Monthly Archives: March 2009

Christianity’s Contribution to Civil Society Has Diminished

Very few people, if any, actually talk about theology in the context of public life.  In the 19th century and even in the 20th century, theological conviction played a large role in shaping the direction of civil society.  Theological viewpoints used to hold weight and were considered as significant.   Many of the things we now enjoy were as a result of people acting out of carefully thought-through Christian ideas.   Now the Christians ideas that are most often heard in society are not mainstream voices tackling mainstream concerns, but  narrow-minded attitudes tackling fringe issues.  Those Christians who are attracting large audiences are often speaking in terms of pop psychology and a self-help context instead of a mature approach directed to the good of others and towards public policy and the common good of civil society as a whole.    Academically trained Christian viewpoints are largely not heard in the public sphere either.   Christianity has become pop. Continue reading


The Kindness of Strangers

Bruce Schneier argues that the old adage of advice that’s given to children of “don’t talk to strangers” is wrong.   He says the opposite is true:

When I was growing up, children were commonly taught: “don’t talk to strangers.” Strangers might be bad, we were told, so it’s prudent to steer clear of them.

And yet most people are honest, kind, and generous, especially when someone asks them for help. If a small child is in trouble, the smartest thing he can do is find a nice-looking stranger and talk to him.

These two pieces of advice may seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. The difference is that in the second instance, the child is choosing which stranger to talk to. Given that the overwhelming majority of people will help, the child is likely to get help if he chooses a random stranger. But if a stranger comes up to a child and talks to him or her, it’s not a random choice. It’s more likely, although still unlikely, that the stranger is up to no good.

As a species, we tend help each other, and a surprising amount of our security and safety comes from the kindness of strangers. During disasters: floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, bridge collapses. In times of personal tragedy. And even in normal times.

If you’re sitting in a café working on your laptop and need to get up for a minute, ask the person sitting next to you to watch your stuff. He’s very unlikely to steal anything. Or, if you’re nervous about that, ask the three people sitting around you. Those three people don’t know each other, and will not only watch your stuff, but they’ll also watch each other to make sure no one steals anything.

Again, this works because you’re selecting the people. If three people walk up to you in the café and offer to watch your computer while you go to the bathroom, don’t take them up on that offer. Your odds of getting three honest people are much lower.

Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea: faith, culture, art and cities

Makoto Fujimara has an incredible essay reflecting on NYC post-911, his Christian faith, and the origins of the modern Japanese tea ceremony:  Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea.  I was stunned by this essay. Here are some (lengthy) excerpts: Continue reading

Have we lost the Art of Living in our society?

“Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.” – from the Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura Continue reading

Drinking beer enables civic life

Recent statistics in America have revealed that for the first time ever more Americans are drinking bottled water than drinking beer.  Susan McWilliams argues that this is a negative sign for American civic life and represents a decline in social capital.   Bottled water represents solitary pursuits, while beer drinking represents social connection.  There’s nothing in this article about drinking coffee, for example.  Lots more coffee houses have sprung up in recent years.  Might coffee be replacing beer drinking as a social pasttime?  I recently went off beer for 30 days, and have noticed I’m having a lot more coffee and tea instead!

In some places around the world, the idea of where to go for fine dining is changing.

Terrence Henry writes about new trends in fine dining.  In Washington DC, San Francisco and Buenos Aires haute cuisine is showing up in unexpected venues.

Need haute cuisine be expensive? Need it even be served in a restaurant? It appears not. So are we looking at a future with more bistro-esque street carts, hidden restaurants, and bargain gastronomy? Will restaurant critics’ best-of lists need to include a place that doesn’t even have a listed address? And could you end up having the best meal of your life in some dude’s living room, with mismatched silverware and uneven tables? From what I’ve seen so far, the answer is yes.

Generational Longings for Change

Christopher Newgent reflects on the vast differences in generations regarding the expectations for change in our lives:

It’s as though we and our older siblings in Gen X grew up watching our grandparents and even some of our parents with their silly fear of change, their silly regard to stability, and we decided instead to fashion an atmosphere of ultimate instability—where there are bottom-lines to trim, avian flu pandemics that never break out. And seriously, the question begs to be asked, how can gas jump a quarter per gallon in the span of a day?…

But, I mean, honestly, who wants a gold watch anymore, when all we really want is to find a song that doesn’t suck for a change?

I’ll tell you, though, there are songs out there that will wake you up, that are raw and honest instead of over-produced and over-played. They’re likely not on the radio; turn it off. Roll down your windows and breathe. Try to remember that first gasp you took when the doctor smacked you, your lungs suddenly able to work without drowning, and all you knew to do to celebrate the bright lights of the world was to cry out. Try harder. You won’t remember it, but try harder anyway. Don’t worry about your hair tousling in the wind. You can fix it later. Trust me, you can fix it later.