Randall Gerard writes back...

Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thoughts on Community...

I just finished Wendell Berry's book, 'What are People For?'. It's not exactly easy reading, especially for someone educated in public schools, but it is thought provoking. The picture he paints of modern times is very sobering, to say the least. According to Berry, industrialism, fiat money and usury have made the individual completely soveriegn. We no longer need anything or anyone; except of course the Federal Reserve and a good credit score. Parents don't need children; they are only a burden. It's not like there are gardens to plant, water or weed. There are no cows to milk, chickens to feed, sheep to tend. Children eat; but in an industrial world are too small to make a contribution to the family larder. They are only an economic burden, a luxury few can afford. As a result, they are warehoused in Day Care Centers and Public Schools, and even when they are home with us, we sit them in front of the tube or a video game so they aren't under foot. Children learn early that they are unnecessary to their parents. And as they grow up, the feeling quickly becomes mutual. Soon, they are returning the favor, as parents are warehoused in nursing homes and assisted living centers. The parents were too busy for the children; now the children are too busy for the parents.

And what of husbands and wives? He is focused on work during the week, and adult toys on the week-end. She is 'liberated' and has her own career, her own money, her own agenda. They are both so worried about 'mine' there is no room for 'ours'. The modern marriage looks more like a protracted divorce, as they try to out-maneuver and out-manipulate each other in order to maximize personal consumption and leisure time. They are continually re-negotiating and re-dividing the spoils. They are in competition with each other; they have no common ground, they are roommates with sexual privileges. Is it any wonder the divorce rate, even among christians, is 50% or more? The family, such as it is, is at war with itself. Not only that, but the family needs no neighborhood, no local culture, no church community. Their postage-stamp suburban lots can be maintained easily on Saturday afternoon. If that becomes too much of an imposition, they hire it done. If they suffer a natural disaster, State Farm is there. If they have an emergency they dial 911. If they lose employment they call the government. When it's time to retire and spend the children's inheritance, as so many R.V.'s proudly proclaim, they tap the 401K or call the social security people. Moderns have insulated themselves completely from the trauma of meaningful relationships. Relationships are nothing but icing on the cake; nice to have, but not essential.

But money is essential, jobs are essential, insurance and government and Wal-mart and Exxon are all essential. Thus, the almighty global economy (AGE for short) has gradually usurped the throne of GOD, in the minds of many. The more we rely on and trust in the AGE, the less we tend to feel a real need for God, or our neighbor. The two great commandments, Love God and Love Your Neighbor, are then reduced to once-a-week Sunday morning obligations. But relationships are not only central and primary in this life, but they are the only things we will take with us when we enter heaven. This AGE will remain behind, on this vale of tears, but the God of our fathers, He is forever. Husbands, wives, children, grand-parents, fellow believers... these relationships remain forever. Moths and rust will take the rest, or thieves will break in and steal, but our treasure in heaven remains.

So, if relationships are essential to the christian life, doesn't that make community essential as well? Community, after all, is pre-supposed in the many 'one another' passages of the New Testament. This short essay would soon become a book if I were to enumerate all of the biblical exhortations to do and be on behalf of 'one another'. Community as such isn't taught in the Bible. It is taken for granted as the natural habitat for each believer. We were never meant to live in isolation from each other; rather, we are 'living stones' fitted and joined together; the 'body of Christ' made up of many diverse members, each with something to contribute to the life of the whole body. And so it is with agrarianism. An economic life centered around the natural rhythm of spring-time and harvest, cold and heat, daylight and dark is the only biblical economy presented in God's Word. God's law is tailor-made for this economy and makes no sense apart from it. Agrarianism, which I define as local economy providing local needs under God, is the divinely inspired economic context for all men - not just Israel. Multi-national Corporations? God never concieved of such a thing, anymore then He endorsed the tower of Babel. Empires and One World Government? No, God has separated the nations and appointed unto them their boundaries and times. (Acts 17:26) An economy dominated by fiat money and usury? The bible condemns false weights and measures and calls the usurer a thief and a borrower a slave.

Where do we go from here? How shall we, the architects and builders of an idolatrous system which now enslaves us, escape? We repent. If we have contracted debts, we pay them off. If we are engaged in work that destroys community and pillages the planet, we find more appropriate work. If we are disconnected from family, church, neighbors; we reconnect. We find ways to be a blessing to others and we allow them to bless us in return. It sounds simple, I know, but it's not. This repentance in which we are engaged is the work of a life-time. It is like peeling a giant onion - there will always be another layer to remove and more tears to shed in the process. And I'm sure my answers aren't the only ones. Feel free to contribute your own.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, 2005

Yeah, I know Christmas has passed. But I can't think of anything to write at the moment, so I'm publishing our family's annual Christmas letter as a way to stir up the creative juices. It should give you all some idea of who we are and what we're about. I hope you enjoy it.

Dear Family & Friends,

Well, there we were, stalking the wild Christmas tree. Caleb had the lead and was pounding down the trail, saw slung over his shoulder. Kate and Kira followed, arm in arm, chattering like squirrels. I brought up the rear with Miss Nancy. She can walk fast enough to keep up, she just prefers not to. I pretend I'm interested in pine cones and bird tracks, because I don't want to keep up with Caleb either. At my age, there's not enough air in these mountains to support such an effort. What would everyone else breathe? Besides, someone has to make sure Nancy doesn't get lost in her daydreams.

She drops to her hands and knees right in front of me and rummages around in a snow bank. "What are you looking for?" I ask. She bounces up holding a chunk of snow as big as her head. "Nothing, I just wanted to eat some snow." I smile, "Didja make sure it wasn't yellow?" She scowls, "Daaad, of course I did." It's a standard joke between us. When she was little she wasn't always so discriminating.

Caleb stops to holler at everyone to hurry up. He's on a mission. There will be no hot chocolate until we cut a tree down, and his sweet tooth wants some chocolate. Preferably, yesterday. We reach the tree-cutting area. Caleb stops at the first tallish tree he sees. "How about this one?" Kate pretends he never opened his mouth. She's in charge now, and Caleb shrugs and follows her... and follows her... and follows her. Me, Nancy and Kira plant ourselves in a central spot. This could take awhile. With me, the closer I get to a tree, the better it looks. But when Kate hunts Christmas trees, the ones way off in the distance are always best. I've learned not to follow her, but instead wait for her to call for a second opinion.

"Honey, will you come here?" I wade over knowing full well that this particular tree is safe, and willl probably live a good long time yet. Caleb is already kicking snow away from its base. Foolish boy. "What do you think?" she asks. "It's not the one," I say, "It can't be, it's the first." Kate gives me a look she usually reserves for the children; but as she does, she spies another tree beyond me. "Let's go look at that one." And off she goes, Caleb in her wake, me hiding a smile. This process is usually repeated until someone says, "Where's Nancy?"

Nancy is on her back in the snow, arms and legs flailing. She is determined to produce the perfect snow angel. But, because of the rough and rocky landscape, most of her efforts look like buffalo wallows. Kira hollers, "Here she is dad" and we all go back to tree hunting. Kate has narrowed it down to two lucky finalists, and we stomp back and forth between them, comparing height, fullness, straightness, color.. we do everything but taste the darn things. Kira finally says what I am thinking. "I'm cold. Let's just flip a coin and cut one of 'em." Kira is cold because she is dressed for the mall, not the mountains. One never knows when a cute guy might happen by in the middle of the forest, in the dead of winter. But I say nothing. Her clothing choices are my ace in the hole, for they place definite time limits on our tree hunt. "Uh, dear.. as much as I hate to cut this short.."

Kate announces the winner and Caleb pounces before she can change her mind. A few furious strokes of the saw and we have committed treeicide. We all gather around the victim for pictures, and then Caleb shoulders the tree and I the saw and back to the truck we go.

On the ride back to town, we sip our chocolate and reminisce. Do you remember the year all the kids were too small to walk through the snow and we had to pull them in sleds? Do you remember the snow ball fight with the Newsom's and the year we cut our tree on the Follett ranch? Did you know we cut our tree only a few miles from where dad shot that cow elk? How wonderful it is to have roots and a history here, stretching back to our courtship, marriage and the births of our children! The tree permit; $10, the gas; $30, the hot chocolate $5... and the memories; priceless.

It is the season for remembrance, is it not? As we plan our celebrations, share good food and fellowship, exchange cards and gifts, we add our own small threads to the grand tapestry God has been weaving in the world since Bethlehem. We remember the birth of Jesus; and take joy and comfort in the meaning and purpose His life has added to our own. Our prayer for each of you is this: whether you eat or drink, buy or make, shop or travel, cut a tree, buy a tree, build a tree... that you will do all to the Glory of God. May you have the satisfaction of knowing Him, and remembering who you are and where you came from, this Christmas, and always.

Love Always,
The Gerard Family