self-appointed media watch dog bent on discrediting the people they disagree with. 

I wrote about this phenomenon in my recent book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality”, here’s an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Let’s All Share; When Caretakers Rule the World”.  (Buy it now)

Time and time again throughout history once a person or group of people rises to power on a care-taker agenda, once they accomplish what they set out to do, they quickly succumb to the ruler mentality that is present in all of us. 

When care-takers become rulers they are much slower to recognize when they have lost their way.  When faced with opposition a care-taker’s first response is to view their opponent as simply ignorant so they launch a public awareness and education campaign.  When that doesn’t work they seek to discredit their opponents and make them look stupid.  As the debate descends deeper and deeper into a school yard orgy of name calling and vilification the final step is for the once benevolent care-taker to simply oppress the opposition and go about business as usual as if they didn’t exist. This is often achieved through the systematic use of violence in many forms such as arrest, assassination and disappearance. 

Augusto Pinochet of Chile was a master at making his opponents simply disappear when they became too vocal and started to gain popular support.  Years after he was finally over thrown, as a result of a new collectivist movement, hundreds of opposition leaders, journalists, trade union members and just average citizens who dared to speak up against Pinochet’s policies were found in mass graves deep in the Chilean jungle, some showing signs that they had been buried alive!  Similarly, during the so called Orange Revolution in Ukraine the ruling party sought to silence the opposition leader by poisoning him before he could be elected.

Fortunately, in a truly democratic society, with organized opposition and a regular election cycle these extreme examples are rare. That is not say that the same stages of the regime change cycle don’t exist they just move more quickly and rarely end violently.  As I write this the United States, arguable the world’s most politically advanced and peaceful democracy is just days away from a presidential election.  One need only look at the evolution of political advertising seen during this or any election cycle of the last thirty or so years to know that campaigning has become more and more aggressive over the years.  What started out as simple educational ads designed to put forth one particular candidate’s views on a subject have become more personal and less cordial.  Is it really that hard for us to see the potential for a Ukrainian style poisoning or even a few good old fashion Pinochetesque disappearances in our future? 

Do you see?  What’s playing out in the media these days is really just another example of what happens when we try to manage the political economy from our own bias.  There has to be a better way, a third way, a love centered way.

Political Meekonomy


The term “Political Economy” was the original term coined in the 18th century to describe the study and discipline of moral philosophy associated with the production, buying, and selling of goods and their relationship to law, culture and government. Hence the study of political economy is really the study of ethics.

By the late 19th century popular usage of the term had been shortened to the single word we use today to describe this study; economics. However with the shortening of the term also came the narrowing of the focus and any thought of the morality and ethics of the issue slowly began to fade away.

“Political Meekonomy” is therefore the term I use to describe the study of Christian Ethics as they relate to modern economics, moral philosophy, law, culture and government.

Over the next several months (Who am I kidding? The last time I did this it took 4 years!), I will be developing this idea further with the hopes of developing a new book to expand on the ideas put forth in my first self-published book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality” (Buy it now)

The new book’s working title is “Political Meekonomy; Christian Ethics for a Post-Christian World”. According to Wikipedia, Post-Christianity is the world-view in which Christianity is no longer the dominant “civil religion” but has gradually assumed values, culture and worldviews that combine a variety of influences. By its very nature Post-Christianity assumes that the dominant values were once Christian and while culture slowly challenges the assumptions of Christianity the overall basis of cultural values remain strongly rooted there. This creates a cultural conflict between our “traditional values” and “progressive ideology” that threatens many conservative traditionalists and causes those who wish to re-examine our cultural assumptions to dismiss anything remotely Christian as repressive and archaic.

But to many Christian Ethics are still relevant and dare I say necessary for the maintenance of a just and fair society. If we are to move our culture beyond conservative stereo-types and truly embrace Christianity as a viable cultural, ethical and political movement in a our modern, multi-ethnic, pluralistic society we need to re-examine what it was that made it unique in the first place and what propelled “Christendom” to become the dominant cultural force it was for nearly two a millennia. We as Christians also need to be honest with ourselves and look closely and unflinchingly at what we did wrong, where we deviated from our own stated ethics and how we allowed culture to get so far off track. Indeed much of what has been considered morality inside the cultural assumptions of Christendom is far from what the early church fathers could have envisioned in the so called Pre-Christian world, when they were being heavily persecuted for their faith.

I could go on but since I’m just starting to develop this idea I’m afraid I might start to ramble so I’ll leave it at that for now, stay tuned….

Atheist Delusions


I love a good theological or political debate.  Arguably (or should I say debatably) that’s what this blog and my whole purpose for writing is all about. 

Now I’m no theologian, politician or even economist and I can accept when I may not have all the answers.  That’s why I love the process of debate, when done well everyone learns something and we all come away better informed, even if we can’t agree.

That being said, I can’t stand atheists.  Not because I think they are wrong but because, for the most part they suck at debating.

In my experience atheists fall back to one intractable position, that of “prove it and I will believe” or “I will believe nothing without empirical evidence”.  And to be honest that is an unassailable position so long as you can prove your own position using the same set of criteria. But atheists can’t do that, instead they will invariably respond with something along the line of “I can’t prove God doesn’t exist because I can’t prove a negative,” which is essentially saying that you can’t prove your own position and for the purposes of that kind of debate an admission of defeat. 

Now of course, I’m going to get comments on this, lots of them saying that I can’t prove my position either and that’s true so really the Atheist versus Theist debate from a scientific point of view at least is dead in the water.   

And that’s why I can’t stand atheists – they turn the debate into something it isn’t. 

You see the debate isn’t about provable science, it never has been.  Indeed most of what we call “science” today would never have developed had it not been for the work of many devout theists.   No the debate is about philosophy and “science” or what we can prove physically has absolutely nothing to do with philosophy.   

Unless and until atheists recognize that their position is actually a philosophy and not a provable scientific fact then the debate is a non-starter and I’m not interested.

Confidence Men; Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President – Ron Suskind


I have to be honest; I didn’t actually finish this book. It’s over 500 pages long and after plodding through just over 2 years of history I was still just over halfway through and I was exhausted just reading about the way in which the power brokers of the US system operate, so I gave up.

Ron Suskind is a very detail oriented and gifted researcher. Using considerable journalistic skill he has woven a compelling story of the Obama campaign and the first term of the Obama administration. For a political junky like me it was eye-opening and truly put the American political climate in a new light. Coming from Canada, I have often marveled at the way in which the United States is organized. To me, coming from a political system that is built on a parliamentary liberal democracy the populist system of checks and balances used by our neighbors to the south has always seemed messy and inefficient.

Suskind has done nothing to alleviate this impression. Good old fashion majority rule still, to me at least, seems to be a far better way to organize a country, especially one that dominates the economic climate of the entire world in the way that the US does. But I don’t get a vote (pun intended) so I guess we’re stuck with this dysfunctional system for the time being.

Here are a few of the quotes I took from the from the first half of the book, with a few comments for clarity of understanding.

Who would loan money to a dead company? Mostly unwitting pedestrians by way of their 401(k)s, in investment funds, pension funds, and retirement accounts of all stripes, or in the new infusions of debt they’d take on, at the slightly lower rate, through their credit cards and second mortgages – debts that, more and more, would never be paid back, because the point, for so many Americans, had not been their ability to pay debts, but just to carry them, for one more day. They’d been flocking to Wall Street’s debt rollover party for years – a rate cut means a whole new set of invitations – though few would realize it had become a vampire’s ball. They’d be devoured so Wall Street could live another day. – Ron Suskind; Confidence Men

Most consumers invest in grouped funds through 401(k)s and IRA’s. In Canada we call them RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plans) and IPPs (Individual Pension Plans). The point is, most people don’t know what they are actually invested in, they trust their advisors and plan administrators to do that for them. More and more, during the latter half of the Bush II administration people were investing in weakened companies, their money was propping them up and the cheap money they were getting through loans from the back was allowing them to continue along business as usual without the need to make any structural adjustments. It was a house of cards that was bound to collapse.

One day we will have to stand before the God of history, and we will talk of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we have built gargantuan bridges to span the seas. We built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies… It seems to me I can hear the God of history saying, ‘That was not enough! But I was hungry and ye fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not.’ – Martin Luther King Jr.

During the campaign Obama used to quote Dr. King a lot. Once in office and the reality of the economic situation set it and the rhetoric changed but the sentiment of King was never far from the memories of most voters.  It was this disconnect that quickly alienated many voters and gave rise to the Tea Party movement which nearly ended his presidency before it got started.

You are all bright people, but you failed. Risk management is hard. So the lesson is we can’t let you get as big as you were and do the damage that you’ve done, or get as complex as you were, because you can’t manage the risk element. – Mervyn King (British Economist on the 2008 Financial Crisis)

Sometimes it takes an outsider to give a meaningful critique of the situation. Risk management is an integral part of any investment strategy and it was woefully lacking in the debt fueled run up to the 2008 collapse.

Buy low. Sell low – and a little. – Carmine Visone (Managing Director; Lehman Brothers)

Visone was an old school money manager who helped build Lehman through the 1980s and 90s but his conservative approach ultimately kept him from the job he really wanted, that of president and he was consigned to a relatively insignificant portfolio of established real estate property as the bubble grew.  I wonder what might have happened if he had been given a more significant role with the company in the early 2000s.

G20 Finance Minister’s Meeting 2013


 

So amid all the crazy news surrounding asteroids and meteors did anyone notice that some of the most powerful politicians in the world were meeting in Moscow that past few days to discuss the trivial matter of the world economy? 

 

Yes, once again these 20 or so men (I count just 3 women in the official photo op) met behind closed doors in Moscow on February 15, 16 to eat caviar, sample fine Russian vodka and chat about making internationally binding agreements that effect the everyday lives of billions for people with nary a whimper from the international news media.   Economists and accountants in suits just aren’t as sexy has space junk falling from the sky I guess. 

 

Two major resolutions came out of this year’s meeting.

 

First, it was agreed that corporations that shift profits overseas to avoid paying tax are bad.  Second, it was agreed that countries that intentionally devalue their currencies in order to attract investment are also bad. 

 

Both resolutions however stopped short of enacting any kind of meaningful policy to actually prevent these practices. 

 

On the corporate taxation front, many companies, mostly multinationals based in the US have been accused of reporting profits in jurisdictions with lower tax rates, while at the same time reporting losses in jurisdictions that have higher taxes or generous write off provisions for expenses.   For instance, Facebook recently reported a total of $1bn in profits but managed to pay no corporate income tax in the US.  Instead they shifted most of the money to their international operating divisions and reported a loss to the internal revenue agency in the US, claiming a $451m refund on taxes paid there.  The net effect of taxes paid in one jurisdiction versus refunds claiming in others was $0. 

 

For the G20 to crack down on this practice seems like a good idea but I fear that the counter argument made by corporations, that lower taxes help create jobs, will hold sway in the United States and other capitalist jurisdictions and nothing will happen to prevent this practice from continuing.  Facebook has already made a statement in their defense saying that their employees have paid the equivalent of $2.86bn in income taxes and that this should more than offset the lack of corporate taxes that have been paid.  I say hogwash!  This is the result of so called trickle-down economics and it’s nothing more than the shifting of the tax burden from the highest wage earners to the lowest.  If history is any indication, sadly the Facebook argument will prevail to some degree and the burden of taxes that the rich continue to refuse to pay will fall squarely on the shoulders of the middle class. 

 

On the currency manipulation front countries that intentionally keep their currency low in order to attract investment are being singled out as somehow preventing free trade.  Competitive Devaluation as it is called is seen by many as an unfair practice designed to make one country easier to invest in than another.  If the Yen for instance is worth less than the Pound and I have to decide which country to build a factory in I am more likely to covert my dollars to yen and build my factory in Japan than I am to build it in the UK.  This is just basic math but for some reason it’s seen as unfair and counter to free trade. 

 

Why? 

 

If Japan wants to take whatever steps they can to attract foreign investment and make their exports more attractive to the world market while at the same time making imports more expensive in their domestic economy why shouldn’t they?  This is exactly the same tactic that has been used by the United States, the United Kingdom and other economies throughout history as a way to build up their domestic economies and help them become more competitive on the world stage.  But when the tables are turned, somehow it’s viewed as unfair? 

 

This is a double standard on an epic scale and it’s not just Japan that is being singled out here, this is exactly the same tactic that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund write punitive provisions against into every one of the loans they make to emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Asia.  That’s right; in order to receive economic assistance developing economies must agree that they will allow the free flow of cheap foreign imports into their economies.  The net effect is the rich countries that dominate organizations like the G20 are forcing smaller economies to open their markets before they are strong enough to compete adding to and prolonging their economic dependence.

 

The bottom line is that the G20 is beholden to corporate interests and neither of these resolutions if they ever grow into real binding agreements will be done to help the average citizen.  Welcome to the new age of corporate mercantilism.