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...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

Are you looking for some thought provoking essay reading? I thought so. So pick up a copy of Wendell Berry’s “Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community.” If you don’t know a bit about Wendell Berry, you can learn some background by looking at this.

Berry is a prophetic voice in our day, pleading for the recovery of authentic community. While his writing style is a bit pedantic for me at times, I appreciate his vision for a world where local industry, agriculture, and artisans carry the day. His premise is that multinational corporations have a difficult time caring for any particular locale. My own sense is that when something gets too big, nobody has real ownership – and so the corporation takes on a life of its own. This, in part, is what I think is meant by principalities and powers in Ephesians 6. The problems that our world faces are difficult to solve precisely because it is often the case that there is no single individual, or even single people group who is to blame. The blood is on everyone’s hands, and something has grown, taken on a life of its own, and become culturally entrenched in destructive ways.

Berry does a good job of stepping outside of our two party system, and critiquing the whole structure. For example, he writes, “The conventional public opposition of liberal and conservative is…perfectly useless. The conservatives promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. (They) more or less attack homosexuality, abortion, and pornography, and the liberals more or less defend them. Neither party will oppose sexual promiscuity. The liberals will not oppose it because they don’t wish to appear intolerant of ‘individual liberty’. The conservatives won’t oppose it because sexual discipline would reduce the profits of corporations, which in their advertisements and entertainments encourage sexual self-indulgence as a way of selling merchandise…. The public discussion of sexual issues has thus degenerated into a poor attempt to equivocate between private lusts and public emergencies.

What’s missing for ethics formation is that entity that stands between public and private interests: community, which Berry defines as a group of people committed to a shared ethic, who support each other, work for the well being of the whole group, and pass values from generation to generation through stories, songs, and example. Wow… this sounds like what a church is supposed to be. But if we’re not careful, the consumerist values of our culture will undermine authentic community in churches – as communities of faith become little more than shopping places for personal spiritual fortification. Such a vision for church life may play well in the markets of American culture, but I have a feeling that it’s some distance from what Jesus has in mind for His body!


At 21/3/06 21:18, Anonymous Jonathan B said...

Keep an eye out for the next issue of The Other Journal. We are doing an issue on gender and sexuality, and topics right up W.Berry's alley. By the way, don't forget to promote Film Faith and Justice to all of your readers, friends and relatives! Are you coming?

At 22/3/06 18:37, Blogger Jim Underhill said...

And to get an authentic community started, if it be in a church, that church must give space and support for people to do what is needed to begin and mature as community. I agree that there is too much pressure on most churches to both compete and race along with the others. The bold first step is to choose to drop out of that race and enter this other. Then to realize this will be a marathon, but with a 'finish' more rewarding that the other options.

At 27/3/06 13:48, Blogger Kristi said...

Thank you so much for this recommendation of Wendell Berry, and esp. the introductory link. I'd read Eugene Peterson's commendation of him as well, and so yours was a reminder. I'm looking forward to reading his work!


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