Guests on Volume 116
• STRATFORD CALDECOTT on why education should be designed with a deep and wide understanding of human nature and must sustain the unity of knowledge
• FRED BAHNSON on how a Christian understanding of God's redemptive work on the earth should influence our practices of growing and sharing food
• ERIC O. JACOBSEN on how modernism distorted the shape of cities and how Christian reflection on the nature of neighborliness can help restore them
• J. BUDZISZEWSKI on how meaning in human life transcends a merely biological explanation of our behavior
• BRIAN BROCK on the various ways in which the Church has regarded its obligation to welcome the disabled
• ALLEN VERHEY on the difference between a “medicalized” death and a death experienced in light of God's cosmic work of redemption
“When an adult manages to preserve that sense of a kind of giftedness, the infinite wonder and extraordinariness of being alive, (as G.K. Chesterton did, for example, in his writing), it enlivens ones whole existence. . . . I feel it’s somehow at the base of this kind of sensibility that I was trying to get people to cultivate in education.”
— Stratford Caldecott
How we teach is shaped by how we think about reality. Many perceptive books diagnosing cultural disorder deal extensively with education as the core of that problem and therefore it’s cure. C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man is a good example. Education should concern the whole man, challenging him to see and understand the whole of reality. Stratford Caldecott discusses the meaning and good of the classical liberal arts education, emphasizing the foundational nature of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric) as the sustaining element throughout education. Caldecott discusses the centrality of contemplation in human fulfillment and receptivity to God, concluding with the importance of acknowledging our creatureliness, and recounting the birth of language in the Garden of Eden.
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“The whole history of agriculture in the twentieth century in America is a misunderstanding of dominion and our role in creation. We have to read those verses like ‘subdue and conquer it’ through a Christological lens. How does Jesus conquer? He conquers through the cross, in suffering and weakness.”
— Fred Bahnson
Fred Bahnson talks about how to live peacefully in relation to the land God has created. Bahnson reflects on how he came to appreciate the order God has created within the ecosystems in which he grew up, and human flourishing in light of how God has made the earth. There is a strong temptation to understand dominion and agriculture in ways that emphasize the imposition of human goals and desires, rather than seeking to understand the teleological purpose God designed for a region and how we might do agriculture in light of it and in light of the sort of loving dominion Christ exercises as the suffering King. Bahnson describes his path from divinity school to Catholic Mayan coffee farms in South America to an organic permaculture farm in North Carolina, a path in which his vocational calling to grow food and then to teach gardeners because clearer. He now seeks to help churches, pastors and other Christian leaders to cultivate communities that grow food together and in so doing experience the presence of Christ.
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Eric O. Jacobsen
“It raises the question, ‘How does community ever get going when our impulse so often is to turn away from community?’ And the answer that I came up with is that often times it has to do with limits.”
— Eric O. Jacobsen
Eric Jacobsen discusses developments in New Urbanism and ways a Christian understanding of architecture and urban planning can meet the challenges ahead. He wrote his earlier book, Sidewalks in the Kingdom, to encourage Christians to read the secular literature on New Urbanism because there was much Christians could learn from it. His latest book presents a Christian perspective on the ordering of public spaces, and he is concerned with the ways public space is ordered to adolescent avoidance of conflict and pain, rather than in building environments that encourage interaction in ways that allow people to deal with conflict and pain and grow up together. He explains modernism — with respect to the built environment — as technologically focused, valuing efficiency, and encouraging individual autonomy. The most widespread example of this modernism is how our spaces are built for cars, with big parking lots and structures that look good when driving by at 60 mph, but are boring and sterile when standing next to them. Where modernism is concerned with aesthetics, it treats buildings and structures as interesting or beautiful sculptures to look at, rather than as places for people to live and work and enjoy. Jacobsen believes a Christian understanding of the built environment seeks to make places conform to the needs and flourishing of communities and human encounters, rather than the needs of people in cars per se. At the same time, Christian New Urbanists have learned that simply building a New Urbanist neighborhood and moving in isn't sufficient to create community in so far as the residents act as autonomous consumers who act in communal ways only when convenient. Jacobsen observes and reflects on how limits on our resources and on what we can do often serve as the means for real community to develop.
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“We don’t just rut: we marry, we court, we love. ... It just tears me up to see how jaded, how cynical some of these 19 year olds are already. Now, an animal doesn't get cynical: why do we? People say, ‘if only we cast off the illusion that sex has any meaning, we’ll be much happier.’ I would say that the idea that it has no meaning is the illusion I wish we would become disillusioned with.”
— J. Budziszewski
Philosopher J. Budziszewski talks about the meaning of sex. He begins by exposing the flaws in the notion that authenticity in humans means living out the capacities we share with animals. After all, humans behave differently from animals and struggle with questions of meaning that are simply absent in animals. To be authentic then, we must be true to that difference. Budziszewski discusses his experiences as a professor with students first learning of the reasons for believing in sexuality morality. There are a range and mix of reactions even among Christian students, from an appreciation that morality is not arbitrary, social contract challenges, to utilitarian responses, to panic and sadness, to excitement and longing, to fear that the truth might require a change in way that they live. Many more students today recognize that something went amiss during the sexual revolution, though they are not sure what or why. Yet Budziszewski sees much hope in this recognition that the ways students understand and live with respect to sex might change.
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“The language of disability has been, for modern secularity, strongly narrowed onto the question of political rights. Dementia presents an incredible pastoral problem. . . . All those questions can only be grappled with pastorally if we’ve gotten beyond the modern straight jacket that says ‘oh, they’re losing their humanity.’”
— Brian Brock
Theologian Brian Brock examines how Christians throughout history have understood human disability. In the secular West today, we understand the language of disability in terms of political rights, with respect to a status that demands some kind of public provision. One reason this is problematic for a theological account of disability is because such an understanding tends to be restricted to a view of proper functionality defined in materialistic and economic terms. Brock also points out that the modern disability movement tends to reject notions of charity and care for the disabled which deny the full equality of the disabled person compared to the powerful one offering charity. Theologians dealing with disability in recent decades have agreed with the need to recognize the full inclusion of disabled persons in society, and yet difficulties have arisen with respect to intellectual disability because so much of modern society is predicated on a notion of personhood as fundamentally a functioning will that can choose and make decisions and define oneself. This question is paralled in Catholic parishes and Protestant churches in the struggle to determine whether those with cerebral palsy or Downs Syndrome might receive the Eucharist apart from catechesis or a credible profession of faith. Brock summarizes three discourses. The activist approach was an immediate reaction of the church which recognized that some events that happen to people should not happen, and Christians should do something about it. So early Christians saved children abandoned to die to exposure and pushed back against the ostracizing of lepers. A second approach is the theoretical approach of conceptually elaborating and explaining what is going on with disability or extreme variations in human bodies, and this follows after a couple centuries. The existential discourse reflects on how the self reacts to variations in human persons, and how the self might conform and change into holiness. Brock's aspiration for this book is to help churches go beyond an inclusion model to seeing how disabled persons might be more mature and faithful than “normal” Christians — and therefore models to emulate — not merely in spite, but because of their disability.
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“When we have this imagination that death is the enemy to be defeated by the greater powers of medicine, then the temptation is for the church to abandon the patient to medicine. It is the vocation of the church to resist surrendering death and the dying to medicine. It is the vocation of the church to continue to care for and be present with those of their community who are dying.”
— Allen Verhey
Ethicist Allen Verhey talks about his reflections on dying precipitated by a recent period in his life in which he was in danger of death from a blood condition. He begins by noting how the contemporary medicalization of death has made dying a technological matter in which medical technicians play the active role and the dying become passive patients and wards. There is less of a sense of dying as an event in a person's life with family and friends, where the dying person is the central actor. Verhey comments on his studies of books in the genre of ars moriendi, in particular Craft and Knowledge for to Die Well. Unfortunately, the Christian tradition absorbed from this book and the greater ars moriendi tradition an understanding of death as a friend that liberates us from our bodies into a spiritual realm. In this image, death should be celebrated as the pathway to bliss. Combined with the medicalization of death, the image of death as a friend and a blessing distorts the biblical understanding of death as a horror that is defeated not by medical technology, but by the resurrection of Jesus. The biblical portrait creates a place and reason for comfort amidst death, rather than celebration, and grounds our hope in the acting of God in history rather than the powers of medical technology. Verhey concludes with a discussion of other ways the church ought to distance itself from the flaws of ars moriendi and embrace practices of lament and hope in the future.