Archive for category: economics

Tiny Ovens and Vintage Presence

Last summer Amber and I bought a tiny place just off Arkansas Highway 16. And although tiny is a relative term, allow me to expound–the little green-brick house boasts just enough square footage for our whole family, so long as we don’t all inhale at the same time. We’re always running into one another around here.

The size of the home was no selling point, let me assure you. Nor were we over-joyed by the lack of a dishwasher or the under-sized refrigerator hole in the kitchen. Everything in the house is smaller, vintage, or sparse, and I do not mean this in an ironic hipster kind of way. I mean this in the we-can’t-fit-an-entire-Thanksgiving-turkey-in-our-1960s-oven kind of way. Living life here is a marathon of adjustments.

Oven

Praise the Good Lord and all that He hath created, Spring has come! The new season allows us to leak out of these cramped quarters and into the joys of outdoor living. The boys climb trees and dig holes deep enough to bury bodies, while Amber and I tend to a new garden.

Our garden space was a blank slate at the beginning of the season, though the previous owner had treated the soil well. Hoping to create a more formal garden plot, I found and reclaimed some old railroad crossties, laid them in a 32 x 64 rectangle. A layer of home-grown compost, a dump truck of mulch, and a few straw bales later, and we were officially ready to grow.

Garden Layout

Amber chose the seeds, ordered them from an heirloom shop run by old-timy Mennonites somewhere in the Kansas. They arrived without ceremony, the brown box delivered by a UPS man on an average Wednesday. Amber smiled like a toothless six year old at Christmas when she opened the package. Broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes, kale, chard, lettuce, basil, peppers, rosemary, thyme–all her favorites were there, and she spread the packets across the bed as if the harvest had come in. I scanned the packets, said, “what about radishes?” She pulled her chin back, wrinkled her nose, and said, “who likes radishes?”

On Saturday morning, Amber walked the rows and poked seeds into tiny mounds while I tended to other yard work. Without headphones, a smart-phone, or any other device tethering her to the world-wide-information-super-distraction, she was present in the moment. Dirtying the quick of her fingernails, this was her rhythm: stoop, pinch, drop, cover. Smiling. Humming. Laughing to herself. This is the human enterprise of joy.

BellPepper

I suppose by suburban metes and bounds, it’s a large garden. That said, it’s not like we’re running combines or spitting pesticides from the tail-end of a Cessna. And for what it’s worth, that’s just fine by me, because I’m not skilled in the ways of combine navigation or Cessna spitting. So, we’ll tend to the metes and bounds we’ve been given by hand; we’ll use hand-trowells and sweat-of-the-brow. Come Summer, maybe we’ll have a few tomatoes, some broccoli, and a bushel of beans for the picking. It isn’t grandiose, but it’s ours.

There’s a thing this world does. Maybe you’ve heard about it. It says that the small things aren’t worth a whole-heckuva lot. It demands bigger houses, newer appliances, and faster production. It rewards connectivity, platform, power, and consumption. It pretends the market’s quotas are life-giving, and asks asinine questions, like, “why would you plant a garden when you could work a few more hours, make a little more money, and buy all your vegetables?” Bigger, faster, more, more, more. Pay to hire the laborers outside your door.

This logic is hogwash.

We can’t all be Hillary Clinton, waging a campaign war for the chance to bring world peace. We can’t all be Tyrese Gibson, taking over Hollywood with Mercedes vans and the power of positive thinking. We can’t all be power-brokers, or small business owners, or even middle-management company men. Heck, we can’t even all be the next internet sensation, the break-out viral video/writer/Facebook post of the month. I suppose we can all be vintage, though. And by that I do not mean vintage in the hipster want-to-check-out-my-vinyl-collection sort of way. I mean it more in the tiny way, in the way that tends to its own patch of dirt.

Make no mistake about it–vintage ain’t all that inspirational, but it sure is fun.

*****

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On The Redemption of Cursed Earth

God spoke into a garden and created man. That’s what the good book says. God created man, and then he created woman, and then, he gave them work. Back then, I reckon, it wasn’t all about market economies and building sky-scraping mud huts to heaven. Before the fall, it wasn’t about padding the bank vault or adding another digit to the backend of a 401(k). It wasn’t about the corner office and the leather chair. The cows were still wearing their leather, in fact, and I suppose everyone aimed to let the cattle keep their skin.

Instead, the way I reckon it, work was less about security and more about communing with a good God. It was about engaging the soil of creation and enjoying the company of the fellow workers.

Camaraderie was a real thing back then–how sweat mingled and communed with soil; how soil harnessed the salt and water of sweat to grow good produce; how all of it sang praise to the imagination of a relational God. Doesn’t this feel true? Doesn’t it really? Ask yourself.

There was a day, they say, when men and women broke the rules and found themselves on the outside of this Camaraderie, this connection. It was the day, they say again, that God buried the groan for redemption in men and soil alike. (Rom. 8:22). We men have toiled ever since, but instead of the toil toward camaraderie, we toil toward other things: the sky-scraping McMansions, the padded bank vaults, the extra digits on the 401(k), and the leather chair in the corner office.

There are some that struggle for redemption, though. I want you to meet them.

Work is Redemptive – Dehradun Guitar Co. from Dehradun Guitar Co. on Vimeo.

*Photo by Panos Photographia, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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On The Market Machine, Christianity, and the Idea Factories (Part I)

“We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empire–a crackpot machine–that the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate. We are, most of us, dependent employees.” ~Wendell Berry

1.

This piece started as a reflection. Actually, it started as a story that turned into a poem, that morphed into a reflection, but none of those mediums were quite right. Or maybe they were. Who knows. Each iteration was just another attempt to hide a message under some proverbial rock.

Let’s turn over all the stones; shall we?

2.

Yesterday I met a fellow in Springdale, that grand poultry town that cranks out chicken breasts by the ton, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a blue collar town, a town that wears the cologne of tobacco, chicken droppings, feed mill waste, and blue collar sweat. It is an acrid smell, the smell of money.

We met in Springdale for two reasons. First, it’s the respectable middle between our discrete communities. Second, it’s home to Patrick’s, the simple cinder shack serving up the best greasy burgers in Northwest Arkansas. Patrick’s hosts an eclectic group of people. Construction men, feed mill line workers, white collar businessmen–they all gather here where the ground seems, somehow, more level.

A smooth-faced kid delivered our orders, and we unfolded the greasy parchment paper that was folded around our burgers and taped shut. My brother wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter. “I wish Christianity would stop being so profitable,” he said, then crammed a quarter of his burger into his mouth and chewed slowly. He was letting the words linger.

There was an implicit conversation happening in that moment, and perhaps I should let you in on this contextual tidbit: a curious thing has been happening in our neck of the woods as it relates to the intermingling of faith and business. We’ve been watching various faith-based businesses undergo significant woes. Without delving into the details with too much specificity, let me say it another way: the market system which we regard so highly in this grand country has been eating faith-based business alive.

2(a).

Allow me a brief segue for a discussion of market economics.

A human creation, the market (of which I am a member) is the place where we bring our demands and find our supply. It is where we find our chicken, clothing, jewelry, books, and bibles. It is where we buy thoughts, art, and celebrities (and sell them, too). The market is the place where product is exchanged for gold, for money. And the market is insatiable, never satisfied. It always demands more.

The market finds products it likes, seizes them, and says, “if a quarter pound burger is good, I want a third pound burger,” or “if one book by my favorite author is good, I want three books, two conferences, and for said author to follow me on Twitter.” The market has demands that must be met, and the producers then churn out more to satisfy the demands. After all, if the producer does not churn out more, another competitor will.

Through this competitive free market, the demands of the people are met (at least for a while).

2(b).

My compatriot looked across the table at me, said “it seems like we’ve tied our religion too closely to market economics. I wonder whether we’re expanding for expansion sake.” He took a long slug of his Diet Dr. Pepper, dipped his french fry in Heinz ketchup.

“When the market demands that more Christian product be produced under the notion that we’re ‘advancing the kingdom,’ when it demands that we put enormous pressure on each other to produce, produce, produce, I wonder–what kingdom are we advancing?”

It was a good question, one for which I did not have an answer.

“I’m watching them burnout,” he said. “I’m watching the Christian-business officers and employees, the authors, the speakers, the pastors, the nonprofit workers drop like flies. I’m watching them keep an eye on metrics, on relevancy, on growth for growth sake. We give them money, buy their burnout. I wonder whether market pressure is co-opting Christianity?”

3.

I’m not ready (quite yet) to divorce Christianity from the market. Without market demand, we’d have limited access to the works of Christian leaders, and spiritual fathers and mothers like Augustine, and C.S. Lewis, and even Ann Voskamp. Without the market, I would not have had the opportunity to read Jason Locy’s and Timothy Willard’s Home Behind the SunMicha Boyett’s Found, Nish Weiseth’s forthcoming work Speak, or Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness (and that’s just in the calendar year). Without the market, we’d not have access to the freeing message of Jennifer Dukes Lee found in Love Idol. Without market demand,  my worship rotation would be thin (though maybe there’s an argument here that the hymns of old are plenty good). Without the market, I’d likely only have handwritten bible segments.

Without the market, you likely wouldn’t be reading these words.

But still, as I watch the market machine demand more an more content, as I watch the supply chain gussy up Christianity (and its adherents), package it (and them), and sell it (and them) six ways to Sunday, I can’t help but ask the same question as my friend–which kingdom are we advancing?

There’s a tricky tension here. There’s some really fine, holy, good work in the market. There are worthy ideas, and good money being used to perpetuate freeing, life-affirming stuff. There is a sense in which demand, properly subjected, can be used for greater glory.

And yet, when we are buying and selling religion and each other, when we commodify the gospel and all its spin-off messages, when we treat the pastors, speakers, and authors as “idea factories,” aren’t we implying that the kingdom of God is something that can be bought? Isn’t this tension almost to0 taut?

4.

Yesterday, Amber said it best:

American culture will never have enough. It stands to reason that the church would follow suit. As long as people make a god of relevancy and of gain, they will never be satisfied with church. The leaders and church structures will never be able to offer what it is people feel like they need. If Jesus can’t be packaged and sold to the liking of the people, then people will leave.

These are the things that Amber and I are considering these days. We hope you’ll join us.

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