The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Friday, May 30, 2003
An Ordinary Day.
Today is our sixteenth wedding anniversary. We are signing the papers on our new house this morning. Later my wife Marjorie (and Dana) will be singing at Cornerstone Coffee in McMinnville. And my oldest daughter will be attending the graduation ball of one of her Veritas schoolmates, also in McMinnville, at the Hotel Oregon. That's all.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
Porridge Architecture (Some Random Thoughts on House Design)

1. Thinking about the design of a new addition on the house we'll be buying (closining date is next Monday, DV), has had me thinking a lot about house design. I check out a huge number of books on various aspects of the topic - esp. books on small houses and using space efficiently. I really liked the Sarah Susanka's Creating the Not So Big House, which shortly after was mentioned by Gideon Strauss on his blog. I've said it before, that detailing is what really makes architecture work. It takes extra affort to make a smaller house work better. The big bloated houses popping up all around Oregon are really the result of lazy design.

2. Then I came across this interview with Martha Stewart in Wired. This quote stood out to me:

"How do you cope with the modern way of living in an 1800 house, a 1925 house, a 1960 house, and a 2001 house? Bill Gates' house, for example, is totally out of date now. He built it right before wireless happened. The big tunnels for all his wires - he doesn't need any of that stuff anymore."

So it's aging faster than homes that are more traditional?

Are all the houses we are building today going to be out of date a couple of years? Why is it that many older houses seem so adaptable to changes in lifestyle? Is it something inherent in the design or does it say more about the flexibility of the owner? My own theory is that older houses are more flexible when they were cheaper and the rooms were less taylored to specific functions. Also older houses have actual rooms (as apposed to an open plan) which allows for greater privacy even if it chokes the space off (older houses don't work well for throwing a big party). In the old house we live in now, the parlor could be easily converted to our master bedroom. I doubt that many contemporary "traditional" designs could support that.

3. It amazes me how intoxicating the newer bloated designs are for some people, even those who I consider to be fairly aesthetically sensitive. One family we know is buying a new 2400 sq ft house and leaving behind their 1500 sq ft craftsman style home. Why not alter/add to the existing home to make it work better?

4. Some additional observations on (most) new bland bloated houses:

a. they must have a good space for watching television

b. every child must have their own room

c. there must be a master suite with a wirlpool bath and a shower, a walk-in closet as big as a small bedroom and a sitting area

d. there must be a family room attached to the kitchen (see 'a' above)

e. at least one room must have a double hight ceiling with a huge bank of windows to make up for low ceilings in the rest of the house.

f. all walls and ceilings must be off white and be anything but smooth

g. all floors are to be covered with wall to wall carpeting except in the foyer, bathrooms, and mudroom

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Thinking about Windows
Real windows - not the bloated operating system. We are hoping to able to afford wooden awning style windows, square, mounted in groups side by side in the addition of our new house. It interesting to see the Christian roots in the windows business. There are the Dutch Calvinist windows (Pella) and Mennonite windows (Loewen). Are Andersen windows Lutheran?

Some windows wisdom from an old Andersen brochure:

"Only the rich can afford poor windows."

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Is this goodbye?
I heard on NPR last night that there won't be any more Texaco opera on the radio.

I can remember my Dad listening to the live broadcasts every Saturday afternoon, especially during long car rides, and my sister and I begging him to change the station. I still do not have a great deal of patience for opera, but I could listen to chamber music for ever.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Wow! - (The Two Kingdom View Dumped on its Head.)
I really like the introduction to an essay Joel Garver is putting together.

"In the following essay, I will argue that the way things now stand is deficient and that the Gospel does not merely lead Christians to enter into and engage themselves within secular political space. Rather the Gospel is politics, a politics moreover that questions the very constitution of any social space as “secular” or the relegation of politics to that space. The Gospel, thereby, begins to redefine what we mean by “politics.”

Just one question: Is government and politics the same thing? I think it is helpful to make a distinction between the two. Government is the excercise of just rule (over self, the civil realm, the church, the family, etc.); politics is the interaction/struggle between different/opposed ideologies for the control of government. Garver seems to lump the two together. But his basic approach is very cool (unless you hang with the Westminster West crowd, that is).

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Another thought provoking essay by Andrew Sandlin with above title. He is on a role. My question is how do we avoid compartmentalization and yet still take into account the real distinctions embedded in creation? I know that the Trinitarian thinking can account for the equal ultimacy of the one and the many, but how do we make this all hang together in our minds - on some practical level?

Monday, May 19, 2003
More on the Most Cultural State in the Union
How do we help welfare moms in Oregon? Make them read Thucydides!

The Internet Imitates Life?
A poignant quote from the New York Times:

"Seen from a Google's eye view, in fact, the Web is less like a piazza than a souk — a jumble of separate spaces, each with its own isolated chatter. The search engines cruise the alleyways to listen in on all of these conversations, locate the people who are talking about the subject we're interested in, and tell us which of them has earned the most nods from the other confabulators in the room. But just because someone is regarded as a savant in the barbershop doesn't mean he'll pass for wise with the people in the other stalls."

Friday, May 16, 2003
Sad News From Old New England
I just went over the Regeneration Quarterly site to see if anything was up (it had been quiet for a long time). Sure enough they had posted a new issue that I found pretty distressing. RQ has always been provocative - trying to see theological issues from a new angle. The lead article in this issue is arguing for the legitimacy of pre-marital sex. This would not be so surprising if it was coming from a post-modern, gen-x oozekirk. But it came from a pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, an historic congregation which was once a conservative, reformed voice in that region, with roots going all the back to the puritans. How the mighty have fallen. (Not that this is the first time.)

Without a distinct, biblical ethics, Christian culture is impossible. Right ethics doesn't by itself produce a godly culture, but it is a necessary ingredient. We must take our stand and not fade into the grey pallid soup of our godless society.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
House Plans
I have uploaded my latest ideas/rough plans for the house addition. Right now we are weighing whether to use an architect (which would add approx. 10% to the overall cost of the project), or drawing it myself and doing the legwork of getting it approved by the city inspectors as well. (Right now there is three week wait for approval.) I have a supportive contractor lined up. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on improvements, let me know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Even More on "Culture is Religion Externalized"
I have spent the last two posts defending Henry Van Til's oft quoted aphorism. An additional irony of all this is the actual phrase "culture is religion externalized" does not appear in his book: at least I was not able to find it when I read the book at the time that I wrote Plowing in Hope. There is a sentence or two in the opening chapters which say the gist of this, but the phrase never appears. (I wonder if it really came from Tillich? Peter Leithart attributes the quote to him in his article.)

One more comment on the phrase "culture is religion externalized". I think that Van Til was primarily making an observation about the nature of culture - that it is inescapably religious in character and never neutral (as the Two Kingdom advocates propose); not a particular observation on the nature of religion. Van Til's (and I think Kuyper's) view is very different from "private" approach of 19th and 20th century evangelicalism (pietism) that Rich Lusk (rightly) criticizes. The problem with evangelical privitization it that it sees religion as an internal matter and then keeps it internal. There is no expectation of embodyment of religious beliefs and values in culture because religion is only "spiritual" in nature. Van Til and others in the Kuyperian tradition see religion as having both spiritual and physical aspects which must be both emphasized.

I will have to go back and read the opening chapters of the Calvinistic Concept of Culture. Its been a while.

Monday, May 12, 2003
More Thoughts on Embodyment and Externalization
Could it be that embodyment and externalization are really two different ways of saying the same thing?

For example: I am planning on adding a bedroom, bathroom maybe a small sitting room/library to the house we are buying. I think about this addition quite alot. (I have even made some drawings.) Right now (with the exception of the drawings), this house addition is just an idea in my head. It is internal. Until it gets built, it will remain just an idea (or just "paper" architecture in the case of my drawings). When it gets built, my (or my architect's, if I hire one) ideas will be externalized and made concrete (acually wood, sheetrock, etc.). By God's grace I hope my ideas for my addition reflect my Christian beliefs and values; that the addition will be truly beautiful, good and true. My Christian wordview will find embodyment in this new structure.It will thereby be a small example of Christian architecture and will be glorifying to God.

Is this not analogous to how God first planned (decreed) and then created the universe? Thus we have:

Culture is religion externalized (Henry Van Til)

is a small analogy of

Creation is God's character externalized (The Native Tourist)

Friday, May 09, 2003
Embodyment and Externalization
Over at the new ezine start-up Meshereth, there is an article by Rich Lusk on the rise of secularization and the privitization of the Christian faith beginning in the 19th century. I agree with Mr. Lusk's observation that for Christianity to have a real effect on culture/society, Christians must operate as a believing, worshipping community and avoid the individualism which is so pervasive in baptistic evangelicalism. But I have to vigorously disagree with this analysis of Henry Van Til's "culture is religion externalized" aphorism:

"Henry Van Til’s otherwise fine book, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, illustrates the depth of the problem. Van Til defines religion as “culture externalized.” But this assumes religion is something essentially private and inward in its essential nature. Schleirmacher and Harnack couldn’t have said it any better! Nor could Marcion or Cerinthus! Van Til assumes religion is fundamentally an interior phenomenon that only moves out of the heart into the public realm as some secondary step. His principle is basically Gnostic: Externalization follows inwardness. While Van Til is right that all of life is religious, he is wrong that religion is initially discarnate. In reality, religion is always already embodied."

Lusk's analysis is very similar to a critique raised by Peter Leithart. I think they both horribly misread Henry Van Til. When Van Til writes about culture being something "externalized", he is not saying that Christianity is something initially private and hidden which needs to be incarnated or embodied, rather he is postulating culture is the necessary and unavoidable outflow of one's religious/philosophical worldview. Having religious/philosophical beliefs and values are inescapable. Culture-making is inescapable. The effect that our worldview thinking will have our culture-making is also inescapable. Thus, culture is inescapably religious - NOT neutral. That is Van Til's point.

To put it another way: Christianity will necessarily be embodied by the church - the covenant community. The members of the church are a community who are having their minds transformed (Romans 12:2; Romans 7; 2 Cor. 10:5). Transformed minds will in turn lead to another form of embodyment - culture. So Christianity is embodied by the church and Christianity is embodied in culture. One form of embodyment brings forth another, different form of embodyment.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
My State Is More Cultural Than Your State
Poetic license for your car, motor home or travel trailer (but not your truck!).

I'm sure Dana Gioia would approve.

Monday, May 05, 2003
More From the Pen of Andrew Sandlin
Over at the Center for Cultural Leadership, another must read article from Sandlin, "Reclaiming Culture by Holy Love". Faithful culture-making isn't just about thinking and doctrine. Love and compassion are vital ingredients for a genuine Christian culture.

Also announced on his site, is a forthcoming book which sounds really promising: New Flesh, New Earth: The Full Meaning of the Resurrection to be published by Oakdown Books.

Friday, May 02, 2003
Deep Cultural Longings
If you read the description of the house we are buying, you might have noticed that it is pretty small: 2 bedrooms and a loft - probably closer to 800 sq ft than the 900 listed. So how do I plan on getting my family (wife and four kids) into that little space, you might ask? Well, the answer is that we plan on building on an addition. Right now we are shooting for 250-75 extra sq ft: another bedroom, bathroom and a mudroom. Probably bump out the dining space as well.

This is going to be great fun - playing architect. This (along with gardening, storytelling and singing ) is surely one of the great cultural impulses which is built-in deep to our human character - placed there by God so that we imitate (by analogy) his creative character. Children do this instinctively. Give a toddler a stick and dirt pile and watch what happens.