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A Culture of Cooperation?

            Although this is in all likelihood not news to you, we theologians are odd birds.  After all, how many people come away from a delightful day-after Valentine’s dinner with a beautiful wife thinking about the possibilities of a new type of culture—a culture of cooperation and not competition?  Let me explain the links in my unscientific reflections.

            Last night my wife and I enjoyed eating at Topeka’s New City Café (  I recommend it as another example of fine dining in this city.  We started the evening with a nice house Malbec from Argentina and bread with olive oil and vinegar.  We both ordered soup.  I asked for the creamy crab soup, and Mary requested the butternut squash chowder.  Our server apologized to my wife that the chowder was not yet ready.  Mary was disappointed, but, in reality, the disappointment was a harbinger of good things to come.  Soup was not going to be from a can.  And it wasn’t.  My creamed crab soup was excellent.  It was chockfull of a generous portion of crab in a tasty peppery cream, served piping hot.  Mary enjoyed her spinach Waldorf salad.  The entrees were to die for.  I had pork tenderloin with apricot-rosemary sauce served with Parmesan risotto, and my wife had the New City Tenderloin with Béarnaise butter and mashed Yukon gold potatoes.  The meats were tender and juicy, the sauces highlighting, not overpowering, the flavor of the meats.  Since the meal was not heavy, we were able to enjoy the excellent deserts.  I had New City’s Tuxedo Mousse, which was a combination of fluffy white and dark chocolate served more as a cheesecake.  Mary had their Valentine’s special of pears cooked in a brandy sauce with vanilla ice cream.  Everything was served with an unhurried friendliness and efficiency.  We especially took pleasure in chatting in Spanish with our charming Venezuelan hostess, whom I believe is the wife of the proprietor, Luis Eduardo Guillén.  Locally-run and locally-owned—check it out, Topekans, for a special evening.

            All well and good, Bill, but what has your addiction to fine food to do with a new kind of culture?  It’s simple.  The recommendation for New City Café came from the website of Greg Fox’s Row House Restaurant ( here in Topeka.  Why would a restaurant owner recommend several “competitors”?  I believe that it is because Greg is a local boy come home, committed to his community.  He wants to see others succeed as well; so that his city can be bettered by excellent locally prepared cuisine.  It looks like cooperation more than competition.

            Greg’s recommendation of the New City Café called to mind an article that I had read several years ago in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, a high-level literary and cultural magazine—and, yes, rightwing for the curious.  It is based in economically struggling Rockford, Illinois.  Rockford’s manufacturing industry has been suffering from overseas competition and, in my opinion, the shortsightedness and misplaced priorities of our government.  The article mentioned that the local companies were working together to specialize in producing different manufacturing items rather than the same ones.  Instead of competing with one another, they were cooperating.  Granted, this is an example of cooperating in order to compete, but it is still a different model than a wholly individualistic dog-eat-dog competition.

            For me the most remarkable and radical example of this culture of cooperation is, of all people, the late Elizabeth Taylor.  In 2009 she donated $100,000 to the Alliance for Christian Education.  Why would Elizabeth Taylor, not a professing Christian, do this?  She said that she was inspired by President Obama’s call for Americans to break down the barriers that divide us.  I’m not too sure our president has followed his own call, but certainly Elizabeth Taylor took an astonishing step towards a culture of cooperation.

            Frankly, I am concerned about the dangers of compromise, relativism and even syncretism in such a culture.  Does it not sacrifice truth on the altar of just getting along?  Possibly, yet there is something very biblical in this.  Paul concludes his great exposition of the gospel with a prayer for Jews and Gentiles that God would “grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).  In another place he writes that the purpose of Christ’s work was “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two (Jew and Gentile), so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end” (Ephesians 2:15-16).            

            Certainly on the level of church relations we need to reconsider (repent of?) the business model in which we find our niche to increase the sale of our gospel product and beat out our ecclesiastical competitors in the religious marketplace.  The call for Christian unity is too clearly stated in the Bible to be ignored by orthodox believers.  I will admit that I am not sure how this would work itself out, but I believe that acting in accordance with the Spirit of peace and unity would make for a more effective witness to Jesus Christ.  Even more so, I do not know what a broader culture of cooperation would look like.  I see something of it in the three abovementioned examples, but only a glimmer.  Any suggestions out there?

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