July 3, 2015

Just Mercy

by Steven Dilla

July3

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Just Mercy | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from the Introduction

When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. 

The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row.

We’ve created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. We have declared a costly war on people with substance abuse problems. There are more than a half-million people in state or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from just 41,000 in 1980.

The collateral consequences of mass incarceration have been equally profound. We ban poor women and, inevitably, their children from receiving food stamps and public housing if they have prior drug convictions. 

We have created a new caste system that forces thousands of people into homelessness, bans them from living with their families and in their communities, and renders them virtually unemployable. 

We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed.

Finally, we spend lots of money. Spending on jails and prisons by state and federal governments has risen from $6.9 billion in 1980 to nearly $80 billion today.

My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. 

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Summer Reading Series
Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, 2015

Today’s Readings
Joshua 5 (Listen – 2:38)
Psalms 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Joshua 6 (Listen – 4:47); Psalms 135-136 (Listen – 4:23)
Sunday: Joshua 7 (Listen – 4:58); Psalms 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

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July 2, 2015

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership

by Steven Dilla

July2

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership  | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter One: What is Humility and Why Does it Matter?

Humility does not mean humiliation, even though both words are offspring of a single Latin parent (humilitas). Nor does it mean being a doormat for others, having low self-esteem or curbing your strengths and achievements. Jim Collins’ work reminds us it is possible to be humble, iron-willed and successful, and they frequently go together. 

Having strong opinions is no hindrance to humility either. One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance. Humility, rightly understood, is a potential antidote to the hateful political and religious rhetoric we often hear: Left versus Right, Christian versus Muslim and so on.

I want to argue that the solution to ideological discord is not “tolerance” in the post-modern form we frequently find it, the bland affirmation of all viewpoints as equally true and valid but an ability to profoundly disagree with others and deeply honor them at the same time.

Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.

There are three key thoughts in this definition. First, humility presupposes your dignity. The one being humble acts from a height, so to speak, as the “lowering” etymology makes clear. True humility assumes the dignity or strength of the one possessing the virtue, which is why it should not be confused with having low self-esteem or being a doormat for others. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is impossible to be humble in the real sense without a healthy sense of your own worth and abilities.

Second, humility is willing. It is a choice. Otherwise, it is humiliation. 

Finally, humility is social. It is not a private act of self-deprecation—banishing proud thoughts, refusing to talk about your achievements and so on. I would call this simple “modesty”. But humility is about redirecting your powers, whether physical, intellectual, financial or structural, for the sake of others. 

One of the earliest Greek texts on this topic, written about AD 60 to the Roman colony of Philippi, puts it perfectly: “In a humble frame of mind regard one another as if better than yourselves—each of you taking care not only of your own needs but also of the needs of others.”

Summer Reading Series
Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership
John Dickson
HarperCollins Publishing, 2011

Today’s Readings
Joshua 4 (Listen – 3:31)
Psalms 129-131 (Listen – 2:03)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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July 1, 2015

Rulers: Gospel and Government

by Steven Dilla

July1

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Rulers: Gospel and Government | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter 6: An Introduction to Christian Social Ethics by Dr. David Clyde Jones

The institutional separation of church and state, or more precisely, the separation of the government of faith communities from the government of civil society, is a separation devoutly to be wished. But that is not at all the same thing as the separation of religion and politics. 

The separation of church and state is highly desirable; the separation of religion and politics is simply impossible. Why is that? Because politics is the domain of public policy, and public policy proposals are inevitably the expression of some world-and-life view, some conception of the common good to be aimed at for human beings living in community. Public policy proposals are worldview dependent, and worldviews, theistic and non-theistic, are religious in nature as ultimate faith commitments.

This is especially important for the principle of sphere sovereignty sketched above. Not only are the governing authorities of church and state distinct, but also participation in the cultural spheres is religious activity on the part of believers just as much as their corporate worship and diaconal ministries in the visible church institute. 

That all of life is religious in this sense is important for understanding the full meaning of religious liberty. The idea of freedom of religious faith and practice was a long time in coming in political philosophy and remains a matter of controversy down to the present day.

Why [then] should we have such a work as Ministry to State? The rationale for special ministry to those in civil government is their special role in the government of civil society, a role that directly affects everyone and presents particular temptations for “selling out” one’s convictions in the pursuit of power and yielding to the temptation to the abuse of power once it is obtained. 

I think no one has captured this better than Martin Franzmann, [in his prayer] “For Charity Toward Men in Office” —

O God, remember in Your mercy
the men who bear the burden of this majesty,
men like us, easily bent by the pressure of temptation,
by the impact of expediency.
Remember them and strengthen them when they are moved
to shade the truth to their own ends,
to withhold what should be told,
to distort what must be told,
to disclose what does not serve our common weal.
Keep intact their honor and their credibility.

Summer Reading Series
Rulers: Gospel and Government
Charles M. Garriott
Riott Publishing, 2014

Steve Bostrom, a reader of The Park Forum, wrote the essay, “God, Give me the Humility of Jesus” that appears in Chapter 5 of this book.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 3 (Listen – 2:45)
Psalms 126-128 (Listen – 1:58)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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June 30, 2015

The Mission of God’s People

by Steven Dilla

June30

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

The Mission of God’s People | Summer Reading Series

Excerpt from Part Two: God and The Public Square.

By stressing human choices as well as God’s ultimate control, the bible avoids slipping into fatalism or determinism. It affirms both sides of the paradox: humans are morally responsible for their choices and actions and their public consequences; yet God retains sovereign control over final outcomes and destinies.

The Bible presents the public square — human life lived in society and the marketplace — as riddled with sin, corruption, greed, injustice, and violence. That can be seen at local and global dimensions, from sharp practices at the market stall or corner shop, to the massive distortions and inequities of international trade.

As Christians, we need a radical understanding of sin in its public dimensions, and we need to see part of our mission as being called to confront that prophetically in the name of Christ. For God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporize it, but to purge and redeem it.

Isaiah 65:17–25 is a glorious portrayal of the new creation — a new heavens and a new earth. It looks forward to human life that is no longer subject to weariness and decay, in which there will be fulfillment in family and work, in which the curses of frustration and injustice will be gone forever, in which there will be close and joyful fellowship with God, and in which there will be environmental harmony and safety.

The New Testament carries this vision forward in the light of the redemption achieved by Christ through the cross, and especially in the light of the resurrection. Paul comprehensively and repeatedly includes “all things” not only in what God created through Christ, but what he plans to redeem through Christ. 

The final vision of the whole Bible is not of our escaping from the world to some ethereal paradise. What will be brought into the great city of God in the new creation will be the vast accumulated output of human work through the ages. All this will be purged, redeemed and laid at the feet of Christ, for the enhancement of the life of eternity in the new creation.

Does that not transform our perspective on a Monday morning?

Summer Reading Series
The Mission of God’s People
Christopher Wright
Zondervan, 2010

Today’s Readings
Joshua 2 (Listen – 3:49)
Psalms 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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June 29, 2015

A Free People’s Suicide

by Steven Dilla

June29

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

A Free People’s Suicide | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Golden Triangle of Freedom

Two things have consistently surprised me in my years in the United States: that the sole American answer to how freedom can be sustained is the Constitution and its separation of powers and that the rest of the founders’ solution is now almost completely ignored.

It was not always so. Historians point out that the modern elevation of the Constitution as the sole foundation and bulwark of American freedom reached its present height in the 1930s. That was no accident. Significantly, it came right on the heels of a general secularization of American law that has led in turn to a general legislation of American life. 

The framers also held that, though the Constitution’s barriers against the abuse of power are indispensable, they were only “parchment barriers” and therefore could never be more than part of the answer. And in some ways they were the secondary part at that. 

The U.S. Constitution was never meant to be the sole bulwark of freedom, let alone a self-perpetuating machine that would go by itself. The American founders were not, in Joseph de Maistre’s words, “poor men who imagine that nations can be constituted with ink.”

Many educated people who scorn religious fundamentalism are hard at work creating a constitutional fundamentalism, though with lawyers and judges instead of rabbis, priests and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical. But unlike the better angels of religious fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism has no recourse to a divine spirit to rescue it from power games, casuistry legalism, litigiousness—and, eventually, calcification and death.

Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart. 

Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.

Summer Reading Series
A Free People’s Suicide
Os Guinness
IVP Books, 2012

You can also watch Dr. Guinness present on this topic at Socrates in the City.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 1 (Listen – 3:11)
Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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FAQs

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