Bible Reading

Here’s an interesting piece from David Briggs on the Huffington Post.  A study has found that support for conservation, social and economic justice increases with the frequency of Bible reading.  I am particularly interested in the finding that Christians were 27% more likely to say it is important to consume fewer goods to be a good person, as their Bible reading increased.  Here’s the piece (the original is HERE):

Frequent Bible Reading Tied to Social Jusice, Openness to Science

What daily practice may help American Christians become more concerned about issues of poverty, conservation and civil liberties?

Reading the Bible.

The answer may come as a surprise to those locked into viewing religious practices in ideological boxes. However, a new study by Baylor University researcher Aaron Franzen found frequent Bible reading predicted greater support for issues ranging from the compatibility of science and religion to more humane treatment of criminals.

The study, one of the first to examine the social consequences of reading Scripture, reveals the effects of Bible reading appear to transcend conservative-liberal boundaries.

Thus, even as opposition to same-sex marriage and legalized abortion tends to increase with more time spent with the Bible, so does the number of people who say it is important to actively seek social and economic justice, Franzen found.

It was not just liberal Christians who found their attitudes changing.

In many cases, even those who believe the Bible is literally true but rarely read the book found themselves at odds with their evangelical sisters and brothers who regularly read the holy text.

“Usually, the literalists tend to read the most frequently, but increased reading over time would moderate their conservatism,” Franzen said the study indicated.

Challenging stereotypes

Franzen speculates the reason so little research has been done on the effects of reading Scripture may be because “the ubiquity of references to the Bible promotes the idea that we all know what it says and, consequently, reading it is simply a habitual and ultimately meaningless activity.”

But that is not true, according to his study using data from Christian respondents to the 2007 wave of the Baylor Religion Survey.

In many cases, Franzen found frequency of Bible reading was one of the most powerful predictors of attitudes on moral and political issues. Consider some of the findings:

  • The likelihood of Christians saying it is important to actively seek social and economic justice to be a good person increased 39 percent with each jump up the ladder of the frequency of reading Scripture, from reading the Bible less than once a year to no more than once a month to about weekly to several times a week or more.
  • Christian respondents overall were 27 percent more likely to say it is important to consume or use fewer goods to be a good person as they became more frequent Bible readers.
  • Reading the Bible more often also was linked to improved attitudes toward science. Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading.
  • The issues seemed to matter more than conservative-liberal tags. In the case of another major public policy debate, same-sex unions, nearly half of respondents who read the Bible less than once a year said homosexuals should be allowed to marry, while only 6 percent of people who read the Bible several times a week or more approved of such marriages.

Among other issues, more frequent Bible readers also were more likely to oppose legalized abortion, the death penalty, harsher punishment of criminals and expanding the federal government’s authority to fight terrorism.

Forget Glenn Beck

The findings may be striking to those who tend to separate Christians into right and left, members of liberal and conservative blocs often seen as marching in lockstep with confrontational personalities such as Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton.

But the results are consistent with some past research.

In a 1998 article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, sociologists Mark Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink found that data from the 1996 Religious Identity and Influence Survey suggested that, contrary to “conventional wisdom,” conservative Protestants were among the most generous Christians in giving to the poor.

Anthropology professor James Bielo of Miami University, author of the 2009 book “Words upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study,” said Franzen’s findings “are not terribly surprising.”

As individuals read the Bible, often in the context of other influences such as a local group or their spouse or children or a study guide, “Frequently, I think, people come to a new position, or find some nuance in what they already thought,” he said.

In his own ethnographic work with evangelicals, Bielo found that most considered religion and science to be compatible. “Ultimately, they would say all truth is God’s truth,” he said.

Perhaps the larger issue is not whether Christians are influenced by Bible reading, but how many of them read the Bible enough for it to make a difference.

In the Baylor Religion Survey, less than a quarter of respondents said they read Scripture weekly or more.

As C.S. Lewis once observed: “Odd, the way the less the Bible is read the more it is translated.”

Love Wins

Beauty and Beasts

 A few days ago on a beautiful morning like this I discovered a dead kid in the pasture by our house.  He had been killed and partially eaten by coyotes.  It was the first time we’ve ever lost a kid to coyotes here.  Noticing another kid missing, I searched the pasture and found a second victim.

At the time I had our guard dog Joey in a different pasture.  I believed coyotes wouldn’t attack so close to our house.  Of course, that was a fatal error.

So we moved Joey and for now the problem has been solved.   There was some drama out there the first couple of nights but things have calmed down now and everyone is safe.  Of course I still need to get rid of the coyotes for good, but at least for now, Joey is getting the job done.

We have our buck Johnny and his lady friends in a different pasture.  I’m not sure how effective he’d be against coyotes (unless they’re repelled by his smell), but we’ve never had a predator issue there.

The girls in the third pasture have a safe place to stay at night.

It can be very beautiful here early in the morning.

We prefer it without coyotes. 

Love Wins

A Rainy Morning

We had a strong rain yesterday morning, interrupting my planned work in the gardens.  But on the farm, rain doesn’t necessarily mean no work.  It just redirects.

The gravel lane to our house had turned into a river, so I had to muster up my minimally-existent hydro-engineering skills to try to divert the water.  So I spent some time, in the pouring rain, with a mattock making channels to take the water to the ditch.  With some success.

Then I shut a barn stall door, confining a bunch of goats who had taken shelter there.   Goats hate to get wet, so the best time to trim their hooves is when it’s raining.  Not only are they much easier to catch then, but the rain calms them.  So the rainstorm gave me the opportunity to trim some hooves.

Angie, Sarah, Sheena, Kelly and a bunch of kids.

Eventually it stopped raining, enabling me to get on with more conventional chores.

All the rain we’ve had lately (well over seven inches) has been a much-needed blessing.  Now all the pastures and fields are lush with grass–which means all the bushhogging I did in the last few weeks will probably need to be re-done.  But after this summer’s drought, that is a very nice problem to have.

Love Wins

Being Hungry

In much of the world, folks wake up every morning unsure of whether they’ll have anything to eat that day.  They often wake up with that feeling, having had nothing to eat the day before. 

Our friends Matt and Ben, of the Grace and Main Fellowship in Danville, Virginia, are living for a month eating only food that is given to them.  In order to better appreciate what it is like to be unable to do so, they are not buying any food and they are going through their days unsure of where and when they will have their next meal.  They will also experience what it is like to beg from strangers.

These two guys are dedicated servants of the poor in the inner city of Danville.  They are walking an inspiring walk.

Imagine waking up hungry and unsure where your next meal will come from.  Imagine having to rely on begging. 

Matt and Ben aren’t having to imagine what that is like.  They’re going to know.

Grace and Main is exploring a good way of following Jesus and is facilitating conversations that can make the world a better place. 

May their tribe increase.

Love Wins

Living Within Our Means

Here’s a good piece from Ted Rall via Common Dreams.  I don’t agree with all of it, of course, but I think he’s spot on in pointing out that most Americans are no more fiscally responsible than our government.

Thrifty Families and Other Lies

Like Their Government, Americans Live on Debt

NEW YORK–During his State of the Union address President Obama repeated this ancient canard: “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in,” he said. “That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

Republicans have used this “families balance their budgets, so should government” line for years. Now Democrats are doing it too. Everyone is jumping aboard the pseudo-austerity bandwagon. (Why pseudo? Neither party really wants to balance the federal budget because it can only be done by bringing home the troops, shrinking the Pentagon by 90 percent, ending corporate welfare, and soaking the rich–i.e. major campaign donors–with higher taxes.)

The family budget talking point is a fascinating meme that reflects a rarely considered national blind spot. As with other cases of mass denial (we think we’re generous do-gooders around the world, foreigners see us for the crazy mean torturers we also are), we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.

We Americans value thrift and personal responsibility. We believe we should live within our means. These cultural ideals stem from our Puritan history.

But we don’t live up to our ideals. Not even close.

Americans are up to the ears in debt.

Four out of five individuals have at least one credit card. The average family has an outstanding balance of $10,700. It spends 21 percent of its monthly income to pay interest on that balance.

The average American family has assets: It owns a house worth $160,000. But it owes $95,000 to the bank. As the housing market continues to crash, equity shrinks.

Our average family’s savings are virtually nonexistent: $3,800 in the bank, no retirement account whatsoever (for half of families, average retirement savings $35,000 for the other half), no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds.

The claim that American families live within their means is a joke.

To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The typical American family only earns $43,000. It’s hard to buy much of anything, much less the house that embodies the American Dream, with that. And it’s impossible to save.

So they/we borrow.

As grim as a life of indebted servitude may seem, imagine what the American economy would look like if families really did live within their means, spending no more than they earned. No debt. No credit.

Markets for big-ticket items–homes, automobiles, major appliances–would crash and burn. Countless businesses would go under.

According to the National Association of Realtors 23 percent of homebuyers paid cash in January. That’s more than ever before but that still leaves at least 77 percent relying on mortgage financing. (Why “at least”? Most “cash” transactions include money borrowed from banks and credit unions.) Take 77 percent of purchasers out of the buy side of the equation and million-dollar homes would be worth five figures.

Pop! Credit is the biggest bubble of all.

If credit went away, most Americans’ biggest asset would vanish. Everyone would be “under water” to their lenders. The burbs would soon look like Afghanistan.

The same goes for cars: At least 88 percent of buyers take out a loan.

What would happen if these buyers had to save actual cash money before they could hit the showroom? They wouldn’t buy a car. Air would get cleaner but the economic collapse that began in 2008, which has put one out of five Americans out of work, would accelerate dramatically.

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy directly relies on consumer spending. People can only purchase goods and services using one of three sources: income, savings or credit. As we’ve seen, the average American family doesn’t have savings. Its income has been falling since 1968.

That leaves credit. If consumer credit vanished, the corporato-capitalist system currently prevailing in the U.S. would deteriorate from its current, merely unsustainable form into total chaos. Without credit cards and other loans citizens would seethe, trapped between the mutually irreconcilable forces of falling wages and the aggressive advertising and marketing of products they would never be able to afford. There would only be two possible long-term outcomes: revolution, or the ruling classes would be forced to pay substantially higher wages to workers. To corporate elites, the latter choice would be too unpalatable to countenance.

The typical American family cannot live within its means because it cannot earn enough to sustain its lifestyle. Were it to downgrade its living standards to a level it could afford, there wouldn’t be enough consumer spending to drive the economy. This would force further personal austerity. Eventually we’d all be living outside.

You know what’s funny? Unlike the American family, the U.S. government can spend less than it earns. It can increase revenues by raising taxes. Unlike families, it spends trillions of dollars on stuff–wars–that it doesn’t need and actually makes things worse.

It could even use its power to force employers to pay workers what they deserve. If the government did that, families might not need credit.

They could (finally) live within their means.

Love Wins


Cherie sometimes fusses at me for growing so much more than we can eat.  I always rationalize planting so much by convincing myself that other folks will want whatever we don’t need.  And that is true, in a sense.

The folks at God’s Storehouse are always delighted when we show up with fresh veggies.  And it feels good to help in their mission of feeding the hungry in our community.

But I’m always disappointed when I try to give the food away to friends and neighbors.  Most folks are very happy if I pick the veggies and bring them to them.  But very, very few will actually come out to the farm and pick their own.  Either their days are just so crammed and busy that they can’t spare an hour to pick fresh food for their families, or they just don’t want to be outside in a garden that long.

A couple of years ago I planted over 3,000 row feet of green beans.  I planted lots of varieties and raised them organically, which is a lot of work.  I offered them free to anyone who would come and pick them.  I was excited about getting good food out into the community and about offering our gardens as a place to get it for free.

To my surprise and disappointment, only one person accepted my offer–a woman who was helping to care for my grandfather.  No one else, not even once, came to pick any.

I was travelling a lot that summer and away from home, so thousands of pounds of veggies just rotted in the field. 

Not that long ago, nearly every American family tended a garden.  We didn’t drive to a supermarket or to McDonalds to get something to have for supper.  We went to the garden. 

The day may come when Americans wish they hadn’t lost their willingness to grow food, and to pick it themselves. 

In the meantime, I reckon we’ll just keeping growing more than we can eat and waiting for the winds to change.

Love Wins

Exploiters and Nurturers

The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s…The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order – a human order, that is, that accommodates itself both to order and to mystery. The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.

Wendell Berry

Love Wins