Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Localism, Elections, and the New Jerusalem

Since I have a pretty obvious phobia of short posts, I've combined three seemingly disparate topics (although they will segue into each other beautifully, I promise).

One of my favorite authors is Wendell Berry. He is a man that can truly be called 'wise'. I don't think he is right about everything, but that is why community is so beautiful--you can disagree and come together to hash things out to a greater consistency. He is, to put it mildly, a localist. He believes in the agrarian lifestyle and the need for cities to be sustainable from their immediate surrounding countryside. Obviously, for cities like New York, DC, etc. this would greatly reduce their 'citiness' (and their pride). One of the nice things about localism is that it is locally-focused. It is more decentralized and tends (in my view) to lead to a more responsible citizenry--especially ecologically. Local elections take on a new importance (first segue)...

I didn't vote in this election. Partially because I'm not registered (see Keith's blog for a possible reason why I am not), but also because, as a Christian, I cannot buy into the quasi-messianic claims of politicians--"ridding the world of evil", "providing health care" (another word for health, from the Bible, is shalom), etc. Government, I think, has overstepped its bounds and I have tried to separate myself from it. I'm content at this point to pay taxes (Rom. 13) and try to be a small, hopefully prophetic, voice of inner critique and dissent. However, after talking it over with my wife last night, I do wish I would have been more informed and had voted locally. Not that I care who the coroner is, but I would like it to be someone who will treat humans (dead or not) with dignity, respect, and love. I want the DA to do justice, to love mercy, and (above all) walk humble with the God. I want the mayor to understand the limits of his/her office and try to work for community development by energizing the churches and people of the area. I want people concerned for the Beaver River, the land recovering from steel mill (or still mill--local dialects are also wonderful) scars, and a polluted air. Next year, I'm on top of the glory of God. Part of this all comes from a desire to see the garden flourish in the city (segue two)...

Part of the neocalvinist tradition is that we say, "Life started in a garden and is progressing towards a city..." speaking of Eden versus the New Jerusalem. I think that this is oversimplictic. If you look at Genesis 2 and Revelation 21-22, the City is a Garden. It is adorned with jewels (like Eden--see Ezekiel), has trees, uses leaves for healing balm, etc. It isn't that the historical development of urban, concrete jungles is what God intended, but instead a city that lives in harmony with its environment and countryside, under the blessing of God. Which brings me back to localism...


Derek Melleby said...

I appreciate so much of this... but:
1) Next time, when you vote, don't just vote for the coroner or the DA. Get to know them. Go out to lunch with them. Re-read Berry's "The Idea of a Local Culture." Berry writes, "We don't trust our 'public servants' because we know that they don't respect us. The don't respect us, because they don't know us; they don't know our stories." So, if you are concerned about "the quasi-messianic claims of politicians," tell them. Get to know them. Explain your concern. Maybe you will come to trust them. Maybe they never heard this before and it could change them.

2) Of course, "life started in a garden and is progressing towards a city..." is over-simplistic. That's what sayings are. No Neo-Calvinist would think that it is not over-simplistic. And Neo-Calvinists do not use this phrase to talk about cities, or city life. It is an example of how "the creational law is crying out to be positivized in new and amazing ways" (Al Wolters). The metaphor is not talking about Gardens (rural communities) vs. cities, it's about our task to be fruitful and multiply... to subdue the earth. Look, I'm a big Berry fan… I still live in the town where I grew up… on purpose! I'm also a Neo-Calvinist, and I don't think that this particular neo-cal "saying" speaks into, or conflicts with, or should be used when talking about localism.

Qere Ketiv said...


Thanks for the helpful correctives, especially about getting to know the local candidates. I knew that, I just didn't think of it when writing my blog.

About the saying, the reason that I wrote about it was that so many of my classmates (who are budding neos), have used it in the way I was polemicing against--that our cities, as we know them now, are what history is leading to--which I don't buy theologically or historically (if the two could be separated!). Thank you for the response, though, as I tended to overstate my case there.

Keith Martel said...

my two cents:

i think this conversation about the city is priceless. I am at the same institution as Russell Vincent Warren and Garden to City has been a saying for some and then taken quite literally by others, specifically budding Christian urbanists (see Jocobsens sidewalks in the Kingdom)

I am thankful your banter- i just hope that someone else reads it.

By the way, russ how do you get the chance to write so much? I wish I were Brad Frey's TA (or at least working in Brad's office).

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Keith "K&C" Martel
(no not knights of columbus)