Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

sex economy freedom community book

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry. Published in 1993. 208 pages.

I have always loved the commentary and writings of the insightful, prolific Wendell Berry. Reading his book, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community”, it became clearer why I find his perspective so refreshing. How often have we heard the connection made between our culture’s predilection to specialization and compartmentalization with the destruction of the economy, sexuality, marriage, family, community, and the nation?

Very rarely I submit, although it’s a connection which is hard to deny upon serious observation and even harder to address as our culture succumbs more and more to the seduction of the “me first” mentality. A mentality which is largely driven by our increasing focus on individual rights at the expense of everything and every one, up to and including our own parents, our own children, and their children.

In the book’s title essay, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community Berry attempts to piece together how our movement away from interdependence and local community standards and toward a tendency to think globally has impacted our most intimate relationships, and how sexual love in general and marriage in particular have been irreparably damaged as a result:

There are two kinds of sexuality that correspond to the two kinds of economy. The sexuality of community life, whatever its vagaries, is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven, and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity.

Our present sexual conduct, on the other hand, having “liberated” itself from the several trusts of community life, is public, like our present economy. It has forsaken trust, for it rests on the easy giving and breaking of promises. And having forsaken trust, it has predictably become political. “Losing kindness” as Lao-tzu said, they turn to justness.” (p. 134-135)

This is sadly correct. Sexual politics is a dominant and lucrative industry in America today. Divorce law, child support enforcement, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, health departments to deal with communicable diseases, sexual harassment, and on it goes. All of these institutions have grown in our misguided attempt to interject perfect justice and the semblance of safety into the necessarily murky business of male/female interpersonal relations. As a result, most women view every man as a potential aggressor and many men have grown to view every woman as a potential accuser of anything form date rape to dead beat fatherhood. This is supposed to liberating? Berry continues:

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice-though, of course, they all must try for it. They depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness-in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.

As soon as the parties to a marriage or a friendship begin to require strict justice, then that marriage or friendship begins to be destroyed…(p.135)

And this of course, is exactly what has happened on a grand scale. As sexuality has become a commodity to be consumed (think of the quest for hotness at all costs), coupled with the right to do whatever feels good to us without regard for anyone else, and we have all but destroyed the beauty of sexual love and marriage. Sex sells. There is even a new term for the atmosphere in which people pair off: the sexual marketplace. No longer are the terms “husband” or “wife” adequate to describe the person we share our most intimate relations with. The term is now sexual “partners” and we gauge others’ sexual morality not by their fidelity in marriage but by their “partner count.” The language of intimacy is now the language of the marketplace.

People enter into marriage under the spell of sexual infatuation, failing to recognize that the practice of love, rather than the mere feeling of love, is what keeps a marriage alive, growing and fulfilling. The values of the marketplace, of quid pro quo, has usurped the place of love and forgiveness, reducing marriage to nothing more than an arrangement that lasts as long as our arbitrary and fickle senses of satisfaction are appeased.

Sadly, Berry notes, we have moved into a culture that can only be described as nihilist, one where most people are not interested in or able to be contented with this diffusion of love. They want to continue to have love focused myopically on them and them alone, as this is what society has groomed us to believe that marriage is all about.

A society whose members are concerned only with themselves, their individual needs, and are slaves to their passions with no regard for the greater good can be described no other way than nihilist. Churchgoing, “civic minded” nihilists, but nihilists nonetheless because a life spent pursuing personal pleasure-no matter what euphemisms we use to make it seem otherwise- is a useless, hopeless life. Our selfish greed can never be truly satisfied. Fulfillment is found through service and love executed in practice, not as the pursuit of sensations. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if we call ourselves liberal or conservative, as Mr. Berry so eloquently states:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’ Some feminists are thus in the curious position of opposing the mistreatment of women and yet advocating their participation in an economy in which everything is mistreated.”

Most contemporary rhetoric about service and duty is nothing more than the demagoguery of hypocrites, playing on our emotions for the sake of their own ambitions:

There is no denying, of course, that “community” ranks with “family,” “our land,” and “our beloved country” as an icon of the public vocabulary; everybody is for it, and this means nothing. p. 132

Now that we have stated the problem, the next step is to work toward a solution. The question then, is how do those of us who yearn for community, family, respect for the land and love for country achieve even a semblance of either while surrounded by a culture for whom these things are nothing more than feel good rhetoric at best and obstacles to personal desire and ambitions at worst?

Berry offers solutions, but they are hard solutions for a culture of people comfortably entrenched in an easy, resistance-free way of life. Here, he gets credit for trying.

5 out of 5 stars.

I originally wrote this read and reviewed this book in 2012, but it seems more relevant today than it did even when I first read it, so I’m featuring it here. Reviews for more recently read books are in draft and forth coming.

Children Learn What They Live

by Children Learn What They Live by [Harris, Rachel, Nolte, Dorothy Law]

Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris. Paperback edition published n 1998. 224 pages.

I picked this book from one of the myriad circles I travel where homeschooling families we know bring their extra books to give away and make space for yet more books. It looked intriguing to me, so I picked it up. At the time, I didn’t realize that the book was based on a relatively well regarded poem of the same title by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

 

The chapters in the book are divided to correspond with each of the virtues as outlined in the poem. When I started reading this, I found a lot of encouragement and opportunities for parental introspection.  Any of us would be hard pressed to deny that the values extolled in the poem are  worthy of emulation and instilling into our children.

However, as I continued to read, I found my discomfort with the tone of the book gradually increasing. I initially chalked it up to my own sense of shame as the realization that my report card, as measured by this poetic rubric -particularly weighed against the examples and stories given in the book to illustrate them-  nets me a solid ‘C’ as a mother. Even making concessions for my inadequacies,  there was something about the book I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I could, and it was this: The ideals are presented in ways which negate the foundational truths of the Christian faith to which I adhere.

For instance, there was no allowance given to the reality that often we should feel shame for our actions  and that we should see the connections between our actions and what they tell us about who we are as human  beings, which can lead us to understand our need for God. Our children need to take this journey as well. That we should be transmitting this truth to our children in ways that which don’t do unnecessary damage is worthy of emphasis. However, this book seemed to imply that we aren’t to impart this truth at all; that shame in itself is inherently damaging. I don’t ascribe to that assertion.

As recognition of my issues with the book took shape, I was able to read it with more of an open mind because I understood that rather than presenting eternal truths, it is presenting ideals in the light psychological and cultural “truth”. Good values, but values which assume inherent human goodness which I reject. More importantly, raising children in this way to the exclusion of any exposure to the reality of human nature in a fallen world sets them up for failure.

We should praise our children when they do well, but Dr. Nolte offers no allowance for the reality that sometimes proper guidance insists that we offer our children constructive criticism. The vagueness in the examples of guidance towards children who have done a disobedient or dishonorable thing seemed to insist that we not make children feel bad, even when they should. The massive fog of entitlement that seems to have swept over and infected every generation from my own (GenX) forward is evidence enough to me that the self-esteem movement has failed. We do them no favors when we shield children from their need for forgiveness and grace.

Lest I am beginning to sound as if I hated the book, I didn’t. I learned some things. Things that I, even after 24 years of parenting, was thankful to be reintroduced to because I can be an impatient mother. The virtues are good ones, and we should be offering our children quadruple the grace as opposed to guilt, if only because we are keenly aware of our own need for grace.

The problem emerges when we uncouple the implantation of these values from transcendent truth, which is exactly what this book attempts to do. Morality without a tether is soon severed in pursuit of what a person thinks they “deserve” when they’ve been trained that they are wonderful, fabulous and deserving of only good things simply because they breathe.

 

3 out of 5 stars.

 

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?

Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

Information

Goodreads: An Experiment in Criticism
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961

Summary

C. S. Lewis proposes that we can define books as good or bad based on how they are read.  To do this, he differentiates between the “literary” and the “unliterary,” or readers who enter fully into the work without preconceptions and readers who do not.

Star Divider

Review

C. S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism challenges readers to be better.  His argument posits that “it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.”  To do this, he defines the “few” and the “many” or the “unliterary” and the “literary.”  Presumably readers want Lewis to count them among the “literary!”

Lewis’s thesis rests on the argument that what both groups mean by “liking” a book or “liking”…

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To Savor or Devour?

My, how time flies!

Nearly two years ago, I planted this link in the comment section of one my earliest posts with the intention of returning to it as an impetus for discussion with fellow book lovers.  From Aeon, a thoughtful piece on the history of the metaphors comparing reading to eating, titled Is ‘devouring’ books a sign of superficiality in a reader?:

The language of eating is often used to describe reading habits. If pressed for an explanation, one might say that to ‘devour’ books is to do something positive.

It implies intense appreciation on behalf of the reader, and suggests that books in themselves are enjoyable and delicious, like warm pastries.

This metaphor, however, hasn’t always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure.

Indeed, before I discovered this short history lesson, I would have stated unequivocally that devouring a book is a positive thing. Of course, that was my off the cuff response, one offered without much forethought. As I have further considered the implications of devouring a book, I realize that some texts are to be savored rather than devoured in the same way as some foods are to be savored rather than devoured.

For instance yesterday, I splurged for Sunday dinner, bought a duck and prepared this recipe. It was definitely a dish to be savored, one where appreciating the layers of flavors and textures was warranted. It was not only good, but decadent. To eat it in a rush would be to diminish the effort, not to mention the expense, that I put into preparing it.

One of my other favorite meats is bacon. I fry it up at least 3 days a week, but I am often hastening to fulfill all of my morning duties which begin most days before 5:30. Breakfast is sometimes reduced to snatching up a couple of pieces of bacon as I pass the plate in the kitchen and sip my constantly reheated morning cup of Joe. The bacon, as much as I enjoy it, is usually devoured rather than savored. The bacon is, for all intents and purposes, common.

Common things can be wonderful, but we don’t treat them the way we would things we only enjoy on rare occasions, and the same can be said of the ideas and content we encounter in books. I was able to devour Their Eyes Were Watching God as an adult in part because I was re-reading it. Also, regardless of the fact that it was written by an author I have deep affection for, it was still fiction. Fiction can offer big ideas worthy of contemplation and reflection and often does, but I can safely ‘devour’ most of it.

The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.

For millennia, reading’s connection to eating has reflected its centrality to social power and responsibility. Some of the oldest reading images have their roots in the Bible: Ezekiel and John, for instance, literally eat manuscripts during divine visions, representing their role as revelatory agents. This idea of the reader as a mediator of knowledge has had longstanding cultural resonance.

Readers are only impoverished to the extent that we don’t appropriately process what we are reading. The references to Biblical prophets and prophecies is an apt one. Few would disagree with the sentiment that when reading sacred texts or tomes based on the values and implications of our sacred texts, savoring is definitely the right approach. When we are hiding truths in our hearts, we need to examine them carefully.

In contrast to the voracious and relatively quick pace at which I read Watching, I was far more deliberate, contemplative, and meditative while reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. These were ideas and words to be savored because there were, within those pages, eternal truths which I want to carry with me as long as I live. The Aeon piece touches on this distinction:

Renaissance reader-scholars developed a conviction that not all reading was equal. While their eating imagery sometimes distinguished between kinds of books (as in Francis Bacon’s adage that ‘[s]ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed’), first and foremost it distinguished between different kinds of readers. The ancient conception of the social significance of reading now found expression as the ethical obligation to respond well to texts.

Ultimately, this is where I fall on the question of devouring books. It’s not always a bad thing, but neither is it always a good thing. It depends on what we are reading and why. The Aeon piece goes a little bit further. Take the time and finish it if you can. It’s not very long.

What is your general approach to reading and books? Devour, Savor, or both?

 

One Beautiful Dream

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by [Fulwiler, Jennifer]

One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Published May 2018. 240 pages.

As I got into this book then did a bit of digging, I realized that its author, Jennifer Fulwiler, is something of a Catholic Internet celebrity and as such, hardly as anonymous to the Catholic faithful as she was to me. I only heard of her because a paleo food blogger I happen to follow on Instagram heartily endorsed the book.

One Beautiful Dream is best characterized as a memoir chronicling Fulwiler’s journey as a mother of six very closely spaced children alongside the pursuit of her dream to make it as a writer. A dream which I hasten to interject, was heartily encouraged by her husband, who repeatedly implored her not to give it up. I instantly liked this woman. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of expressing it that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I am a slow reader. Nevertheless, I finished this book in two days. This was partly because the conversational tone makes it easy to read, and partly because rather than do my usual routine of bouncing between books when I have free time, I kept picking this one up, continuing to read it until the end. I found myself invested in seeing how Jennifer’s story would end even as I was turning the pages of its culmination.

There’s another, deeper reason that this book resonated with me, and it was that I appreciated this woman’s gut wrenching wrestling match between pursuing her passion and trying to be a good wife and mother, a juggling act she admittedly bungled more often than not. She often wavered, wondering whether it was fair to her kids or right for a mother to devote large amounts of time and energy to such endeavors.

That was, until she realized with the help of a wise priest’s counsel, that her insistence on compartmentalizing the segments of her life rather than cultivating an integrated life of wholeness was the root of her problem. Her life was chaotic (well, even more chaotic than a life with six kids under 10 is prone to be) because she failed to connect everything together. More than that, she needed to trust God that His will would be done in her life on His timetable.

After nearly a decade blogging in and alongside the Christian/biblical womanhood Internet community before finally realizing the folly of formulaic living, this book was for me, a breath of fresh air. Not because I agree with everything Jennifer Fulwiler believes, does and says –I am a raging Protestant after all- but because she hits at the heart of the matter: She did what she did with the full encouragement and enthusiastic coaching of her husband, the cheer-leading of her children and support of her extended family which meant she did exactly what she was supposed to do, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of the “this is the way to be the perfect Christian wife” crowd.

Did I mention that she has a wonderful sense of humor? Well she does, and one of my favorite laugh out loud passages is on page 125, because it is one of the best representations of her story telling prowess. It’s the story of what happened when she was given the opportunity to get a break and attend a ladies’ retreat offered by her church. She got more than she bargained for:

In my rush to get away, I had not looked into the details of this weekend before I signed up. And that, it now occurred to me, was a grave error.

In my defense, I had no idea that Catholics even did retreats like this. I had many Evangelical friends (again, “friends” meaning “people I talked to on my computer from the shadowy recesses of my home”) who described events at their churches as riotously fun gatherings where people sung and waved their hands and used the word fellowship as a verb. I had counted on my Catholic brethren to put together an emotionless, entirely cerebral retreat, and now it seems that they had failed me completely. p.125

When all is said and done, this is a good book because the author shared her story in a funny, relatable, truthful way. She didn’t pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but she learned and grew in grace along the way. Which is the best any of us can really hope for this side of Heaven.

4 out of 5 stars.

No content advisory necessary.

Blogkeeping notes.

There is a new page on the menu. Those of you who were here reading when I first started writing in this sleepy corner of the web may remember that I had a page devoted to links I’d encountered that I wanted to share. I was saving those links on Delicious, which has since vanished into the ether. I had hoped to find a link sharing site that I enjoyed using as much as I did Delicious, but I never did, so I kissed my hundreds of links good bye 😦 and took down the page.

I decided recently that I would just make a new page and add any interesting links I read there. Some ideas are worth sharing, contemplating, and thinking about. Books are my preferred method since ideas are better fleshed out in them, whether I agree with them or not. But this is the age of the Internet, and the germs of most ideas can be found here as well. Hence the Links Worth a Look page.

I updated the comment policy to more accurately reflect the mood of this site. Namely, I turned off moderation because -hopefully- it’s pretty clear that I don’t need to moderate very heavily here. First time commentators will still go to the moderation process first, but other than that, comments can flow freely. Unless and until but some weird quirk I find that particular change was a mistake.

Just a couple of notes to update my readers of a few small changes on the blog.

Y’all have a great weekend, and try to stay cool, huh?

 

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories.

my man jeeves early stories

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories [with biographical introduction], Kindle Edition, by P.G. Wodehouse.Short story collection contains stories of varied publishing dates between 1912 and 1919.

My familiarity with P.G. Wodehouse is limited and quite recent, after reading Krysta’s review of My Man Jeeves at Pages Unbound. I only realized after starting it that the volume I purchased contains a few stories which don’t include Jeeves -or his boss Bertie Wooster- at all, but were among Wodehouse’s early work featuring the narrator Reggie Pepper.

The basic gist of the stories is that of a young wealthy man living well in the big city. Some stories are set in London, while others are set in New York City. This is a book I turned to specifically in the hope that it would make me laugh. And it did. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading Wodehouse’s short stories featuring the genius valet, the narrator’s “man, Jeeves”.

Our narrator, employer of the titular valet, finds himself endlessly involved in the near constant dramas and dilemmas that befall his male friends. Most of these problems which require a unique solution fall in the categories of money crises and romantic hi jinks. Wodehouse is a master at one liners and while I find Jeeves brilliantly entertaining, the narrator and supporting casts are equally engaging and funny.

The great thing about these books is that because they are short stories, they can be enjoyed in bits and pieces without the pressure of trying to complete the whole book. That’s what I intend to do with the additional volumes I’ve purchased since reading this one. The original My Man Jeeves is available on Kindle right now for free.

I’ll round this one out with some of my favorite lines from the stories (all quotes copied from Goodreads).

From My Man Jeeves:

“…there occurred to me the simple epitaph which, when I am no more, I intend to have inscribed on my tombstone. It was this:
“He was a man who acted from the best motives. There is one born every minute.”
From Right Ho, Jeeves:
“You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.”
From How Right You Are, Jeeves:
“The snag in this business of falling in love, aged relative, is that the parties of the first part so often get mixed up with the wrong parties of the second part, robbed of their cooler judgement by the party of the second part’s glamour. Put it like this: the male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by the female dasher (who would be fine for the non-rabbit) and realizing too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.”
From My Man Jeeves:
“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
From Leave it to Jeeves, which you can read free online here:
“Oh, Jeeves,’ I said; ‘about that check suit.’
Yes, sir?’
Is it really a frost?’
A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’
But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.’
Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.’
He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.’
I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”
From Carry On, Jeeves:
“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”
These stories are full of pith, humorous one liners tinged with truths about life and human nature. I highly suggest them.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: This is another instance where clean does not equal child friendly. These clean, funny stories are clearly written with an adult audience as the target audience.