Tag Archives: culture

George Packer: The Political Isolation of the American South : The New Yorker

“Northern liberals should not be too quick to cheer [as the South becomes more isolated again], though. At the end of “The Mind of the South,” Cash has this description of “the South at its best”: “proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal.” These remain qualities that the rest of the country needs and often calls on. The South’s vices—“violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas”—grow particularly acute during periods when it is marginalized and left behind. An estrangement between the South and the rest of the country would bring out the worst in both—dangerous insularity in the first, smug self-deception in the second.”

via George Packer: The Political Isolation of the American South : The New Yorker.

More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs – USATODAY.com

This connects with the discussion of Spirituality below:

The folks who make up God as they go are side-by-side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for “310 million people with 310 million religions.”

via More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs – USATODAY.com.

A Form of Godliness…

When I was in college I attended an interesting lecture by Professor Michael Budde, who teaches political science at DePaul University.  The lecture was entitled “Jesus on the Job: The Corporate Exploitation of Religion,” and drew, I’m sure, on much of the research that went into his book (with Robert Brimlow) Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church.  During that lecture, I remember Budde talking about a phenomenon that I considered–and still consider–very interesting.  Not only that, but something that is in evidence all around us if we choose to look.  Basically Budde argued that advertisers love the fact that America is such a strongly semi-churched society.  In other words, advertisers appreciate, and bank on the fact, that Americans are generally familiar enough with religion–specifically Christianity–to be attracted by religious language, imagery or echoes of either–but are not faithful enough to recognize blasphemy.  As I said, you don’t have to look hard in our society to find evidence of this.  Donald Miller has spoken about similar things in the past when he’s compared the different perspectives of Canadians and Americans regarding something as simple as dish soap.  In Canada, for the most part, dish soap is labeled as such–dish soap.  In the US dish soap–nor anything else–can simply be what it is.  Instead, via advertising, dish soap becomes something more, something almost transcendent, an item that will make your life better, restore your thinning hair and make you attractive to the opposite sex.  It’s not just dish soap… it’s never just dish soap.  It’s something more.

Well, I think I’ve just seen an ad that is, as with so much else in our society, utterly blatant about this sort of thing–let me know what you think:

Worth Caring About…

[Note: written for the most recent Grail, the newsletter of St. Joseph of Arimathea]

Not that long ago I was down at Church of the Advent joining in one of several focus groups that the Bishop had asked all clergy to participate in.

Fra Angelico: Sermon on the Mount

As we discussed the past, present and future of the Diocese of Tennessee and reflected upon our strengths and weaknesses as well as the challenges and opportunities that face us, I was reminded of a presentation I once saw that I thought was applicable to our circumstances.  In his presentation for “TED” (a non-profit devoted to “ideas worth spreading,”that holds conferences where thinkers from various disciplines share theirknowledge) James H. Kunstler talks about “the immersive ugliness of our everyday environments in America” and shares his belief that much of the way we have organized our contemporary environments and communities lead to depression because they are places that “aren’t worth caring about.” His argument and hischallenge is for Americans to begin considering the ways in which we can makeour communities worth caring about through the development of buildings andpublic spaces that hearken back to age-old principles of urban planning. In effect, Kunstler argues, if communities are not inspiring and do not illicit care from citizens, they will eventually cease to function as meaningful communities and will be besest by all the problems one can find in communities in decline.While Kunstler’s ideas were specifically applied to the built environment andurban planning, I believe the same principal holds for our diocese as a whole as well as each congregation: our goal should be to build or grow and improve upona community worth caring about.

Continue reading

FPR: Methland, the book you should read this year

Methamphetamines are a scourge on America.  Before I moved to Tennessee, I heard about an increasing number of meth-related deaths (often heart attacks) in Western North Carolina, where I grew up.  The first counties I lived in when I moved to Tennessee were meccas of meth production.

Meth, like most addictive drugs, plays upon particular weaknesses.  Meth, however, seems particularly suited as a drug for the “common man.”  A drug that helps you work longer hours, feel strong–like superman–and helps you forget the meals you haven’t eaten or been able to afford.  Well, it’s too much for many people in poor communities, rural and urban, to pass up.  This book is definitely on my reading list.

Methland

Claremont, CA. They call it the “Superman Syndrome.” People who use methamphetamine often believe that they are capable of doing impossible things. Like flying. Or walking through walls. Or earning a living as a meatpacker in the era of agribusiness.

Nick Reding’s Methland (Bloomsbury, $25) made a number of “Best Books of 2009” lists, but I want to make sure it does not get consigned to the Decade That Was. It is one of the best pieces of book-length journalism that I have read in years, and if you haven’t read it already it should be your must-read book of 2010.

Methland starts out as the tale of one small town – Oelwein, Iowa – so ravaged by small-time methamphetamine production that its officials ban bicycling on Main Street. (Meth makers were riding through downtown with chemical-filled soda bottles strapped to their bikes; the motion helps to “cook” the drug.) Everyone is in a state of collapse: the people who are addicted to the drug, of course, but also the people – the mayor, the prosecutor, the doctor, the policemen – who are trying to fight it.

Continue reading

An Interesting Comparison

Recently the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori was in Nashville

International Marriage Sign
International Marriage Sign

for the anniversary celebration of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. While she was here she spoke at a clergy forum (which I was unable to attend). At some point during her visit, the Tennessean covered some of her comments about the theology of marriage as presented in the Book of Common Prayer. According to the report, she stated that the primary end of marriage as presented within the BCP is companionship (of course, the fact that the BCP states that Christian marriage consists of the union of a man and a woman was conveniently overlooked), and not a remedy against sin. While it is true that the 1979 BCP removes the notion of marriage as a remedy against sin from the text of the preamble, I would argue that it is wrong to read the BCP outside the context of its predecessors. Indeed, what is interesting–given the strong criticisms some conservatives have of the 1979 BCP–is that the preamble to the marriage service in the 1979 is actually a fuller description of Christian marriage than is the one in the beloved 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and it hearkens back even more to the marriage service of the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer. While it’s a shame neither those married with the 1928 or 1979 heard the phrase “like brute beasts that have no understanding,” at least the 1979 makes reference to the “purposes for which it was instituted by God,” that is, the purposes mentioned previously as well, I would argue, as the traditional ends of marriage as explicated in the history of Christian theology.

1662 BCP 1928 BCP
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee, and is commended of Saint Paul to be honour-able among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, dis-creetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
1979 BCP:

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

Related Reading Material:

From the Front Porch: Only A Man Harrowing Clods

I have found in Wendell Berry, like the late Neil Postman, an insightful critic of contemporary culture and a voice that we ignore at our own peril and to our own impoverishment. The Front Porch Republic has posted the following essay related to Berry’s work and I commend it to you.

Porch
Porch

For most fashionable American intellectuals, the life and work of the poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry represents something of a scandal. Of course, it is understood to be a scandal in its current meaning as a disgrace and most certainly not in its older Christian sense as a temptation. Not only is Berry a writer who lives among the hoi polloi in rural Kentucky instead of cultivating a salon in New York City, but he also spends most of his time farming, or, in the vernacular of contemporary America, doing menial labor.

Further, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, Americans tend to think of everyone who has been begat as either a Republican or a Democrat. Berry’s polemical work, however, is not easily classifiable under either label. In an age when people are leaving or being forced from their farms and when most Americans no longer understand that the phrase res publica refers to something more significant than ‘everyday low prices’, Berry is committed to the old Jeffersonian idea of an agrarian republic comprised of independent, self-reliant citizen-farmers.
Of course, Berry’s agrarianism has been dismissed as anachronistic by those for whom the idea of progress is religious dogma. However, as C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘as to putting the clock back, would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and if the clock is wrong it is…a very sensible thing to do?’

Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry

Berry’s The Unsettling of America, which was published in 1977, appears at first glance to be a critique of American agricultural policy, which indeed it is. However, it also articulates a sustained, coherent, and compelling analysis of the fragmentation and alienation of modern American liberal culture, and offers an intimation of both an alternative understanding of culture and community, and a classical conception of human beings, their past, and their purpose.

According to Berry, America has suffered from a split personality since the time of the arrival of the first Europeans. In that European beginning, America was considered a land of economic opportunity, a colony in the modern sense of the term. It was understood as a resource to be exploited by the mother country. As Berry writes, “the first and greatest American revolution…was the coming of people who did not look upon the land as a homeland.” This America, the land of the get-rich-quick scheme, attracted fortune hunters, conquistadors, and assorted other adventurers on the make who treated the land and its inhabitants as a business venture.

At the same time, however, America was also a colony in the classical sense in that it was a place of settlement. This America attracted those who wanted a place to live and a land to cultivate, free from the religious and social strife which plagued Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Wallace Stegner, who was Berry’s teacher at Stanford, called the first of these types ‘boomers’ and the second ‘stickers’. A century and a half earlier, Tocqueville noticed this split and attributed it to the difference between royal, proprietary, and merchant colonies and colonies created by compact. However, for Tocqueville, the Revolution and the generally democratic character of the population overcame this dichotomous beginning.

{Read it all}

I highly recommend the following books by Berry:

Continue reading

From New Geography: New Towns and New Lives in the Country

A retired landscape architect and Tennessean has some interesting ideas.  I know from friends and family that the necessity of the two pay-check home is balanced by the cost of living the life-style.  Often the gain is very little indeed, and just enough to keep everything afloat.  Lea lays out the problem pretty clearly, but it’s his suggested solution that’s interesting.  I don’t know whether it has much of a shot though:

Back in the 1950s when I was growing up, pundits worried a lot about automation and the problem of leisure in a post-industrial society. What were the American people going to do once machinery had relieved them of the daily burden of routine labor? Would they paint pictures and write poetry? Armchair intellectuals found it hard to imagine.

It was the age of Ozzie and Harriet, when ordinary working and middle-class families could aspire to a house in the suburbs and a full-time Mom who stays at home with the kids. Today, of course, that popular version of the American dream is a thing of the past, especially the part about a full-time Mom who stays at home with the kids.

Ironically it was washing machines and automatic dishwashers – automation – that brought this idyll to an end. These two labor saving devices made it possible for housewives to go out into the workforce and compete with their husbands. At first they did it because they were bored at home and wanted to earn extra money, if only to help pay for those new household appliances. Gradually, however, it became a matter of necessity as two-paycheck families bid down wages even as they jacked up the price of suburban real estate in areas where the schools were good and the neighborhoods safe. By the time you subtracted the costs of owning a second automobile and using professional child care services, the advantages of that extra paycheck had largely disappeared.

The biggest surprise – to me as well – was that labor-saving technologies do not automatically redound to the benefit of labor. Other things being equal they reduce the demand for labor and hence its price in the marketplace. We saw this happen in the 19th century when modern agricultural machinery forced three-quarters of the population off their farms and into the cities, where they had to compete with immigrants and each other in the new industrial economy. Not until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937, which outlawed child labor and established the 40 hour work week, did the world of Ozzie-and-Harriet become a democratic possibility.

But of course Modern Marvels never cease[...]

{Read it all}

Ethical discussion: a slip of the tongue?

Get Religion and Touchstone have each directed attention toward a recent interview former president Bill Clinton gave on the subject of embryonic stem cell research in the wake of President Obama’s changes to embryonic stem cell research funding.  During the interview Clinton repeatedly refers to a fertilized embryo as though there were such a thing as an unfertilized embryo.  As I posted on Touchstone’s site, I’m willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt that he actually knew what he was saying and that he really meant “implanted.”  But whether he merely mis-spoke or he actually doesn’t understand the basics of biology, I believe his interview is indicative of a problem we have as Americans: a basic inability to discuss important ethical issues because so many of us have absolutely no clue what the heck we are talking about.  I might give Clinton the benefit of the doubt and say that he probably knows the difference between fertilized and implanted–but there are a ton of other folks out there that I wouldn’t assume that about.  Of course some folks are assigning nefarious intent to Ole Bill, saying that he’s intentionally muddying the waters.  I don’t know about that, but I do want to know why no follow up questions were asked to help him clarify what he was trying to say.

Update: First Things has some commentary as well.