Friday, July 23, 2010

The Modern Thesis: The World Continually Improves

This modern thesis is in contrast to the ancient thesis that I talked about a while ago.  In brief, this modern thesis is our own story that we have continually told ourselves - it can probably be traced back to the Enlightenment, which in itself is a very optimistic term to use to describe any time period.  The story is that, on balance, things keep getting better, and will continue to get better.

Now, one can hardly argue against the fact that the world has continually progressed, that is, it has become better and better, for the affluent.  My life as a middle class white guy is better than the lives of middle class white guys in the past.  I enjoy more comforts than previous emperors, and will on average expect to live longer, with greater access to information and entertainment.  And that's even with massive student loans to repay.

Even though one could say that as a middle-class white guy I have lost power and privilege in the last 100 years by way of liberation movements among non-white non-guys, I maintain that this loss of privilege makes my life better, not worse.  The more privilige I lose as a middle-class white guy, the more the facts of my white-ness and my guy-ness mean less difference between my life and other lives, the better.  All things being equal, I would like to be able to live my life and not benefit from evil.  In my position, that means I have to lose privilege and others have to gain it.  Cool, let's do it then.

Even supposedly losing privilege, I'm pretty well-off, especially compared to those in a similar position who came before me.  As long as I maintain this self-centered idea of "progress", the modern thesis makes perfect sense.


"Though in this case, as I know nothing about British or American imperialism in the Far East that does not fill me with regret and disgust, I am afraid I am not even supported by a glimmer of patriotism in this remaining war.  I would not subscribe a penny to it, let alone a son, were I a free man." -Tolkien in a letter to his son Christopher in 1945


During Tolkien's writing career, from the 1930s to the 1960s, he took many opportunities to point out the problems with this modern thesis, and certainly never seems to have bought into it.  He saw the world as a place with progressively less green and more noise.  People worked hard for useless things and were quickly forgetting what was of value.  Machines that were supposed to serve us instead enslaved us.  Life became a commodity and beauty became subject to convenience.

I haven't encountered much in his writing that said he was primarily thinking of what we now call the "third world" or "two-thirds world" or "global South" when he expressed his dismay and disgust with modernity.  He was speaking from his own experience - fighting in a World War and coming home to his beloved England to see the countryside bulldozed and replaced with ugly buildings and concrete and polluted air.

Tolkien was not an environmentalist in the modern sense, though his ideas and values overlap with some of theirs.  He was something far more rare - a person who valued nature for it's own sake, apart from it's utility to human beings.  He mourned the death of trees as much as he did the death of beauty and craftmanship.

The real question is - stand in the middle of a vast, suburban gated community, and look around.  Then stand in the midst of a great old-growth forest and do the same.

Are we really better off trading one for the other?


"Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.  (Too often the hate is irrational, a fear of anything large and alive, and not easily tamed or destroyed, though it may clothe itself in pseudo-rational terms.)" - Tolkien in a letter to Jane Neave, September 8-9 1962

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

America: Still Quite Firmly Racist

Tim Wise trots out a horrifying litany of evidence of racism in America.  It is staggering, humiliating and appalling to see it all spelled out like that.

Here is his article, entitled "

Black Power's Gonna Get You Sucka: Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism.

Read it, and weep.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Operation: Confirmation

I have a new challenge ahead of me in the fall.  At the church where I am serving, it is their practice to have a long Confirmation class - a full Sunday School year to be exact.  I am going to have as many as 10 young minds to corrupt - er - shape.  I'm looking at coming up with a year-long curriculum, basically, and I've never taught any kind of Confirmation class before, much less a very long and involved one.

Confirmation is normally significantly shorter, and so a lot of what I hear about in terms of support would last me until maybe October or November, at which point I still have until May to figure out what to do.

This is a cool challenge for someone who likes to write or stitch together his own materials anyway.  I want to have some kind of overall structure for the class; I want to make sure I cover 'all the basics', particularly given how much time I have.

This is a big challenge for someone who has only recently acquired any skills for working with children.  I think this group will be old enough that I'll be able to manage - we'll see.  But taking someone who is awkward around children and handing him 10 middle schoolers for a year is a little bit daunting.

I'm doing some smart things - I'm recruiting mentors for the kids from the congregation; I'm planning to work with a colleague from the area who is also teaching Confirmation for the first time (the usual 12-week-or-so kind); I'm trying to think ahead.

I'm posting this here in case anyone out there has ideas for resources I can draw upon for Operation: Confirmation.  I'm looking for progressive resources that cover the basics of Christian faith and life, aimed at late elementary/middle school/junior high age kids.

In particular, I would like to integrate some Creation Spirituality into the class, both in structure and focus.  I am thinking of building the whole class roughly around the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality.  This will also serve as Step 1 in my plan to work out a system for using the liturgical year to move through the Four Paths (more on that another time).

So, anyway, there it is.  If you have anything to send my way, feel free to put it in the comments (so others can benefit) or send me an email.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two Friars and a Fool and the FUTURE! (Future...future...future...)

Work has begun in earnest on a new website for Two Friars and a Fool.  We are moving toward WordPress as well as changes in layout and function.  The blog thing has been good, but we want to go further.  We are working not only on a forum for extended barroom arguments, but also on inviting some new voices to say their piece  - hopefully leading to further entertaining arguments.

The thing is, our vision for this whole project remains something like a gathering of friends and loyal opposition in a place where outright brawlers are bounced to the curb but at the same time we don't have to watch our language so closely.  We want passion without going as far as soccer-hooliganism.

Because it is a lot cheaper and easier to set up a website than to build an actual bar (if we were good at business do you think we'd be pastors?) that's what we've done.

But we can, and will, do it better.

Coming off the General Assembly season and moving toward what will doubtless be knock-down-drag-outs at our local Presbyteries, there will be plenty to talk about.  And not just for the Frozen!  What we're talking about, everyone else is also talking about.  Sex, marriage, Muslims, Jews, the Gay, the Straight, the Alphabet Soup of Sexual Minorities, prObama and antiBama, the hideous tyranny of our dark and dismal times - all that good stuff.

We'll keep you posted on how things are going.  It always takes longer than we think it will, but here's the key.  We're all getting ordained, and part of what comes with that is this thing called "continuing education" or "professional development".  And there's some money involved.  Which means that we are contractually obligated to remain....

Two Friars and a Fool.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We Have A New Moderator

Congratulations to Cynthia Bolbach, who is the new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)!

Learn about her: here is her blog, and here she is on Facebook.  She is pro-LGBT equality, and here are the More Light Presbyterians talking about her.  Here is the Layman Online listing some of the things she has said about the issues facing Presbyterians right now - given my previous sentence, I'm sure more will be said.  She is cbolbach on Twitter and is even on the YouTubes.

Thanks to Bruce, and good luck to Cynthia.