Economy


Leaving the commentary on President Obama’s speech to more qualified individuals, I thought that the President fully recognized the trickle effect of the economic situation right now into the three areas of domestic affairs most desperately in need of reform. Obama realistically described the nasty circle between the need for credit and the success of small business, home owners, and so on, but he also, I think, seemed to tacitly acknowledge that an economy that depends on credit more than any other factor is unsustainable and offered us ways to keep money in the nation and local communities. Obama also laid out what some of us have known for years but what needs to be repeated ad nauseum, which is the connection between the economy and the energy industry; an unsustainable industry of energy consumption is the harbinger to a failed economy. And  correcting this starts with education, which starts – end ends! – at home, welcome words to those who homeschool.

It’s nice to take a break from the dissertation and the job search.

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So I’m staring blankly at this almost-but-not-quite-finished conference paper for the SBL meeting in Boston in a couple of weeks and I keep being distracted by other logismoi. Paper: Physical remains of early Christian memory. Distraction: Wendell Berry and memory. Paper: How books form part of an enculturating process that helps a group achieve some sort of hegemony. Distraction: Berry’s books as challenges to existing cultural hegemony wielded through education, the economy, and the media.

There is a connection here.

Must … resist …

(To Be Continued…)

Hollis Schoolhouse in New HampshireLast week I wrote a bit of my personal, experiential observations of our local homeschool coop. So tonight I’m looking to make good on the promise I made that I’d write a follow-up that was more analytical and reflective. So be warned: this is more of an essay than the last piece, but I think it’s a useful exercise for me and perhaps for others as well.

As a preface to my analysis of Homeschooling, I should state up front what I feel the business of education is, or perhaps more accurately, what I believe it ought to be, whether it is college and university education, graduate education, or grade-school education. At the end of the day, my evaluation of education draws most of its inspiration from Wendell Berry, who has not really written systematically about his educational philosophy (so far as I know), but who nevertheless has plenty to say about it scattered throughout his writings. My thoughts on it, likewise, are directly related to my work in the academy, which is to say that it influences what I do in my teaching on the one hand and that my subjects of study shape the reasons I teach at all.

Like Berry, I see the education of young people as being centered on developing the creativity of the individual person in a way that encourages responsible action in the local community and the larger society as a whole. Education needs to embrace a role that leads students develop their humanity in relation to other people and to the physical land where they live. What we teach should be somehow connected to where we are in life (geographically and otherwise) and to where students are. Berry would say that education’s primary role is to instill knowledge that is experiential, relational, creative and imaginative, democratic, local in its orientation, and fundamentally interactive with the natural ecology of where we live. Just so. To the extent that education is individual-centered, I maintain that this individualism (in the classic liberal sense of developing the full potential of the student) is, nevertheless, rooted in the local community in that the “potential” is precisely the ability of the student to contribute to the life of the community through his or her own gifts, place, and so on. Finally, the purposes of education needs to encompass the concepts of goodness and wholeness, which is to say that we need to teach our young people the ability to judge what is good and whole.

Wendell BerryMuch of contemporary education, however, focuses on the development of “skills” that will make people productive not in their own local community, wherever that may be, but in the global industrial and consumer-capitalist economy. I agree again, here, with Berry, who argues that schools – by which Berry means public schools – are “mind dominated” by outside forces (the global industrial/capitalist doctrine) that essentially dictate what students are to take away from their education. In my work in New Testament, Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, Early Christianity, and Islam, scholars know this kind of imposed “mind domination” by the terms of “cultural hegemony,” stemming from work of Antonio Gramsci. Cultural hegemony is the essentially the ability of those in power (from small communities to global industry and national governments) to package thoughts. It is the ability to control “knowledge production” by packaging the hegmonic power’s ideology into the distillation and dissemination of culture. (more…)

foundryhillfinal1w180h142.jpg Dilapidated Barns: A Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary Time 18
Hosea 11.1-11; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21; Psalm 107

One of the most common scenes when you drive through rural New England, particularly in Vermont and New Hampshire, is the old, run-down, partially flattened, crooked, caved in or otherwise dilapidated barn. Some of us perhaps don’t need to even go very far to see one or two; I have to look at ours pretty much every day of the week in the summer when we’re here in New Hampshire. Most of us, perhaps, look at them and think nostalgically back to days when beautiful barns stood proudly in a field of carefully tilled soil, like a symbol of good, hard work, provision, care, and extended family. Others drive by these collapsed structures and perhaps think to themselves “For heaven’s sakes, that thing is an eyesore! Why don’t they just knock it down and build something new and better, something that will hold old all their stuff, or at least make the yard look better?” Where the former observer might feel a sense of sadness, the latter is more disgusted.

Our dilapidated barns are indeed good symbols of our society today. Our society is littered with storehouses of various types that are old and run-down and decrepit, signs of what is always, invariably, the final result of investing so much into a close-to-suicidal consumerist economy that places such a premium on cheap-junky stuff that surpasses our needs and instead satisfies our whimsical desires, as well as our real needs, at the cheapest price possible. Worse still, our participation in this state of affairs fattens the bank rolls of the very people who confidently tell us that participation in their system is all to our benefit. “Soul, store up, hoard, and consume for many years, and you will be happy, taken care of, and provided for.”

Regardless of where we find ourselves here, the Scriptures from today’s lection do not permit us the luxury or thinking along the lines of the world today, and for that, I think, we should be grateful. Hosea 11.1-11, today’s first lection, reads:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I* called them,
the more they went from me;*
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my* arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.*
I bent down to them and fed them.

5They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
6The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
7My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.*

8How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.*

10They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
11They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

What I want for you to see here in this passage is the heavy dose of Exodus imagery that appears all over this passage, and I also want you to see how important the theme of idolatry is here as well. Both themes are two of the central elements in the story of Israel and, I submit, of God’s chosen generally, whether Jews or Christians or anyone else. There is also the theme and threat of exile sounded in verse 5. We also see God portrayed here as a nurturing mother in one of the most moving descriptions of God’s tenderness in all of Scripture in verses 1-4 and 8-9. We need to unpack this a bit.

In Egypt, Israel built up storehouses for their Egyptian rulers and overlords. They were caught and stuck in a system that created profound need for those with little while simultaneously creating-and attempting to satisfy-want and desire for those with much. By introducing the theme of Egyptian slavery and building the Egyptian storehouses, the writer of Hosea sounds a note that was profoundly sensitive to his 8th century hearers. For Israel had spent 400 years in Egypt, the world’s most powerful nation, a nation who wrung their bread from the sweat of Hebrew faces. And yet God, in his tender mercy and fierce justice, heard their cries for help, justice, salvation, and deliverance from Egypt even while they continued to build the barns and storehouses to preserve and store up the things of earth.

In antiquity, these storehouses and barns were the equivalent of today’s stocks and investment accounts. People believed that a full barn or storehouse was their security for a future of eating, drinking, and making merry all the days of their lives. But Hosea reminds us that the lesson of Egypt is that our storehouses, no matter where we put them, are no guarantee of security, and indeed, they could prove to be a profound security risk and liability, just as they are today. Ancient empires were founded on their ability to consume the resources of other nations, especially successful ones, and the result was always the same cycle of conquest and reconquest to determine control of the barns and coffers of rival and successful states. The story of Egypt reminds us that not even putting faith in carefully planned provisioning will provide security and safety from the justice of God, as the 10 plagues show, and Hosea warns his contemporaries from 2800 years ago that Israel, who has similarly placed her faith in places where it ought not be placed, is about to suffer the same fate as the might Egyptian empire did at the hands of the Assyrians (v. 5-6). As the storehouses of the Egyptians ultimately proved to be their undoing – twice! – so Israel’s faith in gods other than yhwh would be theirs.

Hosea pleads with Israel to abandon her dependency on things that do not satisfy. He begs Israel to cease making sacrifices to Baals and idols, reminding Israel that it is the LORD who nurtured and loved her, who called her out of Egypt, to taught her to walk and who took her in her arms, who healed them and who led her with kindness like a mother who lifts her babies to her cheeks and who bent down and fed (nursed?) them. We see here the agony of God, whose heart recoils within him as he struggles to uphold justice against his wayward child even while nurturing his warm and tender compassion (v.8). Our provision comes from the LORD himself, who loves us with a mother’s love, but who also disciplines us as a father might; desist from counting on our plans, our barns, our accounts, to be there for us in our hours of greatest need, for this is the world’s way, not the way of the heart of the LORD.

Like Hosea, the apostle Paul warns us against putting our faith in the world and in the world’s “solutions”.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your* life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.* 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.* 8But now you must get rid of all such things-anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive* language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal* there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

(more…)

storage-00.jpgIt’s funny how you can come to associate different regions of the country with their own special and ubiquitous landmarks. When I’m in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, for example, I think Dunkin’ Donuts. In central New York, “Dollar” stores of various names. Southwest Ohio, Skyline Chili. And now, back in New Hampshire, I’m reminded of the local ubiquity: self-storage facilities.

Ugh. It seems like the whole concept of self-storage units could only be a concept of the US. I mean, good grief, even the smallest country roads around here boast a facility or two. For families who needed to start a business for financial reasons of their own, it used to be that guys who were half-way mechanically inclined could start up their own auto repair shop, and as families gradually went from one car to two cars to 3 or 4, these folks did pretty well. Then it was computers; if you could install your printer and a mouse to your old Windows 3.1 system, you qualified as a bona fide tech and could safely open your on PC service, repair, and dealer shop. Now it’s the EZ U-Store-It! rentable garages.

I used to wonder to myself why the heck these things were so common and popular. After flirting with the idea that people were willing to shell out 40 bucks a month (at least!) for garage space because they didn’t have a garage at all, the real reason dawned on me: Yeah. We, as a society, just have Too. Much. Crap.

We know, of course, that the US is by far the single biggest consumer of resources and manufactured products in the world. There are only two categories of things to consume: necessities (like food, clothing, and so forth) and luxuries. I think that, by definition, if you don’t need it at home, and you can afford to stash it away in a garage a couple miles away (if that!), it’s a luxury. The presence of so many self-storage facilities is testimony to our need to just accumulate and buy simply because we can.

Admittedly, I often wish that I had one of these things; in the winter, my family’s bicycles take up a ton of room in the apartment and we’re always tripping on the things. We have pieces of furniture that look nice, but are in the way and are hardly used, except to store other stuff that we don’t use often. We can’t use one of our closets because it’s full of things other than coats, because “we don’t know when we might need these for such and such again.”

But, in the interest of family and friendships, we’ve come up with a solution that works ok for us; we offer friends with garages or sheds the opportunity to earn 40 bucks every winter if they’re willing to store our bikes for us. Sometimes we run across people who need another chair more than we do. With kids who are growing older, and neices and nephews who are much younger, we’ve been able to put much of our old “stash” of toddler’s items to good use. Donations to charitable organizations happen often.

I don’t think the solution to having too much merchandise from Walmart, Dollar General, or Home Depot or anywhere else is to throw money into a long term offisite garage. I’d like to think that the solution is to simply try to, well, simplify. Buy less stuff, and what we buy, make sure it’s better. And, at the very least, make sure I have the space for it.

Francis SchaefferOne thing that I hear a lot about is idea of “a” or “the” Christian worldview. In high school I voraciously read everything I could find by the late Francis Schaeffer, to many the patron saint of the idea of a Christian worldview. In college, the “Christian worldview” seemed to be the operational principle behind the entire curriculum. I still read about it in our alumni newsletters and magazines, and see or hear about conferences where “Christian worldview” is the entire focus. It’s an ubiquitous phrase on the radio, and it’s all over the various newsletters and other types of mailings we get several times a week. And thanks to an old friend, who recently emailed me his enthusiastic endorsement of “The Truth Project,” which I had forgotten about and which is intimately affiliated with James Dobson and Focus on the Family, it’s kind of recaptured my imagination for the moment. In other words, a “blogworthy” topic.

So, I have to make a confession.

I have absolutely no idea what it is, and even less of an idea of where to find it.

But I do know what people think they mean when they refer to “a” or “the Christian worldview.” Not coincidentally, it is primarily conservative and evangelical Protestants who have been the leaders in this pack, since its primary characteristic is its dedication to the Bible. In fact, although there are (and should be) major differences between a “Christian worldview” and a “Biblical Worldview,” in most of the discussions I have seen or heard in print, online, and on-the-air the two of them are used interchangably. Rhetorically, this has the effect of saying that a Christian worldview is a Biblical one, and if a worldview is not fundamentally based on the foundation of the Bible, it is definitely not Christian. It ignores the possibility that one can have a profoundly Biblical worldview and not necessarily be a Christian worldview; and it also cannot conceive of the possibility (even likelihood, unfortunately) that a profoundly Christian worldview is not at all biblical, no matter how much Bible goes into such a worldview’s prooftext(s).

It is also worth pointing out that I can understand why many think that such a thing exists and why, if we could actually achieve it, it would solve all the social and moral ills of our society, which in turn would bring us back to formative Christian ideals of the United States in the 18th century. It is a rhetorical move against increasing tendencies to secularize the founding fathers of the United States; by demonstrating that the Fathers in fact were Biblical in their religion and morality, combined with the above observations that a Biblical worldview must necessarily be a Christian one, these modern-day apologists are able to essentially impose a particular twentieth century interpretation of Christian faith to enlightened Deists who would be flabbergasted to know what is being done to them today for predominantly sectarian Christian political interests. In other words, the idea of a Christian worldview serves rhetorical and political purposes for those who hold to its possibility. But this is not helpful, because in a nation that Constitutionally cannot mandate any particular faith as “preferred,” let alone enforced, there are simply too many varieties of Christian experience for a singular Christian worldview, as much as I might admittedly wish for otherwise from time to time.

So. “The” Christian worldview is simply not possible. We just need to ask “which one should it be?” The “liberal” one? Or the “evangelical” one? Or perhaps we want to go with a denominationally sanctioned worldview. The Methodist one? The Presbyterian? Or the Baptist one? Or, even if we settled on The Baptist Christian Worldview, would it be the Southern Baptist, the General Associatoin of Regular Baptist, the Conservative Baptist, the American Baptist, or Independent Baptist, Fundamental Baptist … and so forth.

But I did give myself an out; I said “a singular Christian worldview” about eight lines up. If there can be no question of “the” Christian worldview, what about “a” Christian worldview, and allow for the fact that there are many Christian worldviews that, unfortunately, think tanks like Focus and Truth Project and Battle Cry and so on would cringe at being associated with as “Christian worldviews?”

I actually do not really like the term worldview all that much. I see it as a convenient catch-all term for pigeon-holing “group think.” For this is basically what a worldview is. It is a way of admitting that we all have a way in which we view life that consists of the sum total of our experiences as individuals and as members in various networks of communities. Each of us probably has an individual worldview that might consist of “categorical imperatives,” to use Kant’s phrase, which are either adopted wholesale and uncritically by what we have experienced, or which are hard-earned and fought out through serious criticism of our experiences as individuals within communal histories. In this light, to earn this kind of worldview is to earn a way of coming to terms with who we are as individuals and as members. We are always both. It is possible to speak, perhaps, of my worldview, and it may be possible to speak of the specific worldview of a local community in place. But as a rhetorical and political term, and an apologetic one, it pigeon-holes groups who fall outside of what “we” think and who are in opposition to us.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as “the Christian worldview,” but I do think there is the Christian Apologist’s Worldview that, despite making a lot of noise, in no way speaks for the rest of those of us who do not consider ourselves members of that ideological community. In another post, after we’re done with exams and papers and so forth, I’ll follow this up with the importance of local education in developing an authentic worldview that leads to ethical action and that I believe might justifiably be called A Christian and A Biblical worldview that may even be consistent with a worldview of the founding fathers.

Because No Place on Earth is GodforsakenKudos to JakeB for posting this site as a reminder that while we sit around and lament the state of the world on our fancy laptops and blogs there’s real work being done by real people in a part of the world that many of us prefer to pretend does not exist.

You especially need to check out “The Miniature Earth” link on Aaron’s site, which hypothesizes what our global village would look like if there were only 100 people in it. JakeB says it’s haunting; it is that, and I think its convicting.

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