Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


It's an accounting term of some sort. I don't know if it's a technical term or just the term we use in our board meetings, but it describes what we 'actually' did with the money as opposed to what we said we'd do in the budget. We also use it to describe how much money 'actually' came in, in contrast to what was expected.

Wendell Berry has always been interested in actuals. He's one of the authors that always reminds me to get up and actually do something - because the solutions to the worlds problems lie, not in grand schemes, but in millions of individuals stepping up and taking actual responsibility in their lives. In a delightful essay, found in a delightful book, he writes, "That will-o'-the-wisp, the large scale solution to the large scale problem, which is so dear to governments, universities, and corporations, serves mostly to distract people from the small, private problems tha they may, in fact, have the power to solve."

This is especially potent in the wake of last night's speech on the state of our country, offered by president Bush. He spoke of grand ideas with respect to energy - and how we will, through technology and R&D tax credits, become a fuel cell based society, and reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 75% over the next twenty years.

This, it seems to me, is precisely the kind of distraction about which Barry warns us: Grand ideas, dependent on someone else's ingenuity and initiative, have the effect of blinding me to the practical things I can do right now - things like taking the bus downtown, and riding my bike to work, and working locally towards safer bike paths, and turning down the thermostat (I like sweaters anyway), and supporting local agriculture so that less of my food comes makes the average 1200 mile journey to my plate, with its commensurate use of fossil fuels. I can take my own bag to the grocery store.

All these things are small. The counter argument goes like this: To make a real difference, such gestures would need to become habits of the whole populace. My response: Precisely- and perhaps we can move in that direction if our leaders cast a vision that calls for personal, small initiatives, rather than simply grand government schemes. Do you want the whole Berry essay? It's "Word and Flesh" beginning on p. 99. But maybe you don't need to read it all... maybe you don't need more thinking planning... maybe you need some actuals - actual conserving, actual hospitality, actual involvement in the well being of your neighborhood. Because it's the actuals, not the plans, that ultimately matter.


At 1/2/06 14:12, Blogger Patrick McClure said...

Great point Pastor, especially in light of last night's speech. I've always been interested in this very idea: feeding a homeless person and hanging out, picking up a few handfuls of trash, etc. Many feel like their portion of service or action won't count for anything, but it seems to me that if everyone feels that way, then they are right. However, if each individual takes action, we, the common citizen, can change the world (I know this sounds cheesy cliche). I just think that sure politics play a role, but we can always sit back, whichever side we side with, and point fingers, make excuses, put all the onus (spelling?) on the government but never make any actual change. "Hindsight is not wisdom. Second-guessing is not a strategy."

At 2/2/06 00:28, Blogger Kristi said...

One reason why we don't do things we ought to do is often because we don't see anyone actually modeling them for us. So when we actually do things, we earn the right to teach others to do them ... hence we actually can make a difference because our the effects of our actions will multiply as those we lead begin to follow our pattern. One person can make a difference.

At 6/2/06 22:19, Anonymous Dave said...

Thanks for the tip on Wendell. Here's a great quote from one of his articles linked from the page you linked. "The response that is called for, it seems to me, is not a vision of 'a better future,' which would be easy and probably useless, but instead an increase of consciousness and critical judgment in the present." Wish I could be in the class you're teaching, but Wednesdays are busy. Hopefully this line of thought will spill over into Sundays. There are a billion little things we can do on a personal level to make this world a better place. It's great to see how the Spirit is continuing to move people in this way.

At 6/2/06 22:20, Anonymous Dave said...

Oops! Here's that article


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