This week I want to offer a 4-part series that addresses some issues behind the current state of affairs.

People are concerned about what they see happening right now. There are geographic divisions that seem increasingly pronounced. There are generational, political, and racial division that are inflamed at troubling levels. The news cycle, social media, and institutional corruption (banks, schools, churches, government, hospitals, Hollywood, Washington, etc.) provide a constant string of crisis and controversy.

Things seem to have escalated quite a bit in the past couple of years. Some people will say ‘every generation thinks things are chaotic and out of control’ and there is some evidence of that. However, we live in a unique era when there are the some distinct factors causing an intensification that is notable.

Change is a constant, we know that. Change at this rate, is not. We live in a time of exponential (not just incremental) change. It is no wonder that this environment breeds so much conflict and chaos.

One of the things that I would like to explore is the way that following 3 factors come together in a troubling way:

  • Consumerism
  • Globalization
  • Pluralism

The connection between those three might not seem clear initially, but it is the way that they come together in the 21st century that is relevant for our conversation.

Consumerism is so assumed that it often goes unnamed. It is as if we are on automatic pilot. Buying things has become second nature. I know people who claim to be Christians who can go a whole day (or days) without praying but can’t go a day without making a purchase. Capitalism is the real religion of the West. [1]

Consumerism makes us individuals – or is it that individualism makes us consumers? … either way, we have exposed the root of the problem. Speaking a language, participating in an economy, procreating and raising the next generation, and nearly every other human activity is a communal enterprise that requires cooperation and mutuality. Individualism is a mental fiction we have been sold that fails us at nearly every turn.

Globalization has brought our communities into closer proximity than ever before. We have never had this much access to or contact with one-an-other. It almost doesn’t matter where you live anymore, you have access to goods from all over the world. In fact, you do business with, go to school with, and stand in line with people from all over the world. You may all have different religions, worldviews, or notions of community and belonging. We live in age of radical connection and proximity …. but maybe not overlap. And therein lies the problem for our concern this week.

Pluralism is then a relevant factor that completes our trio. As individuals whose communities are in great proximity to each other, we have to develop an approach to one-an-other.[2] Some of us feel like we have does this well. Which is why it is so baffling why it cause some of our fellow citizens so much agitation and even anger. ‘Difference doesn’t need to lead to division’ we say, and if attitude or acceptance was the only issue we might be right. The problem is that the first two ingredients to trio are the wood and gasoline that make our current environment so flammable. Attitude (or our approach) is just the spark that makes that situation combustible.

Here is the most important thing to understanding our current culture:

Our society is a set of fragments – leftover remainders – of previous expression that may not be compatible with other or newer expressions.

Again – our society is a set of fragments, leftover remainders, of previous expressions that may not be compatible with other or newer expressions. More on this tomorrow. The examples of this phenomenon are endless once you know what you are looking at. Think about religion, Christian denominations, theories of educations, economics, politics, nationality and race, pre-1975 military, for-profit prisons, policing strategies, parenting styles, marriage equality, even grammar and texting language.

Here is a picture that I want to utilize for this 4-part series. It is a piece by my neighbor Jeff and it really speaks to me.

IMG_7259

Our circles (communities) have diversity and differentiation within them. Those circles are in close proximity to each other and are even connected … but without overlapping. They are not integrated. They do not bleed into each other. They are distinct from one-an-other.

What makes this proximity profound is that the newer circles are smaller and bolder but are foregrounded on other circles that are faded but still present. Those larger circles are older and not as pronounced but influential. They haunt the work. They are ghosts and shadows to the primary feature. They are echoes of the past who still exert their voice. Their influence has faded but their effect still remains. The current configuration and focus wouldn’t make sense without them.

Tomorrow we talk about the nature of these remaining fragments and how people who think about such things differ on the subject.

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[1] There are so many great  books on this, including For The Common Good by Daly and Cobb and What Money Can’t Buy by Sandel. I would also recommend the non-academic book The Suburban Christian by Hsu.

[2] I find this way of writing it helpful. It may seem clumsy at first but it will bear fruit later in the series.

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