Monday, May 30, 2016

Witnessing to Profound Meaning and Great Joy (Matthew 22:1-14)

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus enters Jerusalem only once during his public ministry and then just before his crucifixion. He does so on the back of a donkey rather than mounted on a warhorse to demonstrate that he comes as the Prince of Peace and not as just another Olympian military leader. While this may have pleased his disciples, it threw the whole city…into an uproar (Matthew 21:10, Good News Translation, here and following).
Understandably. According to Matthew, Jesus immediately enters the Temple, chases out the moneychangers, overturns their tables, and condemns their unwitting devotion to Pluto (god of money) in the one national building dedicated to Yahweh (Matthew 21:12-13).

Today's Greatest Source of Power

In his book, Perspectives on Our Age (1981), Jacques Ellul rightly points out that today’s most powerful countries are no longer those with the most money or largest populations. Today, power is based on technology.
He first uses the example of Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. These oil-rich countries have grown fabulously wealthy. But, as Jacques points out, “the accumulation of their wealth is not bringing any true interior development or any sort of independence from the West” (78).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Global Technological System: The Parasite Is Killing Us

In the distant past, we humans lived in a creational context. We experienced an immediate relationship with creation and it was creation itself which both provided for our basic needs and confronted us with our greatest threats. With the development of cities and writing, society became our primary context, mediated our relationships with creation, provided us with our means of living, and made war the greatest threat to our survival. Today, we live in a third context: a technological society. Today our most significant livelihoods and threats of death are technological in nature. It is technology, more than politics, economics, or religion, which structures our societies, cultures, and personalities.
Unexpectedly, the innumerable technologies developing separately since about 1750 eventually coalesced into a single technological system. Worse, this system is now global in extent. As individuals, cultures, and societies, we now face a Global Technological System (GTS) that far exceeds our ability to control or even comprehend.
“Still, one thing seems absolutely certain,” says Jacques Ellul, and that is the “opposition between the development of the technological system on one hand and society and human beings on the other” (Perspectives on Our Age, 69).

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Global Technological System: Uncontrollable and Incomprehensible

Jesus invites us today, as Christians and churches, to respond creatively to the challenges of our times. To do that, we must have a rigorously realistic understanding of those challenges. Sadly, we don’t. We continue to diagnose today’s ills as political problems in a societal context. This is a diagnosis made invalid by technological growth at least one hundred years ago. Jesus invites us to understand that the most significant challenges we face are the destructive consequences of our technological context. Happily, Jacques Ellul helps us to understand these challenges in his book, Perspectives on Our Age (1981).

Our Three Overlapping Contexts: Creation, Society, and Technology

In Perspectives on Our Age (pp. 59-84), Jacques Ellul speaks about the three interrelated contexts in which we now live: creation, society, and technology.
He begins briefly by describing our technological context: the city. He points out that it is a totally artificial context, composed of nothing but the products of technology, and practically devoid of life except for us human beings.
He then gives us a quick glimpse of how difficult it is for us humans to leave that context. Even when we find ourselves in a purely creational context, such as in a forest or at a lake, we quickly turn on a radio, TV, or, now, smartphone to reestablish our familiar technological context. Whew!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Witnessing to Jesus by Lovingly Learning about Creation

Through Genesis 1, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth, just as he did, to serve as the perfect context for a covenantal relationship of freedom and love with us his human creatures. He created it as he did so that we human creatures might also enjoy a relationship of freedom and love with him, one another, and the rest of creation.
Consequently, we may witness to Jesus, through whom all creatures, including ourselves, came into existence, when we ably praise and thank him for the creativity he demonstrated in creation. We may do this best by developing, as Christians and churches, a lively appreciation especially for our local creational context.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Witnessing to Jesus through Right Eating

Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to love and leads us into fullness of life. For us as human creatures, that fullness of life includes the vitality that comes through right eating. For us as faithful witnesses to Jesus, right eating means eating the right food, in the right amounts, at the right times.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Christian Literacy: Understanding the Best and Worst of Western Civilization

Being a faithful witness to Jesus Christ means being literate in a distinctive way. Primarily, it means having a meaningful understanding of the Bible, church history, and theology. Secondarily but still importantly, it means having a meaningful understanding of Western civilization. There is, of course, a complex relationship between the subjects of these two meaningful understandings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Christian Literacy: Bible, Church History, Theology

Being a  faithful witness to Jesus Christ means being literate in a distinctive way. To begin with, it means having a meaningful understanding of Christianity. This is especially important today because such literacy is rare at the same time that churches, at least in the Western world, are disappearing.
Olympian literacy, or an understanding of ourselves and our world which actually serves the six conventional but destructive gods of Olympianity, is practically the only kind of literacy that exists today—even among Christians. Olympian literacy means having a nodding familiarity with current events: the latest TV shows, movies, hit songs, bestsellers, sports scores, political events, international crises, celebrity scandals, electronic gadgets, fashions, and more. These are the topics which people, Olympians and Christians alike, discuss most frequently and with the greatest excitement. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Want to Save Your Church? Turn off Your TV!

Each day we seek to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. A faithful witness is a person called by Jesus to walk with him on the difficult path of freedom and, by doing so, share all his truth, love, and vitality with others. Being a Christian means developing a way of living, with other Christians, which is meaningfully different from the very Olympian way of living of the society and culture in which we live. For us today, that means developing a way of living free in relation to corporate media of communication. It means saying good-bye to television.
Let’s start with some statistics. According to Felix Richter (“Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours a Day”), American adults (as of 2014) watch TV over 5 hours 20 minutes per day, listen to the radio over 2 hours 40 minutes, use their smartphones for almost 1 hour 30 minutes, and spend over 1 hour on the internet using their PCs.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Possible Futures

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman talked about the collapse of Western civilization as it is represented by America.
First, he identified four signs of this collapse. The first was (1) the greatest gap between rich and poor in the history of America. The creation of this gap includes the ongoing destruction of the middle and working classes as families from both join the ever-growing ranks of the marginal class. It also includes the continuing destruction of democracy and culture as both of these depend upon a hearty middle class for their maintenance and enhancement. He also mentioned (2) diminishing returns, as responses to challenges demand greater costs but deliver smaller benefits; (3) increasing ignorance; and (4) spiritual death, an exponential growth in meaninglessness as corporate beliefs, values, and norms obliterate the existence—even the memory—of all others.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Examples of New Monastic Individuals Today

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman points out that, despite surprising energy, Western civilization is collapsing under the growing burdens of increasing inequality, debt, ignorance, and meaninglessness. Rather than having us wallowing in despair, however, Morris invites us to respond creatively by becoming new monastic individuals (NMIs). NMIs provide a meaningful alternative way of living that is incognito not grandiose, humble not arrogant, and nomadic not fixed in rigid forms of thought and organization. To stimulate our imaginations, Morris describes the lives of some NMIs today.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Describing a Monastic Response to Collapse

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman reflects on how the western Roman Empire fell and how monks and monasteries preserved its best ideas for a later renaissance. He then speaks of how Western Civilization is collapsing again today. In Chapter 4, “The Monastic Option in the Twenty-first Century,” he writes about how we might respond to our collapse in a manner similar to our medieval predecessors.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Good Enlightenment Gone Bad?

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman explores reasons why we ended up facing civilizational collapse now. Following the lead of the Frankfort School, especially theorists Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, Morris believes we got to where we are because the good Enlightenment went bad.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Discerning Our Historical Context

It’s helpful to know history because it’s important for us to be able to place ourselves in some meaningful historical context. This way we avoid thinking about our challenges in harmfully short-sighted ways. Where we are now is the result of long-term historical trends. Responding to contemporary challenges, even correctly identifying them, requires similarly long-term thinking and an avoidance of any imagined quick fixes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lessons on Cultural Preservation

In his book, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman talks about the collapse of western Roman culture in the 400s (pp. 71-76). He then examines the preservation of the best of that culture done by monks whose work enabled a renaissance of classical culture in the 1100s (pp. 76-87). Their work of preservation inspire us as we too face civilizational collapse (pp. 87-90).

The Monastic Response to Rome's Fall

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman examines the collapse of our contemporary culture. In Chapter Two, “The Monastic Option,” he reminds us of what the collapse of the western Roman Empire looked like (pp. 71-76). He then shares with us the creative response to this collapse made by monks and monasteries (77-87).

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Civilizational Collapse: The Example of Rome

In The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Morris Berman identifies four signs of civilizational collapse: (1) stark inequality of income, (2) diminishing returns, (3) growing ignorance, and (4) spiritual death. In the first part of Chapter Two, “The Monastic Option” (pp. 71-76), he illustrates these four signs with examples from the fall of the western Roman Empire.