Frugality, Virtue, and Benjamin Franklin’s Hair

‘Frugal’ is not an attractive word. I googled ‘frugal’ and found nice synonyms like careful and thrifty, but I also saw not-so-nice words like penny-pinching, tight, miserly, stingy, and scrimping. I am working through Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and the word ‘frugal’- along with ‘industry’- gets regular use with no apologies. In fact, Franklin attributed much of his rags-to-riches success to industry and frugality. So how has frugality shifted from virtue to near-vice?

Benjamin

It must be the hair

Why was frugality a commonplace, pleasant, sort of word in the 18th century? I think that people like Franklin- we should remember that they had broke people then, too- lived with a perspective (and a hairstyle) that’s absent today. This perspective could be voiced: what will be important twenty, thirty years from now?  The wisest of that culture understood that the ‘right now’ moments in life must be governed by principles previously decided upon.

So, frugality can be a stepping stone to the encompassing virtues of patience and self-control. We convince ourselves of what we must believe beforehand (I can’t afford it) in order that we will be able to make the right decision when we no longer possess our reason (but I must have it).

The fact that there is an overlap between the virtues of frugality, patience, and self-control suggests a principle about the acquisition of virtue worth dwelling on. Isn’t it odd that we won’t seem to get very far by focusing on the virtues one at a time? It seems to me that the overlap causes us to practically strive for them all at once. You don’t aim at all the bowling pins at the same time. N.T. Wright suggested that this is probably why Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit, not fruits. 

Discipline begets discipline ~ Jon Acuff

Give Yourself a “D”

Pedagogically, you might want to impress on a student the miserable state of his mind. You might want to reveal to him the chasm separating his level of understanding from the thinkers of the ages. You do this, not out of malice, but because you sense rare possibilities in him, and take your task to be that of cultivating in the young man (or woman) a taste for the most difficult studies. Such studies are likely to embolden him against timid conventionality, and humble him against the self satisfaction off the age, which he wears on his face. These are the pedagogical uses of the “D”. Matthew Crawford

51PlFrZwmxL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Years ago, this passage by Matthew Crawford arrested me. I was a young man newly introduced to the manual trades, and the book was on manual labor and the intellectual life. It was multifaceted, to say the least, so I’m sure I only understood ten percent of the work. However, this paragraph has haunted me ever since, in a good sort of way. In the midst of a detailed argument that the American soul needs to be in touch with the world through skilled labor, we get snatches of wonderful (and, admittedly, verbose) passages like these. These kinds of gems were important for the book because they reminded me that Crawford was experienced in the classical intellectual trades as well as the manual trades. Okay, Crawford would probably croak at making a distinction between ‘manual’ and ‘intellectual’, but I think you’ll understand my meaning. Let’s just say that his shirts have collars with blue and white stripes.

Since the title of this post has to do with the quote above, let me get to the point. Crawford’s point about the necessity of humbling the student’s mind (that’s us) is instructive for Christians seeking to intentionally create, permeate, and model culture for the larger world. Before beginning any great endeavors, whether in picking up a trade, studying Scripture, or raising our children, we must seek to grasp how little we actually know. As Crawford would say, impress on yourself the miserable state of your mind. This may not be good for our egos, but Crawford is pointing to a crucial principle of a classical (and I would add, Christian) life of learning: the more we learn about truth, beauty, and the good, the more we will realize how little we know. The chasm that separates us from the greatest thinkers of the ages will become apparent. So, as students of Scripture and culture, many of us should do ourselves a favor and take Crawford’s advice: remind yourself that you’ve got lots to learn.

“For herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has no desire for that of which he feels no want.”  Socrates

Refresh Your Thirsty Neighbor

This is a guest post by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. This post is reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. 

Imagine having to endure a week with no running water and no convenient source of water. Imagine having to even hunt for water. Common in Scripture is the imagery of a spring or a well as a source of refreshment in an arid land. Great would be the disappointment of a polluted spring or a dried up well.

Refreshing waterWe are surrounded by thirsty people and this Proverb speaks of the mouth as a source of reviving drink. It is not just any mouth, however, but the mouth of the righteous. When the righteous opens his mouth, what comes out issues from a heart inclined toward God. God Himself is the “fountain of living water,” and as we drink deep from the river of His pleasures (Ps. 36:8) we become a source of refreshment to others. The mouth, more than just an organ of speech, manifests one’s character and disposition (Luke 6:45). Jesus painted a clear picture of this when He declared: Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38).

As the Christian speaks to another, what is described in this proverb is more than just positive air. The righteous speaks that which is morally strengthening, intellectually elevating, and inwardly reviving– words of encouragement, grace, and hope because it comes from the nature of God that resides within. The antithesis: “violence covers the mouth of the wicked,” is to issue deceitful words that conceal the ambition of self-advantage – words that spew out of the polluted spring of self-preeminence. All such communication has its origin in the Father of lies.

We can gleam from this proverb a clear exhortation and some profound encouragement. Judge every word you speak: does it proceed from the mind of Christ or does it betray a deep seated selfishness? Remember this: your mouth is a powerful instrument to benefit others. Do not dam it up or let the well go dry. As you delight in the Lord, open up the floodgates and refresh your thirsty neighbor.

Slavery and Abortion- Appropriate Analogy?

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Slavery reveals how anyone, now as well as then, can come to accept, perpetuate, and justify an exploitative system that seems essential and immutable. After all, we live with our own monsters. Alan Taylor

Is abortion the new slavery in America? Perhaps you’ve heard this analogy used in the past few months with the recent controversies surrounding Planned Parenthood and the consequent resurrection of the debates about prochoice and prolife positions. This analogy between chattel slavery and the rights of the unborn is striking and controversial, and I’d like to make some distinctions and examine its merits.

What are the unborn?

The question of the abortion of the unborn and the rights of the mother must invariably turn on the question of the status of the unborn. What are the unborn? Are they living human beings with full rights to life from conception? If we ignore this question and proceed to discuss the bodily autonomy of the mother, the risks and financial hardships, etc. we assume, in advance, the status of the unborn, namely, that they are not human in the same sense as ourselves. This assumption is evidenced when we consider the case of the toddler, and- believe me, toddlers restrict the autonomy of parents. But what of the prochoice advocates who concede that the unborn are human, but who insist that the mother’s right to choose whether she will face supporting a child in severe adversity ultimately outweighs the rights of the unborn?

To free, or not to free…

It is here that I would like to turn back to Taylor’s quote above regarding slavery. To be clear: Taylor was not drawing an explicit parallel between slavery and abortion, but I think it will be clear why the inference is justifiable. From Taylor’s work, it’s apparent that many of the founding fathers, themselves defenders of liberty, found themselves facing difficult choices with what to do with slaves on American plantations. Many of them agreed that black people were indeed men like them, entitled to freedom. Sadly, emancipation seemed to them to carry too great a cost. Many slave owners would lose their livelihood, not to mention that they were unsure how millions of freed slaves, deprived of an education, would be able to provide for themselves. Thomas Jefferson recommended mass deportation. Widowed land-owners would sell slaves (many times splitting up families) to avoid poverty.

I don’t intend to convey by writing this that the early American’s could simply have pushed the ‘fix’ button to make all these evils disappear with no consequences. I want to portray, however, that there were intense sacrifices that they were not willing to make to protect the rights of enslaved men, women, and children. With regard to the life of the unborn, we are in a similar situation. For the prolife position, convincing our hearers that the fetus is a living human being may not be doing enough.

Some (many?) pro-choice advocates acknowledge that the fetus is indeed a distinct, living human being, but that the hardships facing the mother can (and should) outweigh the ‘right to life’ that the unborn may have. As the case of slavery showed, men and women around the globe argued that slavery ought to be abolished, let the costs be what they may. In a similar manner, the prolife cause is backing up its cry for the unborn by seeking to aid these women who courageously chose to bear these children amidst almost impossible adversity. As of 2010, crisis pregnancy centers in the US outnumber abortion clinics 5:1.

Remembering our own monsters

In conclusion, Taylor’s quote reminds us to walk humbly as we fight for the unborn. “After all, we live with our own monsters.” In spite of the founding fathers fight for liberty, many of them considered slavery as an institution that was necessary and immutable. As Christians seeking to be ministers of reconciliation in our culture, bear in mind the sacrifices that we haven’t made for the unborn, and prayerfully consider what changes you can make today.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8