Monday, August 11, 2008

Why We Hate Us

On the Leonard Lopate Radio program August 5, 2008, Dick Meyer discussed his book, "Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millenium". The link is below.

Several of his observations merit reflection. He suggests that manners are diminishing in our society because we no longer recognize the value of conformity in the creation of community. He suggests the geographic mobility of our society undermines lifetime relationships which are an important force in personal happiness.

I was intrigued by his discussion because he admits he feels like a kermudgeon which is a feeling I have had more often in the last couple of years. The source of my feeling is also a noticed lack of manners. It strikes me that we often conform our behaviour to expectations, not because there is anything inherently right in the expectation, nor because our freedom is being unreasonlably restricted by convention, but rather as an opportunity to relate to and participate in the community.

I have had a similar thought in my study of biblical tests and observance of Christian tradition. In prescribed religious behavior I have detected at least two categories of prescribed behaviour. One category is those things one must do for the sake of justice and love. These are unnegotiable behaviours such as "Thou shalt do no murder." The other category however does not contain in itself any rightness or wrongness. These are obligatory only by a convention of a group and observation of them is only compulsary in as much as one wants to be part of that group. These are behaviours such as, "The Nicene Creed is recited on Sundays and major feast days," or "Fridays outside Easter and Christmastide are days of special observance."
It is this second kind of behaviour that people do not seem to understand is also important for the creation of a thriving community. Listen to the webcast and see what you think.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Modern Productivity

I heard this on NPR. Verizon suggests a man change his name because the computer system will not allow him to register his name, Lipshits, because it contains s**t in it. It takes several phone calls and discussions, and approaching the press, to get the company to find a work around. Think of how much more productive we can all be as long as we all fit within the system guidelines. As long as we all fit into the proscribed parameters all is hunky dory!

Friday, August 01, 2008


Last night cleaning up after my Chinese take-away meal reminded me of an ongoing quandry I turn over in my mind.

Whatever happened to poverty as a Christian virtue? And what does it mean for my life? I know some monastics still practice it, and in theory Roman Catholic priests still vow poverty. But as a value we understand or advocate as a society or even as a church, where is it?

Simplicity seems to be a more positive word. Possibly because we now see poverty as meaning people whose basic needs are not met, and certainly we wish to prevent anyone from experiencing this. If that is the case then it makes sense to prefer simplicity to poverty. Since my reflection does not want to get bogged down in words, fair enough. Even so, the question remains: do we really give simplicity the attention it deserves?

Our mounting concern for the environment does raise the issue. We who have access to so much realize that our accumulation of stuff puts a strain on the environment. A simple example: I wanted Chinese food last night, so I ordered a reasonable meal. The trash from this meal is enormous. What could I do? I could perhaps ask the restaurant to reuse my dishes next time? Could I just give up the food? And yet sometimes I don't want to cook, and this restaurant dishes up a pretty good garlic chicken, better than I could make at home. Does simplicity mean I should never go to my Chinese take-away? I don't think it is a silly question. What does simplicity cost?

Poverty, or simplicity, is a traditional value of our faith. They were not concerned with polluting the earth. I think they were more interested in polluting our inner life. Does filling our life with so much stuff, so much to do, leave less space to simply enjoy our life, on the inside. I am suspecting this wisdom has got to find more room in my daily life.