The Many and the Gone

Paul VanderKlay writes
“Pluralism, both contemporary and historical pushes us into skepticism.

Really? Isn’t this just a longing for Christendom by another name? It seems that the early church lived in pretty much of a pluralistic culture. The problem today is that while we live with our separate worldviews, we now have a different  emperor, a different encompassing narrative. It’s the emperor that you want to pay attention to.

Greeks and barbarians live cheek by jowl. The first deacons were Hellenist. The post-NT culture is rife with separate cultural frameworks, some like the Palestinian Ebonites got called out and expelled. But really, Alexandria thinks one way, Athens another, Damascus a third etc.
Our challenge is how to live across those gaps between different worldviews, different religions. The road is filled with their shrines.
Spiritually, the question of skepticism ties into narratives of the self, and especially of the self’! s knowledge, our tacit epistemology. There are two Christian responses: the self must die (that’s Benedict) and the smoldering wick is not snuffed.

Is “free enterprise capitalism” the only way?

That’s the question roughly posed at The Banner.

Is it true that the Bible endorses free enterprise capitalism? I read that this is because it assumes private property and rewards a good work ethic.

Editor Shiao Chong defers in his answer, pointing to a “perfect economic system” as a sort of goal. All rather Platonic, when you think about it.

The correct answer is that God does not “endorse” any human social arrangement, let alone envision some “perfect economic system.” Instead, what God asks for is that these arrangements in their particularlity be just. In large measure we do not get to choose the sort of system we live under, be it a parliamentary democracy, a republic or for that matter a kingdom. God can and has worked through all of these. In the same manner, the economic arrangement in society can have a wide variation.

On the specific question, “free enterprise capitalism” is a rather flexible term, meaning different things in say the sociology, the political science, and economics department. What we do know is that however defined, the result of the system must still safeguard the poor and the weak from the all too easy actions of the wealthy and powerful. This caution is spelled out over and over again in the Psalms and Prophets.

We do not pursue a perfect system, or even a perfected system, but rather a perfect, a complete obedience on our side. That at least seems more doable.

 

Fools

Len VanderZee notes the similarity between our President and the biblical fool

 It strikes me that Trump is basically what the Bible calls a fool. I am not seeking to belittle Trump, but simply to find a way to understand and respond to him, and the biblical word for such a man is fool. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs provides an inspired guide for how to deal with fools.

Fools sets in motion the other question, the real question, the counsel of Wisdom. The Wisdom Literature instructs in taking a prudent, long-term view of things, to be emotionally constrained, etc. This is not merely a sort of Nominalism (true because in the Bible), but especially true for its practicality — this is the stuff that enables rulers to endure and wise servants (and people) to prosper.

Wisdom guards our own reaction in a time of enthusiasm or of excess. As with marches, or certainly with appetites.
Wisdom also is grounded. It does not merely stand aside, “strategically” to mark its time. It is wise, because it knows something. Contrast this to line from Hamilton, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”
Oh, and about fools. Their way is that of destruction. History teaches that.

What do we take from the past?

Beer boxHank Ottens at the Banner pens an interesting, prophetic story about his dad, one of those immigrant souls who worked the farm but kept an active mind and prized his orthodoxy. Cleaning out his father’s estate, he comes across “the ark:” books by Bavinck and his father’s collection of sermons on the various themes of orthodoxy.

What to do?

He looks, reads, considers, then gets coffee. Church today is not much like that of his father’s post-war era (or his father’s defense of orthodoxy in retirement).

The brief coffee klatch gets us talking about the new “normal” in church life: praise teams, women clergy, seeker-friendly services, interfaith dialogue, acceptance of divorced and gay members. We put down our coffee cups and get down to business. The ark has become a beer box with relics of a bygone era.

Books and tapes are consigned to the curb. And at the end Ottens wonders about all this with more than a little ambivalence:

Are these reflections on the means of grace, the Heidelberg Catechism and pious living, no more important than a broken-down hobby horse or a six-pack of empties? Do those old sermon tapes at least deserve a respectful place in a preacher’s bookcase?

Well, theses certainly are reflections of grace, but appropriate for a preacher’s bookcase? Ah, no. The grace belongs to his family. In very human terms, these belong on his bookcase. The hand that pens the sermon title was the same hand that ran the farm and first took Otten’s small hand as he learned to walk. Our spirituality is not different from the rest of our lives. Some items we keep because of their testimony to a faithfulness then that has made a debtor now. Active remembrance can keep us.

This however, is not the only story available, that of an old immigrant orthodoxy thrown away. There is the story of faithfulness:  what does one do with one’s life? This was a retirement spent in keeping the mind alive, a retirement spent in caring for others, a retirement spent in a pursuit of godliness; it is  the shape of that fidelity as much as its content that is remarkable and worthy of marking.

Me? I would have kept the tapes if only as a reminder that there is more to life than travel and gardening.

Heading South

paula-deen-cries-3

Photo Credit: Business Insider

The sudden fall of Paula Deen is, if anything, breath-taking.  And to fall because of a an ancient racial slur — surely injustice is at work?  Bill Vis comments

Paula Deen is older than me and was born and raised in the south.  The furor by younger people shows a profound lack of understanding of the world she and I grew up in.  Was it right?  Something I am proud of?  Of course not!  But to condemn someone in her mid-sixties for being a product of the society in which she was a child is grossly unfair.

Was it unfair what happened to Paula Deen? In a sense, absolutely, the same way it was unfair what happened to Detroit autoworkers. She got caught in an ebbing tide.

Her problem is not that she was brought up a certain way, but that she could not adapt to the present rapidly changing make-up of US society.  David Brooks’ column , A Nation of Mutts captures much of the new dynamic, about the shift from Euro-America to a New America. In this landscape, the older folkways are now peculiar, particular to the individual. And perhaps especially those of the South,with its own complicated history on race. To participate in cultural leadership or take a culturally visible role such as Deen had done requires that one be able to present oneself as culturally open. Her inarticulateness — her real sin —  then doomed her.

But it may not have been just a few ill-chosen words.

Adding to the conflagration may be our own politics. The national political scene is dominated not only by an open hostility to a representative of this new America, President Obama, but also by a retrenchment of conservative ideals.  There’s a dynamic there between the political and cultural concerns of the conservative base so firmly anchored in the white Baby Boom generation and the New American mixed identity of the President. In this mix, Deen’s comments however old, even her southern identity give her the appearance of some one on that conservative side. There’s already enough heat in the politics, her misstep provided the oxygen that consumed her.

On the apocalyptic moment

The other day, John Seel at the Daily Cardus got thinking about the current wave of apocalyptic movies. He sees it as a sign of decay.

These cinematic apocalyptic sagas are secular versions of the anticipation of Christ’s return. Whereas Christ’s return brings hope, these twisted stories only bring a nagging unease that flirts with despair.

He goes on to suggest that this is an “anti-culture, referencing  Philip Rieff who stated

“Every culture that tries to establish its social order without reference to a sacred order must be called an anti-culture.”

I think we miss the elephant in the room: the present society, the one outside my window, is the one with this apocalyptic fantasies. This is the narrative of loss that we are playing for our own lives, and so a better question might be that of determining the source of this loss. What is it about this age,  that prompts this response? Are there concrete conditions?

Pulling up the spiritual gang-plank (“oh, this is what unbelief looks like” or thinking of it only in terms of “anti-culture”) is only another symptom of the problem.

After all  it’s not the first time that apocalyptic themes have taken over pop culture.

Look at the literature and film of the  60s and 70s, and one will note continuing themes of over-the-top of revolutionary violence, eg. Bonnie an Clyde (67), John Updike’s Rabbit Redux (71), Trevanian’s switch-up with Shibumi (77). What, we might ask, was in the water then? Why did we want to see violence like that? Was it the generational pulse? Vietnam?

Perhaps, then, what we see in this age is some other generational narrative. By reducing the cultural moment to cultural war terms (ooh, the anti-Christ) Seel avoids the other task of identifying what drives this vision; it is passing the neighbor on the other side of the road.

That Smokin’ Hot Wife

There’s a meme  floating through the Evangelical church that wants to celebrate marriage, especially the physical and sexual. But the gift of bodily reality is easily seized by culture — in our sexualized culture, how could it not be? Mary De Muth explores some of the problems at Her•meneutics, “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife.

In another day, this entire business about “Smokin’ Hot Wife”would be labeled worldliness. At its core lies a certain turn of thought, an understanding of  sexuality as integral to personal well-being. As a married Christian I deserve good sex, so to speak; or, we were made for sex, etc.  And it’s not that Calvinists have stood on the sidelines here. We pretty regularly think of sex as a creational good. But at least for Evangelicals, such a stance is a trap: once you start there, you have basically surrendered on young adult sexuality (think of Tim Keller’s warning), especially given the conflict of the times, on homosexuality. If sex is fundamental to human well-being than prohibitions of all sorts start collapsing.

But that shift in stances, of course, is only the start.

DeMuth herself notes in passing the basic male privilege of it all, the sort that only rubs salt into the psychic wounds of women who have been abused.

And finally, there is the problem of time. The understanding of humanity as sexual creates an artificial narrative of constant sexual availability throughout one’s life. But of course, our libido does ebb and flow, Viagra not withstanding.

In a Christian understanding, sexuality is less the content of the relationship than its  context. This Age’s idolatry of the physical limits our freedom to be for others, and it certainly blinds us to the role (and acceptance) of time.