Friday, November 7, 2014

Opting out of the church+car culture: A cautionary tale

From Toledo, IA
Our neighborhood church
(Not a megachurch)
Adam Graber has a great piece up, called:
How Cars Created the Megachurch

His main point is that over the past century, the technology of the automobile has re-shaped our cultural habits and thinking to that which illustrates a high degree of selfishness. With the automobile - and the whole raft of societal and cultural shifts that have followed in its wake; e.g. shopping malls, Wal-Marts, and yes megachurches - many (not all) Americans have unprecedented levels of choice when it comes to any number of things: places to eat and buy stuff, sights to see, and houses of worship. The world is our parking lot (or landing strip, if necessary). Mass automotive transportation has thrown off the supposed constraints of geography and distance, and we have become a different kind of people as a result. Namely, more selfish ones.

Yes, of course selfishness has always been part of the human condition, but as Graber points out "(c)ars made selfish habits much easier to indulge, and now for many of us, selfishness is simply necessary." At the end of the piece, Graber only briefly mentions the digital age we've only recently entered, whose societal and cultural effects are only now starting to become noticeable, studied, and reflected on. (I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, and whoa...) The cultural logic and habits of the 21st digital age only build upon and amplify the consumeristic, selfish tendencies ushered in by the 20th century's major technology innovations: the automobile and the television.

What this means for churches is that they're all now "subject to forces beyond any one pastor's control," and "even pastors of the smallest churches are subject to the church shopping culture" (not just the megachurches singled out in the title).

Are all these technologies purely negative? By no means! (I'm on a Internet-connected computer typing this blog post, after all, and have been a technology worker my entire professional life.) But neither are they purely good. In an age where technological optimism seems dominant, there needs to be an emphasis on discernment with a critical eye, and coming up with alternatives if necessary.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Building a case for restorative justice in Tama-Toledo

From Toledo, IA
Building bridges in the wild
(Rural east Marshall Co.)
In my ongoing work for Eastern Mennonite University, I've helped coordinate the technology aspects of the "Real World Restorative Justice" webinar series, and this past spring I taught a 3-week course on restorative justice at Grinnell College. These have helped keep alive my passion for restorative justice.

(For a primer on the field of restorative justice, see here.)

Meanwhile, over the past two years of living in Toledo, Iowa, I've been looking for opportunities to plant seeds, spread the word, and maybe even get some small restorative justice project started. But when it comes to institutional settings where restorative justice is often employed - criminal justice and public schools, for instance - I haven't found an opening. That's been frustrating at times, particularly when incidents that come up in the local community could be, in my estimation, better handled with a restorative approach.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The limits of Stan the Man Hauerwas

From Toledo, IA
When I was in seminary, I got drunk on Stanley Hauerwas. His polemic works against Modernity, Christendom, Liberalism, Individualism, etc. - struck a chord with me, and gave me a certain set of diagnostic lenses to see "How stuff works" in our late modern world. For all that I learned from Hauerwas and will no doubt continue to learn, I am in his debt.

Yet even while I was stumbling drunk on his work, there were moments of clarity where I saw something lacking. In his hyperbolic assertion that Christianity hangs or falls on the fidelity of the Church as a concrete social/political body, understood as an alternative to "the world" - this all seemed to at least downplay or, worse, denigrate things like personal piety or spiritual formation. The self was lost in that elusive, fugitive "We/Us" of the capital-C Church.

So for all kinds of good reasons I remain generally positive on Hauerwas, but I'm also grateful for smarter folks than I doing critical engagement on his work, because it might give me better handles on where the limits of his work lie, and where I might mark out points of departure. The most recent, and what looks to be very intelligent, entry in this field is Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction
, by Nicholas M. Healy
, published by Eerdmans. And First Things has a helpful review of the book up from John Webster, tellingly entitled "Ecclesiocentrism." It's short and sweet, so give it a look if you love or hate Stan.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Peace: More or Less

From Toledo, IA

Back in July, I preached a sermon at the three local United Methodist congregations, filling in for Pr. Brian Oliver. He had a sermon series going on the fruits of the Spirit, and gave the Anabaptist guy the one on peace. My outline/notes appear below...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Willa Cather's bishop on miracles, vision, and love

Here is a stunning passage from Willa Cather's novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop:
"Where there is great love there are always miracles," [the bishop] said at length. "One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices of healing power coming suddenly from far off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
I was in dire need of a novel this summer and picked up this book at a great independent bookstore in downtown Chicago when my family was vacationing there last month. The book turned out to be worth its weight in gold. I had previously read Cather's My Antonia in my undergrad, and my prof for that class was a Cather scholar; so I knew I was in for goodness going into it.

And that passage above speaks to me on a number of levels...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sexist Economics 101

From Toledo, IA
Emerging economics scholar, Kate Bahn, points out...
Early (US) census takers at the turn of the twentieth century were instructed not to consider women as employed if they were not earning at least a majority of the family’s income. Men were not subject to the same strict definition of employment. Because a lot of the work women did to earn money was done within their homes, it was not considered actual work unless it brought in money above a certain threshold.
(Source: How Gender Changes Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Nation)

The word "economy" comes from the Greek word oikos, which can be translated as "household." In the ancient world, the household was more than the nuclear family, it was the site of economic production.

This is blatant evidence that modern conceptions of economics/economy are incredibly limited and therefore limiting in any number of ways. In this case, women's work in the home wasn't counted as "real" or "worth it."

I've argued somewhat recently that Wendell Berry's work on economy is far more fruitful and equitable...

(H/T Ric Hudgens - @rdhudgens)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pets and the police: Neighboring in the 21st century

From Toledo, IA
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" (thanks to Gary Larson)
Photo by glenn_e_wilson via Flickr
The dog would not stop barking. It barked morning, noon, and night. Out there in the front yard, seemingly barking at every visible moving object large or small, or every movement of air however slight. It just. Did. Not. Stop. Barking! And its owners, our neighbors whom we didn't and still don't know, were nowhere to be seen. This was a problem.

As a telecommuter that works out of my home office and as a family that tries to have our windows open as much as possible during Iowa's more pleasant seasons (limited as they are), the incessant barking of a neighbor dog has a real impact on the quality of my daily life. I had endured it for a few weeks, but finally I decided something must be done. But what?

One option seemed straightforward enough: Go over to the neighbor's house, knock on the door, and ask with all possible humility and kindness to please, please, do something about the dog's incessant barking. The only problem with this route was that we'd seen these particular neighbors displaying some rather troubling ways of relating to each other while outside their house, for all the neighborhood to see and hear. So I was not thrilled about what kind of reception I'd receive for my complaint, no matter how gently presented.

So I called the cops. But let me back up a bit...