Monday, January 21, 2008

Dr's Martin & Martyn

I'm working today but still remembering MLK day.

The life to which Christ calls us simply doesn't fit our frameworks for Republican or Democrat - it is definately something "other". When I catch a glimpse of this - as Sarah Vowell pointed to so well in Dr. King's teaching on radically loving our enemies - it resonates deep within me how this is the way things ought to be: radical love - radical generosity - even radical hope.
Conservatives who grab the Bible as justification for economic hyperindividualism should remember what Jesus said to the rich ("sell all that you have and give the money to the poor" and "where your treasure is there will your heart be also"). And Liberals who cling to the Bible's teaching of justice and mercy yet say "hands off" to issues of personal morality also seem to stumble over the text ("...if you lust after a woman you've already committed adultry in your heart").

The Bible is often used to beat people over the head or as a weapon to give folks advantage (religious leaders in Jesus' day were pros at this). But if we really read it (as I too seldom do) maybe we would start loving each other more than we love ourselves. Seems like that would fix a lot of the problems our politicians claim to have the Big Solutions for.

But this leads back to a question for me. Do I live like I believe this stuff? Do I enter into this radical way of living, or do I just become cynical and start spewing venom when I see someone else not living right. Presbyterians have the corner market on "being right" theologically (or thinking we've got it right) but do we live it? I remember a black pastor coming to our church about 6 years ago and telling us proud, white presbyterians to get our noses out of our D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones books and get out in the world and start living the gospel we are "studying." Ironically Jones' teaching on the Sermon on the Mount had greatly changed my thinking, but do I live like it did?

What that pastor said to us that afternoon still nails me today... I haven't really changed very much.

Friday, January 11, 2008

There's no such thing as a Free Lunch (unless you like Corn)

I've been reading a lot about food lately.

I like to eat and like to think about what I'll eat next. But anyone who has known me for a while would know that my eating habits have changed a lot over the past 3 years. There are two reasons - the first is Krys. Long gone are the days where my diet included three food groups (pizza, hamburgers, taco bell) to the exclusion of vegetables. She can put some amazing meals on our table and she has caused me to think more about healthy eating.

But then this summer I read an article in the New York Times Magazine by Michael Pollan that completely opened my eyes about what we are really eating, and even more frighteningly where it comes from. Then I picked up his book "The Omnivore's Dilema" and learned not only about the horrible way Industrialized Food fills our tables with factory-grown livestock and corn-infused everything, but also about wonderfully redeeming ways we can grow food in a way that is healthy for our bodies and our land/community. Go read this book! This book introduces us to a guy in the Shenandoah Valley named Joel Salatin who has to have the most sustainable farm in North America. His philosophy is so consistent that he refuses to ship his meat because he doesn't want to burn the fuel of transportation and he wants to see his local agricultural economy thrive in it's place.

Pollan continues to research and write about food/agriculture - including this scary article in NYT Magazine from a couple of weeks ago. Our attempts to get More Food Quickly, we are finding, has some pretty awful consequences. The more I read about this the more frustrating it gets, though the public is beginning to wake up and smell the antibiotic-laced bacon cooking on the stove. When Congress debated the Farm Bill before Christmas there were suddenly new voices trying to be heard over those of ADM, General Mills & ConAgra: ordinary folks who eat food are starting to get very concerned about what they consume - and they are demanding change...

This whole issue is part of the reason Krys and I want to grow much of our own food at home. Not only is it fun to plant something and then 4 months later feed yourself with it, but the garden's fresh food is healthier (and it teaches us about patience!). And maybe our daughter will grow up actually knowing where food comes from (you mean it doesn't come from McDonald's and Publix?). And we've decided that it is worth it to pay more for food grown well than for food grown purely for profit. Sure, cheap food's first cost may be lower (cheap = cheap, right?), but the cost to our health, to the need to transport over long distances, and removal of nutrients from our soil, and the nitrogen polluting our rivers and even the Gulf of Mexico make it very, very costly. And as W Berry puts it so well, the solutions are not simplistic:

"These bogus attempts at simplification ignore or despise the real complexity of the world. And ignoring complexity make complication -- in other words, a mess... people either think they'll die before the bill comes due or somebody else will pay it. But the world is complex, and if we are to make fit responses to the world, then our thinking, not our equipment but our thoughts -- will have to be complex also."

They may be beautiful responses though -- the more complex & rigorous solutions always are. Your lunch is not free. So swallow the red pill and read Pollan's articles.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I am guilty

I read this the other day, and it hits directly on the regional thinking I've been doing about architecture, and on designing for this place and this time. I'm certainly guilty of this fakery in the past and am repenting by building things that are truthful. Here's the quote:

"Let us be clear about this, the forms that people used in other civilizations or in other periods of our own country's history were intimately part of the whole structure of their life. There is no method of reproducing these forms or bringing them back to life; it is a piece of rank materialism to attempt to duplicate some earlier form, because of its delight for the eye, without realizing how empty a form is without the life that once supported it. There is no such thing as a Modern Colonial house any more than there is such a thing as a Modern Tudor house. If one seeks to reproduce such a building in our own day, every mark on it will betray the fact that it is a fake, and the harder the architect works to conceal that fact, the more patent the fact will be...

"The great lesson of history - and this applies to all the arts - is that the past cannont be recaptured except in spirit. We cannont live another person's life; we cannot, except in the spirit of a costume ball...

"Our task is not to imitate the past, but to understand it, so that we may face the opportunity of our own day and deal with them in an equally creative spirit."

- The South in Architecture, The Dancy Lectures, Alabama College, 1941, by Lewis Mumford (emphasis mine).

So when the church seeks to build - how does it jive with our view of the world - of creativity - of creation itself - to copy and cut and paste designs into the year 2008 and into this place called Alabama?

It still makes me laugh when I see real estate yard signs pointing up some Homewood, Alabama street stating, not "3 Brm" or "Pool" but "Tudor"! Is this the UK and I just didn't know it? Did we lose that war?

Seriously - we need to know and love our place. Within the framework of place there is so much freedom - to consider this climate - these local materials - this local community's memory of how to build - to then construct things that fit into this soil as seemlessly as an oakleaf hydrangia or a southern longleaf pine.

I have a lot to learn.