Eco and Ego

June 24, 2010


Some jokes never get old.  Compare “Living up to Your Prius,” the humorous essay recently published in the New Yorker, with Du Maurier’s satirical cartoon, “The Six-Mark Teapot” (1884).  In the former, McCall playfully needles Prius owners through the device of an imaginary “Things to do with your Prius” message board.  Each activity reveals the Prius-owner as a “type,” and a type less interested in eliminating waste than in indulging eco-smugness.  Examples:

Sidle up to an S.U.V. driver at the gas-station counter and make a show of paying for your fill-up from a jar of pennies.

At the next Luther Burbank Day vegan barbecue and weed roast, back your Prius up to within a few feet of the folks lounging on the grass, with the engine running, and explain that its super-clean exhaust system is actually freshening the air.

Funny because just a little true.

In du Maurier’s cartoon, an Aesthetic Bridegroom points out a “consummate” teapot to his Intense Bride, who responds exultantly, “Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!”

No doubt “The Six-Mark Teapot” struck the same chord in Victorian England that “Living up to Your Prius” strikes today.  The express aspiration to “live up to” a sedan or a teapot is, of course, a comical exaggeration.  But each piece gets at an underlying truth concerning the relationship between us and our stuff.  And comparing the two helps us get at some of the inherent limitations of socially conscious consumerism. Read the rest of this entry »

The Slow Food Movement and the Liturgy

February 14, 2010

To celebrate this Mardi Gras I thought it appropriate to post something about food.  Good food and good eating are not things to be taken for granted.  I am a proud Italian-American—my grandfather was a baker—and, for Italians, a good meal is an art.

Unfortunately, as many have noted, even in Italy, the art of gastronomy is increasingly becoming lost.  Demographic decline, the pressures of work, an increasingly utilitarian attitude toward just about everything, the encroachment of fast food—these and other factors have taken their toll on the quality of the Italian meal.

There are, of course, unwritten rules to the traditional Italian meal—rules about the order of the courses and their content, about the way food should be served, about which foods are appropriate in which seasons, about who does what at the table.  These rules are practical only up to a point and they don’t always make for the most efficient eating, but they tend to facilitate instead savoring, conversation, and—to drop a weighty theological concept—communion.

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Tangled Up in Blue

January 17, 2010

For starters, the 3-D glasses are really cool, not the flimsy paper and celluloid things of the past. These are fashioned on the perennially chic Ray-Ban Wayfarers. However, the neat glasses certainly are not the main reason to go see Avatar.

Director James Cameron’s groundbreaking use of 3-D technology was enough to get me into the theater, but the breadth of his vision in bringing an alien world to life kept me glued to my seat. Many reviewers have praised Cameron’s latest project, and I don’t intend on repeating those praises here. It was a beautiful and thrilling movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Wendell Berry and the EcoDorm

October 15, 2009


I am often struck by a story or article that I don’t have time to follow up on–at least right away.  Maybe that’s not all bad, since the transience of blog posts tends to discourage rumination and measured response.  In that spirit, I’m posting something I’ve been digesting for a fortnight.

Two issues ago, the New York Times Magazine featured a low-key and appreciative story on Warren Wilson’s new eco-friendly dorm (accessible only with on-line member ID).  The accompanying photo gallery is filled with young, self-consciously earthy students of European extraction.  They are depicted lounging in their dorm, drying clothes on a line, playing banjos and bending iron railings in their shop.  All in all, the article attempts to portray what the director of the school’s Environmental Leadership Center calls “an integration of life and values.”  They like their food home-grown, their furnishings hand-made, and their music unamplified.

The one incongruous picture, however, is the shot of an attractive young couple, lounging together in their dorm room (shown above and in the print edition, but not included in the online gallery).  The intimacy of the pose suggests a romantic relationship.  The caption informs us that the couple “met at a camp for home-schooled children when they were 14.  They share an EcoDorm room.  Two other couples cohabit in the dorm.”

The picture is notable not only because it adds little to the “integration of life and values” touted above, but because it goes so far as to contradict it.  Organic living lies cheek-to-jowl with industrial sex. Read the rest of this entry »

Let the Earth Bless the Lord

October 3, 2009

"When everything is done apart, we forget our connection to each other and the world." Ken Burns at the 2009 Boston College Commencement

In a few other posts I’ve taken up the theme of theology as practiced by artists,  filmmakers (both cinema and television) and fiction writers. Once again, television audiences this past week were witness to a bit of theologizing. This time Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker who changed the way documentaries are made with his Civil War, offers his take on God and nature in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

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The Spiritual Curl

August 5, 2009

piglets-oink-oinkWe can get stuck, spiritually, in a pretty deep muck: down on ourselves, focused on the faults of others, turned ungraciously inward. Generally, God doesn’t want us mired down, rather God wants us shining with the glory of creation. Shining from within of God’s glory, we can draw others towards the source of light and life. Radiant from within we more easily act as ambassadors for the King of Glory, the Son of Man. Since I am about to begin a retreat this often repeated dynamic in my relationship with God has been on my mind, and I think that the poet Galway Kinnell’s “Saint Francis and the Sow” serves as a nice reminder of the need for returning to God in the intimacy of prayer and retreat. Here’s the whole poem: Read the rest of this entry »

Benedict the Green

July 31, 2009


bv091_Benedict-02Blogging tends to be a grumpy medium.  The project of “unmasking” the incoherent or self-serving commitments of others allows the unmasker to indulge in one of the few socially acceptable displays of superiority.  Since the human race in its fallen condition is such a target-rich environment for peevish observations, blogging continues to amuse.  A Christian blogger, however, should at least occasionally evoke the beauty of the tradition that he has received, thus rendering an “account of the hope that is within [him]” (1 Pt 3:25).  In that spirit, I thought I would follow up my first thoughts on Caritas in Veritate and Human Ecology with some thoughts on the beauty of the cosmos conceived according to Christian doctrine. Read the rest of this entry »

Caritas in Veritate and Human Ecology

July 8, 2009



I won’t attempt a general appraisal of Caritas in Veritate.  However, I would like to comment on a single idea in the encyclical, a phrase introduced by John Paul in Centesimus Annus and developed by Benedict throughout his pontificate: the “human ecology” (or the “ecology of man”—but why make needless enemies?).  The phrase strikes me as a rather clever reintroduction of the patristic idea of the human person as microcosm, the one who sums up the diverse elements of creation—visible and invisible—in his own person.  Read the rest of this entry »