In less poetic language, this is what I have sometimes called practicing the discipline of place. To practice this discipline is to believe that to suffer one’s place and one’s people in the particularity of its and their needs is the primary basis for finding love, friendship,and an authentic, meaningful life. This is nothing less, I would argue, than the key to thepursuit of Christian holiness, which is the whole of the Christian adventure: to live in love with the frailty and limits of one’s existence, suffering the places, customs, rites, joys, and sorrows of the people who are in close relation to you by family, friendship, andcommunity—all in service of the truth, goodness, and beauty that is best experienced directly.
Now, what am I saying? Does this mean that I think you should always stay in one place,that you cannot be called elsewhere, or that you ought to forever limit your own horizons.No. I am neither foolish nor naïve enough to think that this is either possible or even agood thing. What it does mean is that the human heart, your heart, will never flourishand blossom if it is forever pining after the next thing, or captured by the false promise ofsomething better just out of grasp, always seeking satisfaction somewhere other thanwhere it is. Rather, it is that marriage between the endless internal horizon of your heartand the limited, restrained, concrete life of geography and community that has borne themost delightful and satisfying fruits of human history. So cast down your bucket where you are.
This is at once the most radical and the most conservative thing you can do with your life.Yet you are heading out into a very conventional, middling, controlled world. Oh, they will tell you that their marches for progress and rights are daring, that they are radical.Or they will tell you that their religious revivals are conservative, that they are the moralcenter. You will hear it all, but the truth is that for the most part, people are in the grips of a boring, lifeless ideology of personal fulfillment, choice, and upward mobility. We live in a society of tourists—and if tourists have one thing in common it is this—that theyare not at home.
Many if not all of you are off to college somewhere to further your education. This is nota bad thing, and may become a very good thing for you, but I am here tonight with awarning. The world of higher education is a strip mining operation, plain and simple, andyou will become the raw resource being mined. This is the result of a system designed todiscover and refine the most meritorious among you and ship you off to whatever spot inthe world you will be most “productive.”
You will hear over and over and over again, in many different forms, that nothing must get in the way of making the most of your social and economic opportunities. No ancientbonds of tradition must hold you back (look to the Future, they will say); no loyalties toyour home, to the place of your memory and your belonging must interfere (you can be aJayhawk anywhere, they will say); no sentimental attachment to those who havebefriended and loved you can count (think of all the diverse experiences you will miss,they will say).
I say, resist! Resist the spirit of the age. It does not have your welfare in mind.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Need to update some of my side links, especially to include sites like Front Porch Republic. Here's an excerpt from a piece by Caleb Stegall, which was part of his commencement address to his alma mater recently: