Amazon.com Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Faith

To know the place for the first time
     Learning through care

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot (Four Quartets)

Eden did not require care, so in choosing death over imperishable bliss, Eve was choosing to be human--to be a planter and a cultivator, to watch and labor in a place where there was a need for care. Her tasting the forbidden fruit may have been done in a desire to make the fruit real.

So her descendants labor outside the garden, catching glimpses of an imperishable beauty that we experience almost as nostalgia. Through care we learn what beauty is really, and how much of a gift it is, really. Through care, we learn to have a human heart.

“What we lost through [Eve’s] act of transgression we never really possessed, for without a human heart in its midst, Eden was wasted on us,” Robert Pogue Harrison observes. “Yet the mortal earth into which we fell was not.”


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©2010 Michael L. Umphrey

Christmas
     Overcoming the world

I’ve been enjoying Christmas more intensely this year because my sense of good things being threatened has been getting stronger. On Christmas Eve a solemn troupe of pompous old men believed by themselves to be among the most powerful in the world voted to put themselves in charge of physicians, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and all of us. That they lack the wisdom to do what they have promised matters less than that they have no real intent to deliver on those promises. Though some claimed privately to be uncomfortable with the carnival of lying and theft, like good Stoics they wore their masks and did what they had to do.

Theirs, after all, is a tragic world. The thing to do, maybe, is to get money and power and to find ways to keep it.

The corruption and collusion were well-publicized, the deceptions were easily discerned, and the opposition of most citizens was duly recorded. It seems, for the moment, not to matter. In the foreground the gray heads stood in television lights paying public homage to goodness by insisting that what they did they did for the poor–assuring us it was a noble accomplishment–trying, vainly it seemed to me, to distract us from the ancient rituals of thievery, bribery and threats going on in the background, not quite respectably hidden. I don’t know whether they know what they do.

In such a time I turned with heightened gratitude again to the story of a baby in a manger, to the endless memory of a birth that left the Olympians stranded, power draining from the tawdry myths. The age of petty gods with doleful powers, of bestial nightmares demanding appeasement, began to recede.

No one is free to ignore that miraculous birth. The most venal little king who has gained a throne through the pettiest methods now feels compelled to justify his rule by speaking of victims, by pretending to act out of compassion. It wasn’t always so. Alexander thought it enough to provoke awe. Concerning himself with the plight of the poor didn’t–couldn’t have occurred to him.

Ancient societies did have the ideal of compassion–but it was chiefly within defined groups, the boundaries strewn with victims. For centuries people had depended on scapegoating and ritual sacrifice for cathartic moments, driving Satan out through cyclical violence that relaxed the tension, refocused the rages that come of living against one another.

Jesus changed the game. In his story we are confronted with a god who came willingly among us to suffer, to accept the full measure of violence orchestrated by the Olympians who needed to refocus and pacify the mobs, and then to teach us a profound truth about this world, giving us the key to peace– if we want it more than we want lesser things. He was born into a faith that had long taught that every person is an immortal soul, equally valuable to God. Being condemned by the world in a pattern of violence that even his staunchest disciples could not resist, he was tortured to death.

But the story does not end. Jesus disrupts the cycle. He returns from victimhood with a simple message: “I am innocent. I have overcome death.”

The consequences of that moment ripple through the ages. Mists dissipate. A pattern hidden in endless cycles of violence since the beginning of the world comes into view.

Today’s world is dominated by a commitment to compassion. We all feel compelled to care about others, or to pretend that we do. Compassion is now understood as a universal claim upon us all, including the rulers of the earth. And there’s no real doubt about where that revolutionary idea entered history. It comes from the Jewish and Christian story:

“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you to drink, a stranger and welcome you, naked and clothe you, sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:34-40)

Such a teaching shook the world to its foundations. Of course, the powers and principalities against which we contend, of which Paul spoke, didn’t simply go away. Indeed, they have never been more powerful. The modern totalitarian spirit finds itself forced to pay homage to Christ, taking up the cause of victims, claiming the mission of redemption as its own. Judas, among the first to oppose Christ, serves as a model. When Mary anoints the Savior’s feet, Judas protests that instead of buying perfume the money should have been given to the poor. “He said this, not because he cared about the destitute,” John tells us, “but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and would steal what was put into it.” (John 12:4)

“Why wasn’t the money given to the poor?” asks the thief, the willing instrument of murder. He parodies the master. It’s the pattern of the great ideologies of the twentieth century, which, while speaking of helping “the people” and promoting the common good, made that century the bloodiest in history. What they offered was a parody of the kingdom of heaven. They promised money and food and healthcare, but in practice the promises failed.

In truth, an individual counts for nothing to the socialist masters. Their vision is grand and abstract. Individual persons are stifled, flattened and hollowed out, having little left to do but to comply. Amid the vast machinery assembled in the name of compassion, people soon find themselves quite alone, quite powerless, quite desperate, with nowhere left to go. Modern totalitarians talk of a future city of man, an egalitarian cage of mind-numblingly complex design, where the authorities have outlawed poverty and fear as they continue their work of perfecting society through applied and enforced reason, in a nightmarish parody of heaven.

It becomes more clear day by day that Christianity is the main obstacle to this vision. The work of the kingdom of heaven is to perfect every person, to invite all of humanity into a universal family of equals who have educated their individual wills through a recursive process of sin and repentance to be able to live with freedom and dignity, at peace with all.

It also becomes more clear day by day that people who understand this need to talk about it explicitly. Most who support the totalitarian spirit are sincere in their desire to live in a compassionate world--many of them are merely deceived. Those who authentically desire peace will be drawn to the continuing story of a baby born to topple the princes of the earth by living moment by moment in love and friendship with all he met. They need to hear that story, and they need to see its consequences in the lives of neighbors. Our work now is to discern and denounce the decoys–the seductions–that turn souls away from their divine source to lose themselves and their liberty in a phantom kingdom, the sound and fury mounting, and to live by the rules of the better world that is being born–

to ask forgiveness, to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, and to take responsibility for doing the things he would do.


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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Which stories? (24 of 24)
     The way of the teacher

As we contemplate stories, both in books and in living, we increase their prominence in our personal narrative environment. It’s helpful to have some general principles in mind, just as we rethink our diet in the light of principles of nutrition that we learn. We might note, for example, that stories that only evoke fear are not as important as those that also teach understanding. We might consider that stories that only clarify principles are not as good as those that somehow manage to kindle or encourage a love of rightness.

I think that a story that leads me to delight in caring for my family is better than one that encourages me to look out only for myself; and one that tempts me to care for the welfare of the whole tribe is better than one that suggests my obligations end with my family. Further, I’m confident that a story that leads me to feel empathy for all of humanity is better than one that tempts me to expect outsiders to be enemies. A story that instills a reverent sense of co-creation with all of life may be about as good as stories get.

Though details may vary and shift as we see more, we can nonetheless discern a hierarchy of stories based on the vision of reality that they encode, with better stories helping us glimpse larger realities, preparing the mental structures we need to inhabit such stories.

This doesn’t mean that I think such a hierarchy can be defined or promoted in any useful way by any coercive bureaucracy. Beyond the level of law, we can only invite, entice, persuade and perhaps seduce. Besides, literature is more subtle than organizational policies, and a powerful vision of evil sometimes teaches much about why goodness works as it does. A principal (and Jesuit priest) at a Catholic high school where I once taught forbade the teaching of Once and Future King--T. H. White’s telling of the Camelot story--because the novel’s central action was the adultery between Lancelot and Guenever. It occurred to me that adultery is also a central theme in the King David story from the Bible, and that the more important issue might be whether the story tells the truth or not. The infidelity in the Camelot story leads to the fall of the kingdom and the suffering of all the main characters. But since I had not been asked for my opinion I didn’t offer one. My point is that I have no interest in any “authorities” imposing a hierarchy of better or worse books, though I do think we, as free people, need to be discussing always which books are better and why. Socrates argued that the good life is the life spent asking the question, “what is the good life?” Thinking one has arrived at the final answer is a way turning away from the question, a way of failing. So it is, I think, with the question, “what are the good books?” It’s death not to ask the question, but it is also death to think it has been finally answered.

We need to recognize that some stories are more useful than others, and we need to keep the discussion about good and better alive. We cannot give the authorities the power to settle the matter. The power to compel belongs to lower orders.

But our problem today isn’t authorities imposing reading lists. Instead, the difficulty of answering such a question has led many of us to make the mistake of thinking that we can turn away from it. The current trend is away from such questions, so teaching literature devolves to teaching reading, and the question of what to read is answered by noting what kids seem to like. This serves the need of children to develop powerful moral imaginations no better than planning meals based on children’s preferences serves their need to for nutritional diversity and balance.

Having a vision about what a good life might be and what a good society is like is an adult responsibility. Having such a vision, we have a sense of what stories young people will benefit from experiencing. When it comes to educating children, no question is more important than how we will constitute their narrative environment, what stories we will consciously live and tell.

To some extent the moral sense–the feeling that some things are right and some are wrong–is innate, but the moral imagination that shapes the cognitive and emotional landscape of our fears and desires does so by constructing coherent wholes from the patterns of intention, action and consequence that we learn from the stories we inhabit--those we hear, but also those we experience and those we learn to tell.

Our narrative environment includes the curricular stories of history, science and literature, of course, but it also includes the informal storytelling that goes on without pause in the hallways and lounges. It includes the carefully structured narratives of the football team’s movement through a series of planned contests toward the resolution of the seasonal script. It includes the way the principal deals with a recalcitrant student and the way the school board responds to a parent’s challenge over a book.

The better schools are those that manage to pull all these levels and genres of narrative into more coherent wholes. Such schools are orders that waste less energy than failing schools at enacting competing tales, trying to will contradictions. To a large extent, then, school reform requires many acts of literary criticism in which participants increase their narrative intelligence.

Just as we get more intelligent as individuals by recognizing when we are working against ourselves, learning bit by bit that we can only make our lives coherent by devoting ourselves to higher purposes–in the way that being healthy is a higher purpose than tasting candy–and by editing the profusion of whims and desires–"goods," the utilitarians call them–that threaten to dissolve us, so schools get better by trying to make the story of their desire and their action coherent. Kierkegaard argued that “the good” is our name for that which we can will without contradiction. “Purity of heart,” he said, “is to will one thing.”

So it is with schools and other organizations. As they get better, their purposes become more harmonious. They become more beautiful–more sustainable and more healthy–at the same time they become more free. They are lively with stories that bind us together in common cause, in contemplation and discussion about what works and what does not work. They are animated by high purpose, and they are rich in chances to speak and to listen.

We can teach children about peace even in troubled times, because peace is never an absence of trouble. It is, primarily, an order within that is in harmony with an order that is always out there. When we understand it, we see that though the things we fear look ferocious, in another sense they are deceptions without ultimate power to harm us.

For me, the work of peace remains possible without slipping into despair at the magnitude of the work that remains because of a faith, expressed by Desmond Tutu, that “we live in a moral universe, and goodness will prevail.” Such hope that the largest reality is benign and that all of history is working toward a peaceful resolution is intertwined with education because the larger the reality that people can learn to see, the more likely they are to understand peace.

Still, there are lots of troubles, and it is not clear that much of the world is getting better. The world has never been an easy place for working toward peace. When we begin feeling that the fate of the world depends on us, it becomes difficult to avoid either becoming warlike or falling into despair. Nevertheless, no matter how urgent things appear around us, we can’t evade the responsibility to establish peace within ourselves. If we try to solve problems without an inner peace, our energies will most likely be organized into the very contention and conflict we hope to resolve.

I understand that Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and others find support for the work of peace through a kindred faith that larger powers are operative in the world, and that our efforts, insufficient on their own, are part of a bigger story.


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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Two ways, one road (22 of 24)
     The way of the teacher

The peacemaker learns to recognize two fundamentally different way: one leads toward greater life--which is greater connection and greater order--and the other leads toward greater disorder--which involves separation, a kind of death. What’s more, the two ways are simply different directions on the same road. At any moment, wherever we are, we can turn around.

Though a society ordered by fear can progress toward one ordered by law, and one ordered by law can move toward being ordered by love, this development remains delicate–it’s easily reversed. A nation, or a family, or a person not only can move down toward lower realities which require less conscious effort to sustain, but will tend to do so without daily work to avoid it. Maintaining complex human realities requires intentional effort. They must be willed.

Virtually all societies contain some elements of all three realities, just as nearly all persons do. The more ethical person, like the more ethical society, is struggling with the higher concerns.

Descartes had described mankind as a people lost in the woods. Because there are many ways out of the woods, people cannot agree which to pursue. There may be many “correct” ways to play a symphony, but if the musicians each follow individual interpretations, they are deprived of a beautiful music that none can make alone. The authority of the conductor sets them free.

People who have chosen the way of the teacher tend to be easy to govern, though difficult to enslave. Leadership is necessary and difficult, and people who are not competing for glory tend to be thankful for people who are willing to carry its burdens. They understand that authority can have liberating power, and that this grows out of the world’s abundance rather than its scarcity.

A peaceful society is a busy society. We need to tend the garden, caring for all the systems that provide us with basic necessities; we need to bear each other’s burdens, looking around for any who are poorly clothed, poorly fed, or sick who need our help; and we need to work at liberating those who are captive to misfortune, bad habits, inadequate education, or political corruption.

Peace slips away, sometimes, simply because it is so demanding, and people begin seeing other things to want that, at first, seem so much easier.


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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Peace in a world of oppositions (21 of 24)
     The way of the teacher

The hardest part of the reality of living in peace is that we need to avoid the pattern of reading conscious evil intent into the actions not just of friends but also of opponents. When our marvelous intelligence, our power to find patterns and to make meaning of events, is turned toward those who oppose us, it is deliciously easy to discern motive, intent, and ill will. We can see what the rascals are up to.

But we can never be sure. We do not know what other people are thinking.

Everyone speaks in favor of peace, but in the midst of conflicts we tend to want peace only if it’s accompanied by victory and triumph. If the cost of peace is failure and humiliation, and it sometimes is, then our thoughts naturally turn to strategies for bringing down those who have wronged us. If we want other things more than we want peace, we will find it very slippery.

Jesus was maybe our most eloquent spokesman for peace, and this is what he said about the matter: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. . .For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?”

This is counterintuitive and unnatural. It is not a sweet little tale for the faint of heart. It is hard counsel. And it is the most clear-eyed and realistic policy that is imaginable. Those who say such an approach is unrealistic see only a smaller and shabbier reality, one that will not endure. The true realist, seeing the largest reality, knows that often nothing else will work.

Taking this advice sometimes deprives us of the great pleasure of seeing those who do us wrong get their own, and people who have really had enemies understand the difficulty and the seriousness of what is being proposed. Still, when we have had enough of destroying and being destroyed we may see that this is the only, the inescapable route. To act on it, one must have real commitment to something larger than the self, because the self may well suffer as we live by such a policy.

The paradigmatic relationship in the highest reality is that between teacher and learner. All of us move through a world of reciprocal relations and role reversals, taking our turns at both roles. When people act badly, the teacher begins by assuming the problem is not evil but ignorance. Since we cannot see into another’s heart, and since from the outside evil and ignorance are indistinguishable, we decide to believe that a person acting badly doesn’t understand what he is doing, or doesn’t know a better way. Sometimes, a person caught in an evil pattern does not need to be destroyed. Sometimes he needs to be rescued, even if he is inflicting harm upon us.

If only he could see, the teacher thinks. And so the teacher teaches.

This isn’t, by the way, an argument against justice or punishment. Sometimes the best way we can teach people is to bring them to justice, to bend their fierce wills by confronting what they have done and by punishment.

But punishment is not the same as revenge, and neither is it the same as therapy. Punishment seeks to educate more than it seeks to settle scores or to cure. And punishment, as every good parent understands, can be delivered in a spirit of love.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

A third reality (19 of 24)
     The way of the teacher

It is both our plight and our majesty that no one can be forced to see higher realities. We all need to be taught to see them. And only by seeing them can we freely choose them. Our plight is that we cannot simply engineer the sort of world we want to live in, and our majesty is that we are irreducibly free. At some level, others need to get our understanding and our assent to do much with us. They need to teach.

A few small societies such as families and religious communities have experienced the highest level: the reality of peace. Though it is based on law, it cannot be established by law, because the members need to freely choose it. They need to be drawn toward it by love.

Societies of law struggle to see that justice is done but justice isn’t enough. The truth is that all of us have something to fear from justice. All of us have done things we don’t want examined in a court room by zealous questioners. We know we need forgiveness, so although law remains, mercy grows out of it and tempers it.

Since we live in part by trespassing and being trespassed, and since being wronged is the human condition, those who walk the road to peace find at every fork forgiveness is one of the choices. If they choose the other way, they find the road turns back and descends easily and steadily. So returning to the way becomes the daily work.

Societies of peace rely on the methods of teachers: persuasion, patience, and unfeigned care. An economy of peace is an order in which gift plays a powerful part. Trade remains, but theft does not. The future’s uncertainty is reduced through covenants, promises exchanged with concern about the well-being of the other in mind. What one can give is often more important than what one might get.

Many of us reach a commitment to living peacefully after trying other methods. People who are most committed to peace usually have their scars. They are not naive about the challenges life throws in our way. Sometimes they are accused of being too idealistic.

But in seeing the highest reality, they may be understood as the true realists.


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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Making a balance 4/24
     The way of the teacher

Opposition is a structural principal of the universe. In his 1967 study of hierarchies, Arthur Koestler pointed out that all complex systems were balances of opposing forces. Every level in a complex system is a balance between what he called an integrative tendency to be joined into larger entities, and an assertive tendency to exist as an independent whole.

An atom, for example, is a balance between forces of attraction and repulsion–just as the solar system is a balance between the attractive force of gravity and the separative force of centrifugal motion. Nature is a vast hierarchy in which every whole is made up of smaller parts at the same time it is itself a part of something larger. Every level in this hierarchical order is characterized by opposing tendencies to join and to separate.

In The Evolving Self, Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan discussed the same pattern in human development. The “creative motion of life itself” is a dialectic between the desire to join and the desire to be independent. In a series of six stages, moving first toward greater independence, then back toward greater sharing, then back toward independence, all the while incorporating larger and larger realities into the personality and awareness, a living human being is a developing hierarchy.

Kegan calls the stages a person moves through “balances,” because they are periods of relative stability between the child’s desire to be part of a family or other group and the opposing desire to be free and independent. Each of these balances, Kegan says, is a self-contained, coherent reality that tends to be invisible to those at other levels. People at different developmental levels are, as Piaget taught us, literally in different realities.

A world made up of many levels and of many forces in opposition is a world of complex realities. In it, we face hard choices. People who are urging us to fight frequently speak in principled terms, as though things were simple, but honest people who sincerely try to make simple decisions based on clear principles always, sooner or later, find themselves facing decisions that force them to violate one good principle to be true to another.

A familiar illustration poses the question, “Is lying okay?” Most people agree that it isn’t. What, then, should you do if the Gestapo knocks at your door and asks if you are hiding Jews, and the true answer is “yes”?

Well, there are other principles to think about. Is preserving innocent life a higher principle than telling the truth to corrupt officials? By working through such dilemmas, thoughtful people who are motivated by a hunger for reality, for knowledge of how things truly are, gradually clarify their principles, coming to understand higher and higher laws by learning what comfortable ideals we sometimes must sacrifice to preserve something that we love more.

In questions of values, we eventually learn that we are free to choose what to believe based on our desires. Moral thinking begins with the question, “what do I want?”

But it doesn’t end there, because some desires are more intelligent than others.


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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Sabbaths 1
     Shot taken on my front steps

Looking east from where I live along Mission Creek, I gaze straight into the Mission Mountains, jutting 8,000 feet above the valley floor. They remind me that the reality I clunk my way through down here in town is not all the case that is. This time of year the peaks rise dazzingly graced with winter’s snows, tempering the urgency of my mundane tasks, inviting me to pause and consider the spring gusts of warmness and the occasional sunshine.

I grew up here, with the mountains maybe the most reliable daily presence. I live just a couple miles from where novelist D’Arcy McNickle also grew up. Although that was almost a century ago, the view above has changed little in that time.

Years ago while reading his first novel, The Surrounded, I was struck by how at home I felt in the story--not in any of its particulars so much as in the psychological geography. In McNickle’s book, the young hero gets into serious trouble with civilization and he runs just a few miles east into the mountains, where he can vanish from the world the officials know and control. Reading the story was like revisiting the daydreams and fantasies I had sitting in school, looking out the window at those mountains. I’ve always been aware that civilization ends four miles east and that it’s possible to disappear into an invisible world.

Imagine the psychology of people who grew up in places where human civilization stretched away seemingly forever, where one couldn’t simply walk a couple miles to the edge of organized society and head up into the wilderness and into a primal sort of freedom. It must be easy for them to begin thinking of the government as a sort of god, the maker and breaker of dreams and the shaper of realities. It must be easy for them to be preoccupied with symbols of status and mechanisms of fame.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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©2008 Michael L. Umphrey

Staying together
     Generational succession and personal identity

The story of Chief Charlo, hanging on in the Bitterroot after many Salish had moved north to the Flathead Reservation, is poignant in a way that life is often poignant. What is sadder than to lose the homeland of one’s youth and to have the world change around one so dramatcally that one’s grandchildren speak a different language?

Of course, most of us lose the homelands of our childhood--that we can’t go home again is a common lament. And I’ve worked with many adolescents who spoke a language in many ways unrecognizable by their parents and grandparents. We live in times of ongoing cultural change, and in such times succeeding generations may come to consciousness in a narrative environment quite different from that their parents grew up in. Under such circumstances, it would be startling if they did not develop values quite different from those of their elders. Something akin to Charlo’s sadness would seem to be a common plight.

And yet, it is not necessary that the generations become estranged. The “generation gap” that so mesmerized observers during the sixties is not a fact of nature so much as a failure of culture. Thinking of education not as the transmission of information and skills in a classroom but as the way a culture is passed on, a question that becomes important is what sort of education is needed if parents and their children are to recognize each other fully enough to share the deepest meanings in life? Clearly, it will be an education that resists some kinds of change, focusing instead on continuities. As many Native American have recognized, it will be an education more concerned with culture than with information. Daniele Conversi argues that a culture that is not transmitted from one generation to the next should not be considered a culture at all:

Despite a proliferation of writings on culture, ...[it] remains one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and define in the social sciences. Already by the 1950s the US anthropologists Alfred Louis Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn were able to identify over 100 competing definitions of ‘culture’.

The rise of cultural studies as a self-standing discipline in the 1960s should have in principle contributed to clarify this conundrum, having elected it as its central topic of investigation. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Despite its promising beginnings under the brilliant stewardship of Richard Hoggart and others (Sardar and Van Loon 1998), the disarray has progressively amplified, degenerating into conceptual chaos and turning cultural studies into one of the most confused and confusing disciplines on earth. Instead of being rigorously defined, the concept of culture has become so flexible and muddled as to include virtually every aspect and form of human behaviour. ‘Culture’ has therefore fragmented into its constituent parts, an amalgam of infinite particles now dissolving into idiosyncratic chaos. At the moment, everything can become ‘culture’ from ‘youth culture’ to ‘drug culture’, from ‘consumer culture’ to pop culture, ‘yob’ culture, hooligan culture, and, perhaps a short step from hooliganism, animals’ culture. Yet, all of these ‘cultures’ fall short of the main distinguishing criterion, inter-generational continuity. There is currently an urgent need to go back to the concept of culture in its original meaning of cultivating and hence nourishing. Culture should be linked to material, rather than biological, inheritance. In short, a sense of continuity is inseparable from culture, hence culture can only exist if it is transmitted through generations.  (Daniele Conversi, “Can Nationalism Studies and Ethnic/racial Studies Be Brought Together?” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Volume: 30. Issue: 4. Page 815. (c) 2004

Questions of cultural continuity will be easier to discuss within families than they will be to discuss at school. It is quite proper that families and communities entertain the apostles of change who speak from the schools with the moral fervor of revolutionaries with a bit of skepticism. While it’s true that each new generation needs to creatively adopt their culture to a changing world, if the passion for change isn’t judiciously tempered by a fondness for ways and means of proven value, we risk trading our birthright for a gaggle of gadgets.

In her study of Korean Christians in Chicago, Kelly Chong found that a significant way that second generation Koreans kept their cultural identity was through

certain elements of ‘practiced culture,’ that is, values and standards of traditional Korean morality. These values, ubiquitously invoked in their discourse about their Korean identity, consist of a set of core traditional Korean Confucian values—most significantly, filial piety, respect for parents, family-centeredness, and work ethic.

Whereas non-church goers tend to speak more about “making decisions for oneself” rather than obeying parents, the young adults who attend church say they prefer the clear rules, and “traditional Korean views regarding sexual morality and gender relations.” It is more through moral values than general aspects of culture such a food and music that a “powerful sense of group consciousness and boundary is forged among the second generation.”

Those who chose to stay in the church sometimes see the individual liberty of the surrounding society as contributing to the dissolution of culture and of togetherness. One member described it thus:

There are many truths in the American society. Because of that, there is no value system. Everything and anything is permissible. So we lose common dignity, respect, and people end up getting absorbed in their own little worlds. People used to live by Christian virtues, knew definite right or wrong. Now, kids are being killed, and are killing their parents. All because the parents don’t have any values to give them. People are encouraged to be open-minded so they lose definition. Koreans have a better value system, like the way Christianity used to be.

Various scholars have noted that the strengths and vitality of contemporary evangelicalism can be attributed to its “strictness,” which confers strong social bonds and cohesion among the church members ( Kelley, D. M. 1972 . Why conservative churches are growing. New York: Harper and Row.; Iannaccone, L. R. 1994 . “Why strict churches are strong”. American Journal of Sociology 99: 11801211.). It is my contention that Christian conservatism, both through its peculiar resonance with traditional Korean values and its ability to help articulate a clear sense of group boundary and identity, is crucial to the ethnic project of the Korean church regarding the second generation. The conservative Protestant ideology of the Korean church, through its reference to the unchanging, divine laws which dictate standards of strict ethics and morality for the members of the group, has proven quite effective as a form of legitimation for strict, exclusive ethnic group identity in the secondgeneration church members. In contrast, scholars such as Steve Bruce (Bruce, S. 1983 . “Identifying conservative Protestantism”. Sociological Analysis 44: 65-69.) have remarked on the relative ineffectiveness of liberal Protestantism in generating such group cohesion. As Bruce ( 1983 :68) puts it, “The liberal insistence on reason as filter for revelation produces a variety of problems in social reproduction. In a pluralist society, denial of an objective and unchanging source of revelation invites diversity and the consequent problems of maintaining cohesion and commitment.”

“An agreed-upon and commonly held interpretation of reality is a prerequisite for social identity. It is also the constructive link with personal identity” ( Mol, H. 1976 . Identity and the sacred:A sketch for a new social-scientific theory of religion. New York: Free Press : 67).


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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©2006 Michael L. Umphrey

Rotary’s 10 virtues
     Common ground between world's six major religions

To develop Empower The Family as a turnkey project for Rotary clubs worldwide, a universal message has to be crafted that transcends geography, religious, racial, political, social and similar barriers. World Peace Parents turned to the world’s six major belief systems of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, seeking such a message.  Accepted by 65% to 75% of the world’s population, common virtues embraced by these six belief systems for ten, twenty, even thirty centuries approaches universal acceptance.  A founder of a belief system that has endured the test of time, as these six have, must have taught basic virtues essential for harmonious, peaceful community living.

World Peace Parents engaged graduate students at Harvard Divinity School and Brigham Young University to research ten virtues common to these six belief systems and accepted by most world cultures, religions and societies. The “Ten Virtues” selected were:  Fairness, Family, Forgiveness, Free Agency, Love, Peace, Service, Trust, Truth, and Worship.  The results of the research to date:

“The founders of the six belief systems have common teachings, with some variations, for The Ten Virtues. The research was expanded to include the question: Do these six- belief systems teach that parents have a duty to teach their children? The short answer is yes.”


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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©2005 Michael L. Umphrey

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