Thursday, August 27, 2015

Social Architecture (4) 10s 50s 100s 1000s

While they had lived in Egypt, the Israelites were controlled by slave masters who oppressed them for forced labour (Ex 1:11-13). When Moses led them into the Promised Land, they left the authority of their slave masters behind. All that remained were their family connections. As they marched through the wilderness, they naturally linked up as families, clans and tribes, because these were the people they knew and trusted.

God had already established this family-based social structure among his people. In the promised land, Moses discovered that, the “tens fifties, hundreds and thousands” are the glue that holds society together (Deut 1:15).

He had more dealings with the leaders of thousands, so he listed them first, but the actual structure worked the other way round, as tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands.

We have not noticed, but this was a radical change. In Egypt, everything was controlled from the top down. A slave master had control over a bunch of Israelites, because Pharaoh had delegated authority to him. He could make the Israelites do whatever he liked. The Israelites could not get married or have children without getting permission. They could not choose where they wanted to live. The rest of Egyptian society was structured under the same top-down authority.

The land in Egypt was owned by Pharaoh (Gen 47:20-21). He controlled who got which piece of land to grow food, and had the right to take most of what they produced in return. In the Promised Land, the land was allocated to tribes and families by ballot (Num 26:52-56). Every family would have a piece of land and the leaders of tribes could take it off them or controlled how they used. In fact, they were given a moral obligation to ensure that each family retained its inheritance in the land (Lev 25:8-54).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Social Architecture (3) Bottom Up

Moses did not understand the social structure of Israelite society, because he had been brought up in the house of Pharaoh close to the centre of power. Because he had been trained by Pharaoh’s courtiers, he assumed that he would have to control the people from top in the same way as Pharaoh controlled the Egyptians. He did not really understand the structure of this new society until he visited his father-in-law in the wilderness. Jethro saw the strain that Moses was under and understood that he was trying to control everything.

Jethro was a prophet. He told Moses to give authority back to the leadership that already existed in the community, so he could focus on representing the people before God.

You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him (Ex 18:19).
Moses should teach Israel God’s laws and instructions and pray for them.
Teach them the laws and the instructions, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the actions they are to take (Ex 18:20).
Authority should be restored to the people in the community who were already respected within their families.
You shall look among the community for people who fear God, love the truth and hate corruption, and put them as heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Exodus 18:21).
This passage is usually translated as if Moses appointed these leaders. This is nonsense, because Moses would have been even more stressed, if he had to appoint a leader for every family in Israel. The Hebrew text states that Moses was to “look for people” who were already respected within their community. He was to “put them as heads of tens, etc.” Moses did not know all the people personally, so he could not identify capable leaders who feared God. He did not need identify them, because they already existed as leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. Moses placed authority back where God wanted it to be.

These leaders were not to impose authority over the people with authority from the top down. They were to act as judges hearing legal disputes, not as rulers or governors.

They shall be judges of the people at all times, but they shall bring every difficult case to you (Exodus 18:21).
Authority was returned to families. If a family had an issue that they could not resolve, they could take to a respected person in the ten. If this person could did not how to resolve the case, it could be delegated higher. Only cases that could not be resolved by lesser judges would go to Moses.

The right to appeal rested with the people. They decided whether disputes should be referred upwards. They could control which cases would be referred to Moses. He could only intervene when he was invited. This was a bottom up system of justice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Social Architecture (2) Family Authority

The government is the main source of authority in modern society. The government decides how much authority will be delegated to regional and local governments. Local governments control the structure of cities and communities. The coming of the Government of God will reverse the structure of authority in society to flow from bottom to the top. This will require that society is structured in a totally different way. A new social pattern will be essential for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

This new pattern was demonstrated when Moses led the children of Israel went entered the Promised Land. When they came out of Egypt, they were not a modern nation state. They had no political system at all, because they had been slaves in Egypt. A benefit of their time of servitude was that there was not false system of government to be removed. God was starting with a clean slate.

The Israelites were organised by households, families, clans and tribes. The centre of authority was the households, with households delegating some of their authority up to family and tribal leaders. There was no central controlling authority. Moses could not force his will on the people. When the leaders of families and tribes refused to follow his lead, he was powerless. Moses’ lack of authority seems odd to us, but this was the perfect situation for God’s system of government.

The primary unit of organisation in Israel was the household, not the central government. These households included dependent relatives and various servants, but God saw each household as a cohesive entity, not a group of individuals. These households did not stand alone, but were formed into tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Social Architecture (1)

In a book called Millennialism and Social Theory, Gary North noted that Christians have never developed a social theory.

What is also remarkable is that two millennia after the Incarnation of God’s Son in history, His followers have no idea what a saved world ought to look like. They have not blueprint for a uniquely biblical social order. There is no comprehensive body of materials that would point to a solution to this question: “How would a Bible-based society differ from previous societies and present ones?” Hardly anyone is even asking the question. Hardly anyone ever has.

His book explains that obsession with the rapture and the millennium has prevented this from happening. Christians assume that Jesus will provide a perfect social theory during the millennium, so we do not need one now.
A number of modern trends have undermined the social cohesion of society.

  • Increased nationalism
  • Growing government power
  • Expanding individualism
  • Weakened families
  • Urbanisation
Christians have focussed considerable energy on strengthening families, while being ambivalent about nationalism and government powers. Unfortunately, they have missed the piece in the middle. The need for a Christian social theory is more urgent than ever.

The world need structures to prevent the strong and wicked bullies from seizing power and trampling over the weak and vulnerable. The powerful must be prevented from prospering at the expense of the weak.

Most Christians expect the state to provide this protection, but that hope has been illusory. At best, the state has distracted onto side issues neglects the weak and the poor. At worst the state become powerful and aggressive and plunders those who need its protection.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sunny Clay Cliffs

Another photo of the place where I grew up. The Pareora River in the foreground with willows on the bank. The clay cliffs cut off the rolling ridges. The Hunter Hills (Te Tari a Te Kaumira) in the background, with Mount Nimrod with its strong shoulders in the centre.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cultural Engagement

Back in 2010, I posted some comments on the book called To Change the World by James Davison Hunter. The subtitle of the book is The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the late Modern world. Here is David Fitch's summary of the book.

Hunter says conservatives (“defensive against”) and liberals (relevance to”) alike have tried to play the power game in trying to influence American culture. They both have sought to win the culture through political means. In the process one side (conservatives) has become isolated from the broader culture in their defensiveness. The other side has become absorbed into the culture and lost its voice. They both in effect ended up losing. Neither has effected much change.

Hunter says American Christians have operated under the illusion they could change culture through changing the hearts and minds of individuals. Hunter says this ignores how culture works. People are not so much changed by believing in ideas as to how they have been shaped by a culture. Culture, for Hunter, is shaped by the powerful institutions, networks and producers of culture run by elites. Therefore, as much good work as local churches might do by teaching individuals about world view and campaigning for culture change, ultimately they shall be absorbed by the culture surrounding them if the culture is not changed at the production level.

In this regard, evangelicalism has been woefully inadequate at forming culture-making institutions. We have mimicked the broader culture with “parallel institutions” that produce inferior cultural products that mimick the larger culture. In this process however, all we’ve done is create a new market niche that gets absorbed into the wider culture. We end up with no counter cultural impact. Worse, our own culture-making bridges Christians into further absorption into the larger culture.

All this reveals the woeful inadequacy of a church’s engagement (both evangelical and mainline protestant Christians) with our existing culture and why so little impact has been made.
Fitch is right on the nail.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Big Orange Splot

One of my favourite children's books is The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.

Mr Plumbeam was true to himself, and his neighbourhood was transformed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Base Isolators

A new building in Christchurch. You can see the base isolators between the foundation and the steel frame that will allow movement in an earthquake.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Men Adrift (2)

Last month, the Economist published an interesting article called Men Adrift. This is having a devasting affect on family life.

There is no sugar-coating this: many blue-collar men no longer have the sort of earning or prospect that will make women want to marry them A recent Pew Poll found that 78% of never-married American women say it is “very important” that a potential spouse should have a steady job. (Only 46% of never-married men said the same.)
For poor people, especially, it makes sense. Two pairs of hands can juggle work and kids more easily. Spouses can support each other through sickness or might school. But this works only if both believe that the commitment is long term. It is pointless to make plans with someone you fear will sponge of you for a while and then vanish.
Means tested benefits make it easier of get by without a spouse, and sometimes penalise marriage. In America, a single mother with two children who earns $15,000 a year would typically receive $5,200 in food stamps, which would fall to zero if she were to marry a father who earned the same, and this just one of 80 or so means-tested benefits.
In most rich countries, the supply of eligible blue-collar men does not match demand… When men with jobs are in short supply, as they are in poor neighbourhoods through the rich world, any presentable male can get sex, but few women will trust him to stick around or behave decently. Two sociologists asked a sample of inner-city women of all races why they broke up with their most recent partner. Four in ten blamed his chronic, flagrant infidelity: half complained that he was violent. Such experiences make working class women distrust men in general. They still have babies with men, but they seldom marry them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Men Adrift (1)

Last month, the Economist published an interesting article called Men Adrift.

Technology and trade mean that rich countries have less use than they once did for workers who mainly offer muscle. A mechanical digger can replace dozens of men with spades. A chinse steel worker is cheaper than an America. Men still dominate risky occupations such as roofers and taxi-driver, and jobs that require long stints away from home, such as trucker and oil-rig worker. And other things being equal, dirty, dangerous and inconvenient jobs pay better than safe, clean ones. But the real money is in brain work, and here many men are lagging behind. Women outnumber them on university campuses in every region bar South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
In “The End of Men”, a good book with a somewhat excessive title, Hanna Rosin notes that of the 30 occupations expected to grow fasted in America in the coming years, women dominate 20, including nursing, accounting, child care and food preparation. “The list of working-class jobs predicted to grow is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes”.
And poorly educated men are often much worse at things such as showing up on time and being pleasant to customers (even if they don’t feel like) than their female peers are. For the working class the economy has become more amenable to women than to men.
The world’s most dysfunctional people are nearly all male. Men have always been more violent than women, even if they are less violent now than they used be. In America today they commit 90% of the murders and make up 93% of the prison population. There are also four times more likely to kill themselves than women are.
The ability to defer children is one of the reasons why 23% of married American women with children now out-earn their husbands, up from 4% in 1960. Few women in rich countries now need a man’s support to raise a family. (They might want it, but they don’t need it.)
The difference is in part because unskilled men have less to offer than once they did. In America pay for men with only a high school diploma fell 21% in real terms between 1979 and 2013; for those who dropped out of high school it fell by a staggering 34%. Women did better. Female high school graduates gained 3%; high-school dropouts lost 12%.
Second, many men do not work at all. In America, the share of men of prime working age who have a job has fallen from a peak of nearly 95% in the mid-1960s to only 84% in 2010.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pareora River

An aerial photo of the valley where I grew up. Our home was in the middle left, where the willow trees by the river come close to the road.

Thanks to David Wall Photography.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Happy Cities (5) Stranger Deficit

In Happy City, Charles Montgomery outlines the results of stranger deficit.

For thousands of years, city life naturally led people toward casual contact with people outside our circle of intimates. In the absence of refrigeration, television drive-thru, and the Internet, our forebears had no choice but to come together every day to trade, to talk, to learn and to socialize on the street. This was the purpose of the city.

But modern cities and affluence economies have created a particular kind of social deficit. We can meet almost all our needs without gathering in public. Technology and prosperity have largely privatised the realms of exchange in malls, living rooms, backyards and on the screens of computer and smartphones.

Tellingly, the word community is increasingly used to refer to groups of people who use the same media or who happen to like a certain product, regardless of whether its members have actually met.

As more and more of us live alone, these conveniences have helped produce a historically unique way of living, in which home is not so much a gather place as a vortex of isolation.

So far, technology only partially make up for this solitude.

A growing stack of studies provide evidence that online relations are simply not as rich, honest, or supportive as the ones we have in person (p.153-154).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Happy Cities (4) N Street

N Street is a wonderful story from Happy City.

It started in 1986, when Kevin World and Linda Cloud, a pair of young environmental activists, bought neighbouring homes on N Street on what was then the edge of the university town of Davis. At some point they tore down the fence between those homes and their roommates starting sharing meals in the bigger house. As more community-minded people bought or rented the adjoining properties, more fences came down, and more people dropped for dinner.

The core of the block had been transformed into a lush open green. There were no backyard fences left inside the block. There was an orchard of apple and oranges, a chicken coop, gardens and lawns scattered with children’s toys.

I told Wolf the place felt a little bit like a commune. “But it is not” he corrected me. “None of this land is communal. All the lots are privately owned. We live in our how homes and have our own yards. It’s just that we choose to share those yards and some of our resources.

The setup is remarkably simple. Some take turns cooking meals for dozens of neighbours in the big kitchen. Some prefer to cook and eat alone. Some mix it up. Some have chipped in for a Jacuzzi, which they share with their neighbours for a small fee. Others wouldn’t dream of hot-tubbing with the gang. People do what they want with their yards, but they agree to maintain common paths through them.

Amid all this voluntary intimacy, remarkable things happen... When a single woman died of cancer, the change in her child’s family life was organic. As her mother’s health declined, the child spent time with key neighbours, sleeping over at Kevin and Linda’s house more and more often. The bonds of intimacy and care were so tight that when her mother finally died, the child had already transitioned into a new loving household (and she was formally adopted). The village had become her extended family and wrapped itself around her like a cocoon (p.143).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Happy Cities (3) Community Destroyed

The automobile combined with the detached house in a dispersed suburb has destroyed community life in the modern city. Charles Montgomery says in Happy City,

We have this Conundrum. The detached house in distant dispersal (of a modern suburb) is a blunt instrument: it is a powerful tool for retreating with your nuclear family, and perhaps your direct neighbours, but a terrible base to nurture other intensities and relationships. Your social life must be scheduled and formal. Serendipity disappears in the time eaten up by the commute, in the space between windshield and the garage doors. On the other hand, life in places that feel too crowded to control can leave us so over-stimulated and exhausted that we retreat into solitude.

What we need are places that help us to moderate our interactions with strangers without having to retreat entirely.

We need the nourishing, helping warmth of people, but also need the healing touch of nature. We need to connect, but also need to retreat. We benefit from the consequences of proximity, but these conveniences come with the price of over-stimulation and crowding. We cannot solve the conundrum of sustainable city living unless we understand the contradictory forces and resolve the tension between them (p.123).
Being around too many strangers involves a stress full mix of social uncertainty and lack of control.
Crowding is a problem of perception, and it a problem of design that can be addressed, at least in part, by understanding the subtle physics of sociability (p.126).
We spend a great deal of effort insulating ourselves from stranger, whether its retreating to the edge of suburbia or adding more security features to our urban apartment. But this habit can deprive us of some of the most important interactions of life: those that happen in the blurry zone among people who are not quite stranger, but not yet freed.
The lighter relations we have in volunteer groups, with neighbours, or even with people we see regularly on the street can boost feeling of self-esteem, mastery, and physical health (p.127).
People who say they feel that they “belong to their community are happier than those who do not.

And people who trust their neighbours feel a greater sense of that belonging.
.
And the sense of belong is influenced by social contact(p.134).
It has been a terrible mistake to design cities around the nuclear family at the expense of other ties (p.134).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Happy Cities (2) Lost Streets

I enjoy the novels of Charles Dickens. His description of London life during the 19th century are fascinating. He describes the squalor and hardship brought by the industrial revolution. However, they other thing that stands out it that the streets of London were full of life. Much of the action of daily life occurred on the streets, making a very animated world. Charles Montgomery explains in Happy City why this does not happen any more.

For most of history, streets were for everyone. The road was a market a playground, a park and a thoroughfare, but there were no traffic lights, painted lines. Before 1903, not city had a traffic code. Anyone could use the street and everyone did. It was a chaotic environment lettered with horse dung, and fraught with speeding carriages, but a messy kind of freedom reigned.

Cars and trucks began to push into cities, a few years after Henry Ford streamlined mass production at his automobile assembly line (p. 67).
In the beginning, private motor cars were feared and despised by the majority of urbanites. Their arrival was seen as an invasion that posed a threat to justice and order. At first all levels of society banded together to protect the shared street.

But drivers joined with automobile dealers and manufacturers to launch a war of ideas that would redefine the urban street. They wanted more space. And they wanted pedestrians, cyclists and streetcar users to get out of the way. The American Automobile Association called this new movement Motordom.

They had to change the idea of what a street is for, and that required a mental revolution. Which had to take place before any physical changes to the street. In the space of a few years, auto interests did put together that culture revolution. It was comprehensive.

First, they had to convince people that the problem with safety lay in controlling pedestrians, not cars.

Most people came to accept that the street was not such a free place anymore – which was ironic, because freedom was Motordom’s rallying cry (p.70-71).
Modern cities have been transformed by the automobile.
It helped fuel an age of unprecedented wealth. It created a demand for cars, appliances and furniture that fueled the manufacturing economy. It provided millions of jobs in construction and massive profits for land developers. It gave more and more people the change to purchase their own land, far from the noise and hast and pollution of downtown (p.75).
Great for producing wealth, but what has it done to our culture and society.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Happy Cities (1)

In his book Happy City: Transforming our Lives through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery explains that Urban Design has an effect on the way that people live. Here is a good quote.

We have this Conundrum. The detached house in distant dispersal (of a modern suburb) is a blunt instrument: it is a powerful tool for retreating with your nuclear family, and perhaps your direct neighbours, but a terrible base to nurture other intensities and relationships. Your social life must be scheduled and formal. Serendipity disappears in the time eaten up by the commute, in the space between windshield and the garage doors. On the other hand, life in places that feel too crowded to control can leave us so over-stimulated and exhausted that we retreat into solitude (p.128).
What we need are places that help us to moderate our interactions with strangers without having to retreat entirely (p.128).
This suggests that it is extremely difficult to establish a real church in which people can love one another in a modern city. Modern urban design is hostile to the body of Christ.

Separation
The design of our modern cities is still based on a principle of separation of activities, even though the problems it was designed to deal with have been solved.

The school of separation believed that the good life can only be achieved by separating the various functions of the city, so that certain people can avoid the worst of its toxicity (p.64).
Separation was the natural response to the Industrial Revolution, which created cities, choking on soot and sewage (p.64).
In the modern city, people live in the suburbs, a long way from their work, schools, and leisure activities. They are forced to move from place to place in the city during their day. This rapid movement depends on the automobile.
Despite their love of liberty, Americans have embraced the massive restrictions of property rights that the separated city demands  (p.67).
Suburban zoning rules have ensured that every city is as separate and static as any Soviet-area housing scheme (p.69).
The reorganization of cities could not have happened without breathtaking subsidies for roads and highways, a decades-long program that required a culture transformation (p.69).
Once the system of dispersal was established in early suburbs, it began to repeat itself in plan after plan. It was easier for city builders in communities with limited budges (p.75).
The modern separated city is based on the city and the automobile. The automobile transformed the city. I will explain how in my next post.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Demolished Infrastructure

A couple of months ago, the earthquake-damaged police station in Christchurch was demolished by controlled explosion.




A week later it looked like this.

After three weeks.

Now most of the rubble is gone, with only the foundation and basement left to be dug out.

A new emergency response centre for police, ambulance and fire services is being built on a different site.

Replacing this infrastructure is an enormous strain for a city in a developed country with good insurance coverage.

In a less developed country, replacing this kind of infrastructure must be an impossible burden. That is why I cannot understand why the Washington warmongers send out planes every day to destroy building and bomb infrastructure in Syria, and encourages their allies to do the same in Yemen. What sort of warped logic thinks that this will make the situation better. You cannot do good by doing evil.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Raising the House

No, they are not putting a swimming pool under the house. Earthquake damaged foundations of this wooden bungalow in Christchurch are being rebuilt. The house will then be lowered back down again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Building Christian Communities (3)

I am posting my notes on a book called “Building Christians Communities” written by Stephen Clark in 1975.

A basic Christian community is an environment of Christians, which can provide the basic needs of its members to live the Christian life.

  • It must be Christian, organised, large enough (40+) local, complete, and united.

  • The environmental approach is interaction or value orientated.

  • The goal is to get people to interact in a particular way and accept certain values.

Communities are formed by an environmental approach, not a functional approach.
  • When church work becomes more professional, they begin a more functional approach (providing services and organising worship).

  • People can be present and happy at worship without forming community.

Activities should be designed primarily to further the environmental dynamic.
  • Many church activities are good, but they do not build a community of people committed to Christianity.

  • They may be functionally effective, but not environmentally effective. For example, people can be happy at worship without commitment being formed.

  • We should be caution about starting new activities.

  • Activities should be assessed on whether they increase commitment to Jesus and his body.

  • Leaders should not waste efforts shoring up existing activities.

The chief criterion for leadership is the ability to develop community.
  • Leaders emerge as people accept their leadership.

  • Leaders must have a strong relationship with Jesus.

  • Strong communities will provide a continuing supply of leadership.

  • The church needs leaders, who can work with an environmental approach.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Building Christian Communities (2)

I am posting my notes on a book called “Building Christians Communities” written by Stephen Clark in 1975.

A community is a strong effective form of environment.

  • Christians in the first four centuries were received into strong communities.

  • Society is now de-Christianised, so Christian communities are now more necessary.

  • It is no longer feasible to make society Christian.

  • A Christian community provides an environment in which strong Christian lives are possible.

  • In strong communities we will find the strength to influence society.

Our basic challenge is to form communities, which allow Christian life in the world.

Small groups are not enough.

  • They do not have sufficient resources and will eventually stagnate.

  • A larger community provides more breadth and balance.

  • Primary relationships are not the only relationships a Christian needs.

  • A bond can exist between people who don’t know each other well, but who have common goal or ideal.

A family is not enough.
  • Family must be strengthened, but a family cannot go it alone.

  • They need to be part of a larger community to succeed.