Monday, January 28, 2013

Christians and society (Hauerwas)

Stanley Hauerwas is one of those Christian thinkers that looms on the horizon as someone I must read more extensively when I get the time. Alas, too many books, too little time! Each time I come across some short article or snippet from Hauerwas I'm provoked and/or inspired. For example. . .

The most interesting, creative, political solutions we Christians have to offer our troubled society are not new laws, advice to Congress, or increased funding for social programs—although we may find ourselves supporting such national efforts. The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.

Quote from Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Abingdon Press, 1989)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Holmes opines on the everyday strangeness of life

"My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."

Quote from "A Case of Identity" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)

Kindle readers can get The Complete Sherlock Holmes for free! Bargain of the year if you ask me. I had enjoyed some of these tales as a kid, but coming to them now I'm amazed at the craftsmanship and sheer entertainment value of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A celebration instead of an argument

Today on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade there will be lots of arguing. Online forums will be buzzing with recycled arguments and sloganeering -- little of which will change anybody's mind. Largely from reading this book I've come to see the limits of intellectual argument in everything from stimulating robust Christian discipleship in the local church to convincing opponents on hot button issues like abortion. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the path to change and formation is primarily through the heart. This isn't to embrace some form of anti-intellectualism, but it is to recognize that much of what we come to embrace with our head has already been percolating around in that pre-cognitive pre-rational part of ourselves we call the heart.

So instead of offering another pro-life argument I refer you to my friend Matt Becklo's appeal to the heart thru song: 40 Years, 40 Songs: Music Celebrating New Life. Embedded within the post are links to powerful arguments and testimonials against abortion, but Matt believes, as I do, that the most effective way to combat a culture of death is to joyfully and faithfully celebrate life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rod Dreher on Wendell Berry

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting on Wendell Berry's comments on same-sex marriage and its opponents, here are the thoughts of Rod Dreher:  More Berry vs. Traditional Christians Reax.

Dreher is one of the social conservatives who first turned me on to Berry, and like him, I'll continue to read and recommend Berry's writings. Indeed, some of the best and most inspiring things I've read on marriage and family life come from the pen of Wendell Berry. Hardly a day goes by that I don't try to realize, or at least long for, the vision of the good life contained in his work.

I'm fine with Berry taking the position he has, but I hope he'll think more deeply about how his arguments for it fit into the broader context of the values he's championed, and have the charity to admit that those of us who disagree aren't motivated by hate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quote of the day

"Elitist hypocrite Obama gets a private Boeing 747 and I don’t. So unfair. Also access to nuclear launch codes." - Matt Yglesias

Wednesday Wendell: reserving the right to disagree

I've been involved in a lively debate at the Wendell Berry Society Facebook page about Berry's recent talk expanding on previous comments supporting same-sex marriage.  Much of what he said to a gathering of Baptist ministers I agree with, but I can't follow his argument to the conclusion that individual Christians and churches that refuse to affirm "gay marriage" are continuing, in Berry's words, "the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others." I also disagree with his seeming acceptance of the modern construct of sexual orientation:  a concept the Bible -- which Berry often cites as a source of wisdom and guidance -- knows nothing of.

Berry reminds us that the Bible says much more about adultery and fornication than it does about homosexuality, and he's right to point out the hypocrisy when Christians single out one sort of behavior as "perversion" while ignoring wide swathes of scripture. I for one am dismayed at the easy acceptance of divorce among evangelicals, and as I've written before, the cheerleading of some defenders of traditional marriage for an economic system that undermines the values they claim to uphold. Berry is absolutely right that heterosexual marriage needs less to be defended and more to be practiced.

Nevertheless, I believe scripture and the overwhelming consensus of the church around the world, and down thru the ages, is that same-sex behavior is sin and that God's design for marriage is one man, one woman, for life. This design isn't rooted in any man-made tradition or law, but in His creation -- a creation that Wendell Berry movingly celebrates in his writings. Yes, the Bible has a lot more to say about loving our neighbor than homosexuality, but it doesn't follow that Christian are free to ignore what it has to say about the latter.

I'm sad that my hero has taking this position -- and there's a lot more that could be said -- but I'll let Mr. Berry have the last word.

Kindness from readers is something that no essayist (and no writer of any other kind) has a right to expect. The kindness I have received from readers I count as the only profit from my work that is entirely net. I am always grateful for it and often am deeply moved by it. 
But kindness is not—is never—the same as complete agreement. An essayist not only has no right to expect complete agreement but has a certain responsibility to ward it off. If you tell me, dear reader, that you agree with me completely, then I must suspect one or both of us of dishonesty. I must reserve the right, after all, to disagree with myself. 
But however much I may change my mind, I will never agree with those saleswomen and salesmen who suggest that if I will only do as they say, all will be fine. All, dear reader, is not going to be fine. Even if we all agreed with all the saints and prophets, all would not be fine. For we would still be mortal, partial, suffering poor creatures, not very intelligent and never the authors of our best hope.

Quote from the Preface to Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (pp. xix-xx)

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's the formula?

My wife and I are big believers in the benefits of breastfeeding, and by God's grace and mommy's perseverance our boys age four and two never had a drop of formula. Speaking of which -- I've always wondered what is formula? Does formula have a formula?

According to an article by a Pat Thomas at The Ecologist website -- Breastmilk v. 'formula' food -- it doesn't. I quote. . .

'If anybody were to ask ‘which formula should I use?’ or ‘which is nearest to mother’s milk?’, the answer would be ‘nobody knows’ because there is not one single objective source of that kind of information provided by anybody,’ says Mary Smale, a breastfeeding counsellor with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) for 28 years. ‘Only the manufacturers know what’s in their stuff, and they aren’t telling. They may advertise special ‘healthy’ ingredients like oligosaccharides, long-chain fatty acids or, a while ago, beta-carotene, but they never actually tell you what the basic product is made from or where the ingredients come from.’
The known constituents of breastmilk were and are used as a general reference for scientists devising infant formulas. But, to this day, there is no actual ‘formula’ for formula. In fact, the process of producing infant formulas has, since its earliest days, been one of trial and error.
Within reason, manufacturers can put anything they like into formula. In fact, the recipe for one product can vary from batch to batch, according to the price and availability of ingredients. While we assume that formula is heavily regulated, no transparency is required of manufacturers: they do not, for example, have to log the specific constituents of any batch or brand with any authority.
Most commercial formulas are based on cow’s milk. But before a baby can drink cow’s milk in the form of infant formula, it needs to be severely modified. The protein and mineral content must be reduced and the carbohydrate content increased, usually by adding sugar. Milk fat, which is not easily absorbed by the human body, particularly one with an immature digestive system, is removed and substituted with vegetable, animal or mineral fats.
Vitamins and trace elements are added, but not always in their most easily digestible form. (This means that the claims that formula is ‘nutritionally complete’ are true, but only in the crudest sense of having had added the full complement of vitamins and mineral to a nutritionally inferior product.)

Clearly The Ecologist and the folks quoted in this article have an agenda, but I'm willing to bet their claims are solid. I'd be interested to see any counter-evidence.

Later on the article details the millions of dollars spent on marketing infant formula. Not surprisingly this coincides with the steep decline in breastfeeding across the industrialized world and the easy acceptance of "infant convenience food" as a like for like substitute to what nature designed. As in most cases. . . follow the money.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Interior monologue: "Thank God for the rain"

Words by Paul Schrader, music by Bernard Herrmann - from Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The smell of foreclosure

For several weeks my wife and I have been house-hunting escorted by an intrepid and knowledgeable agent. Our area of South Florida was one of the epicenters of the real estate crash and the aftershocks continue to be felt in every neighborhood. The properties we've looked at run the gamut from bank-owned to "normal sales" -- you know, the kind where an average homeowner (not an investor) is looking to sell his house for a fair price for one reason or another. Normal sales are the minority these days in this neck of the woods.

One thing I immediately noticed about our realtor was his habit of flinging open the front door, then waiting as if expecting someone to rush out. Also I noted his practice of leaving the door open behind us instead of shutting it as I would. Today he explained why. In the early days of the post-crash real estate market foreclosure companies would often cut the power to their distressed properties. He shared horror stories of going into these dwellings -- sometimes ten or more a day -- and the smells encountered. This bred in him a healthy caution about plunging into the unknown of an abandoned property. Many of these properties look appealing based on pictures and online descriptions. Then you open the front door. . .

Things have gotten a little better. Apparently banks are now required to keep the power on and maintain at least a minimal amount of air conditioning. Still, it dawned on me today as we looked at one such house that foreclosure has a smell. It's the smell of decay. And it's not pleasant. Once our search for new lodgings is at an end -- and frankly I have no idea what our "end" will look like -- I should write a memoir of my tour of the underbelly of the Palm Beach County housing market. I'm thinking of calling it "The Scent of Foreclosure".

Amid the sights and smells I wonder about the people that used to inhabit these once liveable spaces. It's like  being at the aftermath of a car accident, or crime scene, except the protagonists are long gone. What is the story behind this.

If only walls could talk.

Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.

Will these desolate houses each find their redeemer? I hope so.