September 1, 2014

Medina
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Review: ‘Good Intentions’ explores options for daily obstacles

By Kathryn Popio

Special to The Gazette

The “justice bra” is not among hot topics for 2009.

Or is it?

As readers take a longer look at Charles M. North and Bob Smietana’s book, “Good Intentions, Nine Hot-Button Issues Viewed Through the Eyes of Faith,” they realize the “justice bra” legitimately belongs on the list.

With good humor, at first, it slips into serious conversations about globalization and exploiting the poor. 

Originally, it involved a female Chicago pastor who, after reading about globalization, decided that her next bra purchase had to meet “high standards”; that is, it had to be “fairly made, and it had to be made of organically-grown fiber without toxic dyes.”
Rather than mere hyperbole, the pastor believed this product fell within the realm of her concerns as a Christian based on two questions: Was the garment made without harming the environment? Was it made without harming a fellow human being? 

North and Smietana’s discussions reflect Christians facing these and other current issues: Gas prices, minimum wage, immigration, pollution — productive and nonproductive — family values, poverty of all sorts, gay union, capitalism and education.
Each topic in their 12-chapter book is substantially built with vivid, relevant examples. 

North’s and Smietana’s own careers might also merit attention before you start exploring ideas with them.

North is an associate professor of economics at Baylor University, and has published articles from his research on the economics of religion. Smietana is an award-winning journalist and a contributing editor for Christianity Today magazine.
Although quite a hefty idea team themselves, these writers have accumulated inspirational expertise and “miracles” of economics from an eclectic fountain.

Even as we feel dreary at facing 2009’s challenging national economic picture, we may still rally to stretch our perceptions of Biblical principles, after all.

The basic premise of “Good Intentions” moves beyond our already-burdened pocketbooks.

Rather than giving more money or more time — none of which we presently have in abundance — the writers invite us to explore a multitude of ways to more prudently share and appreciate resources we already possess.

In the chapter “How Can We Give Poor Kids a Million Bucks?” they discuss ways Christians may maneuver around various “spiritual obstacles” facing thousands of good students in America today; that is, pursuing a college education when they lack the financial resources, family influence, or when they just haven’t grown up conceiving college as an option.

North and Smietana highlight methods several Christians have successfully taken to get students in their communities to “aspire to college.”

It involved a strategy of local Christians’ active involvement in nurturing what 1993 Nobel prize-winner Robert Fogel calls “spiritual assets.”

Basically, this term reflects the “intangible skills and abilities that are crucial to success.”

In these cases, spiritual assets are attitudes that may be instilled in college-age youths who, otherwise, immediately “fall through the cracks” in envisioning a prosperous career path. When this happens, they suffer, future generations enter the cycle of despair, and the nation misses out on potential contributions to become concerns for the church-at-large. 

Is it possible to envision increased options for our church endowment and pension funds? Does the average person ever imagine there is an actual economic “effect” to consider in the concepts of Ben and Jerry ice cream and Lake Wobegon?

Can we believe the authors when they say, “This [effect] has implications for a Christian response to high CEO pay”? 
North and Smietana believe Christians should get back to actively making a difference as Christians. Scriptures, like Proverbs 29:7, point the way saying, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

The writers suggest to Christians that it is possible to “keep a watchful eye over companies where their churches have some clout.”

Reading “Good Intentions” in this new presidential year might provide fresh incentives for your church board, social and evangelism committees, pastor and neighborhood coffee klatch.
Questions posed and examples shared in “Good Intentions” offer to take Christians of all denominations full circle: From daily life, to pulpit inspiration to go out and make a difference in the world, and back to daily life for that extra, elusive and sometimes miraculous slant on life.

It’s worth buying at least one copy, if not three or four to share.

Popio may be reached at religion@ohio.net.