Sam Burnham, Curator
The images of the burning Cathedral Notre Dame captivated the attention of the world. The building itself is such a work of art that losing it was unthinkable.
But it is even bigger than that.
The faith itself is built into the structure. The Rose Window spells out the catechism, carvings tell the story of the Apostles, the Saints, the heroes of the faith. And as the dust settled and the smoke cleared the first photo showed the radiance of a gold cross reflecting light in darkness. At the foot of that cross, overlooking the rubble is the statue of Mary supporting the broken body of her son in her lap as her outstretched arms compel us to disregard the chaos and focus on the silent potential before her.
That potential, as the faithful know well, is the hope of resurrection, of redemption, As the death of Christ triggered fear, chaos, darkness, even a collapse of the world His followers knew. For when the week was new, and the Lord reclaimed His body and walked out of His tomb, the Light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not abide. What was broken was not only whole, but was now the way to heal the broken. A movement that had been thrown into chaos turned back the tide and turned the world upside down.
This is a message that put Notre Dame at the heart of Paris, at the heart of France itself. It is such a symbol of faith, art, architecture, history, and culture that it’s more than the Zero Milestone of the French people. It has become an irreplaceable icon of Western Civilization. It unifies more segments of a life into one symbol than even the Eiffel Tower.
It stands at the center of Western Culture the way churches stand at the center of communities throughout the West. It’s a place of assembly, of education, of art, of music, of faith. It is there for weddings that make new families, baptisms that celebrate new lives, the Eucharist that signifies faith, and funerals that mark our passing while pointing us toward resurrection.
In this capacity the church could help solve issues of poverty, homelessness, education, healthcare, cultural decay, and civic engagement, just has it has for over 1000 years. I mentioned in an earlier post that a church could house solar cells to produce community power. It can serve as an assembly hall. It can serve as a polling precinct. A church can be an irreplaceable hub of a community. And while we see that on a large scale with Notre Dame, we need to resurrect small churches to serve in the mission of restoration of small towns. They are vital to the restoration of spiritual, social, and civic life in these towns.
So as the grand cathedral will rise from the ashes, so must a thousand small churches in a thousand small towns rise again, or perhaps even rise for the first time, to take up the cross of Christ The work of ministry within the community can combine with many other pieces to help us reach the goal.
To bring these churches back we must do what the stature of Mary at Notre Dame compels is to: tune out the chaos, don’t be overwhelmed by the destruction, focus on Christ and the grace for the task. Then we trust in the Resurrection which makes all others possible.
Happy Easter from everyone at ABG.
Sam Burnham, Curator
One of my dreams that help drive ABG is reviving struggling or abandoned small rural towns. Reversing the many pressures that have pushed people to larger cities can be reversed. But there are things that must happen to make this a reality.
I recently had a conversation that has me even more hopeful that a farm town renaissance can become reality. Michelle Moore is the CEO of Groundswell, a 501c3 non-profit organization that actively supports community solar, a revolutionary way to provide locally-sourced electricity to neighborhoods and even small towns. We just had the first of what I hope will be many conversations on helping small towns become energy independent.
In the community solar concept, an electrical co-op installs solar panels either on the rooftop of a community building or on the ground in an open area in the community. So the roof of a school, church, hospital, fire station, or community center becomes a small power plant. The solar panels work in conjunction with energy storage units (big batteries) that provide power during times the sun isn’t shining and recharge when it is.
This set up means the co op buys less power from large and distant generating plants. That creates several benefits.
- The co-op, and therefore the residents and businesses have reduced electricity costs.
- Storage units can be placed near essential services like hospitals, public safety facilities, etc. During widespread outages from tornadoes, hurricanes, or snowstorms, these locations have immediate access to power. With a local power source, there is less infrastructure to get back online to restore power to the community. The lights come back on quicker.
- In Georgia the potential for solar power is substantial. We have a lot of sun and utilization of that energy source cuts out transportation costs and potential delays or disruptions. Spikes in the price of coal, oil, or natural gas don’t matter nearly as much.
- Clean energy cuts pollution and makes the community cleaner and healthier.
All of these advantages can be used to draw businesses and residents. As Georgia electrical co-ops have been recently authorized to offer broadband internet service, energy and connectivity mean people can live in South Georgia and telecommute for work - a big city income with a small town life.
That's just scratching the surface. It’s just an introduction. Sometimes saving something old and traditional requires harnessing something new and revolutionary. The rural renaissance will require us to employ cutting edge methods and technology to provide and old fashioned way of life. To go back we have to go forward.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Due to the strong themes in the film, I decided to do a commentary piece on them in addition to the movie review.
As I mentioned in the review, the fictitious Teas Midlands Bank plays the roles of victim and villain. As a regional bank headquartered in Ft. Worth but with small branches in several small rural West Texas towns, the bank’s practices and policies keep it successful at the expense of the residents of these towns and the surrounding farms. And the townspeople hate the bank for it.
Ive mentioned community banking on this page before. I do as little business with large financial institutions as is absolutely possible. I’d rather not do business with any bank whose headquarters is not in my town. That’s not always realistic.Market and regulatory issues cause my bank to sell 100% of the mortgages they originate to larger institutions. It’s just not worth it for them to keep mortgages in house. But a bank that depends on the health of your community is a bank that will benefit your community. A bank that doesn’t depend on the health of your community will have different goals.
In Hell or High Water we see a large regional bank and big oil doing well financially. But there’s a price for that success. It’s a price paid for by the community. One scene stands out even more than the rest.
So we reflect on the ways big business has hindered the small town ways of life. Big Banks, Walmart, Amazon, Big Oil, even considering the impact Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds had on the situation I covered in Tobacco Road, all these take money from small towns and offer little in return for it. Without a strong local economy, people remain in poverty. Only someone with a way to offer big money to big business is going to benefit from big business. And no one is getting rich working for someone else these days.
I’m not saying these things to bellyache or spread doom and gloom. These are the very reasons we need to support local businesses, especially banks. It’s why we need to support local enterprise. It’s why we need to support small businesses, entrepreneurial start ups.
Hell or High Water wasn’t just a good movie. It was an important movie. While still avoiding spoilers, it showed a fictional attempt by a few victims to get even with the big guys. I don’t advocate violence, robbery, or chaos. I’m not endorsing their methods. But it’s past time that we fought back. Big Business and Big Government are usually two heads of the same monster. We’ve got to do what we can to get out from under that monster.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire