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FRED Talks Wins Grant

FRED Talks

Our FRED Conference was one of four projects to win grants from Community Matters and the Orton Family Foundation. Here is a little blurb I wrote for them about the Upstream Makers Collective and FRED Talks.

The Upstream [Makers] Collective is a newly established group of artists, writers, and makers who have started coming together to (a) foster our creative gifts and (b) give those gifts back to our community — a community that includes both the people and the land of Oregon mid-Willamette Valley. The name “Upstream” was inspired by Wendell Berry, who said “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” It’s also inspired by the notion that we have a responsibility to leave to future generations a culture that is at least as vibrant as the one we inherited. We’ve started describing our mission as “rural culture for the common good.”

As we stated in our application, the FRED Conference, which is named after Mister Rogers, will feature TED-style talks on the art of neighboring. The best TED talks take help us see the familiar — education, technology, leadership, happiness, etc. — in surprising new ways. That is the goal for our FRED talks. On the surface, does anything seem as run-of-the-mill as your neighbors? But we think there is community-transforming potential in developing relationships literally right outside your front door. In that way, we hope the speakers, curated conversations, and collaborative elements of the FRED Conference will spark the imagination and help us see our own neighborhoods with fresh eyes.
Kate and I prototyped the poster with crayons, markers, and pens.
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Unending Diversity

On a walk over lunch today, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the diversity of the universe. I was struck by the vibrant fall colors on the ancient oak trees that surround my office, and how the leaves are all an expression of the genetic personality of the tree but how each leaf is distinct unto itself. I thought about the blades of grass in the park. I thought about sparrows and lilies. I thought abstractly of the 2 million or more different kinds of insects, and the 10 quintillion insects that are alive on the planet right now. I remembered something I read once about how there are an estimated 100 billion planets in the Milky Way, which is itself just one of at least 175 billion galaxies in the expanding universe. As cars rushed past me on Liberty and Commercial streets, I started thinking about people – about the 7 billion people alive today, as well as the estimated 106 billion people who have ever lived – and about their fingerprints and eyes and the hairs on their heads. And then my imagination blew a fuse. Talking to a co-worker helped. Ladies and gentlemen, the unending, always original, material expressions of God as Maker…

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Prevenient Courage

Sometimes, when I walk the neighborhoods of my town, I imagine Silverton as it will look after the full reconciliation of all things. I see the people, places, and non-human creatures of my community finally, fully themselves. It’s not a very specific vision of flourishing but it is a great source of hope and inspiration to me. I shared a bit about this with my leadership cluster this week. I was reminded of it again today when a friend posted on Facebook this quote from Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite authors. She describes it way better than I can:

“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? … Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave—that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

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How I Came to Love Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot the last two days about writing — why I write and how I came to love it. What has come to mind aren’t discernible patterns in a mountain of data, but rather a stream of ordinary moments, seemingly random and without explanation: a memory of my parents playing cards with their best friends; the day I saw the sun come out in Bandon; sitting around a campfire with four other teenage guys, talking late into the night about things so true they gave us goosebumps; late-night bus rides after an away game; learning to kiss; girls in sundresses (I think we’d all be surprised by how much good writing has been inspired by sundresses); a walk in the rain in Omaha; the first time I read Pablo Neruda; the way Kate looked in her glasses the day we met; listening to Libby sing along with a Weepies album back when we all lived together in the apartment on Market Street; all-night conversations that closed down waffle houses, coffee shops, and pubs; and the way my daughter used to pronounce “helicopter” (hebider). I’m not sure what these memories have in common, but I feel grateful to the people who lived them with me. You seem to have inspired my writing.

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Climate Change Manifesto

If there was an evangelical movement to deal with the reality of climate change, this could be its manifesto. Its author, Dorothy Sayers, was friends with C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

“When the laws regulating human society are so formed as to come into collision with the [laws of nature]…they will end by producing an impossible situation which, unless the laws are altered, will issue in such catastrophes as war, pestilence and famine. Catastrophes thus caused are the execution of the universal law upon arbitrary enactments which contravene the facts; they are thus properly called by theologians, judgments of God.

“…Defy the commandments of the natural law, and the race will perish in a few generations; co-operate with them, and the race will flourish for ages to come. That is the fact; whether we like it or not, the universe is made that way. This commandment is interesting because it specifically puts forward the moral LAW as the basis of the moral CODE: because God has made the world like this and will not alter it, therefore you must not worship your own fantasies, but pay allegiance to the truth.”

– Dorothy Sayers, “The Mind of the Maker”

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Budgets, Family and Federal

Here’s an idea for one of those year-long experiment books. What if, for one year, Kate and I modeled our family budget after the federal government’s?

Let’s say we have a household income of $70,000. But we’d have to live beyond our means. Six percent of all our spending (or about $4,410) would go to make minimum payments on old debts. We’d allocate about $1,470 for education related expenses, and we could only spend $640 a year on food. We would allocate 20 percent for our health care and another 20 percent for our parents’ health care.

We wouldn’t have house payments because we own our home free and clear (thanks, British!). But something pretty scary happened to us about a decade ago so we’d have to set aside about $14,700 per year on home security. What kind of home security system could we buy with almost $15,000? “Guns,” Neo said. “Lots of guns.”

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A rare, longish, overtly political blog post from me. Something that’s been on my mind the last couple days:

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which he makes the case that a federal bond should be paid within one generation of incurring the debt, because “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living….No man can, by natural right, oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeeded him in that occupation, to the payment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might, during his own life, eat up the usufruct of lands of several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living.”

It seems likely, as we enter the latest debate about raising the federal debt ceiling, that we will hear talk about the immorality of passing on to future generations the federal debts of the current generation. I think this is a worthwhile conversation, and the word “usufruct” – a term from Roman law that describes the right to enjoy and use another person’s property as long as it is done with care and without waste – is one potentially useful concept. I think of usufruct as an extension of the commons.

Tea Partiers and fiscal conservatives are right when they say we are mortgaging our kids’ futures. The day my next kid is born in February he or she will inherit a $30,000 share of the U.S. debt. Welcome to the world.

The problem I have, though, with debates like the one ramping up in Washington is not that they are too sweeping but rather too limited. Politicians and pundits have tunnel vision. The same people who make grand moral statements about the national debt, calling as witnesses the multitude unborn, are often the same folks who dismiss outright warnings that we are squandering our natural and cultural inheritance – polluting the air and water, poisoning the land, frittering away the topsoil, slashing funds for public art and K-12 arts education, and promoting censorship.

Just as “anti-life” positions on war and the death penalty can undermine someone’s “pro-life” position on abortion, talking about our kids’ economic future without talking about our natural and cultural commons seems myopic and even self-defeating. The earth belongs only in usufruct to the living. We need to start developing a “seamless garment” approach to our conversation about the natural, cultural, and economic future we are merely holding in trust.