All posts tagged “desire

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What “The Locust Effect” misses—and what it gets right

One of the most important books of recent years, in my estimation, is The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros.

In my review I wrote, “With great moral urgency, The Locust Effect issues a clarion call to courageous action on behalf of the vulnerable poor. The sobering news is that the plague of hidden, everyday violence is real. The good news is that it is not inevitable.”

victorHaugen has been a hero of mine for years because of his work with International Justice Mission, but I’ll admit this was my first introduction to Victor Boutros, a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department whose work, like that of IJM, focuses on human trafficking as well.

A couple of weeks ago, Boutros delivered a lecture titled “Public Justice: A Matter of Life and Death for the World’s Poor” as part of the annual Kuyper Lecture series, sponsored by the Center for Public Justice. These lectures, as you may gather, are intended to carry on the legacy of Abraham Kuyper. (See this post about Miroslav Volf’s provocative 2012 Kuyper Lecture on religious exclusivism as a basis for political pluralism.)

I hope the video of Boutros’ lecture will be made available at some point, but for now we have the transcript. This excerpt might be said to represent the core of Boutros’ argument:

History is full of horrifying stories of poor farm families forced to watch helplessly as a plague of locusts suddenly descends to devour their crops – and, in a matter of hours, destroys years of effort trying to plow and plant their way out of poverty. Likewise, it seems that we are approaching a pivotal moment in history where agreement is emerging that if we do not decisively address the plague of everyday violence that swarms over the common poor in the developing world, the poorest will not be able to thrive and achieve their dreams – ever.

In his response to the lecture, CPJ founder Jim Skillen (whose new book on politics I’ll be reviewing soon) didn’t exactly disagree with the core argument. But he did challenge Boutros to reach back even further than the plague of violence:

Victor is correct to point to the importance of historical development over the past 100 and more years, developments that have led to many advances in law enforcement in cities such as New York. But better law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in those cities did not arise independently, apart from wider political and governmental reforms, including establishment of the rule of law to hold government and citizens accountable, making room for some degree of freedom for the press and other associations of citizens, and establishing court systems that allow ordinary citizens to present suits against government corruption and abuse. My point is simply that if there can be no end to poverty without the end of violence, there can be no end to violence without an end to unjust political institutions across the board. Law enforcement and court systems are just one part of government in a political community.

Another respondent was Rob Joustra, who teaches courses on political science and international studies at Redeemer University College, and is associated with both the Institute for Global Engagement and the Center for Public Justice. (His review of The Locust Effect, in which he emphasizes the book’s apparent Kuyperian influences, was published in Books and Culture earlier this year.) In his short, entertaining response to the lecture, Joustra brings St. Augustine into the mix with this insightful comment:

It’s not merely the coercive power of the state that restrains anarchy and “the state of nature”; it is also our formed desire in communities of virtue. I don’t live in special fear of my neighbor robbing or raping me not only because of the working apparatus of peace, order, and good government that we Canadians cherish, but also because I know my neighbor has had his desires formed in such a way that he actually doesn’t want to do that. This is the insight that people like David Naugle or Jamie Smith give us in their popular accounts of Augustine: the key to public justice isn’t for us to “follow our hearts” and the state will restrain us if we get out of hand. The key to public justice is for us to “discipline our hearts,” to be attentive to the formation of our desires. Or, as the Psalmist puts it more pointedly, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By meditating on God’s law, day and night.”

As I said at the top, I consider The Locust Effect almost unparalleled among recent books in terms of real importance. And Skillen and Joustra both hint at its gravitas, which is why these somewhat critical responses are so important and healthy for a much-needed debate like this.

bookAngle-GalleryPageEchoing the line of thought in the book, Boutros in his lecture points to public justice—and especially the prevention and prosecution of violent crime through criminal justice—as a woefully overlooked aspect of development. Skillen and Joustra, meanwhile, show how the emphasis on clamping down on violent crime as a means of alleviating poverty could be misconstrued if divorced from broader public justice concerns and the (re)formation of desire, respectively.

All of this dovetails nicely, I think, with another point I made in my review of The Locust Effect as a way of commending the authors: “Making a forceful and convincing case for one thing does not require pretending that nothing else matters; others who write about poverty and development should take note.”

Given all the pettiness and meanness alike that sour our world, we can be grateful that debates like these are happening—and that in the end lives, communities, cities, and nations are being shaped for the better.

If you haven’t read The Locust Effect yet, I really encourage you to do so. Then spend some time considering the thoughtful responses from Skillen, Joustra, and others.

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Repaso: Evangelical Anglophilia explained; doxology & desire; pastors & their people; Kristof goes to church; Kuyper mindmap; Tom covers Bob

1. Why American Evangelicals love the British
Molly Worthen has an interesting post at the new Religion & Politics blog (tagline: “fit for polite company”) about people like us and why we’re so hung up on guys like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and John Stott. We Americans apparently have an intellectual inferiority complex, for one thing. Whether you buy all her arguments or not, it’s a good read. Here’s a bit of what she has to say about Stott:

John Stott represented British evangelical moderation at its very best. He spent much of his career advocating dialogue among evangelicals, Catholics, liberals and charismatic Christians. He recognized early on that the center of gravity in global Christianity had shifted to the developing world, and worked to break down the ethnocentric mindset of evangelicals in Europe and North America and convince them that preaching the Word and fighting for social justice were two sides of the same coin… Just as Tolkien and Lewis baptized the world of myth, magic and fantasy for evangelicals whose churches had long proscribed such things as demonic, John Stott helped evangelicals recover a capacity for compassion and civil conversation that was lost in the fog of the culture wars.

2. Doxology and desire
Sandra McCracken makes amazing music and she also happens to write beautiful essays, like this one at Art House America:

So with each passing day, I am becoming more attuned to the particular DNA I have from each of my parents — biology and theology — pushing me forward on the journey of conservation. I might be unqualified, but everybody has to start somewhere. Rather than burying my head in the sand like I am inclined to do, I have to lean into my discomfort. I’d rather deepen my longing, not assuage it. And I look to the great hope that all things will one day be restored and renewed. I want to honor and care for God’s creation not because of a marketing team pulling on my checkbook, but because of a doxological pull that tugs on my conscience.

3. Pastors and their people
I’ve decided I want to read everything Rich Mouw has written. I first read this and then this and, most recently, this. In a recent essay at Faith & Leadership, hosted by Duke Divinity School, he writes about the gap between the worlds in which pastors and their congregants live. He describes a conversation with a successful businessman who lamented the fact that his pastor didn’t understand the challenges he faced day to day:

I have thought much about that conversation. If I were that man’s pastor, what could I do to speak more directly to his felt needs as a businessperson? One thing I would not do is to preach detailed sermons about economics. My lunch partner made it clear that he was not asking for that kind of thing, and I agree with him. What this person was asking for was more sensitivity to the kinds of complexities he faces on a daily basis — a reasonable expectation. And his pastor could respond to this need in helpful ways without becoming an expert on corporate finance.

4. Kristof and Hybels have a chat
Last Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was interviewed by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Church about oppression against women and opportunities to right those wrongs. It’s a fascinating conversation, and the 40 minute video is (for the moment, at least) here. If you’re interested, here also is my review of Kristof’s book on the subject.

5. Wisdom & Wonder mindmap
Fellow Kuyper nerds will be interested to see this amazing mindmap by Steve Bishop of the first four chapters of Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art. It all makes sense now.

6. Tom covers Bob
Some of you may have seen this already, but during a stop in Nashville this week, N.T. Wright picked up a guitar and played a Bob Dylan song, citing its “wonderful biblical imagery” and its solid eschatology. What a treat (though, admittedly, this might just be evidence of my own Anglophilia).

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: a man lights his pipe and enjoys a pint at the Eagle and Child, where The Inklings met to plot goodness - via]