The poverty in the immigrant Dutch Reformed community where I grew up was not grinding poverty, but almost all families were poor. It was egalitarian; people were treated alike. Had there been any wealth to be displayed, the community would have firmly disapproved of such a display. Much later I learned about Max Weber’s thesis that the origins of capitalism are to be found in the ethos of early Calvinism; the Calvinists, said Weber, regarded financial success as a sign of God’s favor. My father's attitude was the exact opposite. If someone in the community was beginning to accumulate substantial wealth, my father assumed that it was due, not to God’s favor, but to shady dealing.
Early in October, Yale was abuzz with passionate debates about the freedom of expression. Participants included Yale students and professors, as well as prominent alumni such as John Bolton (former U.S. ambassador to the UN) and David Frum (economic speechwriter for former president George W. Bush).
I went to Lübeck, Germany, this summer to explore my recently discovered Jewish roots. My grandfather built a successful ironworks plant in Lübeck and lived there until he and my grandmother were sent to the concentration camp where he died. I wanted to visit St. Mary’s Church, where my grandparents brought my father to be baptized as a toddler.
Changes of mind aren’t superficial or easy things. Mine have usually come as forced exits from the comfort of myself to somewhere more painful. I have had to learn to be beside myself.Looking back three decades, I see that the reception of the sacrament began gradually to set me aside, to place me beside myself, and, equally slowly, to make of my studies less an instrument for self-gratification and the domination of others and more an ecstasy of response to God.
"What causes you to become discouraged?” I asked a visitor from eastern Congo who started a university in that country a few years ago. He told me that the school had grown from 200 to 500 to 800 students, and that it was adding new areas of study. I was impressed as he described the intersections of pastoral training, agriculture and health.
Accumulation of wealth beyond meeting our basic needs doesn’t make us more content, studies show. Dr. Michael Finkelstein says that contentment takes practice. Think back on a time when you felt a sense of contentment, he says—it likely didn’t come from material possessions. “Our task is to simply discover where [contentment] resides” and focus on those times and places. It helps to “practice thinking, believing, and saying that you’re grateful and thankful for what you’ve been given” (excerpt from Slow Medicine: Hope and Healing for Chronic Illness in Utne, July).