Interview with Bill Yeargin, CEO of Correct Craft @TheHighCalling.org

My interview with Bill Yeargin is up at TheHighCalling.org. He was wonderfully candid about the challenges of being a Christian businessman. Who is Bill Yeargin and what is Correct Craft, you ask? Here’s the intro:

Bill Yeargin is the refreshingly down-to-earth President and CEO of Correct Craft, an 84 year old company that manufactures and sells the Nautique line of inboard wakeboard and water ski boats. He has been at the helm for just under three years, but is a well-known figure in the marine industry, having served on the executive team at Rybovich Yachts and on both national and international industry boards. Yeargin is the author of two books, Yeargin on Management and What Would Dad Say? and has published more than 200 management and leadership columns. He shares his practical advice in person at management conferences throughout the world. At home in Orlando, Florida, he boldly combines faith, service and work. Yeargin talked to TheHighCalling.org about how he does this and about leading his company with integrity in these challenging times.

Read the interview here.

[Note: The boat in the photo above is not a Nautique tow boat, in case you were wondering. It’s a fun fishing boat in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ.]

“Poverty is on the Agenda” at UrbanFaith.com

My first article for Urban Faith is up. It’s a report on the Sojourners/World Vision Mobilization to End Poverty event I attended in Washington D.C. last month. My reporting for Urban Faith focuses primarily on the experiences of other attendees at the event. I was also asked to write a blog post for Sojo.net about my own experience at MEP. After agreeing to do so and then attending the event, I realized I had made a mistake because I couldn’t really do honest journalism for the event host. When an outlet reports on its own event, it is called public relations. I decided to submit an honest account of my experience and let the chips fall where they may. Sojo.net elected not to publish this account. I take the editors at their word that the problem was with the writing and not with my critique. It’s pretty dull, I guess, and perhaps tangential, but I present it here nonetheless. Make of it what you will.

What to make of an anti-poverty event that could easily cost participants $500-$1000 or more, depending on how far they traveled, where they slept and what they ate? I ask the question not as a criticism, but because it influenced my one day experience of the Mobilization to End Poverty gathering, and my early exit from it.

The recommended hotel cost $245 a night, an amount higher than any I have ever paid for a hotel, even when my husband earned a six-figure income. I might have stayed at a hostel for $50 if I had acted early, but instead I camped alone for $16 a night at Greenbelt National Park in nearby Maryland. A late model German station wagon served as my “tent.” For dinner I prepared Trader Joe’s noodles with a cup of hot water that I grubbed at McDonald’s. I covered my interior windows with $9 worth of “made in China” tablecloths I had purchased at a nearby dollar store. They quickly filled my abode with the suffocating smell of formaldehyde. (How toxic must those factories be?) As evening wore on, I tried to read the 100th anniversary edition of Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis, but felt vulnerable, alone and foolish for setting up camp in what passes for a DC suburb.

What little sleep I got was periodically interrupted by the sound of sirens in the distance. Looking put together and professional after such a night is a challenge I don’t care to repeat. It’s a challenge I’m not sure I could endure with grace on a daily basis. By the time I arrived at the convention center, I felt unkempt. Inferior. Apart from attendees I imagined could afford to comfortably lobby and talk about poverty—even though I’ve spent the past six months working hard to gain access to tax-payer funded mental health services for an uninsured and currently uninsurable family member. I rejoice in care of questionable quality because it is something and it’s cheap.

From this vantage point I assessed day one of the Mobilization to End Poverty.

The speakers were inspiring—more consistently inspiring than most on the poverty circuit, according to a couple Sisters of Charity from Leavenworth, Kansas. Biblical mandates flowed freely, and startled when they too closely resembled mandates anointing a different political agenda that had been roundly and rightly criticized from these quarters.

Activists were enthused. A couple expectant Presbyterian fathers from Bradenton, Florida, were there looking for inspiration. They had flown into town, but were staying with friends in the suburbs. One is a church youth group leader; the other a board member of his local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. At the close of day one, both had gained renewed enthusiam for themselves and their ministries. The investment was clearly worth it to them.

 A Lutheran attendee from Pennsylvania said he was excited to be there talking about something other than abortion and gay marriage. Yes, but why must we denounce? The rigor of the abortion debate was appropriate to its time and is evolving in ways appropriate to our time. The gay marriage debate is one worth having. We should applaud it, and add to it, not shirk from it. Ambivalence on this issue dare not speak its name and that’s not good. What does it require of me to oppose hunger or affirm health care reform?  Certainly nothing as gauche as meddling in other people’s sex lives. Unless of course one deigns to get their hands dirty with real people—people like my grandfather, who produced six children and then abandoned them.

It’s easier to meddle in people’s money, especially with an economic crisis and an unpopular war that create convenient platforms upon which to build our case. On Monday afternoon, no less than former CEO and current World Vision president Richard Stearns compared the 2009 economic collapse to the 1989 fall of communism, saying unrestrained capitalism had been found “bankrupt” and “inadequate” in the same way unrestrained communism had twenty years ago. He spoke truth to the choir.

So let me meddle. In addition to denouncing corporate greed, how about, as longtime urban minister Rudy Carrasco suggested to me, we lobby business for its support in the same way we lobby elected officials? Doing it already? Fine. Then don’t dismiss the interests of business.

Instead of comparing and contrasting one pro-life cause with another, as Monday night’s preacher did, how about we make Obama accountable for his promises to support responsible fatherhood, adoption and abortion reduction?

In my husband’s work as case worker and pastor to homeless men at Double R Ranch in Warner Springs, CA, one of his responsibilities was to help men re-enter the lives of their children. Often this meant getting them to see beyond themselves and their own histories of failure to the welfare of others. The process began with caring for the ranch’s 40+ horses and other animals. It also included requiring them to contribute a portion of their minuscule incomes to the support of their children and facing the women who were busy cleaning up their messes.

Last year, I emailed my elected representatives to ask them to vote for the Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, a bill that requires insurers that offer mental health coverage to do so equitably. A bill that President Obama sponsored as a senator and that President Bush signed into law. It’s a pro-life issue I heartily supported as the mother of a child who died by suicide and whose birth was ensured by the advocacy of notorious pro-lifers like the late Jerry Falwell.

I realized this week that I cannot afford face time with my legislators in Washington right now, but I can make a difference. First by caring for my own family members and others within my sphere of influence, second by contributing tax revenue to fund sources of support upon which my loved ones currently depend, third by advocating for a wide variety of pro-life causes and, finally, by challenging my peers.

So let me close with this reflection: It’s great to rally the troops and celebrate our victories, as long as we don’t become the thing we despise. Don’t become the thing you despised Sojourners. You have friends of all political and theological persuasions.

Update: Sojourners included my UrbanFaith article in their media accounts of MEP.

Thinking about Religion, Belief & Politics @ Princeton

The inaugural Danforth Lecture at Princeton University was a lucky little feast for the brain Thursday afternoon. CUNY anthropologist Talal Asad gave a breathtaking talk on “Thinking About Religion, Belief and Politics.” I hadn’t expected Charles Taylor to be the subject of Asad’s elegant dissection, but there it was: A Secular Age fileted and served on ice. 

This eminent scholar/author said Taylor’s seminal work deals with personal crisis of belief that are insufficient to the global crisis of our time. He argued that beliefs formed through external acts of devotion and training are not inherently coercive, but can lead to authentic faith and the formation of a moral personality. Asad appeared to be making a case for non-Judeo-Christian, or, at least non-Protestant, religious influence in the public square. He spent precious little time talking directly about politics, but instead drew an entertaining connection between the development of public ventilation systems and narcissistic notions of belief.

Asad objected to an audience member’s suggestion that he dismiss religion outright as a dangerous force that wants to control other people’s bodies. He said the secular/religious debate is tired and suggested that market forces can be at least as coercive as religion. He cited coercion of women’s bodies as an insightful example. 

Although the lecturer expressed faith in liberal democratic values, he has comparatively little faith that states can effectively implement those values. He concluded by confessing doubt that mankind will see the next century. With such apocolyptic vision, one wonders where he gets off saying personal faith is insufficient to the times. Perhaps he thinks no other kind will hold sway in coming decades.

Ah well. My momentary USC advisor Diane Winston tipped me off to Princeton Religion Department public offerings. I had been lamenting the loss of such local events at USC and UCI, but found this first lecture a more than adequate substitute. Thanks to Ed Gilbreath, I’ve also been reading the blog of two Princeton professors lately. Check it out; it’s called The Kitchen Table.

The Princeton University Art Museum is likewise a lovely place to spend an afternoon. The museum is free and contains a good deal of compelling Christian art and iconography. There are also a couple witty architectural exhibits right now and a nice collection of ancient art, including Roman floor and wall mosaics. Strolling the campus, parts of which date back to 1756, is itself an exercise in art appreciation.

My husband’s handicapped tag came in handy on this trip. A quick phone call to the PU parking office and we were waved in to park on campus. Between the museum and the lecture, I dragged him to the Whole Earth Natural Grocery, which has been selling bulk health foods on Nassau Street since the 1970s. The last time I was there, it was a warm, earthy place. A low VOC renovation has left the store feeling sterile, cold and utterly suburban. Still, I stocked up on brown rice, Kombu seaweed (which is supposed to reduce the gassiness of beans when a couple 1-inch chunks are thrown in the pot) and other vegan staples. 

On the drive to Princeton, I was struck once again by the subtle beauty of my state. We passed quaint farms, small towns and mile after mile of hearty pine. A gas station on Rte. 33 was simultaneously selling Chicken Parmesan sandwiches and gas for under $2-a-gallon. Can’t beat that.

At dinner on the same road in Hightstown (half way between home and Princeton), a high school classmate of my husband’s was working as a waitress. Dinner was lousy. We should have eaten down the road at Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty instead. Baker’s original Lobster Shanty is a landmark in my home town of Point Pleasant Beach. I went to high school with his children, one of whom is a longtime friend.

We were at a delightful party together last night. There was plenty of good wine, lots of laughter and a passionate debate amongst old friends the likes of which I imagine taking place in Republican living rooms from coast to heretical coast. The topic? What does it mean to be a Conservative? What went wrong in ’08? And since when did disagreement mean one’s conservative and/or spiritual credentials are suspect?

Have I mentioned lately how glad I am to be home?

I have a job interview Tuesday. Send up a prayer for me if you’re so inclined. I’ve been told to prepare for a two-hour introduction.

On “Democratic Faith”

Another worthy bit of reading as you think about your vote … from Eric Miller’s review of Patrick J. Deneen’s Democratic Faith at Books and Culture:

The whole point of faith is to enlighten, but “democratic faith” diminishes sight. Tested where all faiths are tested, in history’s unsparing crucible, it has proven unable to grasp our disabled condition and so is powerless to provide the succor we need. Deneen traces these failings to its roots in “Pelagian dualism, Gnostic optimism, and humanistic messianism,” and in the book’s last section seeks to present not the final damnation of democracy but a way to salvage it.

He calls it, simply enough, “democratic realism.” It’s a realism that denies the hope for perfectibility the democratic faithful, in their quest to transcend this world, are so tempted by. It’s a realism that begins with the premise—resonant with the one Alasdair MacIntyre powerfully advances in Rationally Dependent Animals—that to be human is to be weak, to be dependent, and to suffer. On this view, we turn to democracy not because of the grand social prospects such governance holds but because it is the form of government “imperfect humans” require, people “who must, by dint of their equal insufficiency and the permanency of need, inhabit, and govern together, cities of men.”

In propounding this stance Deneen undertakes a close, critical reading of texts and figures in the “realist” lineage, ranging from ancient Greece to contemporary America and including surprises like Plato as well as stalwarts like Tocqueville. The presence of the late American social critic Christopher Lasch as one of his heroes should serve notice that Deneen, unlike many of today’s political conservatives, is using a classically Christian anthropology to call into question—rather than bless—the political economy of late capitalism. Lasch’s fiercely insistent claim that corporate capitalism and democracy are at odds held firm throughout his life. In line with Jefferson, Chesterton, Roepke, and others whose experience of the modern world turned them into decentralists, Lasch judged massive concentrations of power, whether political or economic, to be at odds with, as Deneen nicely puts it, “the local ecology in which democratic life flourishes”: the small economies, thick kinship ties, meaningful work, and common submission that help to form “independent yet engaged citizens,” folk dedicated to creating and preserving what Lasch simply called “a decent society. …

Read the whole article here.