On the eve of the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I ended up in a heated Facebook debate over the nature of President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments — the latest furor in a series of election-year political clashes over tax policy, economic interventionism, class warfare, and the Occupy movement.
After seeing the film, I realized this is no mere coincidence. Because the political themes and allusions in The Dark Knight Rises run thick and rich, especially considering the whole Bain/Bane connection.
Not that the conclusive installment of this latest Batman trilogy has an overtly political agenda. Rather, its script, co-written by director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, clearly resides in the context of our current, fractured political climate. As British-American filmmakers raised in Chicago, the Nolan brothers offer a unique take on blighted urban political decay. So their epic depiction of Gotham, and the way it captures our gestalt, the spirit of our time, owes just as much a debt to David Simon’s The Wire as it does to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
I’m sorry, did I just say “owes a debt?” There I go again.
See, as much as there is to love about this film, there’s just as much to object to — that is, if your goal is to use it as political ammunition.
(Mild spoiler alert.)
One story, two sides
Liberals can choose to see it as a story of corporate greed and hubris, and see the Batman as a hero of the people, the Ninety-Nine Percent. Conservatives can choose to see it as a story of a city hijacked by a runaway mob intent on redistributing the wealth of the One Percent, foiled by the ingenuity and grit of an American business-owner.
And you know what? They’re both right.
And not just because the Nolans deliberately tried to connect with broader emotional themes rather than align their film with specific political messages.
They’re both right because political factions never have exclusive rights to the truth. There are truths that liberals and conservatives both understand and embrace more or less compared to their counterparts. In the cultivation of these truths, we are drawn to political ideologies. But the pain and bitterness we feel from the losses incurred in the unrelenting allegiance to these ideologies … well, it blinds us. It traps us. We become slaves to the system. As a result, we end up doing things we regret, things we never thought we would.
Different kingdom, different mission
That’s the bad news, that when it comes to systems of this world, we are not in charge. But the good news is that in the scope of eternity, we are not in charge. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, but a benevolent dictatorship. As such, the kingdom goes by a different set of rules than what we’ve come to expect.
After all, Paul famously told the church that in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, but we are one in Christ. He also told us that the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in our bodies. So there’s no reason why we have to remain trapped inside the identity of the closest prevailing political bloc. The more we acknowledge His Lordship, the greater basis we’ll have for humility, unity, and cooperation.
That sense of humility in action is what I found so moving in this latest film. Part of Batman’s redemption was in the way he was able to get beyond his pain and see more value in trusting and working with others. Most of us will never experience Bruce Wayne wealth, but all of us, if we put our faith in Christ, can rise above our fears and work with others for the common good.
Not only that, if we as the church are to fulfill our mission, we must rise above. Because there are others who need to experience Christ, and they don’t have the luxury of waiting for a sequel.
So let’s keep showing up, engaging, and rising above the conflicts that divide us. Because when it comes to saving the world, I have more faith in a risen savior than any caped crusader — even one as cool as Batman.
Last year, when UrbanFaith talked to Brian Jenkins, president of Entrenuity, a national entrepreneusrship training organization, about race-based funding disparities in urban ministry, we had no idea Jenkins was writing a small business start-up guide for youth, and perhaps he had no idea it would inspire a move into for-profit business training and the development of a social media platform for aspiring entrepreneurs. So, we thought it was time to talk to this dynamic leader again, this time about his new social entrepreneurship project, StartingUp Now. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith:You’ve been training young people to be entrepreneurs for a long time. Have people been starting more of their own businesses since the recession?
Brian Jenkins:Yes, many people have been coming to us and saying, “We need your help in getting our businesses going.” Part of that discussion led to me writing our new model, the book called StartingUp Now: 24 Steps to Launch Your Own Business, which is a great tool for what we call “new and aspiring entrepreneurs.” We believe we’re the first ones to offer a content/social networking tool with the integration of our business planning guide. We don’t know of anybody else that has that right now, but I’m sure there are others that will follow.
Is StartingUp Now an Entrenuity project?
No, this is entirely new. Entrenuity is my non-profit. StartingUp Now is a for-profit. As an entrepreneur, there’s this model we use called PSA. You state the problem, identify the solution, and create the action. What I have found is that we need less non-profit organizations in urban challenged communities. We need to build more for-profit businesses. One of my goals is to build for-profit businesses, to give people opportunities where they are. It always starts with a business plan to be very strategic.
So you’re not only sustaining your own work, but you’re modeling social entrepreneurship for other people?
Absolutely. I grew up in non-profit culture, but in 2008, when everything crashed, we had to figure out a new way. Many churches, ministries, and non-profits are still operating pre-2008. I’m saying to them, “Being entrepreneurial is about being able to pivot.” We’re still using strategies of going to donors and the donors are telling us, “We want new models. First of all, the money is not there as it was before and we’re just not going to continue to give a blank check towards operating expenses. We’d rather pay for skill development, but not for just general operating expenses.”
Don G. Soderquist, the retired vice chairman and COO of Walmart endorsed StartingUp Now. That’s quite an endorsement.
It’s been pretty powerful. The opportunities continue to open up. Just this week, we were selected to conduct a workshop at the Chicago Ideas Week in October, where leaders like President Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg have spoken. Because StartingUp Now is a tool for someone with no prior business training whatsoever and the book is less than 100 pages, people are picking it up and doing it. And, there is a range in the type of person using it. The youngest person that we’ve had work through it is in sixth grade. We also have some guys that I’m personally working with who have been incarcerated.
Why would someone use the StartingUp Now Skillcenter, which launched April 18, instead of Facebook or LinkedIn?
It’s like Facebook/LinkedIn for entrepreneurs. Let’s say you purchase our book and you want to work on your business plan online. You’re not familiar with Facebook; you’re not familiar with LinkedIn or some of the other tools that exist. In fact, those may overwhelm you. Some of the people we’re working with don’t even have email addresses. It provides one central location for them to be able to access content that we’ve either curated or developed on our own instead of someone who may not be familiar with business planning typing “income statement” into Google and coming up with 25 million hits. Where do they begin?
An executive from SCORE, the Service Corps Retired Executives, said, “This is so much easier than using our Business Plan Pro because it’s not overly filled with content that someone would never use.” That’s one of the strengths. You can start where you are, but you can become as sophisticated as you want, depending on the type of business that you’re in. Now, it does have its limitations. We’re not trying to be Business Plan Pro. We’re trying to be StartingUp Now and reach the first time or new entrepreneur.
Could the program help someone like me who has run a small business haphazardly for a decade?
You’re describing the exact customer that we’re starting to find. What’s happened is when I wrote the book, I wrote it because of my background in youth work, but when we were doing the focus groups with adults, we were finding that adults were saying, “I could use this right here, right now.” It’s for that customer just like yourself: I have a business, but I want to find ways to more effectively marketing my product or my service without being overwhelmed with content. We offer two levels of membership. First, it’s free for a basic membership, which gives somebody the ability to access the content. For the pro membership, we do charge a membership fee. That’s based on whether a person is a youth or an adult.
What does the paying subscriber get?
The pro user gets access to the StartingUp Now business plan online. They can work on their business plan from their computer, their tablet, or their smartphone with any internet connection. The free membership basically gives someone the ability to learn about the platform and find out if this is a model for them. You can curate your own custom profile. You can access those curated business topics and resources. We’ve identified about 1,500 different resources that fit within the categories that are there. It allows a person to market their business. It allows you to connect in 72 different languages. It also provides the ability to post resources and then share them with those that are in your network, similar to what you would do with Facebook. With your privacy settings, you can adjust those resources so that they are available just for yourself, your friends, or other members. That’s one of the things people really like.
On the site you have sections for entrepreneurs, facilitators, and the community, so the Skillcenter is designed for more than just individuals?
Chicago public schools are running two pilot programs right now. We trained their teachers. It’s for the individual user, but it’s also for the classroom. So we have a facilitator’s guide. All the content that’s in the facilitator guide is online as well. A teacher can use this in the classroom to teach entrepreneurship and also provide access to the Skillcenter for their students. There is content that’s facilitator specific as well.
We also just found out that a couple that we’ve been coaching and that has been using StartingUp Now as their guide are runners up in the city’s small business competition here in Chicago for their catering business plan. And, a group came to our March 1 launch party from Grove City, Pennsylvania. What’s unique about them is that they’re using the book with business owners who have never written a business plan. They were saying how easy it was to sit down with people who have never done it before. It’s really expanded our marketability beyond traditional under-sourced urban neighborhoods. Now we’re selling to adult training centers. We presented to Willow Creek Community and they thought it would be a great resource for their own members, not just their outreach ministries.
You’re working with both faith-based groups and public schools. Is there a Christian dimension to the program?
It’s values based. We do quote Scripture within the book, but it’s not strictly faith-based. We definitely have a strong appeal to ethics. Since it’s values based and character based, it’s gotten me into places that I couldn’t go with a faith-based model.
You’re not an engineer, so you had to partner with a developer to launch the site. What kind of advice would you give people about choosing partners?
Integrity, integrity, integrity. This is why it took me so long to get the platform up and running. Our initial developer was a Christian. We eventually found out that after paying him several tens of thousands of dollars, he was not doing anything as far as the development. In fact, he had deceived us by using shareware, something that you can get online for free.
When I first found out, I went directly back to our investor. I didn’t hold anything back. Our investor’s response to me was, “Now you’ve learned. Just don’t make the same mistakes again.” It was a very humbling experience, because he and his family have been behind my work for over ten years. To say that I made a decision, put this money with this guy, and then I had to go back and say, “I don’t even know if we’re going to get anything back.”
The Skillcenter was built on a platform called EntreOasis. We worked with a company called Media Spark to integrate the StartingUp Business Plan Template and customize the EntreOasis platform for StartingUp’s purposes. I don’t even know if the CEO of Media Spark is Christian, but he has become a great friend through this period. I let him know that this developer came and took our funding. He said, “Hey, I believe in what you’ve got. I want to impact the world.” That’s the phoenix story. That situation is what spurred StartingUp Now.
Gene Marks has rocketed to the top of the notoriety heap with his recent Forbes.com article, “If I Were a Poor Black Kid,” in which he attempts to offer bootstrap advice to young inner-city minorities. “I would read a lot of books,” and so on. One of my favorites is “I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in school.” Though Mr. Marks appears somewhat clueless and almost refreshingly naïve in his piece — and apparently so controversial that one of Forbes’ own staff writers has questioned Marks’ journalistic motives — I appreciate the fact that he has, however awkwardly, started a conversation about an important issue in today’s society. No, not the disenfranchisement of America’s underclass, or even the gaps in technological access and opportunity inherent in today’s educational system. No, the issue to which I refer is the rampant underachievement of Rich White Men.
Rich White Men are failing left and right to realize the promise of the opportunities that are afforded them in today’s world. Why should they have to suffer? Sure, it will take some hard work and a little luck, but there is no reason why Mr. Marks and his friends can’t reach their full potential one day.
If I were a Rich White Man, I’d start by making sure I got into a good college. I’d prefer Harvard, of course, but I’d settle for Yale. I suppose it would depend on where others in my family had attended. I’m sure it’s totally based on merit, but if my father had graduated Yale, I think I can make a pretty good case of why I should be a Yalie. While in college I wouldn’t spend too much of my energy and time studying, I would instead concentrate on making the right connections and laying the proper groundwork for my future endeavors. After all, it’s often not what you know but who you know.
I would use those connections to avoid the pitfalls and roadblocks that could easily derail me. Is an unpopular war going on? I would by all means necessary avoid the actual battleground and would prefer to serve my country by joining the National Guard. I would be sure to take lots of pictures while in uniform, as these will definitely come in handy in the future. I’d make every effort to become a pilot, because people tend to view pilots as heroic and smart. I’d also technically be able to say that I was a pilot during the war, even though the closest I’d ever been to the actual war would have been a postcard. Actual warfare is for poor people anyway.
I would get involved with the business world as much as I could. I would find some money somewhere (perhaps some small inheritance from a distant relative) and buy an oil field, or maybe a sports team. It’s not important that these businesses succeed, only that I establish myself as someone who is good at “making things happen.” I’d use my influential friends to help me run for some political office — maybe senator or governor. Who knows? Perhaps I’d even try for the White House.
As a C.E.O., I’d take advantage of all the generous tax breaks offered to me to keep my company from relocating to another town or state or country. After all, the jobs I’d provide will be essential to the economy, so the government will owe me at least that much. I’d also be sensitive to the needs of my stockholders, since they are people too. If restructuring my workforce becomes necessary in order to enhance the return on their investment, I’d put my own self-interest aside and act on their concerns. And during times of economic downturn, like we’re facing now, I’d even be willing to sacrifice a few million from my $10 million annual bonus.
At age 55, I’d retire to my ranch, secure in the knowledge that I’ve fulfilled the promise of the opportunities afforded to me, and that the blame for any mistakes I may have made will be left with my successor. “Passing the buck” is, after all, one of the more important strategies in the Rich White Man arsenal.
So that’s what I’d do if I were a Rich White Man. I’m kind of at a loss to explain why ALL Rich White Men are not attempting to go down this path. To quote Mr. Marks, “the opportunity is still there in this country for those who are smart enough to go for it.” Maybe they’re just lazy.
GHOST TOWN: The abandoned ruins of Detroit's once-bustling Packard Auto Plant.
Over the last month in Detroit, the blighted Motor City has recaptured a bit of its civic pride with the success of two of its pro sports franchises. The winning ways of the Tigers (who went deep into the American League baseball playoffs) and the Lions (who started the NFL season 5-0) are exhilarating.
Sports teams can serve as symbols of hope for big cities, and at least for a moment their accomplishments helped take the focus off of Detroit’s primary narrative these days — its anguished economy and decaying manufacturing sector.
The excitement over homeruns and touchdowns is a welcome distraction, but the ubiquitous ruins of what used to be a vital and bustling industrial hub is still a more accurate measure of the city’s current fortunes.
Take, for example, the sprawling remains of the Packard auto plant. It can be seen spilling over East Grand Boulevard — east of Mt. Elliot and south of I-94 — its missing windows like a large gaping grin. On any given day, the Packard Plant is host to filmmakers, urban explorers, and photographers alike, trying to capture the beauty in decay. Unfortunately, it’s also a backdrop for car theft, prostitution, and dogfighting. Today, the abandoned plant showcases crumbling staircases and discarded property. But it wasn’t always this way.
The now lifeless automobile factory was once the pinnacle of extravagance, producing luxury cars for wealthy purchasers, both in the United States and abroad. The Packard Motor Car Company opened its doors in Detroit in 1903, the same year that Henry Ford perfected the assembly line. The company pioneered a number of design innovations, including the modern steering wheel and, years later, the first production 12-cylinder engine. At the height of its success, the plant provided more than 40,000 workers with employment.
But in 1956, only one year after auto production in Detroit soared to an all-time high, the Packard Plant halted production. When compared to other larger automobile companies, including the Big Three, this plant was pulling in less than 1 percent of the market share during the 1950s. Unable to compete with a slew of foreign and domestic rivals, many companies merged, disbanded, or changed location to be closer to the competition. Automation soon swept through assembly lines, replacing employees in these plants. By the 1958 recession, 20 percent of Detroit’s workforce was unemployed.
“Detroit’s economic decline began much earlier than most people think that it did,” said Daniel Clark, an associate professor of history at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. “There were many contributing factors — decentralization of the auto industry, increased automation in the factories leading to fewer available jobs, even rules surrounding federal government housing loans. In actuality, the decline began right after World War II.”
Clark stressed the impact that racism and segregation played in Detroit’s economic decline. Exclusionary zoning practices reinforced economic and racial tensions in the city, and hindered many non-white Americans from moving into the suburbs. Additionally, bank redlining established standards for evaluating risks of mortgage loans. According to the standards of the Federal Homeowners Loan Corporation, black, integrated, and radically changing neighborhoods were defined as credit risks and therefore prevented occupants from obtaining federal government housing loans. Consequently, many nonwhite Americans in Detroit at this time struggled to build a life for themselves outside of poverty.
The story of Detroit’s economy is a complicated one; a story laden with corruption and racism, greed and even some technological advances that set the city back rather than propelling it forward. It’s a story of a city that failed to diversify its business portfolio, leaning too heavily on one industry.
But there’s also a secondary narrative of optimism and hope emanating from a grassroots movement of entrepreneurs. These tenacious women and men, many of them inspired by their religious faith, have refused to give up on the city.
DETROIT INNOVATOR: Margarita Barry is the founder of 71 Pop, a social entrepreneurship venture that helps creative entrepreneurs obtain their own retail spaces. Photo by Karpov The Wrecked Train (Kenny Corbin).
Young Detroiters Leading the Way
The culture of entrepreneurship in Detroit is a multifaceted and diverse. From clothing designers and fledging venture capitalists to foodies and shop owners, the Motor City is abounding with people who are striving to create their own sense of the American Dream. They’re the Grassroots Entrepreneurs — people who are organizing their businesses on the community level rather than flocking to a single industry. They’re not afraid to work from the ground up — to hang up posters, hand out business cards, and employ fundraising campaigns (like Kickstarter) to get their company going. They’re the networkers. The social media mavens. The people voted most likely to quit their day jobs.
One such example is Margarita Barry. She embarked on her first venture at the age of 18, launching a multicultural web-based and print magazine for women called Tint. Ever since then, she’s been hard at work. As a seasoned Detroit entrepreneur, Barry grasps the importance of working to create something that will positively influence the region, while also potentially generating a profit.
At the end of July, Barry opened Detroit’s first-ever collaborative pop-up retail store, 71 POP. From the beginning, Barry wanted to use this outlet to supply new designers with an affordable and hassle-free retail space to sell their products. Many of these creatives would not have otherwise had the opportunity to sell their products, had it not been for Barry’s latest undertaking.
She’s also the founder of I AM YOUNG DETROIT. More of a movement than a blog, this website offers news, profile pieces, and video media about Detroiters under the age of 40 who are shaking things up in the Motor City. It’s served as a mouthpiece and a platform for Detroit’s younger generation.
Like Barry, Ben and Dan Newman are part of Detroit’s next generation of entrepreneurs. Both brothers graduated from the University of Michigan, Ben with a master’s degree in urban planning and Dan with his bachelor’s in business. Opening a bakery was never on their agenda.
But all that changed last November when they made their first batch of bagels. “Bagels are like pizza. Everyone has an opinion on them,” said Ben. “Up until this point, no one has really experimented with bagels. We want to make bagels that you can’t get anywhere else.”
So, that’s what they set about to do. Currently, they’re baking out of their Corktown flat and selling bagels every Tuesday at the Eastern Market through their business, the Detroit Institute of Bagels. On average, they pack up about 200 bagels to bring to the market, selling out within two to three hours. Their offerings run from the traditional to the unique, from plain and poppy seed to more experimental flavors like cherry chocolate and, most recently, blueberry lime. Soon, they hope to be moving into a permanent establishment.
“It may be a small thing to offer Detroit a bagel shop, but we’re providing conveniences that weren’t available before,” said Dan. “It’s the unique spots that are going to drive visitors and residents to stay in the city.”
BAKERS' VISION: Ben Newman (left) and Dan Newman are the brothers behind the Detroit Institute of Bagels.
Similar to Barry’s vision, Ben and Dan Newman hope to use Detroit Institute of Bagels to positively influence the Detroit region. As their business grows, they plan to offer residents jobs in the company and use it as a platform for teaching and training business practices so that employees will have the skill sets needed to start their own ventures some day.
“When you open your own business, you expect the hurdles, but realize its part of getting to the goal,” said Ben. “Here in Detroit, we’re building on the businesses that are already established. The community support is unbelievable.”
TechTown, Detroit’s research and technology business park, is one such support for those looking to start their own businesses. They describe themselves as “a community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, service providers and corporate partners,” and actively work to provide resources to fledging businesspeople and administrators through programs such as SmartStart (their business accelerator program) and NextEnergy (an alternative energy incubator). As the most prominent business incubator in the Detroit area, TechTown hopes to be one of the main driving forces of stimulating economic growth in Detroit and Michigan as a whole.
Churches in the Mix
The churches of Detroit are rising up as well to help stimulate economic growth in their community and devise ways to care for the neighborhoods around them. Rev. Kevin Turman of Second Baptist Church of Detroit spoke recently of how they’ve made a conscious decision to “adopt” the Lafayette corridor to the east of the downtown area as their geographic area of mission.
COMMUNITY CONNECTOR: Detroit's Second Baptist Church, led by Rev. Kevin Turman, seeks to make vital connections with both the residents and businesses of its downtown neighborhood.
“We’re working on connecting the resources of the surrounding business community with the needs of the residents,” Pastor Turman said. “There’s been some hesitance on both sides of the equation… but we intend to [have even more community involvement] and to do better.”
Second Baptist Church of Detroit has championed for the city for more than 150 years. Prior to the Civil War, the church served as a station of the Underground Railroad, providing about 5,000 slaves with clothing, food and shelter before passing them onward to freedom in Canada. They also established Detroit’s first school for African American children; one of its members — Fanny Richards — went on to become the first African American career public school teacher in Detroit.
Second Baptist Church is located in the heart of downtown Detroit. They’re four blocks away from the landmark Renaissance Center and only five blocks away from the Detroit River. The congregation is comprised of a mixture of professional and labor workers, many who have been members for 50 years or more.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it,” said Pastor Turman. “We are looking at our worship services, ministries, and outreach efforts to ensure that we will remain a vibrant part of Detroit’s present and future rather than a beautiful relic of its past.”
Coming Back (Like the Lions)
But the question still remains: Can post-industrial cities like Detroit pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Maybe not completely. No city can replace an entire economic infrastructure and replace tens of thousands of jobs on its own. But you have to start somewhere.
“Cities can start [repairing] roads, the water system, schools — all things that are essential to communities. It may also just be that all Americans have to learn to live with less and buy locally,” said Clark. “Detroit needs to do these things in order to strengthen its economy.”
From the era of Henry Ford and the Model T until today, Detroit has possessed a legacy of tenacity and creativity. By continuing to provide a business climate that is conducive to startups, Detroit can stimulate its business community, while providing resources to the neighborhoods within it.
At the risk of wearing out the sports analogies, perhaps the journey of the Detroit Lions can serve as inspiration. In 2008 the Lions became the first NFL team to go 0-16 in one season, and then a year later they could only manage a 2-14 record. Now, just two years later, they’ve gone from being the worst to one of the best teams in the league.
Now is a time in Detroit’s history for big dreams and small steps. And sometimes, all it takes is just one step to begin bringing about transformation. As the Peruvian proverb says, “Little by little, one walks far.”
Fans of the wacky musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords recognize one of their signature hits, a song called “Business Time.”
Despite being very silly, “Business Time” is not for kids.
It’s about an amorous husband trying to get his wife in the mood. The song (and accompanying video) is funny because of the contrast between the sensuous musical subject matter and the decidedly unsexy, ordinary domestic activities surrounding it. Doing the laundry, separating the recycling … these are not activities normally depicted as foreplay in our modern culture.
Yet, many married women attest to the fact that with the right attitude, many of these can, in fact, set the mood quite nicely.
Which is another example of how many times the truth can be counter-intuitive.
But if you learn from it and take advantage, you can reap dividends.
How the sausage is made
In the same way, I’m hoping that there are young NBA fans who have been paying close attention to the league during this latest work stoppage.
See, some people think the lockout is a time for basketball fans to tune out and enjoy something else. And I’m sure a lot of us (myself included) could definitely stand to do less watching of physical activity, and more doing of it.
But for young ballplayers who aspire to greatness in the NBA or elsewhere, now is the best time to pay attention to the NBA. If I were 16 and could shoot from distance, I would be digging into as much coverage of the lockout as I could.
It might not be as fun or interesting as the game itself. But there’s the game … and then, there’s the game behind the game.
See, there’s a reason why when LeBron James was discussing his free agent plans in 2010, he kept referring to his team, and he wasn’t talking about his NBA coworkers in Cleveland. He was talking about his management team. He was talking about the team that helps him take care of his business. He was talking about business time … those things that happen behind the scenes that allow him to be the basketball-playing global icon he aspires to be.
And that’s one thing that LeBron deserves credit for. Whereas a lot of young ballers focus only on their game and pay accountants and managers to handle the rest, LeBron has been very hands-on regarding his image and his business matters. He understands that he’s not just managing a basketball career but a business career. And unlike a quick first step, business acumen can last well into one’s later years.
Professional basketball has always been a business, and it’s a testament to the power of flashy marketing that fans aren’t aware of this truth more often. But in a work stoppage, the business of the game is on center stage.
But now Labor Day, an oft-quoted negotiating deadline, has come and gone, the NBA preseason has been effectively canceled, and the traditional start of the regular season is fast approaching. Both the labor and ownership representatives must feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done in order to save the season. In the same way, young aspiring business professionals should also have a sense of urgency in understanding how this particular sausage gets made, before it gets swept back under the rug of marketing hype that will accompany the NBA’s inevitable return.
(Did I just sweep the sausage under the rug? Pardon my mixed metaphor.)
Central to the negotiations are questions about revenue sharing, player contracts, salary caps, age restrictions, and many other related issues. Getting a handle on these things can sharpen a young person’s business acumen.
And this kind of sharpening is crucial, because a good business sense is an essential for overall success in any field. Whether it’s basketball or basket-weaving, in order to be the best you have to learn not only the craft itself, but the way to turn that craft into a solid business. Many of the most successful figures are not necessarily the most talented, but the hardest working in their field.
Taking our talents beyond South Beach
Good business sense is essential in the kingdom of God, according to many of Jesus’ parables regarding the managing of money.
One of the more commonly preached is often referred to as the parable of the talents, which helps us to understand that the word “talent” was not always a reference to skill or aptitude, but actually meant a sum of money to be invested. Most NBA-caliber players intuitively understand that their talents, invested properly, can yield a great harvest over time. And many Christians today understand the principle that being faithful with a little can translate to being entrusted later with much.
But Jesus’ parable is not just about maximizing return, but also about taking to heart the urgency required in honoring the master. You also see this in the parable of the unjust steward, which is quite the head-scratcher compared to the other one. But in both cases, one of the resounding themes is the urgency with which the stewards act in response to the oversight of the master. Even though the unjust steward was shady in the way he brokered his freedom, his master was so impressed with the ingenuity that arose from his desperation.
What can we learn from these parables?
That the God of the Bible is both infinitely just and inexplicably merciful. And that for everyone, NBA players and middle managers alike, living in a reconciled manner with Him is not only the key to salvation and a life full of shalom, but if that weren’t enough … it also makes good business sense.
So when (or if) the NBA returns to arenas and TV sets across the nation, let’s rejoice. But while it’s still in lockout mode, let’s get our notebooks out.
Because, y’know, business time doesn’t last forever.