Rock Island, IL
It would be silly to suppose that nothing better than our current situation could ever arrive. But then again that wouldn’t be any sillier than sitting around waiting for something better than our current situation to arrive.
I am one who happens to think that something better will arrive. The problem as I see it, however, is that this ‘something’ will arrive only after something far worse shows up. That appears to me to be the likely sequence, unless we can somehow manage to step out of our wonted role as Larry Vaughan, the cowardly mayor of Amity Island, who, as Matt Hooper says, is hell-bent on ignoring his shark problem until it swims up and bites him on the ass.
We can either make the changes we ought to be good enough and smart enough to make, or we can sit in front of our flat screen plasma TVs and wait for catastrophe to force those changes on us. I think the latter scenario is the more likely, but that has not stopped me from trying–in admittedly small ways–to usher in the former.
This is the thing FPR dissenters can’t get their minds around. They think that all this talk of localism and place and decentralization and being capable and neighborly is just a bunch of theoretical claptrap or sentimental jargon.
And, of course, it is claptrap and jargon to people who don’t know anything about local ways and means, who don’t live in actual places, who don’t take any kind of responsibility for governing and caring for the places they inhabit, who don’t know how to do anything materially useful for themselves or others, and who don’t know (or care) who their neighbors are.
But none of this is merely theoretical to those who do inhabit a place, who do take responsibility for it and for the others in it, who can and will do things both for themselves and others, and who know (and this is the sticking point) that much more is going to be required of them.
They know that much more is going to be required of them because they know that, whatever else we are governed by (God, chance, sharks), we are governed by limits. And they know that sooner or later those limits are going to have something unpleasant, if not also unwelcome, to say about our living arrangements.
How soon or late is not the point. Not if you understand that you belong to something larger than what you can see and that that thing extends further in time than most of us can imagine–backward, to be sure, but especially forward.
Some people I know agree that limits are going to impose themselves at some point, maybe soon, and these people, having laid up land and guns and a couple of skills, tell me they are ready for the imposition.
They aren’t. When the mob shows up they’re going to get that Chief-Brody Oh-Shit look on their faces and then search their survival manuals for a variation on “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Then of course they’ll discharge what little ordnance they’ve stocked in defense of what little property they’ve hoarded and then stand there like Custer at the Horn wondering where all these copulating Indians came from.
Whereupon (to switch back to Jaws) the shark is going to eat at least 1/3 of the crew, come damn close to eating another third, and scare the bejeezis out of the remaing 2/3 left to float, fittingly, on empty barrels—this in a best case scenario.
Others I know—and some I don’t, though I read what they write—think I’m crazy. But these poor souls haven’t been paying much attention to how they eat or to the limited quantities of oil that back their standards of living. Put simply: for too long they have lived too far from the sources that sustain them and the places they need to be. They don’t really inhabit the world.
And then there are some people, few in number, who say this: we—we—must make preparations for the lean times. We must prepare as men and women who live among men and women. We must understand that we are creatures who live in community and that we must preserve the community if we wish to preserve ourselves. We must seek the prosperity of the city. For in the shalom thereof shall we have shalom.
What most astonishes me is that Christians, who especially ought to understand this, given the doctrine of the Trinity and all that it suggests for human arrangements, persist in thinking of themselves atomistically—that is, not in Trinitarian but in … in what? Unitarian terms? The language itself stumbles in its attempt to express the extent of our isolation and alienation from all else and all others.
The “atom” is the indivisible whole of both classical physics and etymology, and it would have done well to have admitted defeat when physicists had to concede that the atom, like everything else, also consists of parts—and that those parts consist of other parts, and that those other parts consist of … well, who knows? It seems to have turned out that no “part” (or wave or string or dimension or mathematical equation) is an island.
And yet the modern atomistic Christian has admitted no such thing. Trouble’s brewing? Bring it on. I’m ready. My soul has been saved by my personal savior and my basement is stocked with dehydrated food.
The life we currently enjoy—or rather suffer (paschein)—will turn out to be as short-lived as the atom of classical physics. Maybe none of us will live long enough to see what sorts of limits reality really has in mind for us. And maybe that will be lucky for us. But can any of us living now continue in this charade in good conscience as if no one sharing our blood will bump up against those limits—and suffer considerably because of how ill-prepared they are to confront their own intrinsic condition, a social and relational condition that both material reality and theology would gladly have helped them understand?
We have the opportunity—some would say the moral responsibility—to make preparations now for the life that reality has in store either for us or for those we are intimately related to and responsible for when the life-blood of our current living arrangements runs dry and the only good thing that can be said about the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is that it is adorned with lovely midwestern topsoil.
I think what the FPR stands for is this kind of responsibility—a placed responsibility that extends both backward and forward in time. But we must understand that, whatever sort of job we do caring for the past, there is only one way to care for the future, and that is to take care of the present.
Many people think they know how to do that. Most of them are stark-raving mad.