Archives For Local Culture

 

By C. Christopher Smith

In the current issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity, and the new book Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty, offers his top 5 books on Christ and culture that have shaped this new work.

[ Read McCracken’s list on Christ and culture… ]
 
While McCracken’s list is solid, and I have a deep appreciation for three of the books on the list (Smith, N.T. Wright, Myers. Niebuhr’s work is dated and not particularly helpful and I haven’t read the Rogers book), I have been struck by recent statements by both Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben (in his new autobiography Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist) that the way forward for humanity lies in cultivating strong local communities. There often is a temptation to think of culture in the broadest, most abstract sense and to gloss over the particularities of the local cultures in which we daily live and move and have our being, therefore I thought that I would spin McCracken’s idea a bit and offer my own top 5 list, on the theme of Christ and LOCAL Culture.

I am eagerly anticipating the Spring 2014 release of The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Dwight Friesen, Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, next spring, which will likely supercede all of these books, but until then, you can’t beat these five books.

 


1) Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann.  [ Read our review… ]
Brueggemann provides here a compelling theology of church and local culture. He concludes the book by saying:”[A] biblical perception of reality is urgent for the imagination of the public community, especially if that public imagination has been enthralled for a very long time in the claims of Enlightenment rationality.  While there are huge gifts given in that rationality, what we cannot derive from the account of Enlightenment rationality is demanding, generous neighborliness grounded in God’s own passion for the neighborhood.”

This book and Brueggemann’s recent work with community development gurusPeter Block and John McKnight, moves his work to the top of this list of resources for understanding the relationship of Christ and local culture.
 
 

2) Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John Howard Yoder
Although Yoder’s work is coming under scrutiny of late, as the Mennonite church wrestles to understand it in the context of Yoder’s patterns of inappropriate relations with women, this is an essential book that demonstrates how five essential Christian sacraments each provide a way for churches to engage their neighborhoods and to leaven their places with the shalom that God intends for all humanity.
 
 
3) The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

[ Our 2010 Book of the Year – Read our review… ]

As long as a we continue our habits of moving from place to place every few years as individuals, families and churches, we are unlikely to bear much fruit in the work of engaging our neighborhoods. As the most prominent non-monastic book on stability, Wilson-Hartgrove makes a compelling case for staying rooted in our places.
 
 

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“How Now Shall We Eat?

A review of

The Town that Food Saved:
How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
.
By Ben Hewitt.

Review by Dave Swanson.

The town that Food Saved - Ben HewittThe Town that Food Saved:
How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
.
Ben Hewitt.
New Paperback Edition:
Rodale Books, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Paperback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

The problem with reading books about sustainability, ecology, and responsible agriculture, is that the authors seem irresistibly drawn to recitation of “the litany”: that long, horrible, tragic list of ways that we humans are destroying things on our world. It’s as if reading this litany one more time will push readers over the edge to finally admit that, “Yes, western industry and the lifestyles that make it necessary are doing so much harm in the world that I am NOW determined to make a change (trumpets please)! I fear the litany has become a dirge, inspiring nobody.

Thankfully, Ben Hewitt has resisted the list! In his book The Town that Food Saved about the burgeoning food economy in Hardwick, Vermont, Hewitt gives us a story both timely and laden with import for our food crisis. I say story because that is what it is. The book, instead of introducing readers to issues, introduces us to people. The cast of characters involved with the food economy in Hardwick and the narrative outlining the evolution of the dynamics between them captured my attention and created a human context in which Hewitt could explore the questions about the food economy. Of course, some of the statistics and issues frequently appearing in the litany do appear in his book but it is as a contextual aside to the primary task he pursues: Finding out if the changes in the food economy in Hardwick are as beneficial to that community as those driving the movement claim.

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A Review of

Toward a Truly Free Market:
A Distributist Perspective on the Role of
Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More
.
John Médaille.
Hardback: ISI Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Sara Sterley.

I first heard about distributism a few years ago as I was reading something about peak oil and “the end of the world as we know it.” Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy articulated by Pope Leo XIII and more recently popularized and rediscovered by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc whose aim is to disperse property (and, therefore, power) as widely as possible among the populace. It is often accused of being redistributive and socialistic, but, more accurately, it proposes to minimize wealth disparities not by force, but by creating systems that foster fairness and equality.

From my very limited research on the topic at the time, John Médaille, an author and adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, seems to be the resident expert on distributism. He runs The Distributist Review and has written several publications on the topic. When I heard rumblings about his latest book, Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More, I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy.

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“Uncovering a Common Wealth

A Review of
What Matters?:
Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth.

by Wendell Berry

Reviewed by Joe Bowling.


What Matters?:
Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth.

Wendell Berry

Paperback: Counterpoint Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

What Matters? Wendell BerryTo paraphrase from memory something I believe Norman Wirzba once wrote, “For a growing number of us, reading Wendell Berry is perhaps the most important thing that we do.” For quite some time now, I have believed this statement to be true. If you are reading this review and have not yet read from Wendell Berry’s works, please allow me to play a small role in helping to change your life for the better. If you are reading this review and are familiar with Wendell’s poetry, novels, or non-fiction, you are almost undoubtedly nodding in agreement.

Providing a review for something that Wendell Berry has written is a difficult task. There is little chance of either providing a meaningful critique or of helping to better communicate his ideas. Few authors write with such clarity, economy and imagination. Each of Berry’s ideas is part of a comprehensive whole, a finely-attended garden if you will, which he has cultivated, and — as he would likely say — has been cultivated in him, for many decades.

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EAARTH - Bill McKibben

A Review of
EAARTH:Making Life on a Tough New Planet.
Bill McKibben.
Hardback: Times Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

[ Watch two videos of McKibben talking about EAARTH ]

Since the release of his heralded book The End of Nature, almost twenty years ago, Bill McKibben has been leading the way in alerting us to the growing problem of climate change and pleading with us to change our consumerist ways.  Most recently, McKibben has been the spokesperson for 350, a non-profit that elevates this work of educating and calling for change.  McKibben’s new book, EAARTH: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, makes a case for the work of 350 and offers hope that we adapt to life in world where fossil fuels are not the predominant source of energy.  EAARTH (McKibben has said in interviews that we need to “channel our inner Schwarzenegger” in order to say the title: URRRTH) is basically divided into two parts, the first is an exposition of the problems that climate change is wreaking and will continue to wreak; in the second part of the book, he begins to imagine what a world less reliant on fossil fuels might look like.

The first half of the book paints a stark picture: global temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting and there is an “historic level of CO2 in the atmosphere.”  And not only are these ecological problems escalating, their effects are being felt most powerfully among the poorest peoples of the world.  In spite of all the evidence that McKibben provides, some critics will likely accuse him of exaggeration.  The question that I would pose to such critics, and especially those who identify themselves as followers of Christ, is what good and selfless reason do we have for not reducing our consumption of fossil fuels?

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An excerpt from:

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Bill McKibben.
Hardback: Times Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Watch for our review of this excellent book in next week’s issue!



 

ERB editor Chris Smith and frequent ERB contributor Ragan Sutterfield were a part of a seminar group at Duke Divinity School’s recent Summer Institute that penned a Christian response to the BP oil spill.

You can read the text of this response below…

After you have read this statement, please:


 

“A Strong Argument for
Locally-Oriented Communities

A Review of
Harry Smith:
The Avant-Garde in
The American Vernacular.

Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh, editors.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Harry Smith:
The Avant-Garde in
The American Vernacular.

Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh, editors
.
Paperback: Getty Research Institute, 2010.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

Harry Smith - Perchuk / SinghI’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about a church community’s role in nurturing the local culture of its place (see, for instance, my review of Walter Brueggemann’s newest book Journey to the Common Good).  Most recently, I have been thinking about the idea of folk music – i.e.,  music that is distinctive to the people of a place – and its relation to the church.  It seems like there is a lot of good work to be done by churches in discerning a style of music that reflects the people of the place, and at the same time allowing the music of the church to be open to this sort of local folk music – which could come in the form of writing new songs or in the way old hymns or songs are sung or accompanied.  My understanding of what folk music is has been shaped to a large extent by the classic collection The Anthology of American Folk Music (AAFM), which was assembled in the early 1950’s by the eccentric artist and ethnographer Harry Smith.  As I was beginning to reflect more intentionally on the idea of folk music as it relates to the church, I happened to see that the Getty Research Institute had released a new biography of Smith, which will undoubtedly become the authoritative reference work on Smith’s life and work.  This book, Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular, reflects the broadness of Smith’s work as an artist and scholar: ethnographer, collector, bibliophile, visual artist, filmmaker, etc.  The book is divided into five parts, the first of which contains biographical essays, the subsequent four engage various aspects of Smith’s work (his films: “Heaven and Earth Magic” and “Mahagonny”; theAAFM”; and finally his use of collage).

The first part of the book is helpful for understanding Smith’s development as an artist, and provides a rich context in which the following essays on his work can be understood.  Smith was born in 1923 in Portland, Oregon and raised by his theosophist parents who encouraged him to explore all the sorts of esoteric philosophies, “which led to an early and ongoing fascination with unorthodox spirituality, comparative religion and philosophy” (16).  The picture that is painted here of Smith is one of a man of extraordinary intellect and endless curiosity who was well-connected with key and cultural figures of his time (especially the poet Allen Ginsberg), and yet much of his life was spent in – or on the edge of – destitution.  Several stories recounted here, for instance, depict Smith as a literal embodiment of Erasmus’ famous epithet: “When I get a little money, I buy books and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”

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ERB editors Chris Smith and Brent Aldrich will be speaking at Calvin College next Monday with our friend Ragan Sutterfield:

Taking Pop Culture Back to the People:
The Church as a Catalyst of Local Culture
A Lecture in the Calvin College Pop Culture Series

3:30 PM Monday March 8, 2010
Meeter Center Lecture Hall
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI

Free and Open to the Public.

The effects of several centuries of individualism and several decades of globalization, have served to disconnect us from our neighbors and from the places in which we live. Brent Aldrich, Chris Smith and Ragan Sutterfield will make a case that churches, as communities of God’s people guided by the redemptive mission of God, are not only essential to the reclaiming of the identity of their specific places, but can also serve to nurture a distinctive local culture that is of the people (i.e., popular). Brent, Chris and Ragan will also share stories from our own adventures in embodying this vision of the Church – Ragan as a farmer, Brent as a visual artist and Chris as a community developer and urban naturalist.

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46 Page Excerpt from
THE LOCAVORE WAY:
Discovering the Delicious Pleasures of
Eating Fresh, Locally Grown Food.
Amy Cotler
.
Paperback: Storey Publishing, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]