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The Great Irony

One of the books I took along on my recent trip to Guatemala was the Tempe Public Library’s copy of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography by the Mexican-American writer Richard Rodriguez. He’s a tremendously gifted writer and a lot of what he has to say in Darling is provocative, but one paragraph in particular stopped me in my tracks:

If you would understand the tension between Mexico and the United States that is playing out along our mutual border, you must understand the psychic tension between Mexican stoicism – if that is a rich enough word for it – and American optimism. On the one side, the Mexican side, Mexican peasants are tantalized by the American possibility of change. On the other side, the American side, the tyranny of American optimism has driven Americans to neurosis and depression, when the dream is elusive or less meaningful than the myth promised. This constitutes the great irony of the Mexican-American border:  American sadness has transformed the drug lords of Mexico into billionaires, even as the peasants of Mexico scramble through the darkness to find the American dream.

What he’s saying here, if I’m catching his drift, is that the American Dream – at least in its prevailing forms – leaves a whole lot of its devotees (and yes, beneficiaries) deeply discontented. Even so, the allure of the dream lives on, and scores of men, women, and children continue to risk life and limb (quite literally) for the slim chance they might get a taste of it.

If anyone tells you that immigration on the American continent is easy to understand, and therefore easy to fix, don’t believe them. Paradoxes and contradictions permeate the American Dream just as they characterize every person, regardless of nationality, who continues to pursue it.

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Tradition vs. Traditionalism

“The essential thing about tradition is that it creates social continuity. It binds the communal action of the present moment to the communal actions of past moments. What we often call ‘traditionalism,’ the revival of lapsed traditions, is, properly speaking, a kind of innovation, making a new beginning out of an old model. This may or may not be sensible in any given instance, but it is not tradition. The claim of tradition is not the claim of the past over the present, but the claim of the present to that continuity with the past which enables common action to be conceived and executed.”

– Oliver O’Donovan, Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community

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All Is Not Well

“The same God who looks upon my soul and declares my fundamental condition to be ‘well’ for all eternity looks down on oppressive structures and impoverished cities and war-torn villages and grieves over the fact that all is not well in his creation. Someday all will be well—when Jesus declares that all things have been made new. But that day is not yet here. And so all who know that it is well with their souls must actively work toward the day when all will be well again in God’s larger creation. And this enterprise we evangelicals have often failed to pursue with any sustained sense of urgency.”

– Rich Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust

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The True and Living Way

“We shall prove our faithfulness to the gospel by being both fundamentalist and liberal; fundamentalist in the sense that we acknowledge no other foundation upon which to build either our thinking or our acting, either our private or our public life, than the Lord Jesus Christ as he is known to us through the Scriptures; and liberal in the sense that we are ready to live in a plural society, open to new experience, ready to listen to new ideas, always pressing forward toward fuller understanding in the confidence that Jesus is indeed the true and living way, and that when we follow him we are not lost.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Truth To Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth

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“Political folkie, country farmer, travelling gypsy, born-again Christian, rustic dandy—Dylan has cycled through a series of musical characters as if playing all the parts in a one-man vaudeville act. It’s been thrilling and curious, and also—most of the time, at least—deeply persuasive. Can fans be blamed for coming under one of these spells—for believing that Dylan meant what he sang at the March on Washington, or wasn’t just messing around when he recorded ‘Self Portrait,’ or for preferring one incarnation above the others and lamenting or resenting that version’s demolition by Dylan’s own revisionism?”

– Ian Crouch, The New Yorker

Photo: Bob Dylan by Brigitte Lacombe