View inside a kneehole

Ordinarily, you sit at your desk. But looking under mine led to a discovery that caused me to “ruminate” (from “chew the cud”). But kneehole observations that aren't especially profound can inspire knee-bending prayers.

One family artifact in my Study is a mahogany pedestal kneehole desk with a top inset of hand tooled leather. My friends admire the desk, and I treasure it as its third generation owner.

The style is 19th century. But the desk was manufactured in mid-20th century. It was given to my grandfather, J. A. LaCour, Sr., when he retired from Citizens National Bank in Meridian, Mississippi. As the owner-operator of a local feed mill, my grandfather served as a bank director and the interim president of Citizens bank in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. After he died in 1962, the desk passed to my father. When my mother died in 2015, family legacy ownership (really a “stewardship”) passed to me as the third generation “J.A.L.”

I recently discovered a brass medallion affixed inside the long drawer over the kneehole. The insignia reads “Jasper Cabinet.” My internet research on the company led to interesting discoveries — and some ruminations.

Jasper Cabinet was founded in 1904 as Schaaf & Schnaus, a saw and planing mill, in Jasper, Indiana. In 1916, the company changed its name to Jasper Cabinet and started to handcraft cabinets, chests, hall trees, accent tables, and liquor cabinets. Jasper Cabinet was most famous for home office furniture. The company became nationally prominent by handcrafting wooden secretaries and desks — like my grandfather’s kneehole desk.

Fast forward one century. In 2015, rebranded “Jasper Home” built a manufacturing facility in China. In 2018, Jasper Home had 100+ stores in major Chinese cities, South East Asia, and Singapore. Jasper Home’s website features items that resemble Ikea, World Market, and Home Goods furnishings; but no handcrafted fine furniture like my grandfather's desk.

This economy is “not my grandfather’s Made-in-USA.” Ruminations?

  • China and Asia are now “the factory of the world.” China has lifted millions of citizens out of poverty and has quickly built its middle class. But China’s rising ambitions to regional geo-political dominance are a grave concern.

  • Most manufacturing has moved offshore. “Flat world” trade, unregulated capitalism, and supply chain economics lower production costs to companies and prices that consumers pay at Target, Walmart, or Rooms-to-Go. Is that good? Bad? Both?

  • Growing income disparity and a shrinking American middle class can be traced to global economic, manufacturing trends. American manufacturing capacity, not professional elites, made the 20th the “American century.” Can technology innovation, and highly educated legal immigrants, keep America great?

  • Can America educate and train blue collar workers, like the skilled artisans who handcrafted my grandfather’s desk? The decline in the quality of public education and vocational training cast significant doubts.

  • Can America rebuild its middle class? The current administration proposes large-scale economic initiatives. Compare the 1930’s, when FDR promoted large federal programs to rescue Capitalism from the Great Depression, a time when dispirited American workers were vulnerable to the hollow promises of Bolshevism.

  • Hoover era Republicans criticized New Deal initiatives like Social Security, the National Industrial Recovery Act, infrastructure and public works projects like the CCC as Socialism. But it can be argued that FDR was a "go-big" pragmatist, who would try anything to promote economic recovery, which only came with World War 2. Is this déjà vu? Military conflict is a helluva way to regain post-war prosperity.

That's a lot of ruminating from inside the kneehole of a desk. “Making middle class America great again” is not as simple as the Democrat or GOP memes, slogans, or bumper stickers. I am grateful to be a registered Independent voter and a citizen of an unshakeable kingdom (Hebrews 12:28). I don't just bend my knees under desks, but in prayer, for the future of the land of my sojourn.

Life on the Margins

An excellent message in our neighborhood church has me thinking. In the Bible text, the Apostle describes himself and his fellow Christians: “We are homeless … the scum of the earth … refuse of the world.” That word “homeless” (1 Corinthians 4:11) grabbed my attention. I am more and more “at home with homelessness.” Because my self-identity is in Christ, and not in a political party.

There are policies that I can support — or critique — on both the Left and the Right. Big, leviathan government? The Bible teaches that it can become beastly. Xenophobia? Jesus says he comes to us in the form of a Stranger and Foreigner. Racial Justice? Indeed, for all of God’s image-bearers.

It’s important to discern the world views that drive political policies. For example, FDR advocated big New Deal programs to relieve suffering and rescue Capitalism from Bolshevism’s appeal during the Great Depression. But, unlike many on today’s Left, FDR was formed by his Dutch Reformed heritage and his sense of noblesse obligé to poor and suffering fellow Americans.

Similarly, Dr. MLK Jr. and many fellow 1960's Civil Rights leaders were Christian clergy. They advocated for civil and voters' rights based on a Christian world view. African-American churches were at the center of organized protests. Today, social justice and voters’ rights are still important, but sometimes pursued based on critical secular theories, some not compatible with a Christian world view.

Today, those who identify as GOP are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID. So GOP doctors in Congress are targeting vaccine hesitancy with a video which claims getting your shot will help end “government restrictions on personal freedoms.” Reduced infections and deaths? Good! But this appeal is based on the GOP’s shift from family, moral, fiscal, religious conservatism to a more Libertarian world view.

In a recent congressional hearing, GOP Rep. Jim Jordan demanded that Dr. Anthony Fauci tell him when Americans will “get their liberties back.” Fauci responded by saying, “We’re not talking about liberties. We're talking about a pandemic that has killed 562,000 Americans.” So, in a debate over “personal liberties” vs. “public health,” GOP policies are driven by personal autonomy, economic freedom, and distrust of the government.

But for followers of Christ? If you are a dual citizen of both your nation and God’s kingdom (Philippians 3:18-21), you are called to Christ’s “mindset” (Philippians 2:1-11). You are to prioritize the interests of others over self-interests (Philippians 2:4-5, 3:18-21). In the early church, while other citizens fled the plague, Christians went into the cities to care for the sick and dying. That world view was not Libertarian, was not anti-vaccine, nor anti-mask, and was not “don't restrict my personal liberties.” God’s higher Moral Law mandates “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our public worship concluded with a familiar blessing, a reminder of a Christian’s identity and the mission of Jesus Christ’s church: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9ff).

I must learn from Jesus Christ to live, love, and serve my neighbors from the margins, and not from a position of political power or social privilege. The Gospel teaches me to be “at home” in Jesus Christ. Even if I am socially disadvantaged (“the world's scum”) or politically disenfranchised (“homeless”).

From @IntlBuzz