Social mobility requires social capital

You know the American Dream, that in this country if people work hard and grab their opportunities they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and find material success?  Or, put another way, that America is a land of social mobility, where poor people can newly-landed immigrants with a just dollar in their pockets can rise to the highest levels of wealth and status?

Well, America has been doing worse than other countries when it comes to social mobility.  What happened?  Among other reasons, according to columnist Fareed Zakaria, is our loss of “social capital.”  That is, the breakdown of American families. [Read more...]

City vs. Suburbs

Retiring baby-boomers are increasingly moving away from their houses in the suburbs to condos in the city.  This makes sense.  Single and just-married adults living in small apartments when just starting out, then moving to larger homes, more space, and better schools in the suburbs when their family grows.  Then, when the nest is empty, moving back to smaller, lower-maintenance apartments when they reach retirement age.  With both the young and the old liking a stimulating environment close at hand with less driving.

But this hasn’t happened all that much until lately, and it goes along with some interesting demographic changes.  Poverty is up 64% in suburbs, twice the rate as in cities.  And the crime rate is falling in cities and rising in the suburbs.

Why do you think that is?  What can be done to improve suburbs?  Or make cities habitable for families?  And where do small towns fit into all of this? [Read more...]

America’s problems with vacations

Robert J. Samuelson says that Americans have a hard time with the concept of a vacation:

In the global rivalry of economic models and lifestyles, the United States ranks dead last among advanced countries in one category: vacations.

It’s not that millions of Americans don’t annually flock to beaches, climb mountains, invade national parks or just hang around the house. We do. But we seem to have a harder time than other peoples in distancing ourselves from work. The office (also, the store, factory or warehouse) is routinely an uninvited guest on our holidays. [Read more...]

The end of American Protestantism?

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written a devastating critique of America and American Protestantism that, agree with it or not, is worth thinking about.  He argues that American Protestantism, which has been so influential in American culture, is fading away because of its cultural conformity.  (He includes a great line from Bonhoeffer, that America has a Protestantism without the Reformation.)  You should read the whole thing, but I’ll post an excerpt that deals with what he says is the American conception of freedom and its connection to divorce and abortion. [Read more...]

Culture & pop culture

“Culture” is one of those lofty words with lots of meanings.  It can refer to a “society” with all of its institutions, values, and customs.  Or it can refer to “the arts,” as in going to the opera to soak up some culture.   Ken Meyers usefully distinguishes between folk culture (the ways and artifcats of a community with a common history), high culture (the contributions of talented individuals that go on to benefit a whole society), and pop culture (the commercialized artifacts designed to be bought and sold).

In this space, take it whichever way you want to.  Raise questions of vast social import (for instance, gay marriage), talk about music (bluegrass groups in the folk culture, or jazz artists in the high culture, or whatever) or books you are enjoying, or talk about issues of summer entertainment (was the Lone Ranger really as bad as the critics are saying?).

The Lutheran Theology of Culture

On the LCMS website, looking for an address, I saw prominently featured an article or an interview or something I didn’t even remember doing in which I very succinctly summarize the Lutheran theology of culture.  It’s rather different from other approaches, but I think it’s broadly applicable and can solve many of the problems Christians have today in figuring out how to relate to their cultures.  This will also shed light on a continual theme of this blog, so I’ll post the thing after the jump. [Read more...]