Eschatology and the American Lawn: A Parallel History, Part I

james

Part I Part II Part III Part IV (Coming Soon)

StripedLawn

INTRODUCTORY MATERIAL/SOIL PREPARATION

Everything is connected.  This is not something I “know” in any verifiable sense, but something I feel. 

I’ve been meaning to write about Eschatology for some time now, and I’ve also received the subtle and well-placed prods from my fellow theophiliacs to hurry up, since I’ve been saying (threatening?) I would do so for a long time.  My problem is that to write about Eschatology in any “systematic” way would: a) bore everyone to death, and  b) take a long damn time to do thoroughly, and c) there are plenty of people who already claim to have done so.  Besides all that, systematic theology just doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve tried your Millard Ericksons, your Wayne Grudens, and your Louis Berkhofs.  I even sat down one semester with Volume I of Barth’s Church Dogmatics intending to “read” them (all 4,521 volumes as if they were a series dime novels or something that you sit down and read, HA!).  I’m done with that.  Sure, from time to time, I’ll consult what systematic theologies I didn’t sell off (I sold Millard Erikson to buy a Christmas present for my wife one time), but I have lost faith in the modernist proposition that theology can or should be systematic. 

Shitennoj_honbo_garden

So, back to eschatology and lawns, two seemingly disparate subjects, why should I write about them together?  Mainly, because I feel like it.  Because I think everything is connected; because I’ve come to think that everyday things, even mundane things can illuminate the study of God in ways that endless pages of scholasticism* cannot.  Theologians (along with everyone else in the Humanities) have allowed themselves to be pigeon holed by the science-pimping academic community.  Specialization is the death-knell of creative, and beneficial academic work.  Therefore, I want to cross-pollinate my theological reflection with other fields, one of which is landscaping.  For centuries Buddhists have seen the benefit of combining religious (or maybe religio-philosophical) meditation with gardening, maybe it is time Christianity does the same.  Is it even possible to combine the study of landscaping with the study of dogma?  Can a parallel history be useful?  Can connections, however tenuous they seem to some, be found and profitably meditated on?  Is this whole thing just going to amount to a pile of crap?  I’ve yet to answer these questions myself (so I don’t need any of you jokers answering them for me!), but as the fly said when he fell into the strawberry preserves, “I’ve put myself in much worse jams than this!”

HalLindsey

Christian eschatology is a series of interrelated beliefs concerning what is happening/what will happen in the “End Times.”  It’s the study of the theology of end things in the sense that it’s about the Christian God’s End Game.  Eschatology endeavours (with varying success) to answer the question: “How is God finally going to get us out of this mess we’ve made?”  So, these posts are going to deal with that and related questions, not the question of IF God is going to get us out of this mess.  I am going to take that proposition on faith.*  There are a lot of different aspects of eschatology: Christ’s Return to Earth, the Millennial Reign of Christ, the alleged Tribulation, the Anti-Christ(s), Seals, Horsemen, Judgment seats, eternal rewards, eternal punishments.  It is a difficult task to sort all of this out.  One of the really confusing tendencies of the systematic and especially the denominational literature on the subject is that it sometimes seems to take all the authors opinions and interpretations concerning these various subjects and lumps them together in one bulk package that the reader is invited to take or leave (at the reader’s own risk).  So that if you want to believe that Jesus is going to come back to judge the quick and the dead, all the sudden you must also believe that the UN is going to set up a New World Order and then all the Christians will be raptured and then Communist Russia is going to attack Israel while President Obama (anti-Christ) and the Pope (the beast) join in holy homosexual matrimony, adopt a Chinese boy (who is the false prophet) and together go around branding people’s foreheads with the dreaded 666, decapitating anyone who refuses. Anyone who’s been around evangelicalism their whole lives (and that’s most of us around here) knows that I am not exaggerating much in my description of that movements dominant eschatology.  So where did this all come from?  Why does the evangelical movement, the A/G, and until a few years myself believe the way they do about End Things.  I am going to advance the claim that eschatology (especially the eschatology described above) finds its origin and foundation in a strange, fluid and convoluted mixture of hermeneutics and history.  So that if you want to understand the eschatology of a particular person, or denomination, or broad theological movement you need to look not only at interpretations of some obscure passage in Daniel, but also and possibly more importantly at the culture, the historical circumstances, and the personal circumstances of the person/denomination/movement in question.  In the words of Titus Decker,

“Theology and history form one giant gelatinous blob slowly making its way across the landscape evolving, changing, oozing out and sucking in as it goes.”

Which brings us finally to lawns.  There are an estimated 32 million acres of grass lawns in America.  Professional lawn care is $28.9 billion industry.  50%-70% of all residential water usage is spent on landscaping the vast majority of which consists of grass.  Have you ever wondered how that happened?  Now, probably the reason this interests me (and possibly why it doesn’t interest you [yet!]) is that I am in the landscaping business; my brother and I just started a little garden design company.  I receive a small percentage of that 29 billion dollars American spend on their lawns.  Later today, I will drive to subdivision hell and finish installing a sprinkler system so that a paying customer (to whom I am grateful) can add his little 1/32nd of an acre to the 32 million. 

Why do we keep grass?  There are environmental benefits of course, but grass took root in American consciousness and culture far before any concern for global warming, urban hotspots, or even environmental conservation of any sort was ever a concern.   In future posts, I will attempt to answer these and more fascinating conondrums, but just as clue as to where I’m going with both my discombobluated meditations on Eschatology and my grass fixation (heehee) I leave you with a quote from Virginia Scott Jenkins, The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession:

“American front lawns are a symbol of man’s control of, or superiourity over, his environment.”  

     Go to Part II   

_____________

*scholasticism: I use this word in a very specific sense to refer A) to the tradition of the medieval theologians who styled themselves after Thomas Aquinas, or B) pejoratively to describe theology or theologians which nit-pick in a ridicously obtuse fashion over the most asinine things (i.e. the famous theological debate about how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle at once) in the farcically serious fashion of the medieval Scholastics.   

*on faith: I know not all of our commentors and readers will, and that’s fine.  I just thought I would be upfront about where I’m coming from.

Advertisements

14 Comments

  1. See what a bit of persistent pestering can do?

    I look forward to the matchup of the century – Hal Lindsey vs James Stambaugh!

    “It’s the late great planet earth match of death!”

    Reply

  2. “the UN is going to set up a New World Order and then all the Christians will be raptured and then Communist Russia is going to attack Israel while President Obama (anti-Christ) and the Pope (the beast) join in holy homosexual matrimony, adopt a Chinese boy (who is the false prophet) and together go around branding people’s foreheads with the dreaded 666, decapitating anyone who refuses.”
    I should not read things like this while I am at work. My co-workers all think I have lost my mind. Great post though. As far as gardening goes, you have my undivided attention. Me and my wife just bought our first house and I have been conetemplating puting in a Zen garden for meditation purposes. I guess the eschatology stuff might be interesting too.

    Reply

  3. After spending two years in a developing world country, I have guilt pangs every time I fertilize, spray for weeds, or water the lawn. How do we as Americans justify this expense when so much of the world is impoverished?

    Will I have to account for this frivolous spending at the last judgment?

    Reply

  4. Jeremy,

    I was actually looking at my backyard recently, and since nothing grows in the sandy, rocky, disgusting excuse for soil aside from some very hearty weeds; I, too, have considered putting in a Zen Garden. Julia’s on board as well, so we picked up some nice rounded rocks at the beach this morning while Adelaide played in the surf.

    It appears Adelaide will have her wading pool and we will have our space for Zazen.

    Steve,

    I think a Zen garden might just solve your guilt issues. It’s just rocks and sand, no watering or pesticides or unnatural anything required. Plus, it’d be a nice place to relax and center yourself. There’s no commandment against that.

    James,

    Looking forward to this series. My (unnamed relatives) still send me propaganda about how this time, the president really is in cahoots with Russia or the Illuminati and we are less than four years away from apocalypse.

    These “books”, and I use the term loosely, must be like form letters by now. Insert new president’s name, new date of apocalypse, print, repeat.

    Reply

  5. Jeremy and ADJ,

    We have something else in common, I really want to design and build a Zen garden as well! I’ve been hoping that someone will eventually hire me to do that. In fact, if I lived in Mpls. or SoCo or knew that either of you were ridiculously rich I would be pestering you to fly me out and help you build your gardens, as it is just let me know if you want any free advice.

    Steve,

    Yes, I wonder some of the same things about Judgment day, you brought up something I intend to explore a little in future posts. Thanks for reading!

    Reply

  6. Why do we keep grass? There are environmental benefits of course…

    With fertilizer, pesticides and needing to mow, are there really environmental benefits as opposed to wild growth?

    Having lived in Japan for 7 years, I have spent many hours in Zen gardens. But besides the rock gardens, do consider moss gardens — they are by far my favorite. And may be environmentally friendly too ! 🙂

    Reply

  7. Sabio,

    In one since you’re right, it’s just that now that we have all this grass everywhere, and now that we produce so much carbon dioxide, if we were to take it all out at once it would be disasterous from an environmental standpoint. But, you’re right, wild grasses (drought resistant, low water usage), absolutely no pesticides or chemicals is definitely the way to go.

    I live in a place (New Mexico) where it is simply too dry for moss gardens unfortunately.

    Reply

  8. We have a lot of rock gardens out here in New Mexico. They are low maintenance requiring no mowing, no watering, and no weeding (if done properly). However, I find them boring. So, I took out the one in my front yard when I moved in, and I replaced it with grass.

    As for the mix between eschatology and lawns, I wonder if cemetary lawns will get messed up at the resurrection.

    Reply

  9. In church you have to sit and try to quite while listen to someone else pontificate. In Zazen you have to sit and try to be quite while you listen to yourself. Not sure which is more difficult.

    Reply

  10. I don’t know what you guys are talking about! Zen gardens are absolutely fascinating. The rocks are placed with so much care, put them in the wrong spot, bury them at the wrong angle and the whole feel of the garden is off. The raking of the gravel is such a simple meditative exercise, but requires incredible concentration and skill. It’s an entire world in miniature.

    As for Zazen I’ll refer to you two (ADJ and Sabio) as authorities. I am reading Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit by Robert E. Kennedy who was a Zen Master in NY and also happened to be a Jesuit priest, I might post a little review when I’m done.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s