Thursday, June 2, 2011

Julianne Lutz Warren - Beyond a Culture of Cynicism

Questioning the helpfulness of the pastoral to a cosmopolitical spirit may itself be a consequence of what systems modeler Dana Meadows has called the “culture of cynicism.” The tragedy of this culture is that by sneering at dreams, it has prevented effective radical responses to the world-dominating economic-industrial complex.

My statement is this: The pastoral spirit must be nested within the cosmopolitical one for a healthy world. The idea of the pastoral contains elements essential to meaningful human lives and living our lives meaningfully is essential to a healthy world, ecologically and spiritually. This is because when people live meaningful lives they are noticing and caring about the interrelationships of consequences--of how what they do or don’t do affects others with intent toward mutual good.

The pastoral spirit may be understood as encompassing the trinity of contentment, creativity, and decentralization. These elements have been lacking in a civilization that looks at growth of material progress as its main goal. The pastoral spirit is much-needed as a way to understand work not merely as something that you do to “get ahead,” but as something you do to nourish both body and soul. This is not just for the wealthy. Indeed, the more people inhabit a world of tragedy—of soils eroding faster than they build up; of waters drained and polluted; of life forms lost forever and others irrupting as “pests;” of an atmosphere unlike any human civilization has ever lived in before making seasonal life less and less predictable; of disease, hunger and thirst, the more people need the spirit of the pastoral. In the words of Terry Tempest Williams bearing witness to the aftermath of Rwandan genocide—“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival.” The pastoral spirit longs for beauty. Beauty is another word for love. Love is not a form of escape, but an active practice requiring intimate knowledge of its object. In the pastoral spirit nested in the cosmopolitical one, that object is Earth.

The three elements of the pastoral may be symbolized by three forms-the cow, the flute, and the tree:

The Cow of Contentment: The word “pastoral” is rooted in an association with spiritual care. Think of a pastor watching over the souls of his congregation. Think of a herdsman watching over her cows. Think, too, of a Pueblo hunter sprinkling spirit-feeding cornmeal on a deer’s nose. The word “contentment” also is associated with care of one’s soul. It means to confine it within the safety of limits, to environ it with an abundance of care. As a herdsman looks after her cows, so, too, the cows environ her, proscribing the range of her motions and emotions. The congregation environs the pastor. The deer, the hunter. The urban house cat, its mistress.

The Flute of Creativity: Innovation is part of the pastoral. We might miss it, though, if we only notice inventions geared toward conquering more and having more. In pastoral visions, what people yearn for is something with a mental or spiritual cast—they are finding beauty where they are. In their work they throw off old notes and find new ones without taking anything away from the world, without using anything up. There are ways to make all the ways we make things work this way, too. A carpet can be made so that when it is worn out it can later fertilize your garden. A garden can become perennial, unplowed, feeding itself like a native prairie does.

The Tree of Decentralization: This is not the same thing as isolation. In the spirit of the pastoral, power is distributed equitably. The human cares and creates; the non-human animals eat, bellow, roll their eyes, fly, run; the plant roots pull up nutrients from rocks, water, soil, while its leaves return some of it after they take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen and create shade underneath. Tensions are harmonized. There is interdependence without hierarchy. If there is an organizing principle, it is love.

My question, then, is: How do we envision universal love with or without the spirit of the pastoral?

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