Category: Interviews

“We’re not on a sinking ship”: an interview with Isaac Cheatham

Isaac Cheatham has always had a strong passion for teaching and sharing the gospel. During college, he wanted to pursue ministry work.

Those closest to him expected him to become a preacher, but today he is a broker at TD Ameritrade.

At Stephen F. Austin State University, Cheatham served with Campus Crusade as a small group leader and eventually became president of CRU. He was very involved with his church in Austin, Grace Bible Church, and loved nothing more than seeing people come to know and love Jesus.

Though he wanted to go into ministry, Cheatham also always felt a tug to pursue business. He just didn’t know what to do with it. He says,

I felt like being in the business world would pull me away from the intimacy I had with Jesus, so I sort of avoided what was in my heart because I didn’t want to sacrifice any part of my relationship with Jesus for a job.

In May 2012, Cheatham graduated and began pursuing a career in ministry, taking an internship at Grace Bible Church. Since the internship didn’t pay much, he picked up two part-time jobs on the side to help pay the bills. He also enrolled in classes at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Between graduate school, three jobs, and incredible financial stress, Cheatham realized he had spread himself too thin. He says,

In December of 2012, I was completely exhausted and burnt out. Behind on every bill, discouraged, and broken down. I came back to Dallas [and] met with one of my best friends and talked to him about everything that was going on. He pointed out what I already knew: this wasn’t working.

Even though he assumed he’d always be a preacher, he knew something had to change. So he applied for a job in Dallas, his hometown:

I decided that I would apply to a job that was way out of my league in terms of experience and education it required and if The Lord opened a door, I would follow it. Within 48 hours of applying for that job, they had already interviewed me and offered me a job in medical sales. That’s when I knew it was time for me to leave for the next phase of life the Lord had for me.

Cheatham packed his bags in Austin and returned home to Dallas. It was during this time he experienced a theological paradigm shift that changed the way he thought about his work.

God had a different plan for him, and it wasn’t full-time preaching.

Though Cheatham was confident God was calling him home, the transition wasn’t easy. Everything he knew was taken from him – his Christian community, his role as a teacher and a leader at his church, and his dreams of pursing ministry work. “It felt like leaving the greenhouse and going to the desert,” Cheatham explains.

God used this time to mold and shape Cheatham’s character, and he came to realize working in business didn’t mean he had to sacrifice intimacy with Christ. This all became clear when he learned he believed in a very narrow version of the gospel:

I had no idea what a narrow version of the gospel I had learned…. [M]y operational theology of the gospel was “this ship is going down, lets rescue as many people as we can while we can.” Such. Bad. Theology.

Cheatham realized his view of the gospel was small because it only considered the reconciliation of humans. So he began to study Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Through studying this passage, the meaning of the full gospel became clear to Cheatham:

As I was studying this passage in Colossians it all came together for me all at once: We are not on a sinking ship – the ship already sank – we’re partnering with God to bring the ship back to life through the gospel of Jesus. All parts of the ship, not just the people.

Cheatham continues:

As believers, we are mini viceroys, reconciling all aspects of life back under the kingship of Jesus. Finances, relationships, technology, medicine, politics, and the apex: people. Very quickly the Lord started to open my eyes to passages I knew by heart but had missed God’s hope and plan for reconciling the actual physical creation to what it was intended to be, a garden for his children to reflect his creative capacity and passion for cultivation.

He also spoke about the dangers of narrowing the gospel:

If we narrow the gospel for it to mean, “God is only reconciling people”, we reduce the value of the cross and limit our ability to reflect and be in relationship with a God who is creative, who works, who feels, who loves the arts, who has plans, who manages the earth, economies, governments, finances, who holds the keys to the next great technological advance, and we limit our ability to worship him in all of who he is. Yes, pastoring and teaching and evangelism is important, but no more or less important than God working with us to reconcile back to himself and make beautiful all other things which he created.

Today, Cheatham is a broker at TD Ameritrade and eventually plans to start his own investment analyst firm.

*Originally published at the IFWE blog.

Interview with a former communist, now fighting poverty with economics

Ismael Hernandez is the founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute. He is an ex-Marxist Leninist from Puerto Rico. His father was a founding member of the Socialist Party on the island, and eventually Ismael joined the party with him. “America is the enemy of humanity,” was one of his father’s slogans.

Ismael’s mother, however, sneaked him off to Mass and fostered the development of a double consciousness in him. He later joined Jesuit Seminary, trying to make sense of these competing visions of the world.

After leaving seminary due to his inability to be sent to Sandinista Nicaragua, Ismael came to America. Here he eventually renounced Marxism and worked as the executive director of a Catholic ministry in the inner city for the Diocese of Venice.

Ismael founded the Freedom & Virtue Institute in 2008 to bring the ideas of individual liberty, limited government, self-reliance, and love for the poor to communities of color.

Ismael lives in Fort Myers with his wife and three children. He holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science and has lectured with the Foundation for Economic Education, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Acton Institute.

Image1. What does the intersection of faith, work, and economics mean to your life and your work?

The intersection of these things means something very different to me today than what it meant in the past. Growing up in a communist household and joining the party with a commitment to revolutionary activity, I thought that everything was about class.

Faith was collapsed into the foundation of class-consciousness, and work was integral to proletarian struggle. Work was what made the working class superior to the capitalist class. The latter was considered nothing more than a parasite feeding on labor. All aspects of human affairs were to collapse into the affairs and institutions of the state, as the embodiment of the quest for heaven on earth.

Having awakened from the nightmare of communist ideology, a story for another day, I see that faith, work, and economics intersect at the point of the human person.

The individual matters! Made in the image of God, the individual person is unique and unrepeatable, capable of moral self-realization, and called to actualize his or her dignity through work.

Work is a gift from God (Genesis 1:15) and economics is about the person actualizing that image. Faith is a sort of reminder of the wondrous work of grace in us and a voice calling us to live up to the meaning of what it is to be truly human.

2. Is the individual more important than the community? How should we think about individual dignity in relation to the Christian call to be one body of Christ?

The way the question is often presented offers a false dichotomy. One might better ask, what is the relative place of the individual within the community? Or, what is the meaning of living in community for the individual?

After all, there is no such thing as an unencumbered self, an atom that exists disconnected and disengaged. We did not drop down from the sky or pop up from the ground. From the beginning, the person is both unique and unrepeatable and a member of a social group.

Individuals simultaneously belong to a number of collectives. Our choices are our own, but they often have collective implications. Our dignity lies first in being made in the image of God.

The same God that knows our names individually made us with intrinsic capacities that must be actualized in relationship to others. That is why he invites us to be one with others in the body of Christ.

3. How does the Freedom and Virtue Institute live out a biblical understanding of faith, work, and economics?

The Freedom & Virtue Institute’s mission is built on the foundation of respect for human dignity, a dignity that is real because God is real and made us with his attributes embedded in our nature.

Created with reason and volition, we mirror a God who is both reason and creativity itself. Trust in the God who created us in such a magnificent way is the bedrock of our work with faith communities across the country.

Work is another gift bestowed on us by God:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

Notice how work is given before sin enters into the picture. In the method of God’s design and government for man, work was seen as an essential feature. The word “economy” can be traced back to the Greek word oikonomos, “one who manages a household.”

Therefore, our institute believes in a God who created us with a dignity that is actualized through acts of creativity and stewardship. When man uses his hands and recreates his environment, he is managing the household of God.

4. How have you seen your Effective Compassion Trainings change the way a church helps the poor?

The first important change is in the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2). People begin to see that the question, “What is poverty?” is not an important one. Instead, the key concept is human flourishing. Precisely because God has made us in his image, with dignity and creativity, we must begin to see the poor as subjects endowed with meaning instead of objects moved by outside forces.

A light is turned on when people ask the right questions and begin to see the poor not as victims but as agents of change.

When people are made aware of the facts about poverty, the history of the welfare state, and the values (or counter-values) that informed such a system, they are confronted with a decision: Are we to become faithful servants or the hired hand of the state? Are we going to join Pharaoh in keeping our people in bondage or assist in the journey toward the Promised Land?

Then it is rewarding as people explore the principles that informed Christian service for generations; the strength of our traditions and beliefs is there for the taking!

Finally, seeing people discuss how to bring about the changes necessary to move in the right direction through their initiatives is the most fascinating experience.

*This interview was originally published at the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom blog.

Ayn Rand and Christianity: an interview with Mark David Henderson

Mark David Henderson is the author of Soul of Atlas: Ayn Rand, Christianity, and a Quest for Common Ground, a review of which can be found here. Having grown up with a Christian father and atheist stepfather who adhered to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Henderson is passionate about reconciling the differences and concentrating on the unity between these two worldviews.

He will discuss his book this Saturday at the International Students for Liberty Conference this weekend in Washington, DC as part of an IFWE-sponsored panel that explores the similarities and differences between Ayn Rand’s philosophy and Christianity.

When did you first notice you were passionate to find a common ground between Ayn Rand’s philosophy and Christianity?

These two worldviews were thrown into my life by the two men who shaped me from an early age. From age eleven, I lived in the home of my stepfather, John, an atheist and devout follower of Ayn Rand. But I split time with my biological father, who became a Christian later in life.

These two men used to be best friends before the divorce, but they became estranged afterward. I suppose I lived out these two worldviews in parallel, but there were a lot of conflicts. In some way, finding common ground between these two disparate belief systems was vital for me to live a happy life.

Mark Henderson

What do you think are the top three differences between an Objectivist and a Christian worldview?

Finding differences has never been the problem. The differences are huge and loom over every conversation between these two.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is devoid of any supernatural reference. So the first difference is no God vs. God. The second flows from that. That is, Christians believe that God is the highest occupation of an individual’s mind, will, and emotions. Ayn Rand argues that the individual—one’s self—is his highest occupation.

If we’re just talking about three, I’d say that Ayn Rand elevates reason as the only valid means of knowledge for humans, whereas Christians throughout the ages have recognized God’s own revelation as a means of knowledge as well.

What do you think Christianity has in common with Ayn Rand?

While the foundations are fundamentally different, many of Ayn Rand’s ethical conclusions are consistent with Christian ethics. To value work and the exercise of human creativity and innovation is a virtue for the Christian and the follower of Ayn Rand. Individual liberty and personal responsibility flow from humans by nature (or, in the case of the Christian, by design) and are to be valued.

When we aggregate these areas of common ground, the question that follows is, “What kind of an environment is necessary for these things to flourish?” Christians agree with Ayn Rand that “freedom” is necessary. What kind of political system, role of government, and economic system allows these values to thrive?

It’s worth stopping to say that my two fathers don’t represent all flavors of Christianity at all times or all of Ayn Rand’s statements. Just as Objectivists have had differing political commitments over time (even in the US), so have Christians. But my two fathers have agreed on the role of government and the benefits of capitalism to preserve the “unalienable rights” that each of them values so strongly.

To paraphrase a Shakespearian analogy, each of our lives is a play. The Objectivist casts himself as the lead and all of his relationships are supporting actors that further his performance. Christians understand Jesus to be the lead and the performance succeeds when he takes center-stage.

In what other ways do you see economic ideas relating to your Christian beliefs?

I’m sure that my understanding of Objectivism is informed by my Christianity and vice versa. So I don’t presume to speak for everyone holding one or the other. My understanding of God and his creation have led me to embrace economic principles that allow for individual freedom, personal responsibility, rewards for achievement, the preservation of personal property, and incentives which promote creativity and innovation.

Like each of the chapters in The Soul of Atlas, the chapter in entitled “Capitalism” recreates the conversation that played out in my life on a variety of topics. John spoke to me from the Randian perspective and Dad spoke from the Christian viewpoint. Both of them concluded, as I have, that capitalism supports their values better than the collectivist alternatives. But they get there from a different logical progression.

John sees laissez-faire capitalism most closely aligned with the interests of the individual, promoting achievement and individual responsibility. Dad agrees and further states that “since free people will inevitably be selfish, we need a system that accommodates that. Socialism depends on humans acting voluntarily to benefit the group to their own detriment, which is one reason it’s doomed to fail unless it’s forced.”

Do you see your work as a speaker and author as “redemptive” or as part of God’s bigger plan? If so, how?

I really appreciate how IFWE incorporates the biblical narrative into its mission and message: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. I believe that God, in his beauty and symmetry, has arranged circumstances in my life that enable me to participate in that narrative.

I have enjoyed exploring the gospel in the context of what is going on in the world. The Soul of Atlas, and my other writing and speaking engagements, plus my relationships outside the Christian community have given rise to some “Mars Hill” moments where I have spoken to audiences that are skeptical and sometimes hostile. Finding common ground opens us up to a conversation. And conversations lead to understanding and working together. It’s in working alongside people that I am able to share my life, the gospel, and my devotion to Jesus.

Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with IFWE blog readers?

I think there is some reluctance, on the part of both Christians and atheists, to engage with each other. The challenges are different for atheists than they are for Christians, but I can understand both perspectives. If I could say one thing, I would encourage both groups to engage with one another. The Soul of Atlas is a good start at finding common ground in disparate worldviews. But the real work can’t begin until we engage in meaningful conversation. I’m all about that. Talk to me more. I want to get the ball rolling.

*This interview was originally published on the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.

Q&A With Joel Salatin: A Tree-Hugging, Christian, Libertarian Farmer

Alongside a recent trip to Polyface Farm, I had the chance to interview farmer Joel Salatin. He had much to say about faith, politics, environmental stewardship,  government regulation, and the best way to “feed the world.”

You resonate with the Christian right on economic freedom and regulation, but you also call yourself an environmentalist. What do you think about the way the Christian right engages, or does not engage, issues of environmental stewardship?

Interview with Joel Salatin

When Rush Limbaugh laughingly discharges his machine-gun into jungle monkeys or Sean Hannity disparages the notion of animal rights because the animals can’t write a constitution, Christians should be appalled at such an egocentric, disrespectful, sacreligious view toward life. […]

Nothing less than Christian authenticity is at stake when we cavalierly dismiss environmentalists as a bunch of tree-hugging idiots.  The fact that creationworshippers have taken the high moral ground of stewardship while the Creator worshippers have accepted the low moral ground of manipulators, dominators, and pillagers should be cause not for gaiety and jokes, but for deep repentance in sackcloth and ashes.

Isn’t it just like Satan to turn something as noble and righteous as creation stewardship—which includes nutrient density, animal respect and soil building—into a hippie, beaded, bearded, nut movement as perceived by Christians? What if our side had owned stewardship? What then? We’d own the high moral ground.

In your opinion, what is the number one way the agriculture industry is failing to steward the earth’s resources today?

The number one problem is carbon cycling. Some 80 percent of all material filling landfills in the U.S. is biodegradable biomass. The way God set things up, the Sun [obviously an interesting permutation on Son] provides all the energy for the whole program. Plants capture sun energy through photosynthesis and build carbon material. Out of 100, roughly 95 pounds of all plants is sun energy; only 5 pounds is soil.  In other words, the earth is supposed to be getting heavier and fatter every year.

This carbon drives the cycle of life, death, decomposition and regeneration. Everything living must die, and the deaths provide the fertilizer for the next generation. This life-death-decomposition-regeneration cycle is, of course, a beautiful picture of the spiritual regeneration that happens when we voluntarily die to self so that our sacrifice may live in others. Ultimately, to live is to die to self. Anyway, the idea that chemical fertilizers can replace this cycle strikes at the very basis of this creation truth and leads people to believe we can have life without death. A bag of chemical fertilizer has no life; a compost pile brims with life.

In a creation economy, therefore, the carbon cycle is fundamental to proper function, and by extension, to proper appreciation of spiritual law. That we have squandered life by burying it in landfills where it cannot be regenerated into anything is an assault not only on creation’s balance sheet, but also on the object lesson God intended to keep us apprised of—life’s value and death’s temporality (if it’s used correctly). To deny solar energy its rejuvenating capacity and substitute it with inert lifeless chemical material disrespects all parties to the plan. If all this buried material—which we’re still burying, by the way—had been and were currently used to feed the soil, it would drop our petroleum use some 25 percent and reduce the toxicity that is leaching from our landfills.

In your book, “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal,” you talk in great length about how ridiculous it is to have a state ban on the retail of raw milk. What is it about your Christian faith that drives your passion for food freedom?

The idea that each of us is an asset or liability to the state creates an economic imperative to deny risky behavior through patronage, like not vaccinating our kids, drinking raw milk, fertilizing with compost or choosing herbology over pharmaceuticals—you get the picture.  The bottom line is this: what good is it to have the freedom to worship, assemble or speak if we don’t have the freedom to choose the food (fuel) to feed our 3 trillion member internal bacterial community to give us the energy to go pray, preach and congregate?

One of the major criticisms you get from other farmers is that your farming model isn’t scalable. Some say it can’t “feed the world,” but you believe it’s the only system that really can feed the world. Why do you think industrial food is failing to feed the world? And do you think there could ever be a proper place for genetically-modified/conventional food in impoverished nations that need cheap food to survive and for whatever reason can’t implement your farm model?

First, the world is awash in food. Never in the history of civilization have we wasted this much food: roughly half of all human edible food is wasted. […] Nobody in the world is hungry because there isn’t enough food. If I could snap my fingers and double the world’s food production tomorrow, it would not change one single empty stomach. People go hungry due to socio-political things like: thugs holding Red Cross trucks at gunpoint, distribution issues, infrastructure (inadequate roads), ignorance (a farmer in Ontario landfilled 3 tractor trailers of butternut squash two years ago because the people at the food bank did not know how to cook butternut squash) and negligence.  Many people are overfed and undernourished. Today, the world has more obese people than starving people. Clearly, we have enough food.

Joel Salatin

Second, we’re ridiculously wasteful with land. The U.S. has 36 million acres of lawn and 35 million acres housing and feeding recreational horses. That’s 71 million acres, which is enough to feed the entire country without a single farm or ranch. Cornell completed a study a couple of years ago on abandoned farmland: 3.4 million acres of prime New York farmland was abandoned in 15 years. This is not developed land. It is not converted to strip malls, highways, or homes. It’s just abandoned—you can see it if you drive into upstate New York: mile after mile of early successional wilderness. What about interstate medians and the 40 acres gobbled up by the average interstate clover leaf? In Italy, these areas are planted with gardens. Solariums on houses, trellises, rooftops—we haven’t even scratched the surface in production.

Third, small farming is far more productive per square yard than large farming. Multi-speciation beats mono-speciation factory farming hands down. Western science is incapable of measuring highly complex, holistic systems. The research coming out of the United Nations and any other large accredited organization is prejudicially linear and therefore does not measure the full spectrum of assets or liabilities emanating from different production systems. The genetically-modified “golden rice” alleged to help Asians with blindness is a joke. You’d have to eat 10 pounds a day. It would be much better to eat the bok-choy and Chinese cabbage that historically grew around rice paddies, but which have now been killed with herbicides from America so the Chinese can become more efficient by producing only one crop. Why is it that Christians who have a spiritual and intuitive incredulity toward official governmental moral pronouncements are so gullible when it comes to everything else?

Fourth, you can’t food bank your way out of hunger. Civilizations must feed themselves. Fortunately, some of the societies suffering the greatest food security issues are blessed with extreme resource abundance. Through permaculture, symbiosis, synergism, holistic resource management, bio-intensive agriculture, foliars and a host of other high-tech, low-capital, informational-dense techniques, all of us can participate in the food system more efficiently than at any time in human history. The fact is, if we had had a Manhattan project for compost, not only would we have fed the world, but we would have done it without 3-legged salamanders, infertile frogs and a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico.

What is your general opinion about government programs and regulations intended to help our environment and the agricultural system?

Just because something good comes out of a program does not mean that same good could not have come out of something else. I do not believe that the U.S. would be technologically backward today had we not invested in NASA or public education. I believe the curiosity of the human mind and the creativity of entrepreneurism would discover and press the limits of understanding whether or not the government ever got involved.

I think we would still be better earth stewards or food producers, as farmers, had Abraham Lincoln never decided to put the government in the farming business. Farmers would have banded together to do research in their own private societies like the soil societies of early America. Herd genetics and breed improvements would have developed right along with advancements in other economic sectors. To say that the government is the only or even the best remediation of “something that ought to be done” is both myopic and disempowering to the collective strength of individuals who share a vision.

I’m often asked what I would do if I were named Secretary of Agriculture. My answer: “I’d shut the agency down tomorrow.” No government agency has been so successful in destroying its own constituency—look at the number of farmers today.

Most of the problems farmers have are caused by their endorsement and practice of recommendations coming from USDA. I eschewed feeding dead cows to cows for nearly four decades until the USDA’s greatest science was found to be in error. Our philosophy must be based on truth in order to protect us from the amoral vision of scientists. Today, I’m known as a bioterrorist for letting our chickens be out on pasture, proximate to red winged blackbirds and indigo buntings who may take our diseases to the USDA-sanctioned, science-based Tyson chicken houses and destroy the planet’s food supply. I’m not making this up.

This is why those folks can sit in their pews self-satisfied that they are protecting the world from people like me. But if they ever stopped to ask how a bird expresses its “birdness,” or a chicken its “chickenness,” do you think they would come up with a Tyson house? Really? Of course, on the other side, I infuriate my organic friends when I refuse to sign petitions for more government research into organics. The way I see it, we can compete very well, thank you very much, if the scales were not so unfairly tipped toward the creation-pillaging farming system. Take away the government involvement, give us a level playing field and free access to markets, and our side would roll right over the USDA-sanctioned corporate-industrial food complex.

*This interview was originally published on the Values & Capitalism blog.

Understanding God Through Economics

Can Christians gain a better understanding of God and faith through economics? Francisco Rodriguez thinks so. He shared during a recent interview that,

In the study of economics, men can experience a better understanding of God. My hope is they will see their faith built because of this better understanding.

Rodriguez is the Outreach Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank based in Florida.

He is also a committed Christian who has thought a great deal about how his faith shapes his views on work and economics. During our conversation, he spoke candidly about everything from trust to stewardship to generosity, and why he thinks economics can help Christians better understand God and faith.

Why do you believe a comprehensive theology of faith, work, and economics is important in living the Christian life?

A comprehensive understanding and theology of faith, work, and economics is vital to the Christian life because one way God distributes the blessings of heaven to the citizens of earth is through the human hands of his people.

How do you see faith, work, and economics as intertwined?

Faith, work, and economics are welded together, but that’s my short answer.

The faith we have is first based on God’s promises fulfilled in the work of Christ Jesus, so that we can work in faith for the promises yet to come, though we cannot physically see them yet. I see no possible way to disconnect faith from work.

I also see economics as vital to this connection between faith and work since work must produce something greater than the input we give that work. If we do not believe the effort will yield something greater, we will be unmotivated to work.

Economics, even in faith, gives us clarity on where our efforts need to be placed in order to experience satisfaction in our work.

Can you explain more about the connection you see between faith and economics?

I’ve heard economics defined as “the science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.” Other sciences study elements of creation to lead us to God – biology, physics, astronomy, etc. So does economics.

In the study of economics, men can experience a better understanding of God. My hope is they will see their faith built because of this better understanding.

How else do you see faith impacting economics?

Two foundational items in what I think of as God’s economy are trust in the voluntary relationships between God and his creation and trust in decentralized processes to experience these things.

An economy without relationships doesn’t exist in the universe, and an economy with forced or coerced relationships cannot be sustained. Transactional relationships often lead to something more meaningful, long-term, and sustaining.

Relationships are foundational to an economy, and Genesis clearly shows us that voluntary relationships are more meaningful to God than forced relationships.

What do you mean by “decentralized processes?”

Whether you are speaking about biological life following the command of God to multiply, or the responsibility of believers to “go and make disciples,” these are both done in a very decentralized way.

Think about how God takes care of sparrows. Scripture says, “…your heavenly Father feedeth them,”  when referring to the fowls of the air. God established systems in the biological world for birds to have multiple sources of food distributed to them in decentralized ways. Work is required on the part of the birds to benefit from the food.  There aren’t starving birds because God took care to establish ways for birds to exercise obedience to the command of God to be fruitful and multiple, which requires them to eat well.

I see faith, work, and economics intensely intertwined through the systems of God in almost incalculable and sustaining ways throughout his physical creation, and within our fellowship with him and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

How do you see God using you in your work to build his kingdom?

There are two ways I believe God is using me and my work to build his kingdom: through stewardship and generosity.

Stewardship is often limited to time, talent, and treasure, but I believe God calls us to each of these areas within vital contexts – relationships and geography.

When something is on my heart to do, I battle with how far to engage in it if it takes me away from the relationships nearest me for which I am responsible. I think a good steward is defined as much by what he says “no” to as by what he says “yes” to.

Saying “yes” to God’s calling to steward something requires a lot of “no’s” to those things that will try to distract from that calling.

With regard to generosity, my wife and I have made it a focus of ours to live in a way that opens doors for us to be generous. God has taught us a lot about how to manage our family economy so that we can be generous to others whenever we feel led.

We have learned the need for wisdom in our generosity, but we know that God gives us more than enough, since he multiplies in ways that we could never imagine.

*This interview was originally published on the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.

Tree-Hugging, the Christian Right, & Joel Salatin

Alongside a recent trip to Polyface Farm, I had the chance to interview farmer Joel Salatin. He had much to say about faith, politics and environmental stewardship.

You resonate with the Christian right on economic freedom and deregulation, but you also call yourself an environmentalist. What do you think about the way the Christian right engages, or does not engage, issues of environmental stewardship?

Interview with Joel Salatin

When Rush Limbaugh laughingly discharges his machine-gun into jungle monkeys or Sean Hannity disparages the notion of animal rights because the animals can’t write a constitution, Christians should be appalled at such an egocentric, disrespectful, sacreligious view toward life. […]

Nothing less than Christian authenticity is at stake when we cavalierly dismiss environmentalists as a bunch of tree-hugging idiots.  The fact that creationworshippers have taken the high moral ground of stewardship while the Creator worshippers have accepted the low moral ground of manipulators, dominators, and pillagers should be cause not for gaiety and jokes, but for deep repentance in sackcloth and ashes.

Isn’t it just like Satan to turn something as noble and righteous as creation stewardship—which includes nutrient density, animal respect and soil building—into a hippie, beaded, bearded, nut movement as perceived by Christians? What if our side had owned stewardship? What then? We’d own the high moral ground.

In your opinion, what is the number one way the agriculture industry is failing to steward the earth’s resources today?

The number one problem is carbon cycling. Some 80 percent of all material filling landfills in the U.S. is biodegradable biomass. The way God set things up, the Sun [obviously an interesting permutation on Son] provides all the energy for the whole program. Plants capture sun energy through photosynthesis and build carbon material. Out of 100, roughly 95 pounds of all plants is sun energy; only 5 pounds is soil.  In other words, the earth is supposed to be getting heavier and fatter every year.

This carbon drives the cycle of life, death, decomposition and regeneration. Everything living must die, and the deaths provide the fertilizer for the next generation. This life-death-decomposition-regeneration cycle is, of course, a beautiful picture of the spiritual regeneration that happens when we voluntarily die to self so that our sacrifice may live in others. Ultimately, to live is to die to self. Anyway, the idea that chemical fertilizers can replace this cycle strikes at the very basis of this creation truth and leads people to believe we can have life without death. A bag of chemical fertilizer has no life; a compost pile brims with life.

In a creation economy, therefore, the carbon cycle is fundamental to proper function, and by extension, to proper appreciation of spiritual law. That we have squandered life by burying it in landfills where it cannot be regenerated into anything is an assault not only on creation’s balance sheet, but also on the object lesson God intended to keep us apprised of—life’s value and death’s temporality (if it’s used correctly). To deny solar energy its rejuvenating capacity and substitute it with inert lifeless chemical material disrespects all parties to the plan. If all this buried material—which we’re still burying, by the way—had been and were currently used to feed the soil, it would drop our petroleum use some 25 percent and reduce the toxicity that is leaching from our landfills.

In your book, “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal,” you talk in great length about how ridiculous it is to have a state ban on the retail of raw milk. What is it about your Christian faith that drives your passion for food freedom?

The idea that each of us is an asset or liability to the state creates an economic imperative to deny risky behavior through patronage, like not vaccinating our kids, drinking raw milk, fertilizing with compost or choosing herbology over pharmaceuticals—you get the picture.  The bottom line is this: what good is it to have the freedom to worship, assemble or speak if we don’t have the freedom to choose the food (fuel) to feed our 3 trillion member internal bacterial community to give us the energy to go pray, preach and congregate?

Seeking the peace and prosperity of the farm

On Monday, October 7th, I drove south through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with three of my colleagues for an interview and farm tour with Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm. If you aren’t familiar with Salatin, he may be the most tree-hugging libertarian you’ll ever come across. He’s also a self-proclaimed Christian and lunatic farmer.

After filming an interview with him in his living room, Salatin graciously offered to cook us omelets with free-range eggs and raw milk fresh off the farm.

As he was beating the eggs, he told us he grew up on Mother Earth News and FEE, which explains his “libertarian-environmentalism.” He wishes everyone would be more considerate of earthworms, but he also wishes the USDA didn’t exist. Politicos in Washington may find this odd, but as a Christian, Salatin doesn’t see his passions as conflicting:

Truth is truth, and it all lines up across all spectrums:  ecology, economy, theology, society. […] Dualism has no place in the Christian credo.

Everything is interwoven in God’s great design. Salatin says his personal mission statement is “to develop emotionally, economically, and environmentally enhancing agricultural prototypes and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.”

IFWE staff at Polyface Farm

All of the work he does in relation to his farm—whether it’s building ponds to mitigate drought and flooding or fighting to reduce agricultural regulation in Richmond—falls under the umbrella of “stewardship:”

I want to caress creation as a loving steward, knowing that such an attitude and action helps me understand everything: death before life; Jesus’ parables; redemption; the New Earth.

But he laments that many Christians today don’t live integrated lives:

The fact that most Christians can quote John 3:16 but in every other area have more interest in the world’s agenda than God’s agenda should give us pause.

Salatin—who passionately distinguishes himself as a creator worshipper and not a creation worshipper as he believes many radical environmentalists are—thinks it’s a shame that caring for the environment is associated exclusively with the left. If we truly want to be good stewards to all of life, Salatin believes dedication to creational healing and wellness is a moral imperative for all Christians.

My conversations with Joel reminded me of Jeremiah 29 when the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites illustrating how they are to live in Babylon during exile:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

The word used for peace is the Hebrew word “shalom,” which Cornelius Plantinga defines as:

[…] universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

As Christians, we are all called to seek the peace and prosperity of our community. We are called to pursue shalom. And one of the tools God has given us to heal the world is our work.

Salatin’s life is a quintessential example of “work as shalom” in the way he respects the “pigness of pigs,” understands the profit-and-loss system in creation, and defends our food system from “the food police.” He builds forgiveness into his farm through sacrificial devotion to transforming hurting landscapes into beautiful, productive areas.

Salatin says this physical picture of redemption on his farm  has an important spiritual lesson:

Redeeming the earth puts flesh and practicality around the theological concept of redeeming the soul.

We sat on stacks of hay, our feet dangling over the edge of a wagon as we weaved through 500 acres of green pasture with Joel as our guide. He proudly showed us his chickens, pigs, and cattle, beaming as he explained how he cares for his animals and his land. My boss turned to me and said, “This is what it looks like to reweave shalom.”

*This article was originally published at the Values & Capitalism blog.