Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision VII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue X

A Case for Vision VII
© 2014 The Kirchman Studio.

Our nation is in need of an I. K. Brunel's vision today.  Our situation is no less dire than that of Bristol in the Nineteenth Century and we need to find direction, both in spirit and economically, if we are to emerge successfully. [1.] Looking at what is happening in North Dakota it is imperative that we find similar opportunity for people in every state of the union. Where shall we look for a vision of the future? Certainly not to an administration that sees massive unemployment and underemployment as a good thing! Many of us have seen our hopes and dreams take a serious hit from the policies of this administration. The marketplace has less resources available to support the creative endeavors we are now supposedly 'free' to pursue. Just ask anyone actually selling fine art these days. People need to be making money in order to spend it! If you are looking to the National Endowment for the Arts to fund your work, guess what? Diminishing tax revenues means less money to fund 'public' art. In fact, the government will be hard pressed to meet obligations such as Social Security and Medicare.

The current administration has no intention of encouraging the true creative sector in this country. In fact, it is becoming quite clear that they WANT us discouraged. Our discouragement is essential for them to implement their 'fundamental change' to the country we live in. That is why we must not succumb. I would like to, in the spirit of Theodor Herzl's Aultneuland, give you reason for hope and reason to stay in the fight as well! Herzl was a man with a vision. In Altneuland he was spot-on in describing the nation that was born, or reborn, if you will in the creation of modern day Israel. When Herzl wrote his novel the land was securely in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 England's foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a declaration stating that this land should indeed be given as a homeland to the people who had inhabited it since ancient times. World War I saw the end of the empire and British control. It wasn't until 1947 that Israel was truly 'reborn' in the wake of that terrible war.

So, it is essential for us in our time to keep the vision alive that created our own republic. We need to teach our young people, instructing them in the Faith and values that are the true foundation of America's remarkable story. Just like Bristol, England in the Nineteenth Century, we need to look beyond our immediate boundaries and see new possibilities. I believe that ultimately the unseen hand of creativity and human ingenuity can prevail. Will we live to see new wonders? I believe in G-d. I believe in inspiration, and I believe in Imago Dei... the knowledge that in creation G-d did indeed give mankind a small spark of His own creative energy. When Samuel Morse telegraphed: "What hath G-d wrought?" he was correct in his attribution even as he worked with his own hands to make the device. Now we need to be open to the same sort of inspiration. There are things we can make again (or for the first time)!

Consider the more recent story of R. G. LeTourneau, who's company had been awarded a contract to build a machine to lift airplanes by the government during the great war. No one had ever built such a machine before, and the engineers were stumped. Wednesday evening rolled around and LeTourneau announced to his stunned team that he was going to a prayer meeting. "But, sir,... We've got a deadline on this thing!" The great industrialist replied: "But I have a deadline with G-d." LeTourneau went to the prayer meeting. He sang praises and poured out his heart in earnest prayer. He said that walking back to his office from the prayer meeting, he 'saw' the design he was seeking for the machine clearly in his head! What if a modern-day Brunel were indeed to create new dorways for American commerce, as American ingenuity continues to finds new sources for energy to power that commerce. Just think, new geothermal resources powering new frontiers in American inventiveness.

I, for one, refuse to believe that the age of inspiration is past. I do believe that it is essential that we return to the roots of Faith and freedom that have given birth to the American experiment and sustained it. It is not enough to be brilliant in business if we squander the return it gives us in a false sense of entitlement: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." -- Luke 12:8 So, come with me, in the spirit of Aultneuland, to an America not too far in the distant future. Let us visit a land where a greater vision prevails than simply profit or personal reward. In my youth we once rode the train into Philadelphia from Baltimore. At the time, when you entered into Pennsylvania from Delaware, you were greeted by a large sign that read: "What Chester Makes Makes Chester." The city of Chester was at the time a center of manufacturing and it indeed saw itself in terms of its contributions to the world.

Would that we would see ourselves as contributors to the world once more! If Herzl were to step into his beloved Zion today, he would be amazed to see the center of advanced technology she has become. He would wonder at technologies being developed there that might one day give sight to the blind! Though he forsaw them, the modern cities such as Tel Aviv would still astound him! He would see the amazing works of irrigation that have made Israel the garden state of the world. The flowers we had at our wedding in 1980 came in boxes that proudly proclaimed that they were grown in Israel. Abraham the Patriarch was given the promise in Genesis 22:18: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." What wonderful contributions might we as a people make to the world if we will ourselves heed the voice of the One who created creativity itself?

The waterfront of Chester, Pennsylvania in 1875.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision VI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue IX

A Case for Vision VI
© 2014 The Kirchman Studio.

When William Wilberforce had ended the slave trade in the British Empire, he had thrown the city of Bristol into economic depression. The port there was heavily devoted to that wretched business and suffered heavily when it was brought to a sudden halt. The unintended consequence had been a rise in children condemned to a life of poverty. Ending the vile business of enslaving Africa's children had resulting in England's society spurning the needs of her own. Men like Charles Dickens and George Müller had seen the wretched street urchins most people despised as jewels to be polished. Müller, relying solely on Divine provision, built five large houses for Orphans at Ashley Downs in Bristol, England. He trained the girls to be nurses, teachers, clerical workers and domestics. He apprenticed all the boys in various trades. He was excoriated for training these unwanted children "above their station." He ignored the critics.

What is often forgotten in the telling of this story is the means by which G-d provided. In 1831, 24 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded a contract to bridge the Avon Gorge. It was the dream of a prosperous wine merchant who provided the initial funding. The completed bridge would become the symbol of the city, but lack of funding dogged the project. It took thirty years to complete it. For years only the towers stood completed. In 1833 Brunel began work on the Great Western Railway, which would become the instrument of Bristol's economic revitalization. The nicknames: "Great Way Round" and "G-d's Wonderful Railway" seem to describe well Brunel's great work. Brunel's vision extended beyond the shores of England. He envisioned the creation of a highway of commerce all the way to the Americas! Harnessing the power of steam, he built the great ships to make hs vision a reality. Muller's prayer for provision found answer in the accomplishment of Brunel's vision!

America today is in sore want of leadership like that of Brunel. When a White House spokesman spins the tale that a shrinking employment is a good thing he is delusional. One needs only to look at those countries where this low employment is actually the case to see the madness of such thinking. Visiting Santa Cruz, Bolivia, I am struck with the contrasts. Indeed you can go into the Hipermaxi (a store that resembles a Super Wal Mart) and buy a wide variety of products. Within the inner rings of the great city there are indeed a variety market based businesses. You can stop in at the Hotel Cortez and enjoy a scrumptious buffet (in the company of the city's drug dealers); But travel a few rings out, and the world changes. Here there is little commerce, save a few small markets and ladies selling food on the street. You've just traveled from where the income is measured in thousands of Bolivianos to where it is measured in Hundreds. The plan is laid out for large avenues, but the paving abruptly ends. There is no water and sewer, only an open canal of sorts down the avenue. The smell is overpowering at times.

Turning off of a roughly poured concrete avenue, one finds oneself on a street of mud. It takes some skillful driving to avoid being mired. Here one sees the result of limited resources in a Socialist state. The reason we are here is because years ago, an RN from Charlottesville, Virginia saw the lack of care in government hospitals and started her own. We are working on a house for her head nurse. The compound where we are working is in the outer rings of the city. There is electricity (wire is fairly cheap to string), but the compound had to be provided with its own clean well and septic system. There is a water plant in Santa Cruz, its architecture suggests that it was been constructed in the late 'sixties and its perimiter is heavily guarded by men in riot gear. The plant only appears to provide service within the inner rings. Wherever we go in the city, we follow the good travel advice to avoid the water. We use a lot of hand sanitizer. In spite of all precautions, I still become violently ill. Such is the state of a part of the world 'freed' from meaningful commerce! If one thinks the world will be cleaner for the elimination of industry, one only needs to look at parts of the world where there is little and take heed. Land around the city is often cleared by burning it off, resulting in an acrid smoke that hangs over the area. The best cure for Marxist/Socialist Gaian thinkers in the developed world might just be for them to live in the outer rings of the society their philosophies have actually created. Sadly, such societies tend to create their own elite, safely within the rings closest to the Hipermaxi. That is where the Elite Socialists of our own country tend to gather. There is a market, of sorts, that exists because THEY have money and wants, but the resources for caring for the vast population are stretched woefully thin. Doctors in state hospitals are paid by the government, but drugs are expensive and patients must pay for them. A poor family may obtain surgery for their child but the poor child will have no pain medication.

My RN friend initially gathered donated medications and equipment to send to the state childrens' hospital. She was shocked to find that hospital staff were charging patients for it anyway. Those with money in such a society avoid the government hospitals like the plague, and seek care at private institutions. My friend was able to purchase a hospital from one such practice and turned it into Mission of Hope Bolivia, which provides compassionate care to Santa Cruz's poorest. Outside of Santa Cruz, one sees the true plight of 'minorities' when they are not a voting block to be bought. People of Inca ancestory often live in the deepest poverty and my friend has started another clinic in the city of Sucre especially to care for them. On Sunday, we visit a small church in the outermost part of the city. I am struck by the beauty of the worship offered by the poorest of the poor. Here in the midst of such a bleak landscape, the ministry of the Gospel creates an oasis of hope.

Much closer to the United States, one has only to look at Cuba and Haiti to see the results of the 'freedom' created by lack of industry. Haiti's mountainsides have been stripped of vegetation by people living on the edge of subsistence. Michael Moore may think Cuba has the best healthcare system in the world, but I would have to ask him why it is that children there are going blind for lack of simple basic nutriition? Next week THYME will look at the promise and potential of America and suggest a vision for her renewal and her future. We will look at the amazing technological advances and robust agriculture of a small nation the size of New Jersey. Taking our cue from Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus In their book The Poverty of Nations [click to read], we will paint a vision for an American Civilization revitalized by the principles they have laid out for us. (to be Continued).

It feels a bit like a Super Walmart, but it has a personality that is uniquely Bolivian.

A dancer moves with the music to add visual richness to worship. The church is in Santa Cruz's poorest neighborhood.

See more at Bob's Bolivia Journal [click to read].

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision V

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII,Issue VIII

A Case for Vision V

In their book: The Poverty of Nations [click to read], Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus describe what they call: "The amazing process of creating value that did not exist before." Using the example of a woman in a poor country who takes three dollars' worth of material and sews it into a shirt which she sells for thirteen dollars, the authors point out that she has created a new product of value. She has made that cloth ten dollars more valuable than when she bought it. She has also contributed ten dollars of value to the total value of everything her nation will produce that year, the GDP of that nation. In Zambia, at a place called Grippis Farm, people are learning to sew. They begin with plastic snack bags as they build their skills to the point where they can work with the actual valuable fabric. In fact, Grippis Farm, which receives support from people in American churches, is putting into practice what The Poverty of Nations preaches.

Grippis Farm provides education for the young people of the community. It supports sustainable advances in agriculture as well as incubating the fledgling sewing business. Angus Buchan, who fled Zambia for South Africa buring its previous period of political unrest, has created a similar community of opportunity of opportunity at Shalom Ministries. Asmus and Grudem point to examples in history of nations that have become prosperous by producing more goods and services. England during the Industrial Revolution invented machinery for efficiently weaving cotton thread, thus revolutionizing the clothing industry. "The principle product of the new technology that we know as the Industrial Revolution was cheap, washable cotton, and along with it mass-produced soap made of vegetable oils. For the first time, the common man could wear underwear, once known as body linen because that was the washable fabric that the well-to-do wore next to their skin... Personal hygiene changed drastically, so that commoners of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century often lived cleaner than kings and queens of a century earlier.

By producing immense amounts of cotton and then other desirable products (such as high quality steel and machinery), England became the world's wealthiest nation. Income per person in England doubled between 1780 and 1860, then between 1860 and 1990 it multiplied another six times!" -- David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, (New York, W. W. Norton, 1999), 154, 190-94. [1.] The authors go on to cite post World War II Japan and modern China as having become similar productive societies. The Congressional Office of Management and Budget has just released projections showing massive shrinking of America's employment resulting from the so-called "Affordable Care Act's" implementation. [2.] That is on top of an already documented decline that began around 2007. Employment percentages often hide the fact that many employable people have given up and are no longer counted. Employment as a percentage of actual population in the United States has reached a new and dismal all-time low.

A White House spokesman's decree that: "now more Americans are no longer tied to a full-time job and are free to pursue their dreams." rings hollow. Most creative ventures in following dreams, after all, began as night and weekend enterprises begun by people in regular jobs. My own venture into enterprenuership began over thirty years ago. I was frustrated in a position where my creativity was dismissed and their was no prospect of growth in career stature or compensation. My best designs often ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, as the man I worked for desired quick and dirty... and made that fact very clear. He was a good man, but saw no need for vision when what worked twenty years ago would, he surmised, serve quite adequately. I began with my little studio in a spare bedroom. I would pick up my assignments before and after work, and often missed lunch to meet with clients. I would do the actual work in the evening. My little daughter was a baby and often I would share a tender moment with my beautiful wife at the 2:00am feeding!

I gave my employer a month's notice. I thought he would like for me to train my replacement. No one ever showed up to shadow me; Instead, I remember the afternoon I was taken to a very nice lunch by my bosses who proceeded to tell me that I would most certainly fail at my new venture. I should stay where I was! That I "failed" for thirty years at it I do wear as a badge of honor. I have had a handful of brilliant young people share with me in the process of learning the art of visualization. That has been the greatest honor I have received in the process. I once won a PIVA award for one of my brochure designs for a major development company and they misspelled my name! I think of the young people like my last assistant who mostly taught themselves while in my company, and I feel that having somehow enabled their greatness to shine is my most fulfilling reward! These are the honors that gather no dust sitting on your sideboard.

So, we must ask ourselves: "What are we bequeathing to these brilliant young souls?" My nephew works in Baltimore at the sugar refinery. He sent me an article not long ago talking about how they were tearing down the Sparrow's Point Steel Mill and selling the demolished machinery for scrap value. Management saw the need to create one last bit of profit by making men who had lovingly maintained these machines and used them to make a living now tear them apart and sort them into scrap bins! One man saw some sander disks and though they were industrial quality, they would fit on his home sander. He asked his immediate supervisor if he could have them. When his supervisor agreed he threw them in the open bed of his pickup only to be fired by a higher-up manager later that day for stealing company property! The man did not steal the disks, he asked first. Most of us will read this and see the higher law that should govern, but the manager only saw what should have been added to the gross tonnage of scrap 'misdirected' to an employee's vehicle.[3.]

If one looks at the percentage of growth in private employment compared to government employment, the picture is bleak.[4.] Government does not produce, it can only tax and procure. Furthermore, look at communities that have been "freed from work" and subsist on government programs. Are they hotbeds of entrepreneurship (other than the drug trade)? A friend of mine shared with me a video about an inner city ministry in Brooklyn, New York. They did home visits and you see disturbing footage inside a dirty, roach infested apartment. A young child still plays but an older sibling stares vacantly from a couch. There are no dreams here to be pursued! Generations have known nothing but government dependency. Is this the vision our leaders have for our great nation?[5.] More and more Americans are on food stamps now. But here, amid the bleakness, one finally sees the hope. While most states have lackluster private employment growth or outright decline, South Dakota stands out like a bright beacon. Though the current administration has done everything to stifle domestic energy production on public lands and the Keystone Pipeline, PRIVATE lands have never been busier. The Dakotas and parts of Texas as well have become boom economies. You can go there and sign on with an oil company and soon be making a six-figure salary. Workers are so desired that you can make seventeen dollars an hour at Wal Mart! The point is that in this one sector of the country there are workers creating value that wasn't there before... and they are being rewarded for it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision IV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue VII

A Case for Vision IV

A recent buzz on social media was one to the effect that Hobby Lobby was planning to close stores in response to the Obamacare insurance contraceptive/abortificant mandate. The rumor was not new. The company is actively fighting this regulatory infringement upon its right of conscience. Founder and CEO David Green was quick to respond to the news piece in which he is reported to have announced the downsizing [1.]. Actually Mr. Green said that the company had plans to build 30 or more new stores this year. Doing the news involves checking facts and we found Mr. Green's actual statement in a report issued in conjunction with receiving an award from a major university this past April [2]. The reasons for the award actually spoke volumes about the life and vision of David Green. From the news articles it would appear that Mr. Green was quietly doing what CEOs all do, just running his company to make a profit, when all of a sudden he became the object of Federal regulation. The fact of the matter is that David Green's work itself springs from, and is dedicated to, a higher vision.

Dr. Henry Smith, President of Indiana Wesleyan University said in conferring the honor: "I am excited to announce that Dr. David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby Creative Centers, has accepted our invitation to the Society of World Changers as our 2013 inductee. David Green is a business leader, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, an author, a patron of scholarship and culture but above everything else, he is a servant of Christ like any one of us, a saved sinner dependent upon the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He attributes any success he has had to his trust in G-d, and acknowledges that G-d has used that success as a platform to minister to the world. IWU recognized David Green and his achievements previously through the conferral of an honorary doctorate in 1999."[3.]

FORBES notes: "There are very few members of The Forbes 400 who bring religion to work. Most notable are Chick-fil-A's Truett Cathy and Forever 21's Jin Sook and Do Won Chang, born-again Christians who keep Bibles in their office and print John 3:16 on the bottom of each shopping bag. More typical is Warren Buffett, who admits to being agnostic. Green joined Buffett’s Giving Pledge in 2010: His public letter doing so quotes 2 Corinthians ('Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver'). And that's about all that Buffett and Green have in common philanthropically." Green has a vision to change the world and it plays itself out in the way he conducts his business. He does not see any part of his life as outside of G-d's oversight: "You can't have a belief system on Sunday and not live it the other six days."[4.]

Green is the son of a preacher who's small congregations in Oklahoma barely supported their family. He wore hand-me-down clothes and ate many a meatless meal with his siblings. His five siblings all became pastors (or pastors' wives). Green took "the road less travelled," struggling through school and eventually becoming a stock boy in a general store. FORBES says of him: "Green spent most of his time sweeping floors and unloading boxes for 60 cents an hour, but he fell in love with the romantic idea of buying something for 10 cents and selling it for 20." He served in the Air Force Reserve, and was working as a manager at TG andY stores when he borrowed $600.00 to buy some picture frame making equipment. He and his wife Barbara and another manager literally started the business working on his kitchen table. Their first product was miniature picture frames which they began selling in 1970. In 1972 they opened their first 300 square foot retail location.

Green credits the bead buying craze of the hippies for growing his business to the point that he was able to quit his day job and open a larger store in 1975. Barbara was not thrilled. Those days he was doing about $100,000 in sales and TG andY was doing two billion. Today Hobby Lobby makes well over three billion dollars annually. He speaks candidly of the businesses' struggles and near failure. In 1985 the business was overleveraged and struggling under the weight of bad inventory decisions. Green says of that time: "It was a pride problem, and I had to get rid of it. It's sort of like God says to me, because I was arrogant, 'I'm going to let you have it by yourself.'" Green prayed, worked hard, cut costs and negotiated with his creditors. In the end his perserverance paid off and the company not only survived, but thrived.

Hobby Lobby stores close on Sundays to allow staff time to worship and enjoy time with family. He starts employees well above minimum wage and sees the company's profitability as a gift from G-d. He has given much to further the work of the Gospel and Christian education. Green says: "I want to know that I have affected people for eternity. I believe I am. I believe once someone knows Christ as their personal savior, I've affected eternity. I matter 10 billion years from now." Dr. Henry Smith says of him: "We thank God for David Green's example precisely for that reason: because he sees his wealth as God's possession rather than allowing himself to be possessed by it; because he judges himself by the standards of Heaven and not of earth; and because he recognizes that his own efforts are in vain unless he trusts and depends upon the Holy Spirit." [5.]

A Vision For Work and the World

"Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." -- Psalm 90:16-17

I am reading The Poverty of Nations, A Sustainable Solution [click to read] by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. It examines the reasons successful nations are successful and how successful nations can forget the roots of their success and fall into decline. Like Alvin Schmidt's Under the Influence [click to read], the book does not hide the influence of Biblical principles in advancing the state of humanity. As many in the academy and the media today criticize free markets, Grudem and Asmus point out that the flaws are not necessarily a flaw in free markets, but in human morality. If a people have no moral barrier to it, markets will indeed deliver drugs, slaves and a host of evils, but that is not necessarily a fault of a free market. Indeed the attempts of government to control such evils will inevitably cost far more than imagined and have far less effect on curtailing the evils than proponents of such action desire. Thus the authors show how the Rule of Law, Respect for Property and Good Leadership are all essential for national prosperity... these things being rooted in values presented in the Bible.

Markets, influenced by morality, are actually quite fertile for creativity. When the slave trade was ended in England by William Wilberforce, the initial result was the economic decline of the port of Bristol. Creativity responded to the need as Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the Great Western Railway and steamships to link Bristol to America. The heart of George Müller ministered to Bristol's cast off children, but it was possible largely due to the creativity that linked Bristol to the economic pulse of the world. In fact, Grudem and Asmus point out that a wonderful coming together of talents and resources occurs in markets that requires no huge agency of oversight. In a simple little story called I Pencil, the beauty of this phenomenon is wonderfully illustrated.

I Pencil.

"No single person on the earth could make a pencil without the help of countless others."

Read, Leonard E., "I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read." [click to read] 1999. Library of Economics and Liberty. 5 February 2014.