Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Over at the Register

After a long dry spell (only a week but it felt longer), here's my latest over at the Register.

Monday, January 14, 2019

More thoughts

In delving into literature, the arts, any field of study, we can always find a way to focus on that which brings us closer to God, or that which reveals how far afield we can fall.  In scholarship and study, it is a tricky dance, to introduce materials which have edges and wounds and propose ideas which might shock or disturb.  The teacher must offer the student the opportunity to explore the world a thought they might not otherwise have entertained, with all the freewill that engages. 

Ergo, for some, comics and manga might be a gateway to more graphic depictions of violence and sex, and for others, they're just a fun way to read stories about super-heroes and villains, about adolescence, adulthood, and all the trials that come with the mere process of growing up. 

It can be Harry Potter, it can be Percy Jackson, it can be the Kingdom, Plato, O'Connor, Balzac or Rabalais.  It can be the Alchemist, Lolita, Madame Bovary, The Adventures of Hucklebury Finn, 1984, anything.  Some see the beauty that can be mined, another sees evil being condoned, sin being celebrated.  The question is, as with most things, how are these tools being used, not the tools themselves.   What one teaches is a component, how and why are more critical. 

I've been thinking about what's been written, and I think the grave error that many who embrace CM's thinking have about schools, is the desire to somehow have a safe place. It's a bit like the overreach my own county has done at times in the name of safety.   At one point at a local recreational spot, they removed all the swings from the park. The result? Almost no one went to the parks. The concern of safety had removed most of the fun. 

People protested, common sense prevailed and the returned swings felt like a momentary triumph over the gathering gloom.   Guess what?  Skinned knees returned to the park too.  The reality is some in this world try to eliminate the possibility of skinned knees (whether physical or mental) without recognizing such a move also eliminates the discovery of flying through the air, of touching the sky, of racing your brother and fantasizing about going all the way around.

Things can be fantastical and not within the confines of the teaching of the Church and yet reveal Truth.  All of Creation sings of the Glory of God, and Saint Paul could see the longing of those who did not know Christ, for a relationship with the Divine. 

Imagination is one of God's cleverer ways of evangelizing His people, because the acts of creating in the mind is an imitation of the Creator.  What we will into being by our efforts as art, is static, in that it will only be what we will it to be, in terms of its nuts and bolts and physical reality.  It didn't exist for the world before we rendered it, but it reveals something of how our minds are like that of the mind that imagined us into being. 

There is not pure wheat in art or literature, the wheat and chaff grow up together.  Sacred art of the Vatican exists because those who created it studied the sacred and secular art that came before them. If we can only examine that which echoes our sensibilities, we will eventually learn nothing for fear of having our own spiritual bubble pierced. 

Looking at the Saints' sensibilities, we ought not feel afraid.  The Catholic imagination and mind understands beauty, truth, kindness and love, service and humility, these are universal calls of the heart.  As such, the saints who are known both as scholars and artists would tend to indicate, when we enter into the world of arts and letters, our understanding of what is good, true and beautiful, is expanded, not contracted, whether by contrast, or by discovery.   There are parts of the Canterbury tales I don't love, and Shakespeare plays I don't enjoy, yet I can see the good of knowing both.   I don't need blinders placed on my mind to understand some of it is great, and some of it, less so, nor is my soul threatened by the reality of imperfect or non Sacred art. 

To those who wring their hands at the choices of books, who think somehow, if we pull at this and tweak at that and cut this out, we'll create a safe spot, where no one will be injured, this is a lie. I suspect many who get snared, are trying (albeit in a blind manner) to bind the world so that nothing will ever happen. They're like Marlin at the beginning of the movie, not letting Nemo experience life for fear life will hurt. The tragedy for each of them, for all of them will be 1) if they succeed, and 2) if they don't but spend their lives trying to.
Prayers and reparations for their and our foolishness, for injuries to the Church done in her defense, and those done in response to her failures to lead, educate, catechize and evangelize, and for those seduced by the psuedo strength of a life lived without skinned knees and strengthened souls.  We cannot become gold tested in fire without being pounded, heated and shaped, without being forced to grow beyond what we think is needed.   
   

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Watching Everything Become Fragile and Rigid at the Same Time

I've followed several threads about the current uproars at Stuebensville and the unfortunate rude emails directed at a singular person that revealed another person's poor thinking and even poorer understanding of the Gospel. Those who haven't followed it, it's not the point of this piece, but it's easy to google.

I concede, I followed, until I realized, it was a form of dark joy. It's fun to blast what we know to be stupid, misguided, foolish, rude, vulgar, insane and ignorant, particularly when it is directed at an individual we know and care about. I followed the blogger and sometimes shared pieces. Something made me pull back. There is a danger of engaging in a sin against charity, even when dealing with those who are uncharitable. It's a dicey thing to discuss.

The lack of kindness and generosity of spirit we receive, often allows us to think, we're justified in an equally angry response, whether the issue is politics, religion, or any other topic of import. The problem with this reflexive response to the words of others (even sinful evil words given without charity or presumption of good faith), is it makes us like the one who attacked us, and that's not the goal in any exchange of anyone who professes themselves to be kind. It's not what Christ instructs us to do either. The goal is to be like Christ to the one who does not see Christ, not in themselves, and not in us.

Turning the other cheek doesn't mean being a chump, but neither does it mean triumphing at our moral superiority of understanding. Being a peace maker, converting hearts requires not doing what would seem justifiable and reasonable in response to hate, in response to rudeness, in response to ignorance, in response to foolishness, in response to injustice. It's so easy to add to the darkness, and think this is deserved darkness but Jesus does not return the insults, He does not return the violence with violence. He offers no words of rebuke to those who in no way are righteous in their acts or words.

With scandal after scandal breaking, with injustice after injustice being exposed, it's easy to get caught up in what feels like righteous wrath at all the blindness, all the foolishness, and all the sins covered up and ignored. In social media, having a feral moment of dark joy is almost reflexive, because we want to defend our friends, pur faith, our values. We want to be on the side of angels, we want to be right and we want to be perceived as such by those friends, those fellow warriors in whatever battle we might find ourselves. We want to draw mental swords and lock in battle, cutting away at all the chaff, but God allows the wheat and chaff in each of our souls to grow up together, the weeding He will do at the end.

The reality is Followers of Christ neither punch up or punch down. They diffuse, they deflect, they respond with the unexpected grace of charity. It's a shock to the soul, like sun bursting through the clouds on a winter day, providing an unexpected shaft of warmth, or a crocus revealing beauty in a drab landscape.

We're to be that shock, but that requires we stop reveling in the lack of warmth, lack of beauty, and lack of wisdom, or celebrating our own coziness in the faith in relation to others' both splinters and planks. We also don't get to quit, wash our hands and go home.

Jesus wanted even the Pharisees to understand, and kept offering them the opportunity if they willed to listen, He came to their dinners knowing they wanted Him there for their own reasons. God invites us knowing we have alternative motives as well. Love breaks through, because it's much more shocking to respond with kindness and mercy, than with vitriol, cleverness and insults especially if when we think the person brought this upon themselves.

It's not easy, because bitterness and outrage is so much more intuitive, so much more reasonable and seemingly right. We might think, then how do we respond? How do we react? What do we do when faced with ignorance, foolishness, waste, cruelty, malice, misguided ideology, blind loyalty, hypocrisy and multiple sins beyond what we would have thought?

We must keep engaging not because it is easy, not because we will win friends (we'll probably lose some), but because we're called to present what we know to be true even if it is rejected.Offer the theology of an alternative perspective with all the love we can muster. Our job is to inform, not convince, and to feed, knowing there will be extra even after we distribute all that we have, even if all we began with were two loaves and five fishes. Our job is to lower the nets where Christ instructs us to, and not to insist that if people ignore Christ, that we can either pull down columns of fire or decide we will no longer engage. We do not get the luxury of not being involved because we are our brothers' keeper. At a time when everything seems both fragile and rigid at the same time, we're to strengthen and bind, to heal and soothe the wounds of the world.

Mercy, even in the face of ignorance, that's what Christ on the Cross offered. Followers of Christ, must do no less
Mercy, even in the face of rejection, that's what Christ on the Cross offered. Followers of Christ, must do no less.
Mercy even if it is not recognized as such, that's what Christ on the Cross offered. Followers of Christ can do no less.

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