Friday, November 2, 2007

thougts on l'amour and community

Last night, for the first time in quite a while, I finished up a Louis L'amour book.

Several years ago, mostly in my time at Morehead State U, I was on a serious kick of reading novels about the American West--mostly Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L'amour books. One of my desires was to see the country they described so very beautifully--the canyons, the mountains, the deserts.

As time has gone by, I have seen some of them, and have not been disappointed. There was the time I was with a group riding from Georgia to Colorado, and being entranced by Kansas and it's overwhelming flatness, and then how abruptly it flatness ended quite a ways into Colorado with the Rocky Mountains. There were the mountains of Alaska, and I think a part of me is still up there. I couple of years ago, there was flying to Nevada and seeing the country along the way--a gashed, dry, sparce place both beautiful and terrible. About the only place I haven't seen that I would really like to would be the Grand Canyon. Maybe someday.

This isn't really about the sights, though I don't regret having taken that rabbit trail.

Reading L'amour's book over the past week (I began it several days ago, though had gotten only a few chapters in until last evening. For the record, the book was titled "Milo Talon") was in some ways refreshing.

The big thing today in Christian circle, at least from my admittedly narrow view (no one's going to mistake where I live for one of civilization's bleeding-edge places), is 'community'. The word gets tossed around with regularity. And I'm fine that, to some degree.

It's not really anything new, and certainly nothing the church hasn't been doing, to some degree or another. Of course concepts of community have been different. Some have had a narrow, separatist view--they in essence take their belief community and more-or-less separate themselves from the overall community. Others were more involved in their societies.

I would suppose that concepts of 'community' today are also different, and I don't want to do a compare/contrast with each one. My idea is broader, though I hope accurate.

When I hear some people talk today about "community", I can't help but think "co-dependence". Alone-ness becomes almost a thing to be avoided. Concepts such as 'individualism' and 'independence' seem to be to be looked at warily, if not outright questioned and discarded.

So, what does L'amour have to do with this?

I'm struck in ways in his books by how much individualism and community are blended, to the good of both concepts. The people he writes about in good ways are individuals--strong, independent, able to stand on their own, wary of asking for help where they don't think they need it. But he doesn't take individualism to the extreme of an Ayn Rand, where the individual becomes god and has no responsibility at all to the overall society.

On the other hand, L'amour's heroes are part of the community--their family ties are strong even when the family may not be present in the story, they "ride for the brand" meaning they give honest work for honest pay and are loyal to the people they work for, they are ready to help those who are truly helpless but expect those who can help themselves to do so, and they will go far to help those who may be friends or whom they consider to be good people.

The L'amour hero is independent, but not completely separated from those around them.

Consider the book I just finished. It wasn't a big book, but here are things that were in it. The hero, Talon, helps a young lady, a stranger, to get established in the one-horse town where most of the story takes place. He takes a job and sees it through to the end, even when he starts to question many aspects of it. He makes friends with a Mexican man who watches over the horses for a rancher, and helps him when he is injured in an attack. When Talon has to face off against several men set upon gunning him down, he helped by the Mexican man he had helped and a friend of his, and a third man sent by a friend to watch his back (even though he didn't know it at that time). And at the end, when the townspeople grew sick of the killing and told him to leave, even if I would have considered their position unfair against him, he still respected their opinions and left.

Of course, one should be careful of using a source like L'amour. I don't know what his religious views were, and while his heroes often showed respect to the country churches and religion they grew up in, I don't know how Christian they may have been. To use a phrase I heard recently, it may be best to think of them as being "Christ haunted"--their morals and ethics were markedly based on the Christianity in their culture, even if they didn't really know it.

But I like the balance in them, between Randianism and Communism--people are there to help each other, but refuse to be used as crutches for those not willing to at least attempt to stand on their own. Neither extremely individual nor extremely communal, but with a healthy respect for both--each person is an individual and are still part of their society.

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