Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reading and politics in the new nearby

From Toledo, IA, USA
At last!
I've been waiting a long time to have enough bookshelf space to stick all my books from grad school. For the past four years, they had to live scattered across a number of bookshelves at home, some in my study carrel, and some even had to get packed into boxes. I longed to see them all together and in a place where I could easily get to them when needed.

And this week, that's finally happened. Thanks to a generous donation from my brother and his wife and transportation services from my parents, big beautiful bookshelves showed up at our new house. One went into the office and appears to the right. Aaaaah...

But something strange is going on. Despite having a number of those books on my "to-read" list, including one I'm reading for an academic journal review gig, I'm having trouble finding time and motivation to get after it. Gone are the rhythms of the academic calendar that drove me ever into more and more and MORE books, and absent now are the syllabi telling me to write papers from all those important books.

Granted, this started months ago, well before we moved back to Iowa. We did, after all, graduate nearly  eight months ago. (!) But my lingering months on the campus at EMU gave me a bit more time to revel in the university nerdery. True, no papers, but holy cow did I still enjoy the scholarly conversation with friends who were still studying and former professors! I even wrote a short piece in October on not voting, which I presented in a "debate" w/ a few friends/EMU professors. Now, it seems, I'm truly in new territory. It struck me again today when I re-read a book review I had written nearly a year ago, which was just published in the Conrad Grebel Review. "Sheesh," I thought to myself, "I sound smart! Can I even think that way anymore?"

But it's not that I've stopped reading altogether. Far from it. I've started to notice my appetite for reading online articles has grown considerably, especially from political sites. Not political news sites, mind you - those are tools of the devil. No, I've found a few political sites that specialize in think pieces about contemporary American life.

It started during the run-up to the election, from late August on. For someone consciously committed to not voting (this year), I sure did spend a lot of time reading, thinking, talking, and writing about it! In the process, I started to notice myself coming back repeatedly to The American Conservative. This is strange, since I consider myself to have somewhat leftist-leaning impulses while having since high school considered myself a centrist or non-partisan. But it's true, I periodically fall asleep to Democracy Now!, read articles on NationOfChange and the Christian anarchist site, Jesus Radicals.

Never, though, have I considered myself "conservative." What gives? David Brooks helped me the week after the election in his piece, "The Conservative Future," giving the GOP hints as to where to look for creative energy in their apparent existential crisis. He describes the type of conservatives at The American Conservative as "paleoconservatives," who "tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth." That certainly resonates.

A suspicion of bigness, I think, is something I learned from the Anabaptist tradition. It's in Anabaptist DNA to be suspicious of the big and the status quo it represents. (It should also be in the Anabaptist DNA, though, as a Christian tradition, to not be "stuck" on suspicion, skepticism, or critique. Sometimes we don't do this as well.)

This might also explain why the few times I've taken those stupid political ideology quizzes, I've always come out libertarian...despite having huge problems with the individualistic foundation of that ideology. (And T.A.C. just had this piece up: Occupy Ron Paul!)


In his stunning critique of the Occupy Movement, leftist Thomas Frank chastises the movement for being too intellectual and falling in love with itself, precisely what philosopher Slavoj Zizek warned it not to do. Perhaps I should take a hint in my new setting in rural Iowa.

I know this, of course. While I've been influenced by this radical politics and theology stuff in my grad school years, I can't walk around a farm town spouting it, just like I can't expect to start a hipster emerging church with trendy art and expensive fair trade coffee. I have to work with what I have and do so with a generous, expectant but patient spirit.

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