Monday, January 21, 2013

U2 - MLK

Evangelization and Profanity, Part I

I've been thinking a lot the past few months about this post by Sam Rocha.  The funny thing is, it's turned into something different in my mind as I've mulled it over, and when I went back to it the other day it wasn't what I'd remembered.  Funny how that works sometimes.

Rocha writes,

"Jesus was crazy. 

In many ways, I think he was crazier than his cousin, John the Baptist. When someone dresses crazy and lives a wild, secluded life, there is no surprise in their madness. These people are supposed to be crazy. The only question is how much.
I doubt John the Baptist would’ve ever been invited to a dinner party. (Unless you count the time he made his appearance as a head on a platter.)
But Jesus was different. He showed up the learned in the Temple as a boy, people called him “Rabbi,” he gave public sermons and got invited to an uptight, classy person’s house for supper. The kind of person it’s considered an honor to dine with. People like this are, by strict definition, not supposed to be crazy.

You don’t act out at dinner parties, but especially not these ones. You just don’t. No matter what.

Jesus did. He told off the host, the owner of the house and founder of the feast. Jesus called him a fool. There is some thing rude about that, but there is also something supremely honest, authentic, and real about it too. Jesus called out the Pharisee for being shallow, superficial, and using his external piety to hide a deeper lie and infidelity.
Church folks often seem to think that kindness and being nice and piety and good manners will restore the Church. They’re dead wrong. We need rude people. People like Jesus. People who treat Pharisees with contempt and prostitutes with generosity.
As I’ve said before: the New Evangelization needs profanity."

The notion that the New Evangelization needs  profanity is something that intrigues me.

Rocha continues,

"There is nothing edgy about being edgy anymore.The edge that cuts nowadays is actually a form of life that has its feet on the ground, in the shit and the mud, with it’s soul swinging for the heavens with reckless, crazy abandon.

Go to daily mass. Talk about it. That is VERY profane these days. Light up a cigarette and tell someone the story of how Jesus told off the Pharisee, and how crazy that was."

I agree that people are bored with edgy.  Edgy is a cliche these days that often stops being edgy and just ends up being ugly.

The problem is that people are habituated to edgy.  Edgy is boring and cliched and ugly, and no one trusts sincerity.  You start by telling someone that you go to daily Mass, and their assumption ends up being that you're sanctimonious, that you're posturing.  People think that faith is just another form of insincerity.

In order for a New Evanglization to happen, it has to be discovered again that what the Church offers is something universal.  It isn't just a posture or an attitude or another way of being insincere.  It has to be revealed that
"underneath it all, beneath the pain and suffering, there lies a deeper magic, a deeper reality, a beauty ever ancient and ever new, a love Divine whom we can cling to, in hope.

To minister in times like these, we have to show that this is not a joke. Not a mere formality. And it is surely not participatory democracy. The theodrama of salvation history is tragic and profane, leading to redemption and the sacred. When heaven and earth meet, sparks fly."
Our faith isn't a joke or a formality or a democracy or a posture, but these are all things that it can become when we're taking ourselves more seriously than we take Christ, when we're looking to ourselves for meaning for our lives.

What does this mean?  It's tempting for a Christian to define himself in terms of a negative relation to the world around him.  It's tempting for a Christian to say to himself, "The world is full of sin, of profanity, of promiscuity, of violence, and I will not participate in that.  I will live a holy life and be different."  Then he lives that way and is satisfied.  He thinks it's enough, but it isn't because he derives his compass and his understanding of his life from the very culture he rejects.  Its North may be his South, but he's still working with the same compass, still the same context for understanding life.  

In using the same context for understanding his life, he is merely taking a position on life.  By rejecting the thing that he sees as bad in society, he fails to recognize his own commonality with the larger society.  He fails to recognize his own commonality with people who don't share his values.  He divides the world up into "us" and "them," and forgets 1.) that he himself is a part of the society he rejects and 2.) that the Church is universal - there is no "us" and "them," only people in need of God.

Rocha concludes,
"We’ve allowed ourselves to be painted as Pharisees and there is no reason to deny the truth: we are Pharisees. Read our blogs. Pharisees, everywhere. Read this post, for God’s sake! I’m a total fraud. “Kyrie eleison” But the present situation still remains: some people cannot evangelize because they lack the religious testicular fortitude to read Rolling Stone, without fear. Other cannot evangelize because they only read that and it’s other cheap equivalents."
He indicates that there are two dangers for Christians.  On the one hand, we may be unable to evangelize because we are defined by our society.  We may consider ourselves to be Christian, but allow ourselves to be immersed in pop culture and flow with that current.  On the other hand, we may still define ourselves in terms of the culture by rejecting it.  In this case, we really aren't free from the general culture because it constantly threatens us.  We have to constantly exert ourselves to beat back the cultural influences we feel are dangerous, and in the process create within ourselves an attitude towards other people that is neither charitable nor evangelical.

The New Evangelization depends upon Christians allowing themselves to be defined by Christ and not by the culture. This means asking the question, "What does it mean to be defined by Christ?" and letting the answer to that question unfold over time.  It is by living with that question that we may actually begin to attract others, because secular as well as religious people want to know what defines them.  Living with the same questions as everyone else is evangelization because where the culture currently asserts that there is no answer to the question of what defines them, that there is no meaning to our lives, Christianity affirms that there is meaning, that there is something that defines us apart from our mistakes and successes and ideas about ourselves.  We live with the question of who we are, but we have hope that there is an answer, and that that answer lies in a Person who loves us. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

"And the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove.  And a voice spoke from Heaven, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on Him."

From Pope Benedict's homily today:
"What happens may appear paradoxical to our eyes. Does Jesus need repentance and conversion? Of course not. Yet He Who is without sin is placed among the sinners to be baptized, to fulfil this act of repentance; the Holy One of God joins those who recognize in themselves the need for forgiveness and ask God for the gift of conversion – that is, the grace to turn to Him with their whole heart, to be totally His. Jesus wills to put Himself on the side of sinners, by being in solidarity with them, expressing the nearness of God. Jesus shows solidarity with us, with our effort to convert, to leave behind our selfishness, to detach ourselves from our sins, saying to us that if we accept Him into our lives, He is able to raise us up and lead us the heights of God the Father. And this solidarity of Jesus is not, so to speak, a mere exercise of the mind and will. Jesus was really immersed in our human condition."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Attitudes toward Mental Illness Need to Change

The kids and I were out doing some errands the other day and I realized that it was lunchtime and we were not going to make it through grocery shopping without something to eat.  The restaurant I wanted to go to was closed, so we ended up getting fast food.  I was slightly grumpy about this, and as we were leaving I was in an even worse mood because of the conversation I overheard in the booth behind us.  Someone was saying that "if that law passes, I'm going to have two illegal guns and I'm not turning them in."  Another person chimed in with "it's not guns that are the problem, it's all those mentally ill people."

My blood froze.  I was so angry.  The opinion "it's all those mentally ill people" spoke to me of the attitude that mental illness is something that happens to someone else.  If you have the attitude that mental illness is something that happens to someone else, than I can practically guarantee you that someone close to you is not getting the mental help they need.

Most of us know someone who is suffering from mental health issues, whether we realize it or not.  Most people with mental illness of some sort work very hard to hide it because they know that they will be met with this kind of attitude.  They don't tell their friends.  They may not even tell their families.

Mental illness isn't something that happens to someone else.  It's something that happens to that-person-right-there who isn't talking about it because they're afraid that you'll act like an asshole.

People with mental illness need support from people who love them.  If someone looks at "all those mentally ill people" with disdain and fear then someone else is going unsupported. 

When we talk about changing mental health care in this country, it's important to realize that attitudes about mental illness need to change too.  Our attitudes contribute to the lack of adequate care for those with mental illness. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Noticing the Hiddenness of Christ at Christmas

The past few years I have found Advent to be more meaningful than the Christmas season.  The sense of anticipation that accompanies Advent focuses my attention on the presence of Christ.  I light candles.  We light the Advent wreath and sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!"  We sing "People, Look East!"  The kids make Jesse Tree ornaments while I read Bible passages to them.  By the fourth week of Advent, we have a rhythm and a sense of peace begins to steal over the house.

Then, Christmas comes and that routine collapses.  We eat cookies and candy and unwrap presents.  The kids play video games and watch t.v.  We still sing at dinner and our Nativity scene is set up, but theses activities are peripheral.  They are afterthoughts and spirituality is no longer a central feature of our daily lives.

This year, I had a definite feeling of let-down with the arrival of Christmas.  Where had that sense of peace gone?  How was it that in the celebration of Christ's presence our family had become completely distracted from it? 

During Advent I read this quote from Pope Benedict:
"'Advent' does not mean 'expectation' as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia, which means “presence” or, more accurately, “arrival” — that is, the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler, and also of the god being worshipped, who bestows his parousia upon his devotees for a time. “Advent,” then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God."
Benedict suggests that Advent is not a time of anticipating Christ's presence, but a time for recollecting that presence.  We need this time to prepare for Christmas because most of the time we are not aware of Christ's presence in a day to day, moment to moment way.

On the Sunday before Christmas, when I was preparing lunch for my mother-in-law I was reflecting on the disruption of my focus on Christ.  I was also listening to the "Adore te devote" of Thomas Aquinas.  I suddenly became aware of the words:

"Devoutly I adore thee, O hidden God,  Truly hidden beneath these appearances.

My whole heart submits to you, and in contemplating you, is completely overwhelmed.

Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you. 

Hearing suffices firmly to believe.  I believe all that the Son of God has spoken. 

There is nothing truer than this word of truth. 

On the cross the divinity was hidden.  Here the humanity is also hidden. 

I believe and confess both..."

Truly hidden beneath these appearances...on the cross the divinity was the humanity is also hidden.  I believe and confess both....

Advent is a time for focus, for becoming aware of the Presence of Christ.  Christmas, the time when that Presence of Christs bursts upon the world is also the time when the Presence of Christ becomes hidden.  When He was born, His divinity was hidden.  His presence was revealed by a star and by angels not by his appearance.  Now, his humanity is also hidden.  We believe and confess both.

Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth, but it is also the moment of His hiddenness.  Advent prepares us to notice Christ's presence in our lives, even when it is hidden.  If we find Him to be hidden at Christmas, Advent has prepared us to look for Him nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Elizabeth Scalia today offers two opposing feminine perspectives on Les Mis and cites what's wrong with both of them.  She also includes Deacon Greg Kandra's thoughts on the feminist critique of Les Mis

Scalia writes:
"As Deacon Greg writes earlier, if this is what we’ve come to, something is wrong. If our avenues to humanity are going to be detoured via one-way-streets of gender-obsession; if our access to God is going to be limited to art that conforms to an idea of virtue so strict as to eliminate depictions of beauty (or ugliness) for fear of temptation, then we are going to diminish our thinking, and therefore our understanding of both God and humanity, until our world and our souls become very, very small."

This is increasingly the division between secular and religious life.  Religion presents a view of virtue that is so strict as to force out reality on the one hand, and the secular view wants so badly for reality to be just that it does the exact same thing.


I went back and read Stacy Wolf's feminist critique on the Washington Post's website and came away with the following impression.

Wolf's position is a response to the injustice of the position of women in the Paris of Les Mis.  She objects to the victimization of women in the movie, and their being saved by men.  But the problem is that these things happen in real life.  Women have been victimized and sometimes they have been saved by men. 

Wolf contrasts the women Les Mis to other types of female characters.  She writes of powerful female protagonists in other movies:
"They’re human. They struggle. They take action. The plot isn’t just what happens to them but what they make happen. These women have lives."
Victimized women are human.  They struggle and take action and have lives.  Not every woman is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  In fact, most women who have been victimized do not find themselves in the kind of empowered position portrayed in the movies Wolf cites.  Do they not deserve to have their lives portrayed in art?

Must it always be a problem when female roles in art don't support our modern ideas of how one should empower women?  Les Mis inspires compassion.  Valjean's response to Fantine is exceptional and it provides a model for how anyone should respond to such situations in the real world.  Should we not show that because it doesn't offer a narrative that supports feminism? 

This is the kind of attitude I had in mind when I wrote about secular viewpoints forcing out reality.  It seems that it is more important to Wolf that a movie present an empowering view of femininity than that it reflect reality and compassionate responses to reality.  This is a sacrifice of reality and compassion to ideology.  It also compromises good art if art must always be subservient to ideological allegiance.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I love "The Sound of Music."  I used to listen to the soundtrack for hours on my grandparents' 8-track player whenever I went to visit them.

Nevertheless, this is hilarious.