Wednesday, August 22, 2007

rise of the middle class

I had an awesome dinner conversation last night with my friends and parents (both titles refer to the same two people). We were talking about patterns of work, play, rest, and consuming. We wondered how political economic systems support healthy patterns, or don't. We wondered about the selfishness and short-sightedness that seem to be endemic and growing. I asked what they think their parents would have thought. My dad mused out loud on how the US middle class grew in the 1950s, and it really seemed that everyone was getting a bigger slice of the pie and the pie itself was growing. He said his parents in Newton, KS never wanted to get ahead if it meant anyone in their community might suffer.

The phrase "rise of the middle class" echoed in my mind for a minute. Here's why: I'm finally reading Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress. In telling the story of her work with the labyrinth in the last 15 years, she mentions a mysterious thought that kept coming to her: "it's all about the fourteenth century."
Now, Lauren's a mystic, and she also has a very keen analytic mind. Far keener than mine. So this fourteenth-century stuff is not a nostalgic art-history-major thing. What she discovered was that the shift from the superstitious middle ages to the so-called Enlightenment had huge consequences for the way we think:

As the Western world moved into the Enlightenment, we embraced reason as the
central function of the mind. This excluded subjective experiences: the
senses, as well as intuition, dreams, or any hints of revelation. In the
eyes of both scientists and leaders of the Reformation, the religious
imagination was stripped of all respect and honor among the various ways
of knowing.

Lauren says, and I agree, that imagination will be crucial both to finding a way forward for the global community and to being healthy and whole as we do it. "We are just beginning to restore the honor of the imagination. And we have yet to sort out the difference between superstition and mystical experience," she says. We are trying to swing the pendulum back, reintegrate ways of thinking (this is certainly happening, think of the buzz about multiple intelligences). It's been important to look at what forces swung the pendulum the other way, beginning in the 16th century.

What else happened around the time of Enlightenment and the Reformation? I'll admit to not having been on the edge of my seat in seventh and ninth grade history, but this much got through: the rise of the middle class. So what I wondered listening to my dad talk about Kansas in the 1950s was: was the WWII and postwar boom like Enlightenment Part II for the US psyche? They certainly have some things in common: booming economy from growing markets and (economists, straighten me out) specialization, right? More stuff is available, so we're willing to work longer hours at less satisfying tasks to increase our buying power. (See Mary Haddad's July 29 sermon on transforming our desires.) What does the demise of the imagination have to do with the death of the family farm? How might we bring both back without being foolhardy or irresponsible?

1 comment:

Kirstin said...

What a great conversation! You are blessedly lucky.