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As a kid growing up in Guatemala in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was under no illusions that the police succeeded in keeping people safe—whether foreigners like us or the ordinary Guatemalans who were our neighbors. In the rural part of the country where we lived for a time, the police were simply nonexistent. And while living in Guatemala City, the police were there to be seen, but their presence was not always very reassuring, to say the least.

I still remember the time—after a string of home robberies that demonstrated the inability (or sheer unwillingness) of local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes—that someone we knew asked a police officer what they’d recommend victims of burglaries do in the event that they, as civilians, were to catch robbers in the act. The officer replied, in so many words, that they should feel free to dispose of the bodies of the criminals in one of the city’s multitudinous ravines.

book-detailLiving in Guatemala as a family of Americans was an education in vulnerability. But despite falling victim to crime on multiple occasions ourselves, our experience was nothing compared to the kind of insidious violence that undermines the determined aspirations—and threatens the very lives—of billions of poor people in developing countries like Guatemala every day. Indeed, in many parts of the world where public justice systems are weak and corrupt, parallel systems of private security have sprung up, but only for the benefit of those who can afford its benefits.

I was reminded of all this while reading The Locust Effect: Why The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, the game-changing new book by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Haugen leads the International Justice Mission and is the author of several books, including Good News About Injustice and Just Courage. Boutros is a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, and is a member of the department’s vital Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

My review of The Locust Effect appears in the new issue of PRISM, which is now available for free online. In the review I commend the authors for their insistence that poverty reduction requires a variety of interventions and actors, beyond their own areas of expertise. I put it this way: “Making a forceful and convincing case for one thing does not require pretending that nothing else matters; others who write about poverty and development should take note.” I also note that while this is not an explicitly Christian book, it seems to me that the authors outline a distinctly Christian way of doing human rights work, even if they do so subtly.

I close out the review in these terms: “With great moral urgency, The Locust Effect issues a clarion call to courageous action on behalf of the vulnerable poor. The sobering news is that the plague of hidden, everyday violence is real. The good news is that it is not inevitable.”

Read the full review in PRISM here (p. 53), and check out the book’s website here.

opening-day

+ With Opening Day just about upon us, here’s a look at how baseball changed a Dominican town—and how that town is changing baseball.

+ Speaking of baseball, ESPN has a really cool interactive project called Anatomy of a Pitch that features eight pitchers from the D-backs.

+ And while we’re at it, I dare you not to watch this .gif over and over and over…

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+ Arcade Fire makes “a compelling case for common grace in our theology of missions,” says Alan Noble.

+ For the time being you can stream Johnny Cash’s posthumous album, “Out Among the Stars,” over at Paste. The title track is especially strong, and “She Used To Love Me A Lot” has something to it as well.

+ Some über-talented artists are coming together to record some unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Legendary producer T. Bone Burnett says, “Great music is best created when a community of artists gets together for the common good.”

+ James Duncan sees parallels (and, of course, key differences) between megachurch leaders and Walter White: “Celebrity pastors have turned their non-profits into personal profit centers.”

+ I appreciated these thoughts from Stephanie Summers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the responsibility of governments to enact policies that support families.

+ Oscar Romero, killed this week in 1980: “A people is a community… where all cooperate for the common good.”

+ I’m heartbroken for those affected by the massive fire at La Terminal market in Guatemala City this week.

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+ Here’s an interesting look at the disillusionment about human rights and humanitarianism that shows up in the novels of Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini.

+ It’s true: storytelling changes attitudes and behaviors.

+ “Augustine was right: There are goods that we can possess only by dispossession.”

+ This is part one of Ed Stetzer’s interview with Philip Jenkins about global Christianity. For those familiar with Jenkins’ work, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. For those unacquainted, it’s a good introduction.

+ Thomas Cranmer wrote a prayer book, and shaped an entire society.

+ I resonate: “Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (breadth and depth) of the gospel.”

+ My parents are visiting us these days and last weekend we visited the Tonto Natural Bridge near the town of Payson. It’s a magical place.

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Every so often I stumble upon a book that merits repeated readings. One of those books is He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace by Rich Mouw, the philosopher and now-retired president of Fuller Seminary. I first raved about it two years ago, paying particular attention to Mouw’s conviction that there are “multiple divine purposes in the world”—a conviction that has significant ramifications for our public life, to say the least.

Having just read it for the second time through, I want to highlight another couple of insights. In a chapter on seeking the common good, Mouw adapts some of the things he has to say in Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (another of Mouw’s books that warrants multiple, careful readings—see a pattern here?).

9780802821119Mouw argues that “the case for Christian civility”—which is closely related to Christian efforts to seek the common good—rests on two key principles. First, he writes, “Christians must actively work for the well-being of the larger societies in which we have been providentially placed.” This is spelled out perhaps most evocatively put in Jeremiah 29:7, in which the people of God are commanded, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The second principle is that “sanctified living should manifest those subjective attitudes and dispositions—those virtues, if you wish—that will motivate us in our efforts to promote societal health.” Mouw notes that in the second chapter of I Peter, the apostle urges his readers, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles” (v. 12) and to accept “for the Lord’s sake… the authority of every human institution” (v. 13). We’re warned that even while seeking to do good we may very well be maligned, but we’re also reminded that our being liked isn’t what ultimately matters. More important is that “they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (v. 12).

Perhaps most instructive for us, however, are the four obligations Mouw notes in I Peter 2:17 that have direct bearing on us as we participate in public life as “exiles” of one kind or another:

1. We are to fear God.

2. We are to love the family of believers.

3. We are to honor our fellow citizens.

4. We are to honor our governing authorities.

For most Christians, the first two are recognizable, and presumably reasonable, commands (despite our difficulties in observing them). But I wonder about the second two. These days, I hear a lot of Christians who believe that we are under attack for our beliefs, and in some ways I agree (more of my thoughts on that here). But while many of the most vocal defenders of religious freedom communicate certainty about their Christian convictions, I’m afraid this certainty isn’t always clothed in the conviction that we are obligated—for Christ’s sake—to honor everyone, to have regard for their well-being.

We may not have the luxury of convenient cultural conditions. Neither did the people to whom Peter and Jeremiah first issued their instruction in two very different times and places. Even so, as “exiles” of a somewhat different kind today, we have the obligation to do good and to honor our fellow citizens and our authorities—even when we are ignored, disrespected, or maligned with outright hostility for doing so.

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+ Tom Wright is coming to Phoenix, and I couldn’t be giddier. Really hoping something like this happens.

+ Pope Francis and Justin Welby are joining forces to unite Roman Catholics and Anglicans in the fight against human trafficking. “We are struggling against evil in secret places and in deeply entrenched networks of malice and cruelty,” the Archbishop of Canterbury says.

+ Though his feast day was overshadowed by that of another saint the day before, I learned some things this week I didn’t know about St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

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+ Internet Monk thinks that Bob Dylan’s 1967 record John Wesley Harding makes for good Lenten music.

+ Meanwhile, the novelist Jonathan Lethem defends Dylan’s 80s repertoire, despite the “aura of rejection and embarrassment still hovering over that decade in Dylanology.”

+ Interesting stuff afoot in El Salvador, as a Kuyperian vision of public justice takes root.

+ Bill Easterly always has interesting and provocative things to say about aid and development. This is just the tip of the iceberg: “We support dictatorships with our aid money.”

+ Two years after #KONY2012, what are Invisible Children and Jason Russell up to now?

+ David Koyzis had some interesting things to say about evangelicalism and emotion over at First Things.

+ I appreciated Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Molly Worthen about her book on the crisis of authority in evangelical circles.

+ How do we quantify the physical effect of the toxicity all around us? “Forty-one million IQ points. That’s what Dr. David Bellinger determined Americans have collectively forfeited as a result of exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides.”

+ Eric Miller writes for Comment, “If ideology is here to stay, religion had better be, too.”

+ Last but not least, Wes Anderson has a thing for symmetry, as @kogonada demonstrates here.