Monday, August 28, 2006

Agrarian basics, part 2a
My answers to Eleanor's questions in the previous post in this series got so long I decided to follow the Valerie Principle: make a new blog post. :-) Eleanor's questions and comments are italicized and mine are plain.

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My first thought is that the word 'agrarian' is simply too limited a word for this idea. It invites misunderstanding. Can you change it to something else?

I really don't think I can, since too many folks are already using it the same way I am, and have been since at least the 1930s.

But really, since the dictionary lists the first definition as "relating to land, land tenure, or the division of landed property," I think this is decent. I've seen it referred to variously as Biblical agrarianism, covenant agrarianism, and Christian agrarianism, but it all refers to the duty of stewarship over the land.

My second thought is that I lost you right around where you said that the eye provides for its own needs just as the foot does, while serving a larger Body. I'm not sure how you mean that. The eye cannot provide for itself at all-- it needs liquid and nutrition via a blood supply...of course a foot cannot see and an eye cannot walk...I think I'm not getting your gist here.

I'm sorry if that wasn't a helpful analogy, but let me try to explain. In the analogy, the "body" is meant to represent all of humanity, with the different "members" representing different individual people or families. When I was thinking about the way the body works, I noticed that, because each body part functions in a very similar way at the cellular level, there is a sense in which even though they have different functions within the body, in some ways they function the same on a personal, or individual level.

Now, when I mentioned the cells providing for themselves, I was trying to point out that even though epithelial cells, for instance, are different from skeletal muscle cells, which are different from neurons, they all have certain functions in common, cellular respiration and reproduction, for two examples. Of course, I didn't mean to imply that each member can provide for itself in complete independence from its environment and from the body as a whole.

I was hoping that the reader would deduce from this that, in a healthy community, each family would have direct access to the earth - the blood supply - so that they could provide some of their own needs, even while they are working together to supply the needs of the larger community.

Thirdly, the world is fallen, and we must live in it and preach to it using words, not just actions. We must show forth the Kingdom. Certainly one method of evangelism is our love for one another, but we also have a mandate to share the Gospel. Sometimes it sounds like you're advocating seperating yourself from the world in favor of being only with Christians. I don't see this model exemplified by the Apostles at all. On the contrary, they seem to have used their vocations to reach out to the world in every corner where God has placed them. I see our occupations and economics as of lesser importance to the calling we have to go out and make disciples of all nations. I DON'T think you're disagreeing with that, but I can see some overzealous person trying to go there.

Well, you're right, I'm not advocating this. Maybe this tidbit I wrote elsewhere will help explain my views of radical independence in this context. And, forgive me if I seem callous, but overzealous people will always be finding some way to take something to an extreme, so I don't see how I can protect them from that. I do hope that in the course of this series I'll be able to explain my thoughts fully enough that at least I won't be thought misguided. :-)

Also, I think I need to point out again, that what I'm talking about here is not Christians going off and living only with other Christians. My main point is that the agrarian calling is Mankind's calling, Christian and heathen alike. So all the stuff I'm writing ought to be of particular interest to Christians, because we know our creator, but it really applies to everyone. So no, I'm not talking about some cult-like separation from the world. What I'm talking about is actually living in close contact with the creation - dirt, plants, animals, and people.

Fourthly, I also see an overzealous person taking this idea and getting in trouble with it by deeming himself more righteous than another merely by virtue of his economic outlook and ability to be 'productive'. It stands to make the less capable person feel less righteous rather than obligate the more capable to greater humility in service....

You're right about this and I've seen it myself. It is a great failing and ought to be repented of. However, to be fair, I've also seen plenty of "New Urbanists" who have the same disdainful attitude toward those on the other side of the fence that you describe here. It's really not a weakness that's particular to agrarians.

... I know a woman who has MS. She trusts the Lord in a severe stage of illness (confined to a wheelchair and paralysed from the waist down, as well as having many other health issues.)but cannot help anyone but herself-- it takes all her energy to try to stay in her own home. Her husband left her. Her parents are ill. Only our church provides free help to her. What about the elderly and infirm who cannot give but must only take? What of the plight of those outside the Body?

The Body of Christ is absolutely obligated to provide for the needy. I really think that in the agrarian model they'll be better provided for than they are now, simply because people would then be living in real communities where they actually knew their neighbors and interacted with them on a daily basis. The other huge advantage I see to this model is that everyone has a place, from the youngest to the oldest, including the physically and mentally disabled. In our current culture most of these people - most of our weakest and most needy - are institutionalized for most of their waking hours, if not for their whole lives. I truly believe that we need weak people so we can learn to serve them in humility, and sometimes each of us needs to be the weak person, so we can learn to be served in humility. And in a truly agrarian society, there would be no need for institutions as the community would be able to minister directly to each other. Do you know much about how the Amish function? They are one of the few communities that I know of that has a truly integrated society.

In summary, I can buy a good deal of this idea, but there are some really nasty pitfalls I see that could really derail a Christian Body that is primarily urgently called to reach out actively to this world, not merely take care of its own self. How do active, verbal evangelism and works of charity towards the fallen world factor into your scenario?

Wow, that's a big question. I can only say that people have to find their own place in the Body of Christ, in whatever kind of society they live in. There will always be some called to be evangelists, and there will always be families who take meals to the sick neighbor next door.

Maybe it would help me if you could tell me what you think would happen if my scenario were true. What if most people lived in villages, instead of in the suburbs, and worked all day right near their own and their neighbor's homes instead of driving off to the commerical or industrial disticts? What do you perceive as going wrong? I honestly don't understand what you're seeing as a potential pitfall.

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