The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Wednesday, October 30, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part VI

Practical. Beautifully crafted. A celebration of God's good creation. These cement garden tiles are the work of Richard Abbott of Winsor, Maine. You can more examples of his work at his site: Home & Garden Ornament.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Are Gargoyles Christian?
This is a follow-up to my recent blog on Halloween. I have now seen several folks (including a respondant to my own post) refer to this article by James Jordan defending Halloween as a misunderstood Christian holiday. Jordan argues that Halloween as "All Hallows Day Eve" was a day celebrated by Christians as day for dissing demons. Believers dressed up as ghosts and goblins in order to mock the "principlaties and powers" which had been defeated by the victorious Christ. Jordan also likened the celebration of Halloween to the function of Gargoyles on Gothic churches -- "They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army."

I beg to differ. I would argue that Gargoyles are in fact demonic. They are the leftovers of pagan deities worshipped by the various tribes who roamed around Europe before they were subdued by the gospel. As such they are part of the dark underbelly of medieval Christendom which -- like the Israelites of Joshua's day -- had failed to completely put away its "family" idols. Robert Rosenblum in Modern Painting And The Northern Romantic Tradition argues that much of modern Europe's preoccupation with monsters, violence, and death follows a longstanding tradition which is nothing less than latent paganism which from time to time slips out from under the carpet, erupting into Grim's Fairytales, for example. The lesson in all of this is that our break with "former" ways must be radical and thorough. Any form of syncretism (which has often been tolerated in the Roman tradition) is decidedly not the way to do Christian culture.

Holloween is cut from the same piece of cloth. It (allegedly) mascarades as a rebuke to Satan and his minions. But along the way the celebrants have a bit too much fun mimicing those they wish to ridicule. And there is evidence that Halloween most likely was tied to existing pagan holidays by the church (as are many other alleged "Christian" holidays in the traditional church calendar). Halloween may have been a holiday celebrated by Christians, but it hardly follows that it is a Christian holiday.

Monday, October 28, 2002
Of Show-Dog Architecture and Titanium Artichokes
If you think the Gateshead Bridge is radical (and it certainly is in many respects), Frank O. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is, well, . . . (fill in your favorite superlative expression of surprise and/or distain). Gehry certainly succeeded in making one giant splash in Bay of Biscay, his wild piece of architectural sculpture becoming a tourism mega-success. This has in turn, spawned, what Witold Rybczynski has termed the "Bilbao Effect", in which other museums are trying to cash in on the lust for flamboyant edifaces. (Maybe the folks at Willow Creek should try this approach?)

Rybczynski is one of my favorite architectural critics. His early (first?) book, Home: a Short History of an Idea, is a classic investigation into how world views effect our cultural output and is a delightful read. I also want to read his book on the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who is arguably one of the most important influences on the shaping of our contemporary American landscape.

Thursday, October 24, 2002
To Trick or Treat or Not To Trick or Treat, That is the Question
I'm starting to see some takes on this question. Is it okay to let our covenant kiddies go trick-or-treating? The Poet Warrior seems to give a qualified yes. John Fischer (CCM author and musician) argues for a definite yes.

It seems to me that this is an antithesis issue (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Even though it is possible to pretend that all the demonic baggage associated with this day doesn't matter or effect me (I do not worship demons as I gobble up my candy corn . . .), the historical association still stands. Evil and death are still a focal point of Halloween "celebration." The parallel, it seems to me, is Mardi Gras. Should biblical Christians celebrate this holyday? One could argue that Mardi Gras serves a foil to make us more mindful of our piety during the lenten season. I don't buy it.

I see Halloween as an opportunity -- an opportunity to take a stand against the predominant values and practices of our unbelieving culture.

Just like an obscure German monk did nearly 500 years ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002
The Sin of Woodenness (Or Being a Poetic Blockhead)
Are you caught in a rut of rationalistic literalism? You might want to repent. At least that's what Doug Jones proposed at the conference my wife and I attended last weekend. Ever notice that Jesus rebukes Nichodemus (John 3, esp vv 7, 10) and the disciples (Mt 16:8ff) for not getting his poetic language? We are responsible to understand images (as they are revealed in nature and poetry) as well as words (as they are used to reveal propositional truth in the scriptures). Jesus is revealed to us as both logos and ikon of God. Christian maturity demands we understand and live in terms of both word and image.

Monday, October 21, 2002
Elegant Engineering

Even though it is fun to poke fun at the foibles of modernist architecture (most of it well deserved), modern civil engineering (its close cousin) is one of the bright spots of contemporaty culture. This was just brought to mind with the winner of this year's Stirling Prize for the best British building is the Gateshead Millenium Bridge in Newcastle. The award selection has the architectural community all up in arms - but I suspect that they are just embarassed that they haven't created anything as beautiful.

Its hard to appreciate from pictures, but the gracefully curved roadway and supension arch of the bridge swing up in one piece to allow river traffic to pass underneath. This bridge was inspired by the work Spanish engineer Santiago Calatrava, who is one of the greatest designers alive today -- and maybe of all time.

Friday, October 18, 2002
Bunch of Trav'lin Songs for the Weekend
"Moth" by Over the Rhine. A bunch of tracks from a band called Late Tuesday, who are from Bellingham, WA (give "Ordinary" a spin). And on the common grace side of the ledger, howsabout a classic tune from Tacoma's Ricky Lee Jones (utterly sublime!). We'll yell howdy to Ricky as we zoom past her hometown on the way to see the Dougs.

Thursday, October 17, 2002
Doin' The Dougs in Seattle
My wife and I are going to the Seattle area this Saturday (DV) to hear Doug Wilson and Doug Jones talk about the practical implications of the incarnation to our everyday lives. "Word Made Flesh" conf page is here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002
For Nature, Against Environmentalism
I finally got around to reading the article from re|generation Quarterly on conservatives and environmentalism. Jeremy Beer builds his article around a recent book by John Bliese, The Greening of Conservative America. Beer and Bliese examine the shift in conservative thought from the 50s and early 60s which was generally pro-conservation of natural resources, to the view held today in which conservatives are radically opposed to environmentalism. This shift is due to what they call "fusionism", which is more or less a bringing together of libertarian and traditionalist ideologies into a single fused conservative ideology. The result was an ideology which favored capitalism and growth, and saw any governmental intervention as in impediment to these goals.

This is an intreguing thesis. I would be inclined to explain it a bit differently. I would place the shift in conservative thinking to a secularization of the movement. As the conservative mainstream became disengaged significantly form its Judeo-Christian roots (even though it paid lip service to these roots), it abandoned the source of our traditional value system (which has historically assigned real value to nature/creation), and replaced long-term productivity as a core economic objective with a profit motive which is usually short term. There are other factors as well. One is the current obsession with building suburban/exurban mini-estates and farmettes which reduce the density of developed areas and end up using more land than alternative, higher density development.

I find Beer to be claiming to be a conservative while clearly operating within the environmentalist camp. He fails to acknowledge the errant, radical views of of many environmentalists, while at the same time he is critical of most conservative critiques of the environmentalist movement. Are many conservatives "enemies of environmental health"? Is there an "institutionalized disregard for the care of creation"? It is surely true that there is a lot of bad development going on, but the root cause is greed and an over-obsession with the bottom line, not conservative ideology; and certainly not Christian conservative ideology. Who are those "people" who hate nature? Most conservatives I know are farmers who love the land they farm and want to pass what they have on to their sons and grandsons; or they are town and city dwellers who love to garden, hike, fish and hunt. It is true that they are also violently opposed to governmental regulations to their land; they consider themselves capable of making responsible decisions without the help of government. Beer argues that the civil government is necessary to curb the effects of human sin on the environment. But I would argue that a sinful civil government is no better than sinful individuals in making environmental and developmental decisions. (It is interesting to note that the environment suffered much more under totalitarian regimes in eastern Europe than it did under capitalistic democratic governments in rest of Europe.)

Beer begins his article with the question "Why Aren't Conservatives Conservationists?" Well I know why I am hesitant to call myself an environmentalist. Even though I love nature (I paint landscapes after all!), I also recognize that we are called to develop the earth, albeit responsably, as stewards, with future generations in mind. Any view which is dead set against development, no matter how well intentioned, is against the commandment of God. I often find myself looking for an alternative terminology for the biblical approach. One that captures the balance between our call to develop creation and preserve it. And which balances the notion of agriculture and cities (both of which are key biblical motifs). Many agrarian proposals are close, but fail to place a value urban development. Any suggestions?

Monday, October 14, 2002
Four Christian Approaches to Creation
The first two chapters of Genesis map out our role to rule, fill, work and keep God's "very good" creation. But how do we balance these directives? Uko Zylstra maps four basic views as follows:

"The Wise Use position is one in which humans are considered to be rulers whom God has put in charge of His creation. The creation itself has no intrinsic value. The creation is largely there as a resource for human needs and activities in the role of dominant ruler. Humans cannot really abuse the creation; they can only misuse it. The criterion for wise use is whether the use is of benefit to human beings. The Anthropocentric Stewardship position acknowledges that humans are responsible to God for how they use the creation. Though the creation is the Lord's, it was created for the welfare of humans; humans come first. Stewardship entails that we conserve the creation for future generations of human beings; humans are the center and focus of creation. The Caring Management position maintains that humans are both lords and servants of the creation. But the creation is also the object of God's love; God delights in His creation. The creation thus has intrinsic value even though its value is less than that of humans. Our care should not be abusive or destructive. Rather, our care and management should serve to enhance and increase God's glory in the creation. The Servant Stewardship position de-emphasizes the hierarchical view that humans are above creation. Rather, it stresses the responsibility that humans have in caring for the creation as servants rather than lords. The goal of our caring is to seek shalom for all of creation."

So which of these four positions do you think is most true to the scriptures?

Friday, October 11, 2002
What Christian Culture Looks Like - Part V
This post is a follow up my last post on the need for good music for our covenant little ones. All too often I find that Christian artisans focus on making works for a non-Christian audience or for society at large. This is not always a bad thing, but I think that our cultural efforts should be primarily directed toward edifying the saints (Eph. 4:12, 29; 1 Thes. 5:11). Christian artists need to ask themselves, how is what I am doing going to really help the guy sitting next to me in church. One example of culture-making which fulfills a real need in the church is the music of Judy Rogers. She has put together a series of tapes and CDs of sing-along songs for children based on the Children's Catechism and book of Proverbs. As kids learn her catchy, delightful songs their mind's are filled with solid doctrine and scriptural truths. And the songs serve as an aid for learning the catechism as well. You might even find yourself humming some of the tunes!

Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Sweating the Small Stuff
I was thinking on my way to work this morning that what matters most in the shaping of a culture are not the symphonies, quartets and operas, or even popular music for all its aggregate air play. The music which most profoundly effects us are lullibies and children's songs: What we sing to comfort our littles ones when they are in their most vulnerable moments. The songs our kids humm to themselves which ends up shaping their worldview and their sense of aesthetic fitness. "Serious" music (Classical and jazz) and the various forms of popular music may go a long way to setting the tone of our culture, but it is the music of early childhood which forms our culture's soul. Sure some parents play Bach in their baby's cribs (do they end up humming these pieces during their play?). And others let their infants listen to a steady diet of Britney Spears and the like (child abuse?). But its seems to me that we should be teaching our kids to sing the Psalms and other scriptural truths from an early age. "From the lips of children and infants/ you have ordained praise/ because of your enemies, / to silence the foe and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2-3).

The last couple of weeks I have reading Doug Jones' Scottish Seas to my youngest three. (My oldest has been busy reading the Illiad.) One of the underlying themes of Doug's little novel is the central place the Psalms and poetry have in the Ayton family and how these shape the faith and practice of their covenant children. This book has made me think twice about what things I am allowing my children (and my wife and myself) to be exposed to and to what shapes the inner core of their (and my) souls.

Monday, October 07, 2002
Some Helpful Terminology

Cultural Obedience - making/using culture and transforming the earth in joyful obedience to the mandate and laws of God

Cultural Accommodation - going along with the cultural flow; failing to appreciate the antithesis (the way evil is embedded in cultural forms)

Cultural Resistance - actively working against the evil embedded in faithless culture; avoiding mimicing disobedient cultural forms and processes in our culture-making

Cultural Abdication - letting someone else bother with the work of making of culture

Friday, October 04, 2002
The Best Reformed Artist You Probably Never Heard of
I leave you this weekend with the work of Bernard Palissy (1509-1590), a Huguenot Renaissance man of the first order. Besides splendid artworks, he lectured in the natural sciences and was a philosopher. A man of courage as well as aesthetic sensibilities, he was imprisoned and eventually died for his faith. You can read about him and see examples of his art works here and here.

Thursday, October 03, 2002
Finding the Balance
One of the true challenges facing biblical Christians who are convinced that the cultural development of the earth is a divine imperative (Genesis 2:15), is how to balance the call to transform/develop (work) the earth with the call to preserve (keep) it. The tack I took in Plowing in Hope was to say that true/proper cultural development must always enhace rather than destroy the earth's fruitfulness. Overdevelopment is an all too real possibility. But development as such -- as a generic human activity -- is never evil in and of itself; in fact I think it is a necessary part of human life (like worship).

Against what at times have been horrible abuses of the urge to develop the earth's resources comes the extreme response of environmentalism. Which brings me to the lead article in the latest re|generation Quarterly which asks, Why Aren't Conservatives Environmentalists? When I am finished reading this I will let know all know the answer. And attempt to find a way to discuss this issue without ranting. While I'm reading this, you might also want to look at this lyrical essay by Wendell Berry on the topic.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002
True Confessions
I just got finished paging through the latest issue of Christianity Today. They had a couple of articles referring to a new feature-length Veggie Tales movie which is due out soon. I can remember years ago seeing the little toys and doo-dads in Christian bookstores and thinking "how stupid." Then I actually saw one of the videos and quickly realized that there was really something to these little videos. I found I liked them (at least in small doses). Technically and visually, they are excellent and the writing is witty with sly references to various icons of popular culture. If you want to try one, see Larry Boy and the Rumor Weed. Very funny. Will they be able to pull off a full blown movie that can compete with Pixar and Disney? We'll see.