Travel, monks and addictions

By Mike Strathdee

As printed in The Marketplace – September/October 2017

While putting together the cover package about Audrey Voth Petkau and TourMagination, I came across an article on Christian Week’s website that touts the spiritual benefits of travel. In the piece, Benjamin L. Corey argues that travelling exposes us to the fullness of God’s creation and can expand our heart’s capacity to love others.

Saving savings? Fascinating story in The New York Times a while back about a monk who abandoned the monastery to pursue a new calling ­— healing the broken retirement savings plans of New Mexico school teachers. The epiphany that led to Doug Lynam’s dramatic career swing was the recognition that most of the visitors to the monastery with spiritual issues had a related financial problem. Lynam Financial Services, the company that he started in order to provide better retirement account options for teachers, has entered into partnership with another firm that includes a Hindu nun and a Buddhist chaplain. Lynam sees his calling as being a “suffering prevention specialist.” He told The Times that fear and sloth contribute to some people’s financial misfortunes. Add to those human failings the failure of many governments to require financial salespeople to put client interests first, and there is a recipe for many broken dreams.

Holy coffee Speaking of monks, people who consider their morning cuppa to be a sacrament will be pleased to know that the cappuccino is named after a group known as the order of Capuchin friars. An article in Christian History magazine notes that the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a group formed to bring Franciscans back to the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, were nicknamed “Capuchins” because of their brown hoods. These cappucio later became associated with both overpriced bitter beverages and also monkeys known as organ grinders. No word on whether any enterprising firm has taught the latter to whip up the former.

Digital cancer? On the topic of addictions, it was only a matter of time before someone would theologize about digital gizmos. Tony Reinke’s new book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, looks at negative impacts from a biblical viewpoint. Some findings are not new, like the distraction (on average) of checking phones every 4.3 minutes (85,000 times a year). Or the hazard of texting in traffic, which multiplies the chance of a mishap 23 times. As noted by reviewer Jeff Haanen in Christianity Today (“Do Smartphones Give Your Soul Cancer?), the craze threatens spirituality by creating isolation, addiction and idolatry, to name a few ills. Reading the book prompted him to ponder “true freedom” in biblical terms: “As I began deleting apps and setting new boundaries, I found myself catching an appealing vision of a better — and slower — life. And my phone once again became just a tool, to be used like all good things given by God (James 1:17).”

Reining in tech — The 10 Techno-Commandments cited by Becca J. R. Lachman in her Upside-Down Living: Technology study (see Soul Enterprise, pg. 5) may cause pause for some digital addicts (guilty as charged- digital Scrabble, anyone?) But many of her reflections on the value of unplugging are worth considering. Elsewhere in the booklet, she notes that Apple founder Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent who limited technology use in his home. The Jobs family had tech-free dinners each night, and his children had to get along without iPads. The reason for this should make us all stop and think: “he and his business partners knew the power of what they were selling and creating.”

Science or religion? If you think of economics as being “the dismal science,” or perhaps not a science at all, pick up John Rapley’s new book Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a Religion and How it all Went Wrong. “Over time successive economists slid into the role we had removed from churchmen: giving us guidance on how to reach a promised land of material abundance and endless contentment.”

Economists suffer from a false conviction that their work can be a science, when it neither is nor can be one, and “has always operated more like a church,” Rapley writes. It “rests on a set of premises about the world not as it is, but as economists would like it to be.”

He points to the Swedish central bank’s struggle to decide who should win the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics — a scholar who argued the markets get the price wrong, or another who insisted the opposite, that markets always got the price right. “Thus it opted to split the difference and gave both men the medal — a bit of Solomonic wisdom that would have elicited howls of laughter had it been a science prize.”

Yet Rapley argues that describing economics as a religion doesn’t discredit the study. We need it, particularly its potential to be a force “for tremendous good. But only if we keep its purpose in mind, and always remember what it can and can’t do.”


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