The Roundup 6.10.23
Reflections on Desert Flowers, Our Latest Reviews, Conference News, & More
Welcome to the Roundup, a periodical collection of reflections, reviews, and recommendations from your friends at Perishable Goods.
Below is our monthly cornucopia of things we’ve been reading, listening to, and contemplating. If you enjoy reading these as much as we enjoy writing them, consider upgrading to a paid subscription to support our work.
In Loving Memory of a Desert Flower
If you’ve only ever visited Utah’s desert in late summer, the place is probably burned into your memory as an arid, lifeless expanse of sand and stone. Having only been there in late August myself, that, at least, was my idea of it.
Until I returned this May.
As a friend and I hiked through the fin-like canyons and sandy washes of Arches National Park, I was surprised to find the desert teeming with life. Again and again we were greeted by a spectrum of vibrant desert flowers. Geckos sunbathed between small trees whose gnarled knots had been smoothed by sand. And the tourists were, well, everywhere.
As I marveled at the cactus blossoms, they seemed to stand as silent witnesses, testifying to the strangely marbled gift of my own creaturely existence. I mean, there we were, me and one of my best college friends, full of life like the blooming cacti: in the prime of our late 20s, hiking one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes with relative ease. And yet, by 9 or 10 am, the hot desert sun reminded us that, for all our vivacity, we too could wither under its harsh rays. In a beautiful yet haunting way, these flowers, like our lives, were miraculous bursts of life for such a deadly place.
By the end of our hike, however, we were left with more than the desert’s subtle reminder of our cactus blossom existence. As we rounded one of the last bends in the trail, my friend and I were met by a team of EMTs and other hikers. They were on minute 40 of resuscitation attempts for a man who had suddenly collapsed on the trail. As one kind stranger relayed, the man was RVing across the country with only his dog, and he had come out to the trail for a short two-hour hike to see some of the arches. Shortly after he had struck up conversation with some others on the trail, he collapsed. Within minutes of walking up to the scene, the emergency response team made the call: the man was dead.
In such a moment, the juxtaposition of life and death is both shocking and troubling. An embodied human person who had been living, breathing, smiling, laughing, chatting just minutes ago had suddenly become, to the eyes at least, no more than a dead body. One look at the gray corpse was enough to drain every ounce of color from all the desert’s flowers. And the body’s cold lifelessness had managed to chill even the desert’s infernal heat.
All life is an argument for death. And all death is an argument for life. So one 19th century author wrote. An unexpected encounter with an unmanicured corpse is enough to rid anyone of the modern delusion that life is unfragile and that death is some tame thing that can be managed, calculated, or even eliminated. If you live long enough, you’ll learn that death is inevitable and wild—some might even say a roaring lion. The best anti-aging cream, nutrition, and fitness regime won’t stop it from coming for you. In this sense, life is an argument for death. But death is also an argument for life. I did not know this man who passed in Arches. But I have known my mom and other late friends and relatives—not to mention desert flowers and delicious food. Those persons and things that I have known and loved, perishable though they be, signal a goodness which I’m convinced must be eternal. Death, as shocking and troubling as it is, points to something beyond the present perishability, to an imperishable, eternal good.
Like all desert flowers, we cannot avoid the withering of our lives. And, sadly, once those flowers are gone, we cannot turn back the clock to what once was. If, as we Christians believe, goodness persists eternal, we time-bound, perishable creatures must look forward.
As I wrote in my journal shortly after my mom passed: death demands resurrection. And resurrection requires a Risen Lord. Because of Him and only Him, can we hope and attain that imperishable, eternal life of which our cactus blossom existence is but a shadow.
Until Next Time,
Jared on behalf of the Perishable Goods Team
The Tech Messiahs Who Want to Deliver Us from Death | The Free Press
In this piece, journalist Suzy Weiss interviews a number of people who, despite their differing convictions about the solution, all agree on one thing: death is a problem. From transhumanists who are investing in cryonics, to secular pronatalists who are using IVF to combat falling birthrates, to biohackers who are trying to reverse the aging process, new technology seems to promise success for those who seek to overcome man’s ultimate limitation. Weiss’s reporting unwittingly points to the fact that we were made for eternal life, though it fails to grasp that sin is what prevents us from attaining it. In truth, “the death problem” has been solved—but, as one pastor notes, not by “ones and zeros, and technology and medical advancement.” Rather, it’s by the blood of One who has the authority to lay down his life and take it up again (John 10:18).
Tools of Enslavement | The American Conservative
In this recent article, Charles Carman gives his thoughts on Apple’s new Apple Vision. As Mary Harrington writes about the purpose of technology being to fix what is broken and not to ameliorate normal, embodied limits of living, Apple Vision certainly fits the latter category, at least, its supposed intention does. New technology means more opportunities in education techniques, right? Technology is just neutral, right?
Carman quotes Jacques Ellul from The Technological Society: “The primary purpose of advertising is the creation of a certain way of life.” And as Carman argues, Apple Vision is more of a means for our own enslavement: “Tools for enslavement are not tools for inflicting bodily pain, constricting shackles, forcing submission, causing mental or social suffering…What distinguishes them is not the discomfort they inflict on the body, but the enforcement…of a way of living inhospitable to human flourishing.” A slave, Carman writes, can be one who pushes “blocks of stone up a ramp beneath the hot sun,” but also can be one who leans “back on a couch in his basement viewing pornography after his work shift, moving items on a screen from here to there with a flick of his fingers.” Finally, Carman concludes the article by warning that these sorts of technologies—borne out of both public and private systems—“promise greater control of man over nature, including his own.”
So, go take a walk outside and ponder the beauty of God’s creation. Cherish your family and friends, and love your neighbor. And, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 3:12, be joyful and do good as long as you live.
A Beautiful Farm? | Front Porch Republic
In her article, McKenna Snow laments the lack of beauty found on monoculture, industrial farms. We are meant to be “loving authorities” of the earth, not “extractors.” Drawing primarily from Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, Snow discusses the split between orderly yet “creative” nature and the sterility and ugliness of industrial farms. While Snow’s point is well-taken that monocultural, industrial farms are examples of man imposing his will on nature rather than cultivating it, the article would have been more effective if Snow gave voice to non-industrial farms while also telling us why so many farms have “resorted” to using chemical fertilizers and the like. Yes, it is because the market demands quantity over soil health and genuine stewardship of the field, but it is also due to the immense difficulties inherent in farming that these “shortcuts” are taken. However, Snow’s article is helpful insofar as it takes a focused look at our yearning for beauty, something we can experience through the senses. And that which is truly beautiful is also found to be intertwined with that which is true.
Books: Recommendations & Reviews
Bachelor Pad by Stephen Kampa
Published almost ten years ago, this collection of poems is strikingly prescient in its depiction of the loneliness of the millennial generation and its failure to find the cure in casual sex and the light of TV screens. Kampa’s poetry is filled with vignettes from the lives of “bored, dismayed / Adults” who are filled with longing for “something more” than sex: bigger lives, lasting companionship, and a restored sense of wonder. Hookup culture has led them to despair, and their attempts at real relationships have left them frustrated and disillusioned. Trying to find something to watch on TV at midnight, one man fears “not being even / Remotely in control / Of his own character.” Another man, while people watching on a park bench, obstinately declares that he wants to be someone “who reads / The signs and makes connections by himself”—while admitting that he also just wants a “hand to hold.” Though trapped in their passive isolation, Kampa’s characters can remember feeling “intimations of the infinite” at some point in their lives: as a child in the woods, or upon contemplation of some half-forgotten biblical story. The question is whether or not they will be able to trace this hope back to its source, which, Kampa suggests, is “Christ’s divine Tetelestai”: it is finished.
Events & Updates
We’re excited to promote the “Toward A Protestant Theology of the Body” Conference. The conference will take place at Church of the Resurrection in Washington, DC, on Saturday, September 9, 2023. The conference is hosted by Greystone Theological Institute, Davenant Institute, Institute for Religion and Democracy, and Church of the Resurrection. So far, speakers include: Mark Garcia, Ephraim Radner, Matthew Lee Anderson, and Alastair Roberts. You can register for the conference on the webpage!
If you sign up, please let us know if you’re in town. The Perishable Goods team would love to see or meet you in person!
Perishable Goods is a reader-supported publication. Like our work? Please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
“Life of the Party” by Stephen Kampa
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” — Luke 7:34
First he arrived with top-notch beer, remarking
He’d found some decent parking
A few blocks down; next thing I know, he’s playing
A banjo with dismaying
Skill for a guy who claims his “music bone”
Is broken, that he’s tone
Deaf and could never read a proper score;
And now he’s on the floor,
Cross-legged, near a crass blonde, wetly blinking,
Who’s doggedly been drinking
Herself into a venomous redress
Of red forgetfulness —
Really, what moron thought she could afford
That umpteenth one she poured? —
And now he’s holding, to the girl’s relief,
The wine glass of her grief,
And offering, sotto voce, while they sit,
To drink the last of it.