The Holy City, by definition, is already a cultural artifact, the work of a master Architect and Artist. The citizens themselves are the redeemed people of the Lamb, drawn from “every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). But God’s handiwork, artifacts and people alike, are not all that is found in the city. Also in the city are “the glory and the honor of the nations”—brought into the city by none other than “the kings of the earth.”
—Culture Making, p.166
Revelation 21:2 is the last thing a careful reader of Genesis 1–11 would expect: in the remade world, the center of God’s creative delight is not a Garden, but a City. And a city is, by definition, a place where culture reaches critical mass—a place where culture eclipses the natural world as the most important feature we must make something of. Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming “down out of heaven from God.”
—Culture Making, p.122
Creativity is not something just for “creatives”—we all have given being to some sentence the world had never heard before, and may never hear again. In all likelihood, unless we are stuck in a dull job and have dull friends, we have done so this very day. Where did that sentence come from? It was potentially present in the grammar and vocabulary of our language; it may well bear a resemblance to words we and others have thought and said before; but it did not exist before, and it does now. Had we not spoken it, it would have gone unsaid.
—Culture Making, p.104
One of the most memorable posts on Pruned, I think, was written way back in September 2005, when Alex took a look at what he called "litter-free landscapes and the politics of pollen." He quoted horticulturalist Thomas Leo Ogren at length:
In our urban landscapes we now have the most manipulated kind of city forest ever seen. In the past twenty years landscapers have grown inordinately fond of using male trees. In dioecious species (separate-sexed) there are separate male trees and separate female ones. Female trees and shrubs do not produce any pollen, ever, but they do produce messy seeds, fruits, old flowers, and seedpods. Landscapers and city arborists consider this female byproduct to be "litter", and they don’t like to see it lying on our sidewalks.
In other words, urban landscapers over-utilize pollen-intensive plantlife—which, in turn, wildly amplifies seasonal allergies. What if you didn't need more boxes of Claritin, then—you need a more informed city parks department?
In 1953, Dr. Borlaug began working with a wheat strain containing an unusual gene. It had the effect of shrinking the wheat plant, creating a stubby, compact variety. Yet crucially, the seed heads did not shrink, meaning a small plant could still produce a large amount of wheat.
Dr. Borlaug and his team transferred the gene into tropical wheats. When high fertilizer levels were applied to these new “semidwarf” plants, the results were nothing short of astonishing. The plants would produce enormous heads of grain, yet their stiff, short bodies could support the weight without falling over. On the same amount of land, wheat output could be tripled or quadrupled. Later, the idea was applied to rice, the staple crop for nearly half the world’s population, with yields jumping several-fold compared with some traditional varieties. This strange principle of increasing yields by shrinking plants was the central insight of the Green Revolution, and its impact was enormous.
I know the Amish, and Wendell Berry and Eric Brende, and the minimites well enough to know that they believe we don't need exploding technology to expand ourselves, at least in the proper directions. They are, after all, minimalists. They see most of the promises of freedoms from increased technology as illusionary. In their eyes, technology generates fake choices, meaningless options, or real choices that are really entrapments. This is an argument worth exploring because there is some truth in it. The technium is an autonomous system that tends to favor choices by humans that expand its own reach, which can feel like a type of entrapment. And many choices we make don't matter.
But the evidence that the technium expands real choices is voluminous. Throughout history there is a one-way march from the farm to the bustling choices of the city. That steady migration is going on today at a shocking rate; More than two million people per day decide they prefer the options that modern technology life offers, so they flee the constrained choices in a picturesque and comforting village somewhere. They can't all be bewitched. It would be a powerful spell to fool 50% of the people living on this planet.
Those million urban migrants per day have enrolled into the technium for the same reason you have (and you have if you are reading this): to increase your choices. To increase your chances of unleashing your full potential. Perhaps someday someone will invent a tool that is made just for your special combination of hidden talents. Or perhaps you will make your own tool. Most importantly, and unlike the Amish and minimites, you may invent a tool which will help unleash the fullest of someone else. Our call is not only to discover our fullest selves in the technium, but to expand the possibilities for others. We have a moral obligation to increase the amount of technology in the world in order to increase the number of possibilities for the most people. Greater technology will selfishly unleash us, but it will also unselfishly unleash others, our children and all to come.
When it comes to illicit media, the agents for good and evil, even outside New York, are always symbiotic: pornography, in the experience of many moral crusaders, is like an infuriating weed that loves nothing more than a good pesticide, its strength only enhanced by efforts to tamp it down. But Long also chronicles the way that initiatives to eradicate vice only helped pave the way for its further evolution in the city. Try to eliminate drinking on Sunday by limiting it to hotels, as did the Raines Law of 1896, and suddenly every bar and saloon in Manhattan is putting up cheap dividers to create makeshift accommodations, ideal breeding grounds for prostitution, which thrived in the era of the so-called Raines Law hotels. Try to provide a place where working-class men can find a bathroom that isn’t in a bar, and from that solution — public restrooms — will come another challenge: gay (semipublic) sex.
When Adam gardened, he imitated his Maker in a purely recreative act of cultivation and care. He did not need to subdue the earth in order for it to yield fruit. Rather, the plants were Adam's palette, and the earth was his canvas. There was nothing but delight in the Garden, for Eden itself means "garden of delight." When I dug my garden in Culpeper, I was preparing a canvas. And when I arranged the flowering plants and shrubs on the freshly turned ground, I saw already the pink peony blossoms with their heads turned down toward the blue iris, and the white phlox standing straight beside the slouching crimson bee balm. I breathed in the sweet honeysuckle and the citrus-scented bergamot.
I have said on occasion that I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology. (By "theology" I mean the kind of formal written discourse that my special guild of academic theologians does, not the praise of God and communion with divine life that ought to inspire theology at its core.) True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17, NKJV). Likewise, true gardeners never cease to garden, not even in their sleep, because gardening is not just something they do. It is how they live.
The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatilloes and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter who is a beekeeper will tend two hives for honey.
Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.
The plots will be in raised beds fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.
Loving nature, it turns out, is not just an instinct but a virtue. Like nature itself, the virtue of loving it requires cultivation. There’s no question that the trait of biophilia is good for us and good for God’s garden, but we aren’t able to retain a love for nature simply because it’s built in. We must actively create, and re-create, every generation, a culture that loves, and therefore tends and keeps, God’s garden.
“We need environmental stewards now more than ever. Yet we are raising a generation of young people whose primary experience with nature is virtual. Real nature is a full sensory experience, with frequent open-ended problem-solving opportunities and no off switch. We should all make outdoor play a priority for our children and ourselves. Nature: use it or lose it.”
“Kim’s was the cutting-edge; that was always the business concept,” Mr. Kim said the other day in one of a series of conversations about the fate of his video collection. “But ironically, I didn’t prepare.”
Last September, in a move that swept through the Internet at viral speed, he issued a public challenge. In a notice pasted on a wall inside the front door, he wrote, “We hope to find a sponsor who can make this collection available to those who have loved Kim’s over the past two decades.” He promised to donate all the films without charge to anyone who would meet three conditions: Keep the collection intact, continue to update it and make it accessible to Kim’s members and others.
Offers poured in. Every one failed on one count or another. Every offer, that is, except one.