Tuesday, April 14, 2015


We put our kids in schools, but we don’t do it for them. We do it for ourselves.
We put our kids in schools because it allows us to put ourselves in jobs.
We put our kids in schools even though it’s impossible for a person to care for 25 as well as 5.
We put our kids in schools even though most schools are centers for regression in the Age of Information.
We put our kids in schools even though the teachers are mostly hacks who hate education and resent every effort to innovate their method.
We put our kids in schools to prepare them for the world, and yet in school they only learn to be obedient to disabling rules. “Put your cellphone away, sit down, shut up. I know that everything I’m going to tell you is more interestingly presented on the internet, but that would make me redundant. What do you mean that isn’t a good reason? Did I see your hand raised? Would you like a referral?”
We put our kids in schools because we can’t control them without substantial effort. We wouldn’t feel comfortable being home with them during the day, running them through an hourly schedule that prevents sustained thought, patrolling them with radios and a few guns, keeping them from doing normal things like talking, laughing, horse play, etc., for most of the time. This is why we pay others to do what is necessary for our interests.
We put our kids in schools because it’s easy, because we’re afraid of them, because the world is ours and we’re not ready to accommodate them quite yet. When they “become” adults, we have to deal with them as equals. We would like to delay that as long as possible.
We put our kids in schools because we know we’re zombies for the most part, and we want to protect them from the world and the alienation we feel. We project our failure on youth and reminisce on the naiveté of adolescence. We don’t trust that they will be more wise and noble than we are. We don’t trust them because, in truth, we don’t know them.
We put our kids in schools because somebody needs to tell them the bad news that life actually sucks, that its highest achievement is getting a job one doesn’t hate, that they are insignificant, unoriginal, and impotent to change the paradigm they were shat into. Somebody has to tell them, and we put our kids in schools because, by God, it isn’t going to be us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

From the Malcontent - The Sprout

Jesus, the seed, leads us to jettison our sober conclusions about the world, about what is possible and can be hoped for on this sphere, in this mortal coil. He leads us to a new principle, that he is breaking the logic of self and luring us through his love to a logic of love. Through him we are led to act, not through a miserly calculation of our energies and materials, but according to a surplus of love that flows from the Father. From this fountain a new world of imagination springs. The world is still finite, and we are still human, but our imaginations have been converted. Instead of building walls to protect ourselves, we are led to welcome our neighbors. We taste and see that it is better to give than to receive. Through this conversion death ceases to be a curse. We come to understand that we were created in scarcity with scarce time and scarce understanding so that we might be prepared for the weight of the abundance of the Kingdom of God. We must learn to restrain the self, to not take everything for granted. We learn that we are not here to act as cornered animals as death creeps ever closer. We learn that we are immortal souls being prepared for communion.

The land becomes the testament of our confession. If we are driven by the logic of self, the land will cry out. If we rape for the pleasure of the moment, the scars will show. If we are driven by the logic of love, the land will bear milk and honey. If we husband for the providence of generations, peace will abide. We are embodied and we must consume. What will be the manner of our consumption?

"read 'Damage' by Wendell Berry" - Aaron
"read 'Damage' by Wendell Berry" - Aaron

The ego will deny that there could ever be peace. The ego knows that there is nothing after death, concentrating all values into his lifetime. Yes, the ego takes, but that's all anybody ever does. One cannot have his cake and eat it too. But, one can have his cake and eat somebody else's. The ego denies the seed. If we accept the seed, then we are hoping in peace. We know that there is life beyond death, and that we can share God's life by loving and valuing as he does. The anxiety of the present moment (quick! what can be done to gain advantage for myself while I can?) is diluted by the infinite possibilities of the joys of self-giving (peace. let us play at love.).

And so, the next step is to recognize that there is a transition in center from the self as individual to the loving community. Love is not fulfilled in self-love. Love is fulfilled in communion. A body of bodies, giving gifts and hailing each member "Beloved, beloved!". What could be the testament of their confession, what mark does the land bear of the burden of their consumption?

Krameterhof, AustriaKrameterhof, Austria

This is an open question, and I think our attitude toward answering it should be the play of love. This is why I hesitate to provide a specific blueprint even as I want to posit a vision: I am not in myself the community and cannot birth the blueprint. I am trying to act as a midwife and am hoping to be a part of the body that can play at naming the land in love. I am weak and in a constant vacillation between dreaming of the lonely homestead and agitating for the business of the loving community. My self knows that community is a burden; my self is quite confident in calling my heart out for being a utopian bullshit artist. All that I know at the end of these vacillations is that I am not at peace in the current order. I feel like an amputated limb, remembering his body and its fullness and function, longing for reunion, to continue the life that it can only remember in dreams. I know that the ego is a deception, and once you know this, you can't go back.

"Ignorance is bliss" - Ego"Ignorance is bliss" - Ego

And so, community sprouts from the land. From the land we can economy, which is nothing but the play of naming, of giving others values. What a blessed economy of gifts could sprout from a land husbanded in love.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Our Economic Horizons

Part of the burden of trying to energize a collective vision is addressing the positive and negative aspects of behavior. Not only do I want to cast a compelling positive vision for change, I also want to describe the lay of the land and some potential consequences of not changing. The negative (what we will lose if we don't change) is less important than the positive (what we will gain by changing), but that doesn't mean the negative is unimportant. I assume that we all sense that civilization is getting backed into a corner and will be forced to make major changes, but not everyone seems to sense this. Here I'm going to try to explain the crisis briefly and explain the major visions for shifting our paradigm I've seen.

The Crisis = Scarcity

My argument here is logical, not based on evidence other than common sense. There is a dance between civilization and technology, such that technology leads and creates changes in civilizations. This dance, periodically, can be halted by ecological/economical factors. Sometimes necessity is not able to bear a technological invention to save civilization, sometimes it is. Civilizations have fallen because of this dance, and others have evolved overtime.

The ecological factor that is placing critical demand on our technology is scarcity. I'm not arguing in details, but we consume many goods faster than we can produce them. We mill lumber quicker than trees grow, for example. The logic is that we're going have to stop using lumber, and either technology will provide another good to serve the same function as lumber, or we're going to be forced to accept deprivation.

In this epoch, we arrived on a planet full of natural resources and we've been raiding the pantry without ever resupplying it. Some goods cannot be resupplied at any significant rate, ie. petroleum. Other goods are suffering the dual threat of consumption and degradation, ie. agriculture and soils.

Located particular cultures have dealt with scarcity throughout this epoch, but now we are confronting this en masse. What this means is that there is, perhaps, no distant land to exploit to resupply the pantry and continue our ways. Colonialism is coming to a halt, perhaps. 

Things must change. Things cannot continue this way.

Our options, real or imagined:
1. Technology: materials or methods
  • We start mining goods off-planet. (The problem: we need petro and rare metals to mine, and the whole point is that we're running low on these. It would take a huge effort to convince people to give up the remaining reserves of certain crucial resources for this purpose. It would mean a political effort to convince people to suffer an immediate loss for a future gain; a political move that has rarely if ever been accomplished. Also, these missions would have to be extremely profitable from the beginning to offset the huge investment costs.)
  • We negate our consumption. We dissolve needs to consume resources by creating and enriching virtual worlds. This is the transhuman agenda, to create options for existence that do not depend on natural biology. (The problem: I'm not convinced this is possible to the extent that it would solve the problem. Can we upload our consciences into a cyberspace? If we could, would enough people prefer this reality as a choice or would it have to be forced? Hello, anybody seen The Matrix?)
  • Also, I should mention that there's the possibility that we could discover a technology that would disrupt the logic of this crisis of scarcity. We could discover a lost journal of Tesla that would help us harvest free energy. We might master cold fusion. We might master electromagnetism. (The problem: We might not. This is not a strategy, but just blind faith that the techno-God will provide at our moment of need. History has shown that this is not always the case. It may actually be that ancient civilizations had higher technologies than us and still suffered collapse.)
2. Economic Transformation: objectively or subjectively
  • By objective economic transformation I refer to something like the change described by Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist Movement or Jacques Fresco's Venus Project. The proposition is a combination of central planning and technology: the whole planet will be analyzed by powerful computers to give an objective reality from which all economic decisions are made centrally via internet voting. This is an objective transformation because instead of the open question of the free market (What do you want?), the data gives us a multiple choice question (Do you want A or B?). The computer analysis doesn't allow individuals to escape the consequences of their choices. Often, only one choice will be scientifically plausible. Instead of people buying more SUV's to drive to the mall, we will all be confronted with the need to use all of our remaining petroleum to build self-sufficient smart cities. Some may protest, but they'll be revealed for the petulant children that they are. (The problem: Again, the problem is expecting a political movement to convince people to accept immediate deprivation for future provision. If people were ethical enough to push for this transformative change we wouldn't be in this crisis to begin with. And so, what we're really needing is a change of the individual consciousness subjectively.)
  • By subjective transformation I mean that we, as individuals, start making better choices, accepting present sacrifice for future gains. Part of this is accepting personal sacrifices for the good of others. This change must be initiated by an extrinsic force; let's call it God. This change may also be enacted with human cooperation; I call this church. This must incorporate new principles; something like permaculture. I'm not sure if this is necessarily a low-tech alternative to the objective alternative, but my intuition is that this will be a return to land based economics: living in reimagined communities functionally designed around local food production. I also think it will end up being organized as particular local collectives rather than a global government run by computer analysis. (The problem: Waiting for the lightning to strike. Either God is initiating a change in individuals that will spread or not. Can humans manipulate their own consciences consciously? mmmm, iono.)
I obviously prefer subjective economic transformation. I believe this is what the church was created for and I hope that the Spirit is leading us in this direction, sparking our imaginations with a vision for peace.

So, again I invite your comments. What am I missing? What am I seeing that isn't really there? If we aren't all confronted by this question, we can't begin to be called out to form an answer.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

From the Malcontent: The Root

From the seed grows the root. The seed, discussed earlier, is Jesus shattering the world order, the logic of ego. This event should cause our imaginations, from birth deadened to any possibility beyond moderated selfishness, to come alive and start to palpate, to chew upon, new possibilities. Jesus came and declared the new kingdom, violated the supremacy of empire, and then left the keys in our hands. The question is: what are we going to do with them?

And so now I really begin. Now I am going to offer some frail ideas sprouted from my imagination (this is not a claim to originality). And this first move is the crucial one. It is the one that decides all that is to follow, and it deals with the basic crisis of human identity (what are people for?). Here you'll know if you're along for my ride or not. Here you'll know where I went wrong. Here you'll be able to quote the fathers and catechisms against me and predict the inevitable failure of my train of thought. I only want to admit that I don't think that what we, Christians living today, are doing anything that is working toward our calling as peacemakers. I think that we are trying to mitigate the harm done by the world order, the system, the structure, but that this is a dead end. The church is not hospice for a dying world. The church is supposed to be a catalyst for the coming of the new kingdom, and even if the kingdom has not fully come we are empowered by the spirit to act as though it has. Even if people are cheating us, we should give them our cloak and invite them for dinner. Love is not put to shame.

For a meditation on Kingdom love in a fallen worldFor a meditation on Kingdom love in a fallen worldSo, my calling is to follow the Spirit in living as though Jesus is the Lord. This does not mean that I act as though the empire does not exist or that it has no earthly power. No, it means that I fully acknowledge the empire as I subvert it with every loving action I can imagine. This means that we are filled with the Spirit to play with the power of love in the ruins of Babylon.

Doesn't that sound nice? But, of course, in practice it isn't. To play with the power of love is to die to yourself, this world, to everything our sinful natures is incentivised to desire. It is to lose control of our story. It's hard, if not impossible. And this is the need that churches today, the best ones, meet. Churches give us a communal story, a place for spiritual inspiration and validation, a place to rest our minds in spiritual songs, a place for the renewal of our visions of our mission. I will just assert, because I don't want this post to be another critique, that the church is meeting this need badly. Church is trying to feed the flock using methods analogous to industrial agriculture.

Here it's helpful if you've watched some documentaries on industrial agriculture or read some Wendell Berry. Again, I don't want to fill a page with critique, but I assume that we agree that our food system is insane, toxic, and death-dealing. It is a system driven by delivering cheap goods through externalizing the costs on the poor and on distant lands. It isn't concerned with health, but on satisfying seemingly infinite human desires formed by consumer culture. Perhaps the best way to expose this is to cast a positive vision. This, for me, is best summed up by Joel Salatin as he says that on his farm he doesn't farm cows; he farms healthy grass.

The vision is that instead of trying to keep his cows healthy through intervening after illness occurs, he prevents illness by paying attention to the natural needs of the cow. As he would say, he maximizes the cowness of the cow by providing what the cow needs, fresh green grasses. Thus, he didn't first buy a herd and then chase their health. He first prepared the soil and planted seeds of various grasses. Because he paid attention to the cowness of the cow, he was forced to pay attention to the pasture. This is the point that I think the church has missed, and this is why the church is in a fool's errand of chasing the health of Christians without paying attention to their pasture. We plant churches in the city because we see all the sick cows in need of help, but how can we really help them? We can't help the cow come into all of his cowness until we lead him to green pastures. Instead of church plants, I propose in this series of notes that we need planted churches.

Humans are animals and have many of the same needs as cows. Our prophets and apostles were not backward when they used the shepherd/flock metaphor to describe the church. The good shepherd leads the flock to green pastures because he cares for the health of the sheep. The good shepherd had to know where the green grass was, and to speculate a bit, if there is no green grass, the shepherd must become a grass farmer. This is the shift the church needs to make. There is a basic logic to it, just as Salatin observes. People need to eat. What people eat, how they eat, how they earn what they eat all contribute or detract from their health. My basic point is that the church is not using its resources to help people be healthy because it is focusing on sick cows rather than on healthy pastures.

So, in order to practice our vocation of peacemaking, the church must lead the flock into making peace with the land.

From the Malcontent: the Seed

I should start by admitting that I don't really know if any of this is going to work out. I'm not writing this because I have the big idea that is going to solve all the world's problems. My motivation is simply that, in addition to the natural pain and tragedy that attends mortal existence, I think we are adding to the mix self-deceptions and depredations. And, since we are the agents of these deceptions and depredations, we must examine if we can change things.

Here I introduce the seed of thought that is a splinter in my discontent. If not for this seed, I would be comfortable in my apathy. People never change really, they only alter the speed of their locomotion. Things will never change. Existence is merely divided between those with the courage to take and others, cowards, who are content to be taken from. Ayn Rand is right.

The seed is that our imaginations can be converted because of the power of God and the reality-shattering announcement of a New Creation. Our imaginations can be converted from the natural order in which we prey upon others to the spiritual order in which we love others. And not just that we love others, but that we might have such an imagination for the flourishing of all things on earth that we would spend our lives seeking that flourishing even if it would mean that we, because of our short lives, would become living sacrifices and would die without honor or accomplishment. The seed is that we might live and die for an idea. That we might plant sequoias that we will never see flower.

My fear is that at this point I may be dismissed. Do I think that this is a new idea, a novel insight? What do I think the church has been doing for ages if not planting this seed in every fertile mind? Well, I admit it; this is not a new idea. However, I do feel like we've lost, at some point I'll not debate, our imagination for how it might grow.

Our imagination is stunted by toxic ideas. One such idea is that our reality will not fully be shattered, our imaginations not fully converted, until the Second Coming of Jesus. In the mean time, Ayn Rand is right and the church is just a hospital for the never ending stream of casualties. The problem, as I see it, is that New Creation comes to fruition through the seed planted in the imagination. If the imagination is waiting for Jesus to come, the seed has died. If we are waiting for Jesus to make it safe for us to radically love other people without thinking first of ourselves, we should perhaps fear rather than anticipate his coming. We won't be ready; we'll be thrown out. So, yes, we must understand that whatever work we might do with our lives will be made of clay, but if our imagination is converted this will not stop us.

There's another toxic idea that is typified by what is known as "cessationism". I say that the problem is typified, not identified, by cessationism because the problem is in the radical break with the apocalyptic moment in which Jesus and the disciples lived. The problem is not being skeptical about faith healing, glossolalia, etc. The problem is that we witness the lives of these fathers and we take away the message that we're supposed to do what they said, and not what they did. First, a caveat, I don't mean to imply that we should be like Civil War re-enactors just playing the events as though the New Testament were a script. Not at all. My meaning is that when we see the nature of our fathers's relationship to the Spirit and to the scriptures, we should seek to emulate that in our own spiritual practice. We should practice going away to pray, like Jesus. We should read the Prophets. We should imaginatively apply the scriptures to our situation believing that we are led by the Holy Spirit and protected by the admonition of our brothers. Basically this boils down to a belief in the power of the Holy Spirit in the common life of the church. So much to say here, and I have more questions than answers, but the point is: my imagination is alive to possibilities.

A final toxic idea I'll note today: the separation of church and state. Now, quick here's another caveat: as it was originally intended, with roots back to the reformation, this is not a toxic idea. However, it has stunted the imagination of the church because we have allowed it to justify an unwarranted division of labor between secular life and sacred life. Christians, especially today in view of the advances of Sharia, see the danger of theocracy in this moment. We know that if we push toward a flourishing order, that we will err and that perhaps things will end in a holocaust or something. I think that we're justified in doubting ourselves, but are we not also doubting the Holy Spirit? My idea is not that the Church would try to establish a New World Order, but that it would become an order within the secular order. If the Spirit is moving within, then we have different needs for extrinsic establishments. We can become like a virus, or perhaps better, like mycelia. We can be like a fungus that operates on a different order of metabolism. We can take what the world throws away, call it the beloved, and practice resurrection with our short lives.

We can never know what will never work. We can only know what isn't working. If we look with eyes of faith at the world today, how can we not come together to deliberate if we might be missing something. Perhaps we are accepting what is given by the current order because we have calcified imaginations.

From the malcontent, because this is the hard part

From the malcontent, because this is the hard part
I’ve been writing critically about church for the past few weeks. I've come to a place where exasperation and pain have turned into a form of acceptance, resignation, and finally reflection. I haven’t posted everything I’ve written, and I still have a few rounds in the chamber. But there is an unhelpful vanity in my critique. While I am honestly asking questions, I also realize that they are questions hard to answer. If I don’t expect answers, then is my critique merely for rhetorical effect?
No. I harbor hope, and my resignation to the state of things, of church culture, is conditional. If church continues its trajectory with its current set of functioning values, then I am resigned to the logic. But I have thoughts, a vision, for how things could be different. To be honest, I prefer to ask questions because I am insecure in these thoughts as they haunt me. I am pinging the universe with my questions, looking not just for resonance with others but other seminal thinkers, others haunted. Because as long as change is optional, a choice, I have doubts about our strength of will to achieve it. I doubt myself the most.
But I am going to try to do the loving thing, which is not to question the universe and then judge it when I don’t see in it my reflection. It is loving to patiently work out what I am trying to say, to achieve, so that it can be understood. Trying to articulate, to communicate is fearful, it is the hard part, because I am not sure I understand it myself, and because when a thing is understood and rejected, well, that’s a bit more terminal than harboring excuses of being misunderstood. It is loving to deal with the easy critiques I know will come, because they always come when someone states something positively with conviction rather than hiding behind rhetorical question marks. And hopefully after the easy critiques come, I’ll find substantive critiques, and through these traction with real people, and through this, forward motion.

From the malcontent

From the malcontent:
I posted something and actually got a significant response. I appreciate that people who have been in ministry with me in various capacities felt that they should encourage me to not leave church. But as I read these responses, I have a few subsequent questions:
I hear that people accept that the church is full of broken people. I suppose that this is true, but what do we expect of the church from this point? Does the church have any power to reintegrate and repair brokenness, not that it can erase history, but does the church have any role in writing futures? If we have these expectations that church has power to repair individuals, then we should be sorely disappointed, I think. If we don’t have these expectations, then again I am left to ask what church is for (as distinct from worldly institutions)? I cannot accept church as hospice for a dying world. If all the church can offer is a regular sacramental bandaid, I’m left wondering if the nurse with the tie-dyed socks can’t offer me something a bit stronger to take away the pain, or, even better, the fear.
So, the fact that church is filled with broken people, people who often have been “churched” their whole lives and are still broken, seems to indict a church that claims some power to change. Again, if the church is impotent, if it can only comfort the dying, then how is this different from anaesthesia, hospice? But we seem to hope that church is the x-factor in this world, that it is the catalyst, the source of differing from the logic of selfishness that is, according to religion, the resting state of humanity. Well, I hear it being said, the church won’t become the change agent we want to see if people like us don’t invest in it. The church needs me so that the church can transform people. This is problematic, and I can’t see how this is a cure for selfish logic. The only analogy I can come up with is marriage, although you’ll have to forgive some patriarchal thinking. It seems that people are calling me to husband the church, to covenant with her even though she is broken and to work toward manifesting her liberation from that brokenness. But….I thought that was what Jesus was supposed to be doing. I thought that the church was supposed to be washed and purified (in real consequence) by the spiritual ministry of Jesus by his intercession to the Father and in the work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think it coheres to expect me, or anybody else, a malcontent standing apart from the church to take on the role of Jesus to teach, lead, purify, etc. the church. Certainly some will think there’s traction if we think that we, the malcontents turned saviors, are the means that Jesus uses to achieve his ends. This may be so, but it is so against the best intuitions of generations of church leadership. What is church for if it is only itself saved through those it considers heretics, malcontents at the door?
So, I am left wondering why people seem convinced that if we disagree with church this discontentment, this restlessness, is a sign from god that we should go to church, with never-ending patience, to seek to teach people that don’t want to listen to us? If the church is doing anything, why are the young expected to lead the old, the foolish the wise, the blind those with farsight? This only makes sense because we’ve been backed into a corner and have to make sense of things. This is, I’m sure, part of an epidemic of martyr complexes among young churched-but-disenfranchised. The first instinct is not to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Rather than run this narrative into the ground and merely explain my own fears about where this likely goes, I’ll just stop and further inquire to you, my friends, about how this scenario could work out. Are there any examples of how a young man or woman, disillusioned, turns back to the church, covenants with her and takes on the role of a young, unwanted, idealistic husband, and spends a life “being the change he wants to see” in the church? Am I being cynical to think that, when people encourage me to take my ideas back and work them out in the local church, what they’re really hoping (at least sometimes) is that I’ll go back and get distracted with the business of church status quo. That I’ll get married in a second sense and have my vision fragmented by the job of providing for yet another and much larger family. That I’ll be afraid to be myself, to speak my mind, because I’m just so afraid of what will happen if we can’t get along, get divorced and I be damned.
So much of church culture seems to be about taking the young and making them old. I want, on the contrary, to be made alive.