The Foolishness of Making Things Happen

Dallas Willard is so right:

“So often the work of the leader or pastor is so hard and so full of disappointments and their own lives are empty – and, they eventually blow up. It’s because they haven’t heard the message that Jesus gave. They heard another message. And, perhaps with the best of intentions they were driven into a life whether they thought their job was to make things happen — and that’s the worst position you can be in. Of course, you’re going to act. But, your job is not to make things happen. We live in the Kingdom of God where God is active, His Spirit is present, His Son is alive; that’s where we live. They will make it happen. And if we make it happen the result will be our converts, and then probably we’re going to have to keep making them do things, because they’re depending on us to jump start them, and keep them going, rather than putting them on to the living Kingdom of God and the living Christ and allowing them to live interactively, one-on-one, with God — and transform the world in which they’re living.” – Dallas Willard (Living in the Presence of Christ, Lecture 1)

Birds in Our Backyard This Afternoon

A sunny, breezy, mild spring afternoon (and some food in the feeders) brought these birds to our backyard this afternoon.

American Nations Within the American Nation

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North Americaby Colin Woodard is a cultural history of the federation that we call the United States. See my last blog, where I gave my first (glowing) impressions.

I still highly recommend American Nations, for all the reasons I gave in my earlier report. But, after the last third of the book I had had enough of Woodard’s unrelenting criticism of the “Deep South,” and his fawning praise of “Yankeedom,” which are labels Woodard uses for two of the eleven North American “nations” he describes.

I certainly agree with many of Woodard’s negative characterizations of the Deep South. But, he is either incapable or unwilling to see any virtue in its culture. Does Woodard think that race relations in Mississippi are the same in 2014 as in 1964? Is he oblivious to the fact that the culture of the Deep South is, in fact, very much a product of the interaction between southern African-Americans and southern whites, and not simply an oppressive, authoritarian culture imposed by Deep Southern oligarchs? Is Woodard capable of entertaining the idea that at least some of the positive changes in race relations in the Deep South were made possible by positive traits in that culture? Or does he think that those changes are entirely the result of unwilling acceptance by southern whites of the agenda imposed on them by Yankeedom? Although I agree with Woodard that it took intervention by the Yankee-led federal government (think, for example, Massachusetts-born President Kennedy and his attorney general brother, Robert) to force the South to begin to end segregation in the 1960s and 1970s, I contend that the subsequent progress in this region owes at least part of its success to qualities deeply embedded in the shared culture of Deep South whites and African-Americans – for example, hospitality, neighborliness, and the deep Christian faith of many in its population.

Conversely, among his descriptions of enlightened Yankeedom and its commitment to making the world a better place, Woodard fails to mention, much less explain, events such as the busing violence and riots in Boston in the 1970s, or how segregationist George Wallace could win the Democratic presidential primary in Michigan in 1972. Obviously, there are many powerful factors influencing politics in American over the past forty years of which the regional conflicts between the eleven “nations” that comprise the USA are just one set.

Despite these shortcomings, I found Woodard’s descriptions of those eleven nations and their alliances and conflicts fascinating.  I highly recommend  American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

American Nations (plural)

One of my favorite books is David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, which I read 20 years ago. In a similar vein is American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North Americaby Colin Woodard. Although I’m only a third of the way through, it’s well on its way to making my all-time top ten book list. Both books tell the stories of the very different peoples who first settled North America – and their very different cultures. Fischer deals with four groups from the British Isles that dominated the early settlement of colonial America. Woodard’s scope expands to include eleven cultures – he calls them “nations” – that comprise the entire continent. Woodard also looks at how those eleven cultures have influenced the United States throughout its history – and how, they are still vying for power and preeminence within the USA.

Of particular interest to me are the two nations of which my family and I have been and are a part: the Deep South and “Greater Appalachia.” Even at my current reading point in the book, it’s obvious that Woodard is not a fan of either – and that may be putting it mildly. I think there’s much more to commend both of these “nations” than Woodard sees or wants to credit. In addition to that bias, Woodard seems to me to occasionally draw simplified, over-generalized conclusions.

But, on the whole, there is much truth to Woodard’s observations – at least about the southern cultures that I know the best. And, he provides some intriguing explanations for the bitter arguments that divide the USA today.  As Woodard demonstrates, similar divisions have plagued our country since its inception, and, in fact, are inherent in our cultural DNA.

And, hey – I can’t help but find interesting a guy who does political and cultural analysis by looking at the distribution of Waffle Houses. I’m adding Woodard’s blog to my reading list.

More to follow as I move through the book.

Afraid of Missing God’s Will?

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8) That’s the bedrock truth that conditions all circumstances, imperatives, and attitudes. But, it doesn’t do away with the question that is present in every situation in which we find ourselves.

That question is, “What is God’s will, right here, right now, in this moment?” But for those “in Christ Jesus,” this question does not carry angst or fear, driving us to worry that we may answer wrongly and miss the mark, or that we may fail to obey rightly; because, in Christ we are exempt from condemnation. So, we can boldly seek the Father’s will and freely act in alignment with His will and the Spirit’s movement even if we are not certain – and how could we be? – of His will and movement.

Deadly Grudges, an Elvis Impersonator, a Holstein-spotted Chihuahua – and more

In the life-is-stranger-than fiction category – several months ago I had read this article in GQ about the Elvis impersonator from Tupelo framed for ricin assault. The article is very funny. All the real-life characters could be straight out of a Tennessee Williams comedy. State representative – and undertaker -Steve Holland could single-handedly carry his own television series. As did the story of the Yarnell forest fire tragedy I mentioned in my last post, this article also made the “Best of 2013” magazine articles list at Longform, sponsored by the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburg.

Stories of Forest Fire Tragedy and Heroism

Thanks to my friend who sent me this link to Longform, sponsored by the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburg, which lists their picks for the best magazine articles of 2013. My first click was to The True Story of the Yarnell Fire in Outside Magazine. I’ve been intrigued by forest fire fighters and the dangers they face for about 15 years ever since I read Norman Maclean’s book Young Men and Fire about the Montana Mann Gulch burnover. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. The Yarnell article has a link to a great site with present day photos and annotations of Mann Gulch. Dick Gordon of “The Story” did an interview with smokejumper Bob Sallee, one of the only survivors of the Mann Gulch burnover. Sallee tells an amazing story.

Ross Douthat’s Ideas from a Manger

There are three different “world pictures” jostling for market share in America, according to Ross Douthat: biblical, spiritual, secular. Douthat cleverly uses the Christmas story as a touch point for examining and describing each. I think this is as accurate a description as any. My guess at the currently popularity of each is that “spiritual” leads the pack and continues to gain ground with Joe and Jane American. In second place, but losing ground is the traditional “biblical” view of the world. And in last place but growing, and having a much larger influence on our culture than its number of adherents (and already in first place among the intelligentsia) is the “secular” way of looking at the world. It’s worth reading the article for how Douthat contrasts the spiritual and biblical views. There’s some overlap. But, ultimately the spiritual view rejects the historical and particular elements that are at the core of the biblical view.