Thursday, December 31, 2009

Information Technology as Blessing?

In chapter 3 of the book, I attack the rise of information technology in financial matters. It's a bit strong to say that I argue that it is a curse, although I do think that ATMs, websites, online banking, and pay-at-the-pump credit card scanners contribute to serious problems in our lives. In general these technologies of finance speed up the world. More specifically, they contribute to three problems: depersonalization, arrogance, and abstraction:

  • De-personalization or disconnection: our human relationships suffer the more we use money. In fact, we begin to use monetary values to measure the value of those relationships. We need to build communities and attach faces to what our money is doing.
  • Arrogance: we begin to think that we're in control, and we can move our money around at will. We need to practice humility with our money.
  • Abstraction: we forget what money really is and what it really is for. Electronic technologies contribute to a loss of tangibility about money, which is already an abstract thing to begin with. When all we see are numbers flitting in and out of electronic accounts, we get detached from the concrete realities in which those numbers are rooted. We need to practice concreteness with our money.
But I had a new thought today, as I went online to process gifts our kids chose to give to our denominational relief relief agency. Here I was, using slick web technology to make donations to specific causes with faces attached. The technology made it extremely easy to give money away--the same technology that erodes the virtues in us. It was slick, but for a good cause.

So if I could add a footnote to chapter 3, it would say something about how the church can also tap these technologies to begin moving its members toward a healthier way of living with money. I hesitate to say that such a faster, flatter world is a blessing, but I wouldn't hesitate to say that we can carefully and prudently use these technologies toward worthy ends from time to time. 

We're not subverting the system from within, but we are witnessing to a different way of handling money, a hopeful way, a loving way. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nation Team Soccer Players Go Missing: Migration in the News

One of the aspects of globalization that I talk about briefly in the book (in chapter 9) is the fact that so many people are moving out of their countries of origin, whether as economic migrants seeking a better life or as political refugees fleeing from oppression.

A 2005 UN study estimated that approximately 191 million people were living outside or the country in which they were born. If all those people were herded together into one country, they would make up the sixth largest country in the world by population, behind Brazil and ahead of Pakistan.

The small state of Eritrea illustrates the problems when people want to leave their country. Recently 12 members of their national soccer team disappeared after playing a match in Kenya and losing 4-0. (If they had won, would they have felt better about staying?)

Migration is a serious and often overlooked aspect of globalization, which is the process of increasing interconnection between peoples. People are moving around all over the world, for all kinds of reasons. Let's hope these guys from Eritrea can be united with their families some day (if they ever turn up).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Will Spain Win the 2010 World Cup?

It's finally time for some World Cup Soccer bracketology. My son and I have studied the field for FIFA World Cup 2010 (see the PDF document in the post below this) and compared our predictions today. Mike predicts a Netherlands vs. Spain final, with the Netherlands winning 3-1. I'm predicting a Brazil vs. Spain final, with Spain winning after overtime on tie-breaking penalty kicks. We'll see who's right.

Let me know if you want to see our specific predictions in bracket form, with all the predictions for games that precede the final.

By the way, does anybody know of sites for the World Cup like those for the NCAA men's basketball tournament? Although this tournament has only 32 teams, there is more uncertainty about who will qualify out of the eight groups (the top two in each group only).

This is the most global sporting event in the world today. You'd think people would be guessing the winner already. It'll definitely be Spain.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I'm. . . ba-aack to chat about global soccer

After a long time away, I'm back to the blogging business and to one of my favorite aspects of globalization not covered in my book: global soccer. For those of you less attuned to the world of international soccer, yesterday was a significant day. In South Africa, Charlize Theron drew the ping pong balls that decided who would play whom in the men's World Cup next summer. Sadly, I couldn't watch it live, but apparently you can re-live the experience via video on the FIFA website. And the format for the whole tournament is in a handy PDF on the FIFA site.

My first reaction is to figure out how the US national team might fare given its draw. In the 2006 Cup, they ended up in a "group of death" with Italy, Ghana, and the Czech Republic. They never won a game and went home humiliated. This time around things look a bit better. The US is in Group C with England (a powerhouse), Slovenia (a surprise qualifier), and Algeria (who barely squeaked past Egypt to get in). The US is ranked second to England, and the top two qualify for the next round. 

However, the initial commentary I've read sound overconfident. For example, the Associated Press story published in our local paper focuses on England, but I'm worried that Slovenia could be a giant-killer--the David to our Goliath. The U.S. defense is very weak, since central defender Oguchi Onyewu wrecked his knee in the last qualifier against El Salvador.

And the bad news is that the second place team in the US's group has to play the winner of group D, which will likely be Germany, a serious global powerhouse. If the US can beat England and win the group, then it would likely play Australia, who will probably end up second in Group D. Either way, the US has a long road ahead if it's hoping to get into the quarterfinals. 

I hope to look at the brackets more in coming days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Book is Out!

Dear Readers,

The Fullness of Time in a Flat World is now available for purchase on the publisher's website. It will be awhile before and others have it, but I'd be thrilled if you could check it out and let me know what you think in the comment sections on this blog or on the Facebook fan page (click at left).


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A New Localism?

A friend tipped me off to a Newsweek column on "the new localism," by writer and geography buff Joel Kotkin. In the piece, Kotkin says, among other things that
After decades of frantic mobility and homogenization, we are seeing a return to placeness, along with more choices for individuals, families, and communities.
It seems that attachments to local places are even starting to trump desires for career advancement and higher salaries.

Kotkin's most significant evidence comes in this passage:
Yet in reality Americans actually are becoming less nomadic. As recently as the 1970s as many as one in five people moved annually; by 2006, long before the current recession took hold, that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since the census starting following movement in 1940. Since then tougher times have accelerated these trends, in large part because opportunities to sell houses and find new employment have dried up. In 2008, the total number of people changing residences was less than those who did so in 1962, when the country had 120 million fewer people.
What's going on here? The recession and real estate market certainly put the brakes on mobility, and work-at-home technology is making home-based workplaces more possible. But are we really seeing a deeper attachment to local places? I hope so, and I hope Kotkin is right.

Localism can be a healthy response to too-much globalism.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Turkey 2, Armenia 0

So Armenia lost to Turkey on the soccer field, and no major violence broke out, which makes sense, since the Armenians were outnumbered in Turkey and would hardly be expected to riot. An interesting English-language report by an Armenian writer gives the full story from an Armenian point of view. Apparently the Turks didn't sell any tickets but only allowed invited guests to go, which allowed them to vet the fans beforehand: no crazy nationalist Turks allowed. It seems the Armenians were happy to leave without getting beaten up.

Meanwhile, we'll see where the diplomatic thaw between the two sides may lead. The president of Armenia made a first-ever visit to Turkish soil in advance of the game, which was a minor breakthrough, and could lead to further negotiations. The two sides will have plenty of side to chat together next summer, since both have been eliminated from the World Cup competition. Who will they cheer for? The U.S.?

Given the U.S. team's recent performance, clinching the top spot in its North American qualifying group, they may have plenty to cheer for. I'm still rooting for Bahrain to make it on November 14.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Soccer Diplomacy?

Tonight, Armenia's national soccer team will play against Turkey, in Turkey, for World Cup qualifying (amazingly, they are in the same qualifying group). This is a dicey situation, because the Armenian people suffered horribly during World War I under Turkish Ottoman rule. They argue that it was genocide, but the Turkish government bristles at the charge and throws its weight against anyone who supports it (including the U.S. government).  Political leaders on both sides are trying to keep violent fans at bay for tonight's match in Bursa. A Washington Post story suggests that the game is encouraging a diplomatic thaw between the two governments.

I'd love to do a research project on the "soccer leads to peace" thesis, a rival to the Democratic Peace theory popularized by Michael Doyle and the Golden Arches Theory popularized by Tom Friedman. There's probably research out there already testing whether global sports (e.g., the Olympics) contribute to peaceful diplomacy. It's a cliche, for sure. But is there evidence that a sporting event can bring political rivals together? The news from Turkey and Armenia suggests there is.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

World Cup Update: Bahrain 0, New Zealand 0

An update on an earlier post about my hope that the Bahrain national soccer team might qualify for next summer's World Cup: From the news stories and video highlights, it looks like my favorite little team from my favorite little Middle Eastern country missed a bunch of chances to win against New Zealand. After this 0 to 0 scoreless tie, they'll play again on November 14, starting at 5 AM Eastern Time. If Bahrain can score a goal on the road, they'll have the tie-breaking advantage. If neither team scores, they'll go to overtime and then penalty kicks. It could be a nail-biter.


Beyond Smashing Things

Julie Clawson, one of my favorite bloggers right now, recently posted a thoughtful piece on "Smashing Economic Idols" that raises some interesting questions. When fellow Christians tell you to be careful about loving your neighbor, because it could lead to socialism, that's probably a sign that loyalties to an economic system trump loyalties to the Gospel.

But I hope we can get beyond such violent and negative imagery and try to positively motivate people to love God and their neighbor. One of my goals in writing the book was to sketch out alternative practices that demonstrate what it looks like to live hopefully and to live "love-fully" (is that word?). I think people are already doing this all over the world: they are creatively and joyfully creating political, economic, and cultural alternatives. And these alternatives demonstrate what it looks like to love God and love your neighbor through your daily life.

Our family, for the first time, is really getting into home gardening and farmers' markets. We're really enjoying the many conversations we have each week at the downtown Canton farmers' market. We've fallen in love with the apples and peaches from Arrowhead Orchard--and we really like the people there. We've also fallen in love with the house bread from Broken Rocks Cafe and Bakery--sold out of a stall at the market. It's amazing! We loved the bread so much that we decided to eat at the restaurant, and we had a wonderful lunch there two weeks ago. The couple that started Broken Rocks have young children and are originally from Michigan.

We're getting to know our neighbors, and we're getting more connected to our local area. It's fun and joyful; it's better for the earth; and it's living against the grain of the System. I love what Hendrik Berkhof says about resisting the system:

“All resistance and every attack against the gods of this age will be unfruitful, unless the church . . . demonstrates in her life and fellowship how men can live freed from the Powers. We can only preach the manifold wisdom of God to Mammon if our life displays that we are joyfully freed from his clutches.”


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There are Alternatives: Local Currency

I've been thinking a lot lately about the TINA argument applied to globalization. TINA is short for "There is No Alternative," and it's a phrase that Margaret Thatcher was fond of using when speaking of her free-market reforms. It's also a phrase that people apply to globalization, suggesting that we cannot escape it.

One of the insecapable aspects of our global economy is the use of currency, which then implicates us in all kinds of problems, including the love of Mammon and a host of other problems (see Chapter 3 of my book). Money is fundamental to our being globalized; when we use it, we participate in global flows of currency and capital. (Does that make sense?)

But Sunday's Washington Post reports on the use of a new local currency in the London borough of Brixton: Brixton pounds. The idea is to encourage people to shop and spend locally. You exchange one British pound for one Brixton pound, but you can only use the Brixton pound in the local area, and only at selected businesses that choose to accept it. Bill McKibben reports on a similar alternative currency idea in his nice little book Deep Economy. I'd love to see other people doing this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sneak peek at the Table of Contents

Save the Earth: Use Recycled Toilet Paper

Today's Washington Post has a story documenting the toll taken on old-growth forests when we use plush toilet paper. Toilet paper made of recycled paper is better for the environment. Wipe and flush accordingly.

Kierkegaard on the Fullness of Time

I've been reading the philosopher Kierkegaard this semester, and I recently discovered this wonderful description of the Incarnation in Philosophical Fragments:

And now the moment. Such a moment has a peculiar character. It is brief and temporal indeed, like every moment; it is transient as all moments are; it is past, like every moment in the next moment. And yet it is decisive, and filled with the Eternal. Such a moment ought to have a distinctive name; let us call it the Fullness of Time.
 Hmmm . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Minnow and the Whales

You need to know three important facts about me: 1) I'm a huge fan of global soccer, 2) I'm eagerly awaiting next summer's World Cup competition, which I think is a fascinating example of globalization, and 3) My favorite Middle Eastern country is Bahrain (ever since our family got to live and work there for almost a year in 2004 and 2005). (By the way, Bahrain was the subject of an interesting New York Times story today, focusing on the village where we lived, called A'Ali.)

What's the point here?

Well, Bahrain is still in the running to qualify for the World Cup. All they have to do is beat New Zealand in their two-game, home-and-away series and they are in (albeit, by the back door). It's possible, since the international soccer association, FIFA, ranks Bahrain 64th in the world right now, whereas they rank New Zealand at 100. Now, these rankings don't mean a thing; the guys in red (Bahrain) will have to win on the field. But our family is unashamedly rooting for them like crazy.

We're cheering for Bahrain for two reasons. First, we watched them play back in 2004 and 2005 when they were trying to qualify for the 2006 Cup, and we had tons of fun doing it. We lived right across from the stadium where the national team played, where admission was free, so we'd stroll over and join the masses. If you've never been to a real international soccer match, where people play the drums and sing the entire game, then you've missed out on some real fun.

Secondly, Bahrain is officially the smallest nation still in the running for the Cup. I checked the standings over at the FIFA website and the NationMaster website and it looks like the small West African state of Gabon is the next smallest state in terms of population that could qualify. Gabon is ranked 151st in terms of population, with around 1.5 million people, while Bahrain is ranked 163rd, with just over 700,000.

To use the language of the global game, let's cheer for the little minnows that face the whales. New Zealand's population is just over 4 million, which makes them bigger than a minnow but smaller than a whale, more like a hoki. But if Bahrain gets past the Kiwis, they'll be facing some whales like Brazil (pop. 196,000,000) or the U.S. (pop. 303,000,000).

All power to the minnows.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Publication Date: By November

The book should be out and for sale no later than November, because there is a busy conference season kicking off this fall. For example, the publisher usually has a booth at The American Academy of Religion annual conference is November 7 to 10, 2009. And they'll want to get this one out by then.

I'll be letting people know as soon as it's available for sale.

Al Jazeera News as Globalization

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly is one of my favorite journalists--even when I disagree with the gist of his stories. He travels incessantly, writes passionately, and speculates widely, about all things global. And now he's just published an interesting piece entitled "Why I Love Al Jazeera." Good stuff.

After summarizing recent news coverage at the English language version of Al Jazeera International, he discusses the benefits of getting one's news from a more globally minded source. Like a good journalist, he also raises some concerns about AJ--describing its influence as "insidious"--but he suggests that he'll be watching them more often than American media outlets to get a true picture of world events.

In the book, I briefly mention Al Jazeera International as an example of the complex media environment produced in a globalizing world:

"A small indicator of the complexity of cultural globalization is the fact that one can now view the Arabic network al-Jazeera’s news programs in English in the United States" (p. 10).

The program is produced in the small Gulf state of Qatar, broadcast in English, and beamed around the world via cable, satellite, or internet video.

According to Kaplan,

Over just a few days in late May, when I actively monitored Al Jazeera (although I watched it almost every evening during a month in Sri Lanka), I was treated to penetrating portraits of Eritrean and Ethiopian involvement in the Somali war, of the struggle of Niger River rebelsagainst the Nigerian government in the oil-rich south of the country, of the floods in Bangladesh, of problems with the South African economy, of the danger that desertification poses to Bedouin life in northern Sudan, of the environmental devastation around the Aral Sea, of Sikh violence in India after an attack on a temple in Austria, of foreign Islamic fightersin the southern Philippines, of microfinancing programs in Kenya, of rigged elections in South Ossetia, of human-rights demonstrations in Guatemala, and of much more. Al Jazeera covered the election campaigns in Lebanon and Iran in more detail than anyone else, as well as the Somali war and the Pakistani army offensive in the Swat Valley. There was, too, an unbiased one-hour documentary about the Gemayel family of Christian politicians and warlords in Lebanon, and a half-hour-long investigation of the displacement of the poor from India’s new economic zones.

Compare this coverage of the globe--by a globalized network--to the coverage by U.S.-based networks: I didn't notice a single story in Kaplan's list about Hollywood celebrities!

P.S. If you think Kaplan's off his rocker, then check out the archived blog posts on Al Jazeera by George Washington University professor Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark. Professor Lynch has been tracking Arab media for years, keeping tabs on Al Jazeera and female Arabic pop music stars (he had a crush on Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram).

Monday, September 7, 2009


The manuscript is moving along. I just received an email from the typesetter, who is looking for me to send back corrections on the page proofs as quickly as possible. The final product should be out in time for the fall conference season. Please keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Books I wish I could have read . . .

Evangelical publishers are starting to get into topics that crop up in The Fullness of Time. I only wish that I could have had time to learn from them before getting my own work into print. In just the past few months, I've seen a few interesting books popping up in two main categories:

Practical guides to more holistic living in a globalized world: For example, Tracy Bianchi is coming out with a book entitled Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet. In addition, Julie Clawson has just come out with Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices.

Evangelicals discovering the liturgical year: Joan Chittister is coming out with The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. And InterVarsity has just published an interesting book by Bobby Gross: Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God.

I've just ordered a copy of Gross's book, and I look forward to working through it. The only comparable book that I've been able to find up to this point is Robert Webber's Ancient-Future Time. I'll try to find time to post some reflections on the Gross book here.

In the meantime, I am encouraged that so many others are responding to the paralysis that many of us feel about global capitalism being the only system that can organize our lives. Margaret Thatcher used to say that "there is no alternative," making what many have called the TINA argument.

But there are many alternatives, and the Christian year helps us to imagine them and start acting on them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Judging by the Cover . . .

Note the profile picture. We finally have a cover for this alleged book! It's becoming a reality. Needless to say, I'm thrilled.

Hopefully people will not judge the book by its external packaging only. The argument of the book, however, is nicely captured in the design. The tension between the flat world of globalization and the liberating power of the liturgical year comes to a head in the center, at the neck of the hourglass. Where the sands of time are gathering, a faint glow emerges from the background, suggesting that the glory of God is being revealed there. Not a bad summary of the main theme.

The flat world is being filled with the divine love, even if people don't notice it.