Tag Archives: Common Good

Income Tax – The Original Inequality Equalizer

Did you have a good time compiling and filing your taxes last month? As much fun as I did, I’m sure. Most Americans agree (link to Gallup poll) that it’s time for a change to the tax code.

T.R. Reid’s A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (Penguin, 2017) breaks down the complicated subject of income taxation with a cursory global compare and contrast of other countries’ taxation efforts with those of the United States. This type of formula worked well in his previous effort, The Healing of America (Penguin, 2009), exposing America’s inefficient and disjointed healthcare system. Reid invites us to see how other countries do healthcare and taxation and asks: What best practices can we adopt to make our systems better?

A bit of history: Property and consumption taxes (excise, duties, tariffs, and sales tax) have been around since colonial days. A temporary federal income tax existed during the Civil War. Corporations have been taxed since 1909. In the wake of the Second Industrial era’s Gilded Age, and its previously unrealized economic inequalities, the Progressive era birthed the federal income tax in 1913 via the 16th Amendment, empowering the federal government to tax Americans’ personal income. Only 4 percent of Americans – the country’s highest earners – paid an income tax that first year. I call the federal income tax the original inequality equalizer – those who had “the ability to pay” did so for the common good. It was only after WW II that a broader base of Americans paid federal income taxes. In 1927, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes opined: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” As our bridges and rails and other structures deteriorate, a collective reset on our attitude about taxes could help.

A bit of reality: Of the thirty-four richest countries in the world, as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2014, the United States ranked thirty-first in taxes paid at slightly more than 25 percent of GDP. Only in South Korea, Chile, and Mexico is there a lower tax burden than in the United States. Reid also reveals that US government spending is comparable low at 15.5 percent of GDP, ranking thirty-second among OECD nations. Reid says the dual argument that Americans are overtaxed and the size of government is out of control is fictitious. More genuine would be for Americans to admit that our societal DNA – “no taxation without representation” – makes us skeptical about paying taxes. We prefer to do some things with private rather than public funding. Americans privately give more to social programs and charities (than do citizens in other countries), but none of these good works fixes bridges or roads or public structures.

Reid explains that there have been major revisions to the tax code in 1922, 1954, and 1986. The mathematical symmetry of a significant change every 32 years targets 2018 as the year for the next reset to the code. While President Trump promotes a revision to the tax code as a major agenda item, a polarized and dysfunctional congress will make it difficult to attain.

The 1986 revision – a bipartisan effort – was widely hailed as a needed breakthrough. Reid says other countries adopted its main thrust of slashing income tax rates for the highest earners. The code has since, however, been overburdened with loopholes, breaks, and complexities. Yes, it’s a mess. The majority of US taxpayers hire professionals to do their taxes, and Reid says that the “Tax Complexity Lobby” (Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block, Intuit, and others) strenuously opposes innovations like pre-filled tax forms that save billions of hours and fees for citizens of Japan, Britain, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal.

Reid discusses three main options from his global survey: BBLR (broad based, lower rates), VAT (value added tax), and flat tax.

Quoting Reid on BBLR (all the hyphens are his): “The tax base – that is, the total amount of income, or sales, or property that can be taxed – is kept as large as possible, then the tax rate – that is, the percentage that people have to give to the government – can be kept low. Virtually all economists and tax experts agree that this is the best way to run a tax regime.” Remember Bowles-Simpson (aka the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) from 2010? Even though it died in committee (it had its bipartisan supporters and opponents), it featured a BBLR approach to reduce the national deficit. A BBLR approach buttressed the 1986 tax reform law. One of its architects, former Sen. Bill Bradley, a long-time BBLR advocate, says, “The key to reform was to focus on the attractiveness of low rates, not on the pain of eliminating reductions.”

The two main deductions needing elimination in 2018, according to Reid, are well-loved by middle and upper class Americans: the mortgage interest deduction (MID) and the charitable contribution deduction. Reid claims the familiar rationale behind the MID – it encourages home ownership – is now passé; other OECD countries without an MID have home ownership rates similar to ours (about 65%). Reid also contends that Americans will continue to support charitable organizations whether there’s a tax break for itemized deductions or not. His rationale for this latter assertion seems mostly to be personal opinion. I do strongly agree, however, with his overall assessment: “Like the charity deduction, the benefits for home ownership are strongly skewed to the richest taxpayers.” This turns out to be – let me use a loaded phrase to make a point – government dole mostly for the well-to-do to the tune of $200 billion in 2016, with three-quarters of the MID tax break going to households that make more than $100,000/year.

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted (see my review here), goes farther than Reid and claims that the MID is greatly exacerbating American inequality. His NYT article of May 9, “How Home Ownership Became the Engine of American Inequality,” details the cases of four homeowners and three renters in various American locales. Desmond calls the MID “public housing for the rich.” That’s not all: “A 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way. It is only by recognizing this fact that we can begin to understand why there is so much poverty in the United States today.” Desmond’s work is provocative and well worth reading.

Reid says that 175 of the planet’s 200 countries employ some version of a value added tax (VAT). Essentially a sales tax on consumption, the VAT is applied to every stage of commercial production, not just to the final sale in a retail store. Two advantages emerge: there is less incentive to evade the tax for producers, and its collection is more steady. That it tends to be a regressive tax is its main disadvantage.

While praising its potential simplicity, Reid rejects the flat tax outright. He says it can work in countries where a polarity of income doesn’t exist (like the former Russian satellites in the last half of the twentieth century), but not in highly unequal societies like the United States. The flat tax takes in precious little income, and it further increases inequality. Slovakia and the Czech Republic initially utilized the flat tax but them dumped it as an oligarchy class gained prominence.

Reid additionally suggests that the US corporate tax rate be lowered (which would help deflate the current rampant incentive to avoid the tax), that our very richest citizens be taxed progressively, and that a financial transactions tax be implemented on Wall Street. He also says increasing the gasoline tax is a no brainer that can easily help bolster sagging US infrastructure.

Mr. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has said the administration is confident that it can create a new tax plan that “pays for itself” with economic growth. Flat taxers, like Grover Norquist and Ted Cruz, spout the same type of fervor – that tax breaks will unleash economic growth like never before. This type of dogmatism has dutifully entered the realm of bogus cliché. The days of robust growth are over – see my five-part blog series on Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth – and it’s time for Americans to hold political leaders accountable to a responsible and sustainable understanding of economic development.

How a country structures its taxes matters for inequality, economic development, and social spirit – all these included in an understanding of common good. In the earliest days of federal income taxation, “the ability to pay” was recognized by Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt as a patriotic duty of the economically advantaged. The tax also helped America maintain some sense of egalitarianism. Today, with a federal poverty rate of 13.5 percent, the majority of Americans can claim status as economically advantaged. Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society – a tax code that is simplified, more equitable, broader-based, and progressive toward the top can help this society recover some much needed civility.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web www.blueocotillo.com!

 

 

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“Faith and Inequality” Presentations

In a world of fluff (supermarket tabloids) and misplaced immaturity (presidential candidates commenting on the size of certain anatomical features of an opponent), it’s good to have other options of information gathering and personal interchange. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to converse with others on important social issues such as childhood poverty, the causes of inequality, and the pros and cons of economic growth. Building on these themes and others explored throughout Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, I’ll be making presentations at points near and far in the next number of weeks. Enlightening and purposeful conversations will continue in support of common good construction.

“Faith and Inequality: Seeking Common Good and Kingdom Connections” will be presented in San Antonio and Fort Worth, Texas; Fairfax, Virginia; and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks to the church-related groups that have extended invitations to present and to many who have joined in conversation via book study groups on JaLBM themes. The “Faith and Inequality” offering covers a diverse set of related topics – faith development, American social and economic histories, poverty, the pursuit of common good, among others – in seventy-five minutes (or so!) of presentation and discussion. Join us!

Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, San Antonio, Texas  –  Wednesday, March 30, 7 pmJABLM Promo San Antonio V1

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fairfax, Virginia  –  Tuesday, April 5, 7 pm

Gettysburg Seminary, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania  –  Thursday, April 7, 7 pm

Faith Lutheran Church, Fort Worth, Texas  –  Wednesday, April 20, 7 pm

Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and many indigenous traditions agree: management of the natural human propensity toward greed is a main task of religious activity. Failure of a group or society to keep its appetite for greed in check contributes to its demise. Intriguingly, our various religious traditions formulated these ideas long before the proliferation of capital. While the Industrial Revolution has arguably been a great blessing to the human family, greed management is more crucial now than ever before. We live in an era that makes the case that more is always and exponentially better. I argue, to the contrary, that our traditions have a strong and united message against the spirit of more as always better.

While I’m grateful to Lutheran groups extending me (a Lutheran pastor) an invitation to speak, I’m more than ready to venture beyond. Other Christian denominations and other congregations within the broader faith community have plenty to contribute to this important conversation. The “Faith and Inequality” conversation is intended for all persons of faith, uniting various and diverse voices together in pursuit of common good in our midst.

For Christians, the possible connection between common good and what we understand as “kingdom of God” merits exploration. The Social Gospel movement at the turn of the 20th century – born during Gilded Age inequities – offers guidance. The 21st century needs to make its own response to social and economic inequalities. Join me and many others as we respond to significant inequalities social and economic with energy, smarts, and compassion.

 

Special thanks to the congregation I serve, St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran Church, Austin, TX for the opportunity to go to Washington, DC where I’ll participate in continuing education events. I’ve never been to the nation’s capital and am looking forward to networking with leaders in the movement for social and economic justice.

And thanks to my publicist extraordinaire daughter, Alexandra Anderson, for her work on the above promo image!

 

I’m planning to do similar “Faith and Inequality” presentations this fall in Austin and Houston – and open to invitations elsewhere!

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que Bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

 

 

 

 

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Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador

Thanks to colleague Kathy Haueisen for this guest blog post. Blue Ocotillo will be publishing her novel Asunder this spring. Check out other posts from Kathy at her website, “How Wise Then: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems.”    
        

            Two days before I was scheduled to fly to El Salvador for my third Thrivent Builds-Habitat for Humanity trip I got an e-mail from our State Department warning me of escalating concerns about safety there for U.S.A. travelers. Were this my first trip I might have cancelled my flight.

            Since this was not my first trip, I deleted the e-mail and continued packing. Both Thrivent (a not-for-profit financial services organization for Christians) and Habitat in El Salvador run excellent programs. The work, though physically challenging, is manageable. We get two breaks and a long lunch plus encouragement to rest when we’re feeling tired.

            Our task was to help dig an eight foot-deep hole and deepen a trench around the house for a new septic system at a Habitat home. We spent much of the week moving dirt out of the way and then moving it back in to fill in around newly laid pipes.

            The week wasn’t all work. Habitat encourages getting to know the Salvadorians we met. For that reason each work site includes an interpreter. This is essential as the building project managers are hired for their construction skills and ability to work with international volunteers, not for their English skills. Some volunteers speak Spanish, but few have an adequate vocabulary to negotiate building instructions.

            One of the Habitat workers was a young man, David. At one point David was pitching dirt out of the pit that was now deeper than he was tall. He could pitch dirt out faster than five volunteers could load it into a wheel barrel and haul it to the empty lot next door.

            One young local woman, Glenda, came by every day to help because she wanted to practice her English. I wanted to practice my Spanish so we spoke to one another in both languages frequently during the week. I was immediately drawn to Glenda as she is the same age as two of my granddaughters.

            Luis Viscarra is the Habitat staff person charged with welcoming each international team at the San Salvador airport. He gives each team a brief history of El Salvador along with practical tips for staying healthy and safe while in country. He starts by explaining that when Spain conquered El Salvador several centuries ago the country was divided up among fourteen colony families. By the time of the 1980s’ Civil War, descendants of these original fourteen families literally owned all of El Salvador. These few were wealthy while the majority of people were living in desperate poverty.

            The Civil war broke out in 1979 when the military-led government, representing the interests of the fourteen families, fought against a coalition of guerrilla groups fighting for a more equitable distribution of the country’s resources.

            Many fled during the twelve-year conflict. Both sides recruited child soldiers. There was extreme violence, including deliberately terrorizing and targeting civilians via death squads. Martyr Oscar Romero, a Catholic priest, campaigned on behalf of the poor. For his efforts he was assassinated in March 1980 as he led worship. We saw photos of him everywhere, including on the stole of Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez who presided over worship at Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey (Christ the King Lutheran Church) in Santa Ana, our first Sunday there.

            The years of extreme violence and the disruption of families as many fled the twelve years of extreme violence have resulted in a generation of young men who have grown up inadequately educated but with much experience of violence. That combined with extreme poverty, has led to the formation of gangs.

            So yes, gangs are a serious problem in some parts of El Salvador. However, Habitat leaders know where they are active and keep the international volunteers far away from those areas.

            Because we were team number 250 through the Thrivent-Habitat of El Salvador partnership, we were given extra special attention. The week started with a worship service at Cristo Rey in Santa Ana. An earthquake destroyed their church building in 2000. For many years the small congregation gathered in an old cinder-bloc building that survived the earthquake. It had originally been a chicken coop.

Cristo Rey.Santa Ana (1)

            When Joe and Bonnie Reilly started taking volunteers to El Salvador as part of Joe’s work with Thrivent, they took teams to worship at Cristo Rey since many of the homes they worked on belonged to members of that congregation.

            A few years ago they sat with their team in folding chairs in the cinder-block building and asked Pastor Carlos what he needed most. His obvious answer was, “A new church.” There were only two problems: the congregation had no funds and little hope of raising them to build a new church; and, Habitat for Humanity builds homes, not churches.

            The best way to handle a problem is to get rid of it. With a lot of prayer and enthusiasm Partners in Faith was formed. Funds were raised. Habitat for Humanity gave permission for teams to slow down on building homes and pick up speed on construction of the much-needed new building. International volunteers and Cristo Rey members worked side by side for several years to build what Bishop Gomez claims is the best Lutheran church in all of El Salvador.

            As we worshipped on the one-year anniversary of the completion and dedication of the church I held back tears, as did many of my fellow team members. Most of us had played some small part in the construction of the new building. In addition to Bishop Gomez, several other honored guests participated, including the president of a Baptist seminary, an Episcopal priest, two USA Lutheran pastors, and a pastor from Guatemala. Sitting next to me in the pews was the German Lutheran church’s ambassador for Central America.

New Cristo Rey.Santa Ana

            Our team of twenty-seven worked on three housing projects in the planned community of Getsemaní near the town of Ahachapan, in western El Salvador, near Guatemala. We stayed at a lovely lodge resort in the mountains that featured a large dining room complete with dance floor, a miniature zoo, horse-back riding, a spa and swimming pool, a playground and a couple of game rooms.         

            Luis told us that approximately two-thirds of Salvadorians live in sub-standard housing. Thanks to the twenty-five years of effort on the part of Habitat in El Salvador and the volunteer work of a thousand volunteer teams, that situation is slowly, but surely improving.

            Our media loves to cover violence and corruption. They miss some of the many truly beautiful places we saw on our trip. The people, the food, the hospitality, and the community of volunteers all working on a common mission make traveling to El Salvador well worth the effort it takes to go.

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Kathy Haueisen is an ELCA pastor who lives in Houston, Texas. She has authored two books and served as editor of two others. Asunder is her first novel. Taking an intimate look at the emotions involved in divorce, it will be released April 2016.

            

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The Big Short

“The Big Short,” the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, explains the 2008 financial crisis by detailing the actions of four groups of investors who foresaw the burst of the housing market bubble. Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Boomerang) is in very familiar territory depicting the dark side of Wall Street; his first book, Liar’s Poker, recounted his days as a Wall Street bond market manager in the mid-1980s “when a great nation lost its financial mind.” According to Lewis, not much changed in twenty-five years – save a few names and outlandish increases in the amounts of money bet and squandered on Wall Street.

big shortOur family has been doing a Christmas Day movie for the past few years. Our initial Christmas Day excursion was in 2007 when we took in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” The next year we saw what still rates as one of the best of the Christmas Day pics: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” “Up in the Air” (2009) and “Hugo” (2011) were good, but not memorable. “Anchorman II” (2013) was, predictably, funny in a juvenile type of way. “Les Miserables” (2012) had a great Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier, and . . . a whole lotta of singing.

“The Big Short” is well worth seeing. The movie title refers to the practice of short selling a stock or bond – betting that it will tank. The protagonists bet, correctly, that the housing market bubble would burst. The movie’s two hours plus run-time works continually to explain this and other components of the 2008 economic swoon to both those who have and haven’t delved into its causes. The movie’s narrative, including “breaking the fourth wall” explanations from Ryan Gosling’s character, and cameos from chef Anthony Bourdain, actress Margot Robbie, entertainer Selena Gomez, and economist Richard Thaler, help explain complex derivative trading, credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and other roll-off-the-tongue market descriptors.

Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, reviews the movie favorably. He is critical, however, of the movie’s notion that no one – save the four groups of protagonists – foresaw the burst of the bubble. Irwin rightly claims that many other people suspected the bubble’s presence as early as 2005; the ferocity of the bubble’s burst is what caught so many by surprise. Subprime mortgage loans’ ability to corrode supposedly walled-off safer securities wiped out dreams on Main Street and Wall Street. American (and worldwide) common good took a beating: jobs and pension funds were lost; properties were squandered; and social and economic inequalities, on the rise for a generation, were exacerbated.

Steve Carell’s character, Mark Baum (Steve Eisman in real life) – haunted and obsessive – doggedly seeks out some sort of justice in the midst of the darkness. He’s a Wall Street player, undoubtedly, but the unmitigated fraud that imbues the financial side of the housing market won’t let him rest. His pursuit of what turns out to be contorted justice gives a glimmer of hope.

As 2016 approaches, we’re still a society that emphasizes fiscal over social policy. A balance between the two categories of policies would be an improvement. The lures of consumerism continue to take precedence over concern for and care of the environment. The realization and acceptance that we can’t continue to burn through unlimited amounts of oil and coal to fuel our desires of economic growth at all costs would be another improvement. And many yet believe that market activity, like a washing machine working a load of soiled clothing, somehow turns our collective greed into good. It doesn’t – and that’s the simple lesson of the 2008 crash well-told by “The Big Short.”

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Understanding the 2008 crash, which had much in common with the economic crash of 1929, is essential knowledge for citizens who care about their families, neighbors, and communities. “The Big Short” – book or movie – is a good place to start. If you would like to understand the larger panoramic view, I humbly suggest you read Just a Little Bit More. Until Brad Pitt contacts me (ha!) to make a movie version of JaLBM (he co-produced “The Big Short”), this linked YouTube short on JaLBM will have to suffice!

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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“Just a Little Bit More” in Chicago

Basketball was my first love. My home church, St. Mark Lutheran in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, had (and still has) an activity center with a full-size hardwood basketball court. As a youngster, I would lay in bed at night dreaming about making it to the fifth grade. Back in that day, there were no basketball teams or leagues for pint-sized superstars-to-be. Fifth grade was the entry point for organized basketball. We played a competitive church league b-ball schedule for four years up until high school; the last two of those years we played on the church team and the junior high school team simultaneously. Those were the days. I’ve often said that I probably would not have become a pastor without that hardwood basketball court at the St. Mark Center. The center was built in 1969. From my vantage point now having served as a pastor for twenty-five years, I’m pretty impressed that the St. Mark church council and building committee in the ’60s had the courage and commitment to build that center – like I said – with a hardwood basketball court as its centerpiece. Today, the center still hosts basketball games and other activities for youth, and serves as a winter overnight sleeping area for homeless people via the PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) program.

st. mark presentation

JaLBM presentation at St. Mark Lutheran, Mt. Prospect, IL, September 14, 2015.

St. Mark also funded my seminary education. In the mid- to late-1980s, seminary tuition ranged from $3000-$4500/year, as education costs were significantly subsidized by the larger church. (Seminary tuition currently runs about $15,000/year.) I’m indebted to St. Mark for its support, and grateful for the people of St. Mark who helped shape my faith and understanding of the world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Consequently, it was a privilege and honor visit St. Mark and have a conversation on social and economic inequalities, and the common good. Some forty-five people gathered September 14th for presentation and discussion on Just a Little Bit More themes: Rockefeller’s permission, the dominant religion of the land (the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism), and Jesus as a social egalitarian. It was a good session. I’m grateful for the leadership of Nancy Snell, Dr. Lanny Wilson, Dr. Jean Rossi, and my dad—the original “Carlos”—Carl Anderson at St. Mark as they continue further discussions on JaLBM themes in their adult education book study series. Thanks to retiring Pastor Linnea Wilson and St. Mark’s new pastor, Christie Webb, for their support as well.

Messiah Lutheran Church, Wauconda, IL hosted a luncheon Q & A session for me and Just a Little Bit More after I preached at the congregation on September 13th. A number of folks at Messiah have read JaLBM and we engaged in fruitful conversation about the common good and the pursuit of justice in the midst of increasing societal inequality. Special thanks to Pastors Dawn Mass Eck and Ben Dueholm (who has written an excellent article on inequality for The Christian Century, linked here) for facilitating a good weekend for their guest preacher at Messiah. I preached on Hispanic ministry as Messiah embraces a study emphasis this fall, “Church in Changing Neighborhood.” The public school district that serves Wauconda, a northern Chicago suburb, has a student population 26 percent Latino; a generation ago there was minimal Latino presence in Wauconda.

It was gratifying to be at “home” again in the Chicago area, seeing faces old and new, sharing some of my JaLBM work and Hispanic ministry experience.

I don’t play basketball anymore, but I haven’t forgot my hardwood court roots. Thanks, St. Mark!

 

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. The full-length book (257 pgs) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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Whole Foods Market – Detroit

wfd1

It might seem as if all the news coming out of Detroit lately has been bad . . . blighted and abandoned neighborhoods, the first major American city to declare bankruptcy, crippling unemployment. In 1950,
Detroit was the fourth most populous city in the United States with 1.8 million residents. Its population has been in decline ever since. The 2008-09 economic crash caused Detroit’s unemployment rate to peak at 28 percent, and Detroit’s population plummeted to under 725,000 with two hundred thousand residents leaving the Motor City during the crisis.

You might have heard that Detroit is a “food desert,” meaning that there are no grocery stores selling fresh produce within the city limits. That’s not true. There are a number of loyal grocers within the city limits – the Honey Bee Market, established in 1956, caters to a mostly Latino clientele in southwest Detroit, and University Foods, established in 1979, serves the upper Midtown area. The Eastern Market, located about a mile from Ford Field stadium, is the largest public historic market district in the United States. Especially on Saturdays, thousands of Detroit area residents flock to buy the fresh produce it offers. It also serves as a tailgate destination before Detroit Lions home games in the fall. There are other local grocers and discounters like Save-A-Lot (the precursor to Dollar General as a grocer); but when the Farmer Jack grocery chain closed its single remaining store in 2007, that meant major grocery chains no longer had operations in Detroit. No Albertsons, Kroger, or Safeway stores within Motown’s city limits – not even Walmart, the largest grocer in the United States.

Austin-based Whole Foods, surprisingly, decided to enter Detroit’s city limits, setting up shop on Mack Avenue in lower Midtown in June 2013. Whole Foods sells high quality, organic, and sustainable foods to customers nationwide via employees who are treated well – starting wages are usually around $11/hour, with benefits offered after four to six months on the job. Whole Foods strives to practice environmental stewardship through its relationships with suppliers, and touts commitment to “greater good” as a core value in its aggregate operations. Whole Foods is also one of the most expensive grocery stores in the country.

wfd3

St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran youth with store manager Larry Austin

The ELCA Youth Gathering brought 30,000 Lutheran high schoolers to Detroit in July 2015. I came to the gathering with eight youth and a wonderful adult leader, Chelsi West, representing St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran in Austin. The gathering youth and their leaders performed service projects throughout the city, and filled the Ford Field stadium four nights for music, fellowship, and inspiration from superb speakers. It was a fantastic event, and many Detroiters expressed gratitude for our presence that brought service muscle and economic support to the city and surrounding area.

While in Detroit for the event, our group went for a visit to the Whole Foods store in Detroit’s Midtown. Being from Austin, I wanted to see what “greater good” connections the seemingly incongruous placement of a Whole Foods store in the Motor City were producing. We hoofed up from Ford Field about one mile to lower Midtown on a hot Saturday afternoon. New apartment buildings contrasted with burnt-out and abandoned mansions from days gone by. My Austinite youth, accustomed to a busy downtown corridor, were surprised by the tranquility. We saw few passersby and only a modest amount of cars on the roads.

When we got to Mack Avenue in lower Midtown, we noticed more activity. The Whole Foods Market stood on the corner. At 20,000 square feet, it’s one-fourth the size of Austin’s flagship store. Yet, it’s one of the biggest grocery stores within the Detroit city limits.

Some of the grocery stores in Detroit (such as Save-A-Lot) move big quantities of cheap food with meager selection – highly processed filler and junk food like chips, crackers, and sugary treats. It’s only been in the last few decades that a major shift has occurred in world history – generally speaking, the poor are now obese and the rich are thin. For all of history, it’s been the other way around. Cheap filler food – seemingly the best option for people living in poverty – is a main contributing factor. Detroit has one of the highest obesity rates for American cities (33 percent). Whole Foods has sent one of its staff nutritionists, Dr. Akua Woolbright, to live and work in Detroit; she offers free classes on healthier eating and lifestyle change.

Store manager Larry Austin (pictured above) met with our group and talked to us of the store’s two years of operations in Detroit. Larry exudes an exemplary enthusiasm for his work and for the mission of Whole Foods in Detroit. He’s been with Whole Foods for sixteen years. The five high schoolers who joined me in conversation with Larry caught a small glimpse of Whole Foods co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb’s 21st century business model. Larry told us, with a confident smile, that sales for these first two years have exceeded expectations significantly.

The Detroit store employs 180 people, half of whom actually live within city limits; the majority of these are full-time employees receiving health care benefits.

My book Just a Little Bit More proposes a newer concept – economic democracy – that uplifts the values of limits, balance, and cooperation within the competitive business environment. JaLBM promotes purposeful common good creation; it’s our responsibility to make sure the economic market lives up to that goal. Mackey and Robb concur and it’s a major reason why they put the first chain grocer back into Detroit since 2007. Granted, Whole Foods took advantage of city-offered subsidies that minimized the store rental rate ($6/square foot), but Kroger, Albertsons and Walmart haven’t done so and don’t have plans to set up shop anytime soon within Detroit’s city limits.

As for the prices in the Detroit store – overall, they seemed expensive. I expected to see more difference in terms of prices between Whole Foods in Austin and Detroit (the hot food and salad bar is available at $6.99/lb. instead of the usual $8.99/lb.). But as Mackey, Robb, and store manager Larry Austin will tell you, the store offers a significantly healthier quality of food not available anywhere else in Detroit. And also, if you’re making your own food – and not buying prepared food – you’re saving money. According to Slate writer Tracie McMillan, (her linked article is excellent), Whole Foods Detroit has a mountain of work to do if they expect Detroit’s poorer residents to shop there. McMillan says 38 percent of Detroit residents receive SNAP benefits – food stamps – but only 5-10 percent of sales at Whole Foods Detroit as of now are from residents using SNAP benefits. (Nationally, Whole Foods’ rate of SNAP benefit users is 1-2 percent of overall sales.)

Detroit has over 400 liquor stores, grossly outnumbering the city’s grocery stores. Whole Foods in Detroit is not a perfect match, but I give the corporation major props for choosing the city of Detroit for a much needed shot of fresh produce, healthier food options, and jobs.

The news from Detroit is getting better – unemployment is currently down to 10. 2 percent and further economic recovery seems to be just around the corner. Most importantly, all the Detroiters with whom we interacted – from Larry Austin to folks on the street – were upbeat about their city.

Thanks to the many Detroiters who helped make the ELCA Youth Gathering memorable and uplifting!

#RiseUpELCA

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be politically hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!

 

 

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The Annual Gates Letter and the Limits of Philanthropy

When we talk about Andrew Carnegie, the robber baron, we pronounce his name CAR-neg-ie. Yes, that was the guy who had his steel workers doing 12 hours days/7 days a week. When you hear his name spoken on NPR radio, however, it’s Car-NEG-ie. That’s the guy who founded and funded libraries, museums, and so much more. Carnegie – however you pronounce it – felt a moral obligation to give away his fortune for societal benefit. Ah, good ol’ philanthropy – a fantastic builder of common good, even if the utilized fortune was questionably attained.

John Rockefeller Sr. is the greatest philanthropist in the history of the world, not only because of the sheer volume of his giving (more than $1.5 billion during his and his son’s lifetimes – close to $20 billion in today’s dollars), but more so because he was the first mega-philanthropist wanting to get at the root causes of societal problems. As quoted by biographer Ron Chernow, Rockefeller explained his mature view of philanthropy: “Our guiding principle . . . to benefit as many people as possible. Instead of giving alms to beggars, if anything can be done to remove the causes which lead to the existence of beggars, then something deeper and broader and more worthwhile will have been accomplished” (Titan, Vintage, 1998, p. 314). The Rockefeller foundation has uplifted the common good by various accomplishments: eradicating hookworm in the southern US and in fifty-two countries across six continents, developing a vaccine for yellow fever and other diseases, supporting minority and higher education, establishing medical and social science research centers, among many others.

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Melinda and Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum – Davos, Switzerland

Bill and Melinda Gates have followed in Rockefeller’s and Carnegie’s paths and readily share their enthusiasm for philanthropy’s continued upside. Bill and Melinda Gates, quite simply, are in Rockefeller’s category as philanthropists. They are committed to fighting inequity, and have joined with investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet to form the Giving Pledge, encouraging fellow super-wealthy to commit to give away more than half of their fortunes through philanthropy during their lifetimes or in their wills. Through their own foundation, established in 2000, the Gateses battle hunger, poverty, and disease and also uplift education. You might not know as much about Melinda as you do about her husband. A native of Dallas and 1982 valedictorian of Ursuline Catholic Academy, she has both an undergrad degree (in computer science) and an MBA from Duke University; she began to work for Microsoft in the late 1980s. After dating for six years, Melinda French and Bill Gates married in 1994. They have three children; she is a practicing Roman Catholic and has her husband’s support in raising their children in the Catholic expression of the Christian faith.

The Gates’ 2015 annual letter makes a bold claim: “The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s . . . These breakthroughs will be driven by innovation in technology — ranging from new vaccines and hardier crops to much cheaper smartphones and tablets — and by innovations that help deliver those things to more people.” Wow – that’s pretty ambitious. For the most part, I think they are right.

The long-running industrial era with its call to work and accompanying rewards has lifted so many from the grips of poverty (including, for those reading this blog, most of our own ancestors). And that process continues today in poor countries – look what’s happened in China and India in the last twenty-five years, and most recently in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Cambodia. The improvements that can be made in underdeveloped countries are astounding and are enhanced by today’s technological possibilities.

Have you heard of the term technological optimism? It refers to a type of thinking that expects the problems of the world – economic, social, political – to be solved, or at least, assuaged, by technological advances. Bill and Melinda Gates, unequivocally, are technological optimists.

For the large majority of us in developed countries, living with the benefits of industrialization, technological advances are less advantageous. Being able to watch a movie on one’s phone – an example of technological advance – is not a life-or-death issue. In the developed world, we more so deal with something called the energy-complexity spiral (see Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek’s excellent book, Drilling Down, Springer, 2012). The availability of incredibly cheap energy (coal and oil) has made possible – literally, fueled – the industrialized development of society. As we try to solve problems in the advanced world (how to play a movie on a hand-held device, or how to make a new anti-cancer drug less nausea-producing) more energy, knowledge, and money are typically required. Remember when the thermostat in your living room had a simple on-off switch and a dial temperature control? Now your “climate control device” houses a mini-computer and you often need to consult the manual, or call a technician, in order to manipulate it. Part of the energy-complexity spiral is that problems and solutions tend to get more complicated (and costly) as time marches forward.

The Gates’ annual letter says we’ll need to figure a way “to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide.” Agreed – but, unfortunately, we are a long way off. We’re still drilling and burning oil like never before and the waste sinks on this poor planet get more exhausted all the time. The temporary low price of oil – mid-2015 near a five-year low – doesn’t help the situation. At the very least, we need to utilize an additional tax on gasoline to restore a sense of value to this precious commodity.* And because we’ve not yet backed off of oil, we’re stalling on the technological advances that will help produce better energy sources for tomorrow.

The main problem with an economy-produced fortune, like Rockefeller’s or Gates’, is that it necessarily comes imbued with technological optimism. I’m a supporter of technological advance, but I’m also wary of its allure and promises. Skyping on my phone is cool, but face-to-face relationships that create trust are the foundation of a good democratic society. Drought-resistant seeds in Africa, more cell phones for the women of Bangladesh, and widespread vaccine coverage for children in Nigeria is good . . . but we can’t duplicate developed world devices, machines, and technologies for the rest of the world based on how much fossil fuel we currently use. It would be a carbon emissions melt-down and waste sink nightmare. Perhaps we could also have some major philanthropic support to fund studies and projects that look at steady state economies, inclusive of how to slow down American consumerism while considering the disparate state of standards of living around the globe. Is there a current technology to remind us that less can be more?

Philanthropy is good, but it’s not the highest good. If philanthropy is understood to be the highest good we can produce, it then becomes no more than a paternalism that perpetuates the status quo. Creating systems of economy that are thoroughly just – where people don’t get left behind or left out – is the highest good. Capitalism in the 21st century is very good, but it can be and it can do better. We are responsible for making it better for today and for tomorrow.

At the end of the Gates Foundation letter, Bill and Melinda make an invitation to readers to join the movement by becoming “world citizens.” I’ve joined. The end of the letter calls for the “expanding of compassion” among world citizens. Part of that expansion, ironically, is using less – a mindset which absolutely cuts into grain of today’s conventional wisdom that more is better. How to get more out of less – that’s not only efficient, but also compassionate.

* Proceeds of an additional energy tax could be used to fix crumbling American infrastructure and support development of better energy sources.

 

The views expressed in this blog are reflective of my work in the 2014 book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.  

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase JaLBM from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

Click here for Summary Version and Study Guide from the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, ideal for book clubs and community of faith study groups.

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Open-Carry, (Big) Cars, and a Theology of Power

The Texas legislature is in session, and the consideration to legalize the open-carry of handguns is a top agenda item. Intriguingly, Texas is out of step with most of the nation when it comes to permitting open-carry of handguns. It is one of only six states that currently doesn’t permit it (open-carry of shot guns and rifles, long associated with hunting, is permissible in Texas). Open-carry means a weapon is visibly holstered to a waist belt or harnessed on a shoulder strap. Proponents consider the holstered gun of a law-abiding citizen a deterrent to potential criminals, who, in contrast, typically conceal their weapons. This part of the argument makes good sense; yet, there is one factor on this issue, rarely mentioned, that I’m concerned about in today’s environment of increasing economic and social inequality: the human propensity to misuse power.

I recently saw a Toyota truck commercial – linked here – that invited you, the potential buyer, to view the showcased truck as “your castle on wheels.” Let’s face it: some people drive as if they would be kings and queens in four-wheel machines with public highways their own personal fiefdoms. No sharing of space, get the hell outta my way, screw you if you think I’m letting you in, you’re not driving fast enough for me so I’m going to ride your ass until you move, etc., etc., etc. Do people treat others like this when jointly walking toward a similar destination? Hardly. Something happens – linked to human nature – when we get behind the wheel, enclose ourselves behind glass and steel, and rev the engine. Like Obadiah Stane as Iron Monger, we become supersized.

et.0423.sneaks.484 –– Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) surveys the Iron Monger armor in the 2008 movie "Iron Man". Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment Present A Marvel Studios Production. ***2008 SUMMER SNEAKS movie.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane in Iron Man

The twentieth century Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (credited with writing the Serenity Prayer, used by twelve-step groups) wisely opined concerning human progress: “There is therefore progress in human history; but it is a progress of all human potencies, both for good and evil.” Our use of power in the last three centuries – for better and for worse – amazes. Incredible inventions and discoveries making human existence less brutish and more enjoyable; incredible inventions and discoveries able to kill grand quantities of humans (and other forms of life) within seconds. The more power we have, individually and collectively, the more so living life on this planet becomes complex. Religious traditions, from the Jewish commandment “Walk humbly with your God” to the Buddhist teaching “Respect all forms of life,” encourage us not to become supersized in our estimations of self.

The majority of drivers and gun owners are responsible in their respective actions. Yet, as our relationships become thinner and more homogenous in a society of increasing inequality, our fears of one another and our impatience with one another negatively impact our actions. Motor vehicle death per capita in America is down (thanks in part to airbags and safety regulations), but it remains the leading cause of death for Americans under thirty. Ninety Americans die in motor vehicle accidents – entirely preventable – every day. More than 30,000 Americans die yearly from gun violence; more than thirty a day die by homicide and more than fifty a day die by suicide. African-Americans John Crawford and (twelve-year-old) Tamir Rice were shot to death by white police officers, rigorously trained in gun use and safety, because they were thought to be “perpetrators.” As a result, violence directed toward police officers is unfortunately on the rise. The misuse of power in all directions can tragically lead to the loss of innocent life.

We yet live in a society where the fear of the other predominates; many whites fear blacks and browns. In response to fear, human nature dictates that we protect ourselves. With a twenty-year downward trend in violent crime and homicide in America, however, the move toward nationwide open-carry begs the question: Do we as a society and as individuals know the limits of physical power? Supersizing ourselves – with guns or cars – takes away energy and resources from something else potentially much more beneficial to a shared societal common good. What if we put supersized energy and time into the depth and scope of our relationships one with another – especially with those we don’t know? Rich and poor, whites and persons of color, young and old, civilians and police, conservatives and liberals – renewed relationships in public space are more powerful than we realize and help prevent our misuses of power.

niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

 

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

The views expressed in this blog are reflective of my work in the 2014 book, Just a Little Bit More:
The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.  

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase JaLBM from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

Click here for Summary Version and Study Guide from the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, ideal for book clubs and community of faith study groups.

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Can Science Replace Religion?

New Atheism – led by scientists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and others – is deeply critical of religious teaching and practice. Harris says in support of his book The Moral Landscape (Free Press, 2011), “Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them terrible guides to securing it in this one.” He and others posit science as a better way to determine worthy human morals and values.

Harris is right to criticize religious understandings that place oversized emphases on an afterlife at the expense of present day concerns – consider the 9/11 terrorists and the supposed promise of virgins awaiting them in paradise, a tragic blend of hate and misogyny inspiring them to act in this world. Harris is also right to look to science to determine better ways for humans to know, think, and interact – making the world a better place now and in the future.

But, before we get too excited about its promoted versatility: science will never solve all of our problems. The human family yet needs good religion. Getting rid of religion, as advocated by Harris and Dawkins, would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Additionally, it increases the risk of making science something it is not – a religion.

Consider, for example, forgiveness. Science can teach us about the benefits of forgiveness, but it can’t teach us how to put it into practice. That’s what religion does. Furthermore, religion and science working together help define and categorize different types of forgiveness, a mutual enhancement that makes the world a better place. People who practice forgiveness tend to have lower blood pressure, live with less stress and anxiety, and understand thou shalt not kill as a good guide to navigate relationships with other human beings in this present world. Forgiveness incorporated rejects the option of vengeance. All of these are enhancements to the health and well-being of the whole human family.

The word religion, from the Latin religio, means to fasten, bind, or reconnect. There is no question that religions are human constructions, and consequently not perfect. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, forgiveness is central to their religious understandings for life in this world. Forgiveness – ritualistically part of all three systems – reconnects adherents with the Divine and binds adherents to one another in this life. Human beings created religions, in part, to help forge community ties. Forgiveness enhances and binds those relational ties, from birth to death.

The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, is shared by the three monotheistic religions. Dreamer of stars and moons, Joseph, the younger offspring and favorite of his father, is sold into slavery by his jealous and envious older brothers. Only later, when the brothers and their families are suffering from hunger and famine, do they unknowingly face their long lost brother Joseph. They are in a most desperate situation, physically and emotionally. Joseph, now powerful and holding in his hands the fate of his brothers and “their little ones,” has the option to choose vengeance upon his brothers for having sold him into slavery so many years earlier. He instead chooses forgiveness – and family reunion.

Of course, religion has been misused through the ages. It has caused great and painful suffering, even to our present day. But it has also taught humans to love one another, to accept one another, and to forgive one another. Religion, like anything else worthy of human attention and endeavor, needs to be continually reformed in order to be better. The old story of Joseph and his brothers has the unique ability to instruct and reform the current and future human family; forgiveness is an essential element for the very survival of humanity.

British writer Bryan Appleyard critiques thinkers who endow science with the ability to give a “final and full account of the world.” Harris and Dawkins have legitimate critiques of religion and some of its practices, but ultimately they advocate science as the one and only true way – essentially, a new religion. This type of thinking is categorically fundamentalist – a type of thinking that usually is not beneficial to the health and well-being of the human family. Atheism is a belief system just as much as any religion can be. True wisdom understands the world to be a big place, large enough for the scientific theories that explain the essence of stars and moons and large enough for the religious systems that bind us together as people who practice virtues like forgiveness.

 

These blog posts are representative of my work in Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. The book is available through the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing, www.blueocotillo.com, and Amazon. Blue Ocotillo Publishing – paperback – $14.95 + tax (for Texas residents) + shipping. Ebook format available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

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“Just a Little Bit More” Gets Airborne

bish and jim

Bishop Mike Rinehart and Jim Sorensen*

An unexpected thing happened last May on a plane bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A group of ten adults was travelling to the historic East African country to work with the organization Water to Thrive. W2T is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to fighting one part of the global water crisis by bringing clean, safe well-water to those who need it in rural Africa. Jim Sorensen, a former missionary in Ethiopia and a W2T board member, went on the trip to serve as an experienced guide for the group. Mike Rinehart, bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA), was a first-time participant wanting to learn more about W2T’s work in order to inspire greater support for W2T’s mission upon his return to the Houston area.

Mr. Sorensen and the good bishop were seated near each other on the Boeing 777, and as they settled in for the fifteen hour trip, both reached in their carry-on bags and produced – did you guess? – brand new copies of Just a Little Bit More. They exchanged glances of surprise; this was more than mere coincidence. They had independently received a copy of the new book, and unbeknownst one to the other, had the same reading plan for the long flight over the Atlantic and the mid-section of the African continent. In just its second week of publication, JaLBM was making its way to Africa with two travelers committed to fighting the debilitating effects of lingering poverty.

It took me the better part of three years to write and publish Just a Little Bit More. As a matter of fact, I picked up the first one hundred copies fresh off the digital presses of my printer in Austin (Ultimate Imaging) on Friday, May 2, 2014. The Southwestern Texas Synod Assembly (ELCA) convened in Austin the very next day, and Bishop Ray Tiemann was kind enough to announce to the gathered group that my awaited book was available. A number of colleagues and assembly attendees purchased copies. The next weekend the Gulf Coast Synod would gather in Baton Rouge for their assembly meeting. Good friend and Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest rep David Johnson attended the assembly and delivered a promised copy of JaLBM to Bishop Rinehart. Mike promised me he’d give JaLBM a read and tell others about the book through his website. That same weekend back in Austin, good friends Paul and Marsha Collinson-Streng hosted a book signing party. A number of other good friends came to share in the festivities; we ate, drank, visited, and listened to a reading. Pastor Lynnae Sorensen was at the party; she had originally purchased a copy at the Austin synod assembly meeting, but wanted one more “for my dad who is travelling to Ethiopia on Sunday.”

Jim Sorensen finished reading JaLBM before the group got back to the States – less than two weeks. Jim says that JaLBM is “a great book; like a lesson on what creates poverty, and how we end up perpetuating poverty! A must-read for all Christians who care.”

Bishop Mike put up a review of JaLBM last August on his blog. “Just a Little Bit More engages in a critique of the god of mammon, lamenting that the concept of the common good, so central to American history, has fallen out of favor. T. Carlos Anderson believes liberty and egalitarianism need not fight with one another. They can coexist in such a way that all can have enough.”

Both Jim and Bishop Mike get gold stars – as do a few hundred others – for reading the smaller font first edition of JaLBM. With a larger font, the second edition of JaLBM came out in October 2014 coinciding with the release of the ebook version. Close to 750 copies of JaLBM have been sold and distributed in its first year of availability. A big thanks goes out to people like Jim and Bishop Mike who have given their support to the book and its author! The purpose of the book’s publication and dissemination is to spur conversation and action that uplifts the common good in our midst, and in places throughout the world, like Africa.

The summary version/study guide of JaLBM is now available. At fifty pages with probing discussion questions at the end of each eight chapters, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the full length version to facilitate conversation and exchange in group study settings. Seeking common good and kingdom connection is the JaLBM motto, as seen in the good work of a great organization like W2T!

 

*Picture of Mike and Jim taken at 2015 Lutheran Legislative Event in Austin.

ELCA stands for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a national church organization of 4 million people and 10,000 community congregations.

Please visit the Water To Thrive website to learn more about the organization and how you can participate in its work.

 

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. The summary version is available for $7.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase full length paperback from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

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