Friday, September 28, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

This is a day in which it’s hard to pick which topic to post. There is a Congressional government-driven health plan for "the poor" that is so bizarre that it manages to classify as “the poor” families that are so wealthy that they also have to pay the Alternative Minimum Income Tax designed for “the rich.” Only in America.

There is also news from the American Enterprise Institute detailing the devastating collapse of health care in Zimbabwe. I hope to write more about this later.

Instead, I’d like to discuss an interesting Wall Street Journal article on a split in the evangelical Christian community over environmentalism. A few years ago, the leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals gained attention by claiming global-warming environmentalism as a new face of American evangelical Christianity. Now, many evangelicals are becoming more and more uncomfortable with the NAE’s stance. Both sides in this article are fairly treated. Both sides have sincere, strong Biblical foundations for their positions. But what struck me is how un-Christian it seems to have fear playing such a role, on both sides, at least in the quotes chosen by the author. The article quotes the late Jerry Falwell as saying just before his death that global-warming environmentalism is “Satan’s attempt to redirect the church’s primary focus.” On the other hand, some evangelicals joined in an anti-coal power plant campaign that referred to a multiple coal plant project as “a ring of fire”. Yes, coal fired power plants, as well as those fired by natural gas, have burners which can be considered fire. But this “ring of fire” accusation for me connects with the popular song and with the term for the earthquake-likelihood zone in the Pacific. Both have unnecessarily evil connotations. It seems to me that both sides are saying that the devil is on the other guy’s side. This is not good for Christians.

Finally, maybe some readers can comment on this in terms of the science that I don’t understand. Two people involved mentioned asthma among children as part of their air pollution activism. But do carbon-dioxide emissions have anything to do with asthma? And, if it’s not carbon dioxide, we’ve reduced air pollution from sulfates, nitrates, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and cigarette smoking massively over my lifetime. Why is it that childhood asthma is going up? If there is any connection with air pollution it ought to be dropping like a rock. I follow this topic modestly, and I’ve read of blame being laid at the foot of everything from diesel exhaust to increasing childhood obesity to homes that are more energy efficient (allergens tend to build-up in the house) to a reduction in bothersome mild childhood respiratory infections to changes in diagnostic criteria. None of this seems to have very much to do with global warming, and a lot of it has to do with individual lifestyles, not with emotional religious crusades.

But let’s say for a moment that the increase in asthma might have something to do with the increase in coal fired plants over the past generation. Why did these coal fired plants get built? It’s partly because way too many Christians so eagerly bought into the fears of the anti-nuclear power generation movement that they also bought into a “coal power generation will be OK” scenario. I lived through the arguments that we were just a stone’s throw away from improvements that would make coal fired power plants benign ---- eventually the only thing coming out of coal plant smokestacks would be harmless carbon dioxide. Ooops. Apparently I’m not the only one to make this connection. The authors of the book Freakonomics wrote a blog entry called “The Jane Fonda Effect.” Most to the point in their article is where actor Michael Douglas said of the conjunction of his movie China Syndrome with the accident at Three Mile Island: “It was a religious awakening…I felt it was God’s hand.” That’s why I entitled this post déjà vu all over again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Can't Buy the Kingdom

It isn't a zero sum game. I must remind myself of those words anytime I talk about politics and new policy. Partisan rancor can quickly consume a person, especially someone who has the unflattering characteristic that he needs to be right all the time. I've written about this before but I think it bears repeating: People are the pearls of God. He values his creation so much that he would send his only son to die so that we may never have to buy into the lie that we're not good enough to achieve pure, blameless, and special deeds. He is alive and he lives in you!

I'm very against universal health care and mostly against the government doing just about
anything involving the social welfare of its people. I believe that people should be helping people and that we shouldn't allow the government to crowd out the private charity that we should all be practicing. This is part of the reason I get so worked up, whenever a new policy is proposed. Not only do I think, "There goes more of my income," it's also, "There's now a greater distance between interpersonal acts of generosity."

The first line of this post I mentioned that it isn't a zero sum game. It is a reminder because no matter whether it is someone with the same mindset as me or someone who wants the government to assume more responsibility people will get helped. I'm coming around to understand that is what is best. I want to make it clear again to myself and anyone reading this blog that all of what we're working on isn't about me keeping more of my income but it's about helping the greatest number of people. There is a song by Jason Upton that helps renew my perspective when I get too caught up in the details of stuff, it's called "Poverty",

Where will be turn when our world falls apart,
And all of the treasures we've stored in our barns
Can't buy the Kingdom of God?
Who will we praise when we've praised all our lives,
Men who build kingdoms and men who build fame
But heaven does not know their names?
What will we fear when all that remains,
Is God on the throne with a child in his arms
And love in his eyes,
And the sound of his heart cries?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's a Wisdom Thing

I was reading a long segment of Ecclesiastes 5, which is all about preferences, which were the topic of Doug’s August 30th post. In fact Doug closed that post with the words: “It’s a wisdom thing.” What I found interesting while reading this passage recently is how multi-faceted it is. Some things that seem to be clear cut also seem to be contradicted by verses just a short ways away. This suggests that there is a wisdom (pardon the pun) to encountering the whole, to letting the parts bounce off of one another. (The text below is from the English Standard Version as appearing on Bible Gateway).

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

“There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Was Born.

I was born in a home for unwed mothers.

Lest you think that I’m angling for either a) an appearance on “The View” or b) an award as a great Dickens parody writer, let me explain.

My parents, not surprisingly for the Greatest Generation in the 1950s, bought their first house in what was then the new northwest suburbs of Oklahoma City. When Mom was pregnant with me, her doctor (a g.p. by the way, not an obstetrician) wanted her to deliver with the best available close-by medical attention. At that time, the best obstetrics facilities in that area were located at the Home of Redeeming Love, a home for unwed mothers which was co-located with Deaconess Hospital, both of which were missions of the Free Methodist Church. I was told that my Dad was the only father at the hospital the night I was born. I’ve heard this story all my life, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it until the past few days.

If you may recall, Doug posted on September 7th on policies to promote adoption. Doug and I have been kicking around ideas along the way, and yesterday I decided to check out if there was anything on the web about the Home for Redeeming Love. There is. Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City has a wonderful tribute to their history. I hope you will take time to read the article, and meditate on and pray about the history of these dedicated men and women (mostly women) who for decades made this their ministry to the lonely and fatherless (what could be more Biblical?). Note a couple of things about the history. The first line really caught my attention:

“Decades before the advent of welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other government programs, a few dedicated Free Methodist women evangelists responded with Christian concern to the plight of unwed pregnant women and girls who had been betrayed and abandoned by society.”

The women farmed their property to support the home. No one was turned away.

There are undoubtedly institutions similar to this with similar goals. But it is another symptom of the secularization of our society that Christian institutions just like this have become less visible. However, having read many “Christian” hospital webpages recently as background for this blog, I find that Deaconess Hospital is probably the best at maintaining a Christian identity and mission.

I read this and marvel at the faith and dedication of these women. This is what Christianity is all about.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Autumn Appraisal: More Conspicuous Consumption

Judgment is a difficult word to understand for many Christians because it operates on so many different levels. There’s the capital J-Judgment that we profess as Christians in the Apostle’s Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Then there’s the little j-judgment that Jesus talks about in Matthew 7.
One of my personal favorites, Graham Cooke, has a story he tells about a conversation between a Catholic priest and a church member. While the church member talked, the priest faced him, bent over at the waist and bobbed side to side. The church member was baffled but in fact the priest was “dodging the plank”. A strange interaction, but it got the message home. Don’t judge. That’s why it’s so difficult to say someone is consuming conspicuously. Let me back that statement out.
Mark posted over a week ago about The Man of Steel, not Clark Kent but Andrew Carnegie. He had a 64 room house and threw lavish parties, but he was perhaps the greatest purveyor of knowledge in the world (He set up libraries all over the world with his donations).

In economics most people would say that Carnegie’s colossal donations were very generous and that what he did was a great service to the world. We measure someone’s generosity by how much they give but that is not the measure that Jesus uses to commend someone’s generosity and sacrifice.

Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others.” (Luke 21:1-3)

So, there is a different standard as a Christian. This seems to be the case more often than not. Admittedly to the point that I’ve thought it might just be easier to be Jewish. It’s not the amount you give but what you have left, and only if you give in love (for more on that see my earlier post Summer Lovin’).

All that being said the question becomes whether I consider Carnegie’s gift to be generous. I believe he did a great service to the world. It looks generous to me even if his house was huge. There are two things I can write here beyond a doubt. Carnegie’s actions fell short of perfection. I also know something else Jesus mentions before he gives the parable of the plank, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That’s with a capital J.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blessed Are The Monopolists? II

The following are some conclusions drawn by Prof. Emek Basker in his new Journal of Economic Perspectives article "The Causes and Consequences of Wal-Mart's Growth".

Wal-Mart's productivity advantage is due to "its large and early investment in information technology."

"Wal-Mart's biggest and most obvious effect is that it provides lower prices to consumers. The competitive effect of Wal-Mart has lowered prices that consumers pay even when they do not shop at Wal-Mart; but this pressure also reduces the profitability of other stores and in some cases causes stores, especially small ones, to shut down....Wal-Mart's effect on jobs is likely to be modest and is likely to be positive, but its effect on wages requires further investigation."

There are a couple of other points worth noting in Prof. Basker's article. One area of economic dislocation has been in the area of small, domestic suppliers who can not meet Wal-Mart's requirements for information technology. And, quite interestingly, he quotes another study by Prof. Panle Jia as stating the the economic effects of Wal-Mart are very similar to those of K-Mart. So why does Wal-Mart generate such negative reaction from our cultural elites compared to other discount retailers? Of course, Wal-Mart's roots are in Arkansas compared to Minnesota (Target), California and Washington State (Costco), and Michigan and Illinois (K-Mart and and the former Sears). In a map provided by Prof. Basker, it appears that as recently as 1989 Wal-Mart was completely unrepresented in the DC-Boston and San-Diego to Seattle corridors. And, according to Prof. Basker, Wal-Mart shoppers have obviously lower average incomes than the customers of the two rivals he reports (Target and Costco). Hmm. I wonder. WWJHO? (Where would Jesus hang out?) We report. You decide.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Entrepreneurs of Grace and Love

I have made several favorable comments about Tod Lindberg’s book on the political teachings of Jesus. On the other hand one of the few disappointments to me is the section on the spread of the Kingdom. It’s one of the few shortcomings I found in the book, and it’s probably because I was reading that section like an economist. It turns out that at the boundary of economics and political science lies a very similar problem: can societies break out of “prisoner’s dilemmas”…those situations in which individual incentives point to behavior (often called “free riding”) that makes everyone worse off than if everyone cooperated (or were given incentives to cooperate). Solving the free rider problem is not inconsistent with market economies; in fact markets couldn’t exist if everyone cheated everyone else at every turn. The success of economic markets is actually one of the triumphs of trust and cooperation.

Thinking as an economist and a Christian, this problem is very important. Maybe we as Christians don’t think often enough about how amazing it is that Christianity survived through its first couple of generations. Cooperative behavior is subject to exploitation by resolutely selfish outsiders. And Jesus demanded that what we are to do goes beyond such typical economic concepts of cooperation as self-satisfaction (“warm glow” behavior) or reciprocity. Warm glow cooperation looks remarkably the behavior that Jesus criticized in the Pharisees, and Jesus specifically rejects the idea that his followers should stop at the concept of reciprocity:

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5: 45 NIV)

I believe that the economic concept most relevant to this part of Jesus’ teaching surprisingly lies elsewhere --- in the economics of innovation. Joseph Schumpeter is famous for numerous contributions to economics, most notably to his concept of the entrepreneur. The study of entrepreneurship has become very popular over the past several years, and there are almost of many definitions of “entrepreneur” as there are writers on the topic. To me, an entrepreneur is a risk taker who realizes that the positive returns from his gamble will occur only if his very success fundamentally changes the way that the world is organized. I think that what Jesus wants us to do is to become entrepreneurs of grace and love, to sow grace and love knowing that it is foolish if the world stays as it is. This leads me to a second question I have about Lindberg’s book: I find a considerable ambivalence as to whether he believes Jesus’ teachings are meaningful as political models outside of a community that accepts Jesus as the Redeemer and the Son of Man. Or, do they require the kind of personal transformation that is a larger part of the Gospel? This will be the topic of my next post on the subject.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Man of Steel

This is the second of my posts on topics from the recent World Magazine “Effective Compassion” issue. One the many towns I grew up in had a “Carnegie Library”. When I first moved to that town, I thought that this designated a type of library, kind of like a “convertible Mustang.” I later learned that this meant that it was one of the approximately 2500 public libraries built by money donated by Andrew Carnegie. According to one of the articles in World (“the Carnegie Way” by Marvin Olasky), it is estimated that Carnegie gave away at least a majority of his fortune... gifts estimated at about $5 billion in today’s dollars. In addition to the libraries, modern institutions which can trace their beginnings back to the Carnegie gifts include Carnegie Hall and Carnegie-Mellon University. What the article doesn’t include is that Carnegie funds or foundations also were driving forces behind the Carnegie Institution of Washington (the scientific research parent of, among other things, the Carnegie Observatories) and the founding of TIAA-CREF (a non-profit retirement fund for teachers and college professors that is one of the largest financial institutions and forces for financial security in the U.S. today).

Yet, as Prof. Olasky’s article describes, Carnegie’s lifestyle was not and is not immune to criticism: Carnegie’s Manhattan home

“had 64 rooms. Its sub-basement had rail tracks for cars filled with coal to feed a row of furnaces. Carnegie burned up a ton of coal on winter days to keep his house warm. His wine cellar had over 1,500 expensive bottles, and he ordered 50-gallon casks of Dewars when he threw a party.”

How, and who are we, to judge the sum of such a life. It’s kind of easy to say that this is one of those “planks in your own eye” moments. But does that mean it would be OK for a Christian to criticize Carnegie's lifestyle if he had given away “only” $200,000? Or would he be immune from criticism if he had given away $8 billion and his home was “only” 16 rooms? By the way, much of what I see on the web suggests that Carnegie, despite his Presbyterian upbringing, was an agnostic ( see for example this web entry). I think that this brings us full circle back to Doug’s post on Fluid Paradigms (August 30th, below). Also, keep in mind what Doug has been saying about proposals for a "consumption" tax.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Virtual Conspicuous Consumption

It says a lot about our culture that conspicuous consumption has invaded even our computer fantasy lives. In an article in the New York Times by Shira Boss, author Julian Dibbell says of the game Second Life, "“Second Life is about getting the better clothes and the bigger build and the reputation as a better builder." The article is full of specific examples involving virtual cars, virtual perfume, and so forth. I've never participated in these on-line virtual lives. Does anybody know if religion plays any role in the life of the virtual participants? (Thanks to Instapundit for the tip on this article.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Business of Saving Lives

10:30 Friday night: Ultimate Frisbee Commences on Landis Green
10:35 Friday night: Doug realizes how out of shape he truly is . . .
11:45 Friday night: Doug quits and decides to head to the office for a quick post.

Wow, this semester has shifted quite vigorously from the feel good, "Here's what we hope to accomplish in this course" speeches to the nitty gritty grind, so ultimate frisbee was a good refresher tonight. Though post ideas have been flowing like . . . I don't know something that flows? Not trite like flows like a river, something cool. I haven't had time to write them down.

Some of the stuff that has come up in conversation about political candidates: Social issues like abortion and how much power any candidate might realistically wield in such concerns. Possibly a president could refrain from pursuing pro-choice policies and oppose people who are advocates of pro-choice but I am ignorant to the full scope of what they can really do about it.

Then it dawned on me, what if we improved our US adoption program? Might a better adoption program induce more decisions in favor of life for some mothers? I would think something like this would have a profound effect. I'm not talking about the government throwing more money into family subsidies for foster care but removing some of the obstacles that exist in the system today.

I don't know about what is ethical in the case of rape or incest or a mother deciding whether she or the baby lives but I like to think that as an economist I'm in the business of saving lives and I see this as not only a way to induce more choices in favor of life but giving any children who would enter the system a better chance at a stable and hopefully loving environment. I will write more on this topic but it's getting close to bed time. Good Night.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Blessed Are the Monopolists?

I have decided to switch gears and write about, of all things, WalMart. I have been thinking about a couple of weeks’ old newspaper column about WalMart pulling out of negotiations with the City of Tallahassee to provide a grocery store in an area the city is interested in redeveloping. (Now, why we all shouldn’t run for the exits when we hear that a City government is getting involved in choosing grocery stores is an issue for a different post entirely). What caught my eye, and I don’t have the original paper in front of me, was one community activist who sniffed something along lines of “We know we need a grocery store, but I think we can do better [than WalMart]”. Really? On what criteria?

This got me thinking about the incredible disdain with which elite urban American culture views WalMart. I’ve always wondered about the reasons for this. Is it something about the Waltons’ religious background? Well, the Waltons were faithful members of and significant donors to the Presbyterian Church, USA, one of the pillars of liberal Protestantism. Is it because some categories of their employees don’t have full insurance benefits? Perhaps, but, as I’ve said over and over, this reality is a product of our ridiculous history of wage and price controls and is nothing the Waltons invented. Moreover, not only do most U.S. firms, particularly including many “Mom and Pop” stores, make a similar distinction, but I would advise also looking at the heart of American elite opinion, academia. I suspect that many, if not most, U.S. universities practice the “part time/no benefits shuffle”.

I think the answer lies in cultural snobbishness. That’s important, because it’s pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t really fond of urban (i.e. Jerusalem) elite snobbishness. We know Jesus and his disciples attracted attention because of their rural accent, and future disciple Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Let me recall an incident from my childhood. My parents moved around a lot when I was young. In one stretch we lived in typically suburban Dallas, and were there long enough to see the opening of the first suburban shopping malls. Then we moved to a town I’ll call Smallville, population 22,000. What a shock. There were two historic banks in town, neither of which particularly wanted your business. There was a small Montgomery Wards, a Sears catalog store, and a single, locally owned, department store. And, on the edge of town, a store I will call the Brand X Discount Store. Brand X had a potential market because their “discount” status made them somewhat cheaper than the main street stores. However, I remember the Brand X store very well (I could ride to just about anywhere in Smallville on my bike). It was dirty, cluttered and unattractive. The products sold there were not of high quality, employees were not friendly or well informed, and returns were not easy.

It was in towns of approximately Smallville’s size that the Waltons made their fortune. The WalMarts offered customers truly lower prices, clean, well lit stores, and a reputation for friendliness and a generous return policy. Simply put, WalMart believed that people who lived in towns of about, say, 22,000 deserved the same things that customers in larger cities took for granted. To put this in religious terms, WalMart was practicing hospitality to a segment of people that many identified as “the least” in society. But what this practically meant is that WalMart became significantly attached to the prejudices against this particular cultural slice of America.

Indeed, in fact of course, this meant that some locally owned stores in towns such as Smallville faced price pressure, and maybe went out of business. That’s what losing your monopoly status means. I remember traveling with some people from a small town in Wisconsin, and they mentioned that a WalMart had recently opened there. I thought: "Oh, here comes the hymn to small town downtown America". In fact, what these people told me was essentially: “It’s about time. Those guys downtown have been living off the high prices from their monopolies long enough.” I will ponder for a future post why it seems that so many Christians have adopted “poor people pay higher prices at home-town monopolies” as some type of Christian value. I don’t see this anywhere in the Gospels, and I’m curious as to where it comes from. I suspect, as a fan of Os Guinness, that this is where a cultural value masquerades as a religious value.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Off the Deep End?

In my last post on Tod Lindberg’s book The Political Teachings of Jesus I mentioned the curious fact that the three examples that Jesus uses in his “don’t resist evil” discourse are all largely matters of pride and humiliation: the slap on the left cheek, the lawsuit over an undergarment, and the command to “go the extra mile” (familiar to the audience as the ability of Roman soldiers to require local residents to carry their packs for a mile). Here’s where I go so far beyond what Mr. Lindberg wrote that I may go off the deep end as an amateur Bible scholar. My apologies, Mr. Lindberg. I also find it hard to believe that my ideas are original, and I’d appreciate hearing from anybody who has run across them before.

Consider the three acts of humiliation. Now, imagine these acts magnified into acts of true brutality. The slap on the cheek becomes a vicious beating. The lawsuit over an undergarment becomes the public humiliation of having your clothes stripped from you. And having a Roman soldier demand that you carry his pack becomes a Roman soldier demanding that you carry your own cross. You now have not three unrelated humiliations….you have the Passion of Jesus.

Jesus is asking that we “turn the other cheek” to the daily damages to our pride and ego that spoil so much of our lives and our relationships with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. He, moreover, did not resist the greater brutality version of this narrative because his death on the cross was his greatest gift of love for us.

Years ago when my wife and I taught middle school Sunday School, we did a unit in the midst of the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon. Before it degenerated into bumper-sticker theology, some of the original writings were quite insightful. “What Would Jesus Do?” was meant as a discussion starter about Christian behavior, but it never meant that we should always do what Jesus did or would do. Jesus did what He did because he was the Son of Man. We are not Jesus. We are not the Messiah. We are not to violently overturn the tables in the temple square. We are to take up our cross, but not the literal cross of crucifixion. That was for Jesus only, at one time and in one place. But I think that the message here is the following; we can walk away from escalating the slaps and petty humiliations in our lives because we know that Jesus has done the same, at a much more difficult level, for us.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Moving the Tee

There is more than a hint of Fall in the air this weekend as college football has returned. For those of you who didn't watch a game yesterday, there is a new rule which moves the kickoff tee back 5 yards. The rule is purportedly to expand the field of active play during kickoff returns. I was thinking about this as I realized I had promised to return with some thoughts on Tod Lindberg's Political Teachings of Jesus. This is the first of several posts I hope to report.

I really liked the book, and I strongly recommend it. It is a part of what might be called the "Kingdom of God" revival now going on... authors such as N. T. Wright, Rob Bell, and Dallas Willard whose common message is that Jesus' mission was not primarily ticket-punching souls into the afterlife, but bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven into "Earth as it Is in Heaven".

The following is not specifically Lindberg's message, and I apologize to him if I distort his thoughts, but it's what I thought about throughout his book. First century Israel already had a guide as to what God wanted from his people.... the Law and the Prophets. It was nothing if not comprehensive. It told you what you could eat, what you could wear, who owed what if an ox fell into a ditch, and so forth. Then comes Jesus whose teachings are nothing if not paradoxical. He ratifies specific parts of the Law (divorce), and seems to challenge others (healing on the Sabbath), while all the time insisting that He had come not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. Lindberg discusses two parts of Jesus' teachings that seem to show to me a pattern that I had not seen before.

First, when Jesus is in his "You have heard it said...but I tell you" addresses, the examples he gives for not resisting evildoers are curious. The insulting slap, the lawsuit over the undergarment, and (implicitly) the Roman soldier impressing you to service are humiliating situations which wound your pride, but they are not life or limb cases, nor are they the tough situations that we usually jump to when discussing these passages: self defense, the bombing of Dresden, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer's conspiracy to murder another person (Adolf Hitler). Likewise, Lindberg made me question what I had heard all my life...that Jesus' command to forgive seventy times seven is 1st century shorthand for infinity. No, it's not. It's still a finite number. I believe that Jesus was anything but a sloppy thinker. If he had wanted to use self defense against brutal force as an example, he would have. If he had wanted to say "forgive forever and ever, world without end", he would have.

Rather, I think Jesus message is moving the tee by expanding the space of love in human interactions: don't ramp up a disagreement over pride; don't count to seven in forgiveness, count to seventy times seven. I think that these examples are chosen specifically because they are so mundane. How many times have I felt physically threatened? Maybe once or twice. How many times has my pride been harmed? More than I can confess. Ultimately, however, because Jesus comes to fulfill the Law, the endgames of the Law must eventually apply. If someone is about to kill your oldest son, you do not necessarily have to hand over your second son to be butchered. If your are shown documentation of the murder of millions of Jews, you must decide whether to join in a plot to kill Hitler. Some people are so thoroughly evil that our limits to forgiveness must be reached. Compared to needing to forgive a co-worker more than seven times or having our feelings hurt, these are rare and extreme situations. What Lindberg points out is that is Jesus, by moving the tee, has created a new part of the playing field where He neither commands, nor forbids, nor gives permission for specific acts. He has instructed us to love the Father and our neighbor, to remember the Law and to love, and we are to carry these into this uncharted territory.