Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the Garden

Not the hymn. My garden this evening. I went out to fill the bird feeders and surprised a baby Pine Siskin. In 16 years of living here we have never had Pine Siskins at our feeders but since early spring we have had lots of them. I have counted as many as 15 in our yard. Their normal summer breeding range is northern MN up through Canada. But some of them are apparently breeding in the southern part of the state near our home.

The baby flew towards our deck and grabbed hold of one of the Clematis climbing along the deck. It hung upside down for a few moments in a comical position until it gathered itself and beat its wings enough to drop without injury to the ground. I walked down and knelt next to it; it didn't move until I reached out my hand. It flew back up under the feeder. So I went and got my camera.

When I came back out it was still there, eating thistle seeds. Since I had the camera outside I took a few other pictures. The Siberian Iris is in full bloom.

The Bleeding Heart was pretty much spent; it was beautiful this year.

I walked up the hill to check out some of our newest plantings and then walked over to see the neighbor's garden. There was a rabbit inside the "rabbit-proof" fence. She effortlessly jumped the fence and ran away. I knew she was a she because I caught her digging a burrow for birthing her babies. I walked down the hill and did a circle around the house and then walked back up the hill. She had returned and was ready to sneak back in, through a small break in the fence.

I snapped a picture and left her alone. In the garden this evening. And She walks with me and She talks with me...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finding and Keeping Community

My newsletter article this week:

Rod Dreher is a conservative (political and religious) commentator for the Dallas Morning News and he has a blog at beliefnet. I often disagree with him but routinely find his writing to be thought-provoking.

Recently he had a post on what it means to be "local." Buying local, supporting local farms and businesses is all the rage right now. And, he says, rightly so. It makes environmental and economic sense to buy support what is local.

He notes, though, that buying local rarely gets paired with living local. He ruminates on his own move away from the local town he grew up in. He felt stifled there as a child and couldn't wait to move away. He loves living in the big city, Dallas for him, with its culture and convenience.

He knows, though, that something has been lost. That something is a sense of rootedness and community. Particularly since becoming a father he been working to create more of that "local" reality in his trans-local world. It is, he says, one of the reasons he joined a church.

I feel Rod's pain. I wouldn't want to live in the small town I grew up in. I love the city with its many opportunities and amenities. But it seems more difficult to find and create community. Although, and this is why I say it seems, I am not so sure it is all that easy in small towns anymore either. I am not so sure the sense of rootedness I sometimes feel nostalgic for is readily to be found anywhere in America today.

I think we have gone far down a cultural road of individualism and consumerism that makes finding and keeping community more difficult. I think both liberal and conservative values in their current forms contribute to this problem. Liberals celebrate individual choice and rights, which ultimately are considered to be of higher value than community. Because individual choice rules, we can choose to be part of a community or not; we can drop out, take a break, do our own thing. Because I am the final arbiter of truth, "my truth," the community doesn't have much authority. (Authority, legitimate authority, is power we grant to the community by virtue of our participation and our engagement in a community search for truth.) For community to work there has to be a middle ground between my way or the highway and the illegitimate authority of a cult-like group. You have to be able and encouraged to think for yourself; you have to want to participate. But you also have to be willing to make some commitment to the community you value and keep it. Liberal values of individualism, choice, rights, sampling the smorgasbord of life sometimes make this difficult.

Conservatives, on the other hand, consistently celebrate and support an economic system that destroys locality and community. The free market sends goods and services and people all around the world. It is virtually impossible to grow up in one place and find a job in the same place and live ones life in one community. The economy is dynamic; jobs and businesses are created and destroyed. It sounds wonderful in theory, but it kills community. In addition, the free-hand of the market rewards Wal-Marts and Targets and mega-malls and puts out of business small town and big city main streets and mom and pop shops. Even the locals who live in small towns drive to the nearest Wal-Mart to get the best deal. You can't blame them, but it just contributes to the loss of stable jobs and stable communities. I am continually amazed at the missed irony of conservatives who trumpet family values while extolling the wonders of the free market as it exists today.

When we started Open Circle some 16 years ago we wanted to create a community where people with progressive spiritual values could find a home, and find that sense of connectedness and rootedness that is not always easy to find anywhere today. I continue to be gratified by individuals and families who find a home at Open Circle and give something of themselves to make it a community. But it remains a challenge, given the cultural climate. I am not complaining, mind you; I am just calling it like I see it.

I hope to see you at our community meal this Sunday.

progress and Progress

Do you believe in progress? How about Progress? I read a post recently, and can't find it at the moment, about the difference between believing in progress and Progress. Little p progress refers to the scientific and technological advances that we have made over the centuries. We have clearly made this kind of progress. Life today is easier and by most any measure better than it was 100 years ago and much better than it was 500 years ago. It's hard not to believe in little p progress.

Big P Progress refers to human nature. Have we made Progress as moral creatures? Is human nature any different today than it was 1000 years ago? The argument made was that no, we have not made any Progress. Humans are as sinful and capable of depravity today as they have ever been. The example given was Hitler and his concentration camps, as evil a regime and as awful a treatment of fellow humans as there has ever been in history. Two thousand years after the time of Jesus and nothing has changed about human nature. No Progress.

I can almost go along with this line of thinking. Almost, but not quite. It is true that Hitler is a vivid reminder that there is still, and always, within the human heart the capacity for great evil. But it is also true that Hitler was defeated, the concentration camps closed and then re-opened as memorials to remind us that that we must never again allow this to happen. There was another more enlightened moral vision that rejected tyranny and that saw human dignity in every person, regardless of race or religion. People around the world rallied to that higher vision and fought to defeat Hitler.

It has not always been so in the western world. For much of western history kings and princes, often working in tandem with popes and religious leaders, ruled with a tyrannical iron fist. Democracy was a thing unheard of. Human life was cheap. Slavery was commonplace. Torture was practiced by church and state alike. Bigotry, racism, and sexism were endemic even among the most educated.

None of that is true today, with a few Cheney-like exceptions. We have made not only progress; we have made Progress. Our sights have been raised about what it means to be human and a member of the human race; we expect more from ourselves and others. Yes, it is still true that the capacity for great evil is there within us, and it is also true that we could lose the Progress we have made in our moral vision without constant vigilance and a continued dedication to teaching and practicing goodness and virtue, but the Progress we have made as a moral human community is real. Life is better, in little p ways and big P ways.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gay Rights and the Faithful

Rod Dreher wants supporters of gay marriage rights to be upfront about the fact that this unfolding legal reality is going to impinge on the rights of religious people who oppose gay marriage:
It's coming. And you may be one of those people who thinks this is a good thing, a just result. If so, then defend that -- just don't pretend that there won't be big sacrifices required of the faithful. When an Orthodox Jewish university is compelled by the state to allow same-sex couples access to married student housing, that's a very big deal.
The faithful? I have same sex couple in my congregation who have been in faithful committed relations with each other for years and faithful Christians and members of a church for many years as well. Some of the faithful have been making big sacrifices for many years.