Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Faith Works 6-3-17

Faith Works 6-3-17

Jeff Gill


The Benedict Option, and the Jeremiah Call



Rod Dreher has written another wide-ranging and thought-provoking book. This one is titled "The Benedict Option" and it has been getting a great deal of attention in church circles but also well beyond our orbits, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox Christians included (Dreher grew up in the first, was a convert to the second, and has since become a communicant in the latter).


Dreher's journalistic history and literary interests, from Dante to Walker Percy, have given him a large and well-deserved audience across the Western cultural spectrum, but what's provoked a great deal of conversation around "The Benedict Option" is a sense that he's turning away from Western culture, at least as we find it around us today. The claim often voiced in criticism of his latest work is that he's calling for Christians to turn away from our culture, and turn inwards to build up our own foundations, to enhance our own institutions, to ensure our children are raised in a concrete culture rooted in our beliefs and affirmations.


If that were true, I wouldn't condemn him out of hand for saying that's a viable course. Our culture, especially our pop culture today, does not have a great deal to commend it. In music and entertainment and clothing and generally within our fads and fashions there's little to celebrate about family, connections, church community, or Christ.


But that's not what Dreher is arguing for. His title comes from the conclusion of another book, not that old, but from a philosopher looking at today's landscape with no little skepticism, and looking back in summary to some earlier examples. Alasdair MacIntyre closes his 1981 book "After Virtue" with this paragraph: "And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict." St. Benedict somewhere around 550 A.D., as Rome was falling to the north of his monastic community, wrote down a rule of life for his monks that is credited with, among other things, helping to preserve some of the best elements of classical life and culture for generations to come on the other side of the "Dark Ages" of Europe.


"The Benedict Option" is an extended meditation on what it would look like for traditionalist communities, particularly but not restricted to Christian communities, to live a life that ensures that their – our – values are passed down to succeeding generations. Dreher doesn't argue we should leave today's culture entirely behind us in the dustbin of history, but he does inquire as to why we should have any confidence that today's Western Civ is likely to preserve or pass along values around personal virtue and communal morality that we claim in church and conversation to honor today.


There is a contrast, and that's not necessarily a contradiction. There is the Benedict Option of close community and intense commitment to ongoing values, which Dreher articulates widely and well. There is also a Biblical option I would refer to, unoriginally, as "the Jeremiah Option." In Jeremiah 29:4-7, it's written "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."


How do we, for those of us who are believers, "seek the welfare of the city where" God has sent us, where we find ourselves today? If indeed "in its welfare you will find your welfare." I know many faithful will quickly think of Romans 12:2, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."


It's that balance, between Benedict and Jeremiah, that religious communities will be seeking in the era ahead.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the culture you want to preserve for your descendants at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Notes From My Knapsack 6-2-17

Notes From My Knapsack 6-2-17

Jeff Gill


A steady shimmering rain from above





It falls like the rain on the just and the unjust. Onto your sideboard and my bookshelves. Dust.


Particles of matter we think of when the sun's light slants through a window, illuminating a scattering of floating soft sparks.


Archaeologically, when we look to the past, we look down and dig through layers. Where do the layers come from? Liquid deposition from flooding can be one cause, landslides near slopes, but no matter where, an object left on the ground slowly sinks below the drift of decaying leaves and sifting sands, and the fall of dust.


The dogwood blossoms have departed to signal summer's presence; petals from catalpa blooms and tulip poplar (ah, the invisible beauties of Liriodendron tulipifera atop the canopy) separate and float down, to quickly melt into the groundcover and turn into . . . dust. Along with twigs and leaves and seed pods and cones and debris from autumns past.


Accentuating the dust that's always with us, this time of year and this year in particular: pollen. Slight, small, usually invisible, but now coating car hoods and outdoor tables and windowsills inside open sashes. Generally yellow but always a fine dust, filled with life, irritating to mucus membranes and scourge of the allergic. It moves pharmaceutical markets and makes us sneeze and weep and claw at our eyes, even so miniscule.


And it's pollen, we're told, not the green ferny leaves themselves, that created unimaginable ages past the beds of coal, thick and black, their origin in the steady deposition of the durable essence of pollen, the sun-drawn energy fossilized into the material which we've burned for power these last two centuries of human affairs.


Think how thickly those layers of dusty pollen had to accumulate to build up to where the ongoing weight and pressure and warmth changed it into seams of coal below the surface of the earth, which continued to pile up over it because of . . . dust.


We fight a holding action, at best. Visible surfaces to start, deeper corners and tops of high furniture seasonally, but when there's a move, when appliances are replaced, you find out how much dust escapes even the most diligent cleaner. The dryer lint filter puts out so much of it you wonder sometimes why clothes don't melt to nothing more quickly than they do; the vacuum cleaner bag is filled even when you think there wasn't all that much to be seen when you ran it the last few times, but dumping it out there's a quart and a half of fine grey dust, from somewhere.


And there's even interstellar dust, fine and mineralized but chemically distinctive, falling from the sky without even the fiery herald of a meteor to declare its arrival. A satellite launched to check out comet dust came back (in part) a decade ago, and told us that cosmic dust was more common than we'd realized, condensed out of the basic stuff of the universe as the stars formed. One scientist said that after the "Stardust" sample came back, and the signature of these micro-meteorites was known, he couldn't look for them anywhere without finding them. On your roof, in your yard, atop your picnic table.


We are dust, ourselves, but that's a good thing. A noble substance, in truth. Everywhere, dancing in the light. Dust.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your encounters with dust at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.