Environment


Images from recent excursions.

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Some of the sights from our snowshoeing expedition yesterday at Salmon River, NY (click pictures for full size):

Trinity

Stillwater

Footbridge

Salmon River

White pathway

Falls

Falls, again

Through the trees

crows.jpgCity living doesn’t often provide the opportunity to sit in quiet and try to hear the sounds of nature in the stillness. This morning afforded me the rare opportunity, though. After getting ready for my day, I was able to sit in silence and enjoy some lectio before heading to the university to teach.

I read a short passage from the Psalter (Ps. 137). It’s an exilic Psalm, written by someone despairing of being away from home in a strange land, someone who wondered how to make the best of their new environment. I kept returning, over and over, to the first four verses:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?

I have been thinking lately of New Hampshire, reflecting on the White Mountains, the former years of deep snows, the seacoast, the lake behind my house, the woodlot and swamp on the other side, and have been hearing songbirds perched in the giant white pines. This time of year the lake will, of course, be frozen over, and fathers will be taking their sons out to the ice to build a little campfire and try to reel up some perch, bass, bluegill, and crappies. I wish I could be out in my woods, trudging along the paths in the snow with my snowshoes, rather than holed up in a tiny apartment in the city, with nothing but the sounds of trucks, jet planes, snowplows, and arguments.

After I closed my text, I sat back in my chair, and suddenly noticed the silence. There were no trucks, no planes, no human voices, music. But it wasn’t silence. Instead, I heard what I have not noticed in my three years here. Outside my window, the clear call of a half-dozen black crows mingled with the chirping of house finches and sparrows.

I do not know where the crows live, but they are an ubiquitous presence here, often doing a better job of keeping our street clean than than property management or city workers. I do know where the sparrows and finches live, though; they live in the bushes surrounding my building and in the attic.

While I was sitting, enjoying the caw! caw! caw! of the crows and the unmistakable chirping and peeping of the smaller birds, I felt as if they were answering the question posed by the Psalmist. My feathered friends were singing the Lord’s song in an alien place. Crows and birds are not native to city apartment buildings. But they have learned to call this place their home, much better than I am these days. And so the two of us live in exile, one longing to return home, the other building sukkot, knowing that however long they stay here, they will be provided for and carry out their existence in the best way they can, in this place.

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…)

Powwow River, NH

Well, anyway,
you can’t clear a
forest and then
wonder where all
the deer went.

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.

Black Sheep

Baaaaaa. Gotta be a few others of us around somewhere…

Hint: check out the categories for this one.

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