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The Church is a huge organization, made up of human beings who are broken, flawed, sinful. As such, She has been deeply wounded by the implosion of the disordered culture around Her, just as individuals have been hurt. Let’s let God do the work of reviving Her from above (yes, we church-mice can stop trying to be God, the Pope, the Bishop!) and see what can be done to revive Her from where we actually stand.
Down here, at the level of the individual believer, the family, the local community, there’s so much we can do to effect real change, real revival – but we don’t do it. We don’t, because a) it’s easier to theorize about what the higher-ups should be doing and b) we don’t believe small things can make any difference until big issues are resolved. Idealism doesn’t make it into actuality and pessimism gives in to what is already real in the situation. Neither has potency, and neither is worthy of a Christian person.
The very message of the Incarnation is exactly that the small, the lowly, the local is what changes all the greatness of the world! You may still have opinions (I do!) about what the Pope or God could do, but the real power is in your own free action here, now. Through the actuality of your smallness comes the Actuality of God’s greatness. Real calls to real, Deep to deep, Light to light, and you are at the center of this movement of the Holy Spirit – invited merely to obstruct or conduct the flow of that power by your own action. Your sphere of response-ability grows as your freedom grows, by each free act (but it won’t likely grow to become the Whole Church or the World, or even Kansas!)
In that light, your little self is just one of many little ‘switches’ in the Body of Christ, saying ‘yes,’ or ‘no’ to His work in the world. Please begin your work of revolutionizing the world by learning to let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no. It is sad to me when this simple, Scriptural admonition seems beyond the capability of a fellow Christian. We ask “How’s your prayer life?” but not “Can you make a commitment and keep it?”
If you say you will do something, can I count on that? Can you make a promise and keep it? Is it enough to have your word, or do I need a signed contract and the force of law?
If you’ve broken a promise to me, I forgive you, but it did hurt. I’m more worried about what it means about you. I notice that what seems to weaken us is lack of memory, and confusion or disorganization in time management. These can be cultivated, so I suggest this in all seriousness as a better use of our time and energy than complaining about whatever God, or the Pope, Bishop or parish priest is doing, or not doing.
I have other ideas for very small, powerful things you can actually do (they are in your sphere of response-ability) that will have actual, revolutionary, kingdom-bringing effects. Watch this space!
As food, the salsa may be perfectly nice to eat, but it’s also a symbol of something that’s going very wrong in the realm of human being. Consider how long it would take to reproduce that mix of tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro and peppers by hand. How much longer, to have grown and harvested the ingredients in your back yard?
Technology has saved you all the trouble of tilling, planting, watering, waiting, weeding, picking, washing, chopping, and canning! What’s not to love? I, for one, am a big fan of store-bought salsa. The problem is, though, that I now eat a ‘thin’ salsa, bereft of all those layers of actuality that might have gone into it.
Gradually, technology is stepping in to remove all of the messy and risky and uncomfy bits of our contact with the real world. As his experience of reality is thinned, flattened, or watered down, the human person is in grave danger of losing dimension himself. Fr. Giussani teaches that we are formed by encounter with reality, which – far from being an inert mental construct onto which we project our own preferences – has being, or actuality, that impacts and provokes, affects and interferes with our own being. This contact with the real, which used to be unavoidable, is more and more something you must consciously choose for yourself, if you would cultivate your own wholeness. Consider what your capacity for reality has to do with your capacity for Christ.
Begin by just opening your eyes to the realities being kept at a distance by prepared foods, cars, CDs, text messages, photos, glass windows, deodorants, etc… Next, choose some one thing to contemplate. Stop and dwell for a while on all the realities it re-presents to you now. Thank God for the people who made, designed, or gave it. Consider how the maker, the creator, becomes invisible behind the gifts he gives, unless we look through them. You can recover even more of life’s “thickness” if you’ll involve yourself in some real growing, chopping, making, talking, singing, or seeing. Enjoy! I’d love to hear your thoughts about all this.
For another take on the importance of encounter with reality, see this review of Matthew Crawford’s new book, The World Beyond Your Head.
It’s hard being a boy these days, in a sanitized, feminized environment where it’s so unsafe to run around on your own.
I just finished a list of ideas to help a mom help her boys, and thought it might be helpful for others. For what it’s worth:
A book our boys enjoyed with their dad: Backyard Ballistics…backyard explosive, potato canons and such…a real hit!
The Dangerous Book for Boys – ’nuff said!
Visits to manufacturing places…what’s available near where you are?? We have a marble factory that allows tours, and boys have historically enjoyed shooting marbles
For older boys: helping with Special Olympics…sports even for the relatively non-athletic, and such a beautiful way of serving
Chess – a game of war, strategy, and taking-territory
Martial arts, sports, gymnastics (boys-only teams, if possible)
Camping, hiking, building and playing with fires – time in nature to roam and build and go crazy and get dirty (and, yes, to get hurt) are essential
Orienteering and Geocaching with Dad and pals
Garden work, especially raising family food
Raising earthworms for castings to sell (great for houseplants) and worms to sell fishermen
Fishing, snorkeling, scuba lessons, sailing (especially if reading Swallows and Amazons!)
Shooting sports, indoors or out – target shooting, archery is even more physical
Cooking – top chefs have always been men…creative, service, demanding, skill with knives
Taking apart things – find at garage sales or buy cheapo power tools, alarm clocks, toasters, motors…
Science experiments – just don’t make it ‘school’
Woodworking projects, his own set of tools, maybe a small workbench in garage
Dog training…first, watch The Dog Whisperer videos with Cesar Milan, plus somewhere is a monastery that specializes in training dogs – would be an interesting adjunct, and somewhere hardened prisoners are being brought back to humanity by raising dogs…must research this
Plan an imaginary trip across the country by rail, trail, bike, hike, air, car…map to mark up, write off for tourist info from states, figure out budget, gas mileage, etc..
Non-electric push mower – get to work!
Work: move this pile of woodchips over there using shovel and wheelbarrow; scrub the floor with this brush; whitewash this fence, Tom! (Tom Sawyer can be a difficult read, with the dialect indicated phonetically…might be better as a read aloud…a good one for boys); tape off and help paint an actual room (start with the garage!)
Dissection! All critters and equipment easily available from science supply places…yukky, and so, awesome!
Habitat for Humanity project with Dad
Offer help weeding, harvesting, helping around a working farm/garden
Canoe trip with Dad, or guided rapids tour – water parks just aren’t the same!
Bike riding with Dad along one of the longer rails-to-trails routes, with packed-in food and water, maybe camping along the way
We all loved the K-nex Bridge Building set…great teaching material about various kinds of bridge construction
David Macaulay books, especially The Way Things Work and Building Big (BB great with the bridge building, above)
Rocket stuff…tons of kits and books available – and do watch the movie October Sky, and maybe the movie Apollo 13
Models, model trains if grandpa has a barn or somewhere a space can be dedicated
Paths – laying out pathways with rope, leveling, filling with sand/gravel/paving stones
New flower beds….lay out with rope or garden hose, then dig up, amend, plant…install borders
Get a simple bookcase from IKEA and ask him to follow the instructions and let you know when it’s done….then leave him alone to deal with it…inexpensive, might be handy somewhere
Remember that boys tend to grow ‘in tension,’ I’ve noticed 2 years physical/2 years mental…and when in one phase, the other suffers until they are more fully integrated.
Work on a life timeline together so he can see that you intend to release him into the world, that you fully believe he’ll be able to drive himself around (in 6 years…brace yourself!!!), could perhaps drive a tractor at Grandpa’s even earlier (best possible training for driving), could take a friend all around a town like Lawrence on the bus at 12, needs a class in car repair at about 15, might start his own collection of home repair tools at 13, will need to take the ACT at 16 or 17, might go ahead and take some classes he finds interesting at JCCC at 15 or 16, could sign up for the entire Adobe suite to teach himself for $20 a month if interested at around 14, would cook the family dinner once a week at 14, would take on responsibility for all the mowing at 14 and be able to offer mowing for money in the neighborhood at 15, should be doing his own laundry at 12, might get on a plane by himself for a visit to somebody at 13, could be at the next world youth day in 2020, etc…, etc…, etc… . Boys need to see that mom is excited about their growing up even though it means growing away…otherwise, they may break with mom by being awful and having her kick ‘em out!
Camera – equipment, buttons to push, creative, online gallery – professional photographer hands his kid an expensive digital camera at 5 years old: I took his advice and was so glad!
And, one of my favorites: go to the zoo (best: Omaha) and let him loose with a map, a camera, a watch, and a backpack of food or whatever he might need (and, maybe, a phone that would just be for emergency and practice answering when you call to check in, or calling you at specific times). Let the leash be short at first – see you in an hour right here, and then longer with practice…see you for a picnic lunch in three hours…can’t wait to see your day in photos, stay on main paths …maybe even, here’s some money in case you want to get something at the food place….the zoo is a great place for this!!! Much better contained than a city, or mall. I would feel entirely safe allowing your ten-year-old to do this, and it would be great training in “more freedom comes, the more confident I am you can follow directions and stay within the limits I’ve set”.
The movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; the movie Glory (never understood why it was rated R – violence, yes, not much cussing, no women or sexuality or nudity…less violent that Iron Man and the like…about the first black regiment in the Civil War – one beautiful scene among men just before battle)
Books on my list of favs for 8-12 year old boys (some have sequels, not listed, and many of these authors have other good books):
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series
Smoky, the Cowhorse – Will James
The White Stag – Kate Seredy
Call it Courage – Armstrong Sperry
The Matchlock Gun – Walter Edmonds
Adam of the Road – Elizabeth Gray
Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes
Twenty-One Balloons – William Pene-dubois
King of the Wind – Marguerite Henry
A Door in the Wall – Marguerite D’Angeli
Amos Fortune, Free Man – Elizabeth Yates
The Wheel on the School – Meindert Dejong
The Story of the Treasure Seekers – Edith Nesbit
Owls in the Family – Farley Mowat
Warrior Scarlett – Rosemary Sutcliff
Snow Treasure – Marie McSwigan
The Yearling – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Rifle for Walter – Harold Keith
Carry on Mr. Bowditch – Jean Lee Latham
He Went With Marco Polo – Louise Kent
Little Britches – Ralph Moody
Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
Einstein Anderson – Seymour Simon
The Swiss Family Robinson (unabridged, please) Johan Wyss
Encyclopedia Brown – Sobol
Asterix series – Goscinny
Tintin series – Herge
The Black Arrow – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Perilous Road – William Steele
The Wonder Clock – Howard Pyle
The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian – Lloyd Alexander
The Indian in the Cupboard – Lynne Reid Banks
The Bronze Bow – Elizabeth Speare
The Sign of the Beaver – Elizabeth Speare
The Boxcar Children – Warner
Everything by Willard Price!
Henry Reed series – Robertson
By Secret Railway – Enid Meadowcroft
On to Oregon – Honore Morrow
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency – Pinkwater
Gentle Ben – Walt Morey
Humbug Mountain – Sid Fleischman
The King’s Fifth – Scott O’Dell
The Hobbit – Tolkein
Twenty and Ten – Claire Hutchet Bishop
The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain
Escape from Warsaw – Ian Serralier
Jackaroo – Cynthia Voigt
The Voyage of Dr. Doolittle – Hugh Lofting
A Boy’s War – David Mitchell
Readers: Add your ideas in the comments box!
Your Worst Nightmares
Might it be that some dark trends in popular culture are the manifestations of the inherent human need to grapple with the Four Last Things? Where the Church squarely faces up to the realities of death, judgment, heaven and hell, post-modern man faces a vacuum of unbelief in the very realities that most demand his attention. The rational, materialist mind – reduced as it is in power to bear the tension this produces – has one escape route left to him.
Art has a kind of power to resolve seemingly impossible tensions – at its best resulting in a newly realized response to encounter with reality, and at its worst coughing up some deformed attempt to avoid it. Perhaps the recurring, disturbing, themes in popular books and movies are the last gasps of creative responsiveness in humanity increasingly untethered to reality.
Take a look at the nightmares expressed in pop culture, from this perspective:
Death is a formidable reality that, surely, is hard for those without faith in God to bear. Perhaps if we could make the undead hideously repulsive, our mortality would be more attractive. A rollicking fight to the death against beings who are unequivocally ‘bad’ is as good as it gets…all guts and no glory of the human person to worry about as you whack ‘em. In zombie warfare we get a chance to vent all the pent up adrenaline caused by the unacknowledged fear of death we’ve been carrying around. We can actually embrace the possibility of death as a sort of counterpoint to the ugly, mindless, boring lives we perceive everyone around us living. ‘They’ are all walking dead, and ‘we’ are the ones ‘really living it up’ with zest and fearlessness.
For you, zombie straw men. For me full personhood as I die to self in Christ.
Death is threatening, but you’d think the prospect of eternal life shouldn’t frighten anyone. Think again. Eternity looms as an abyss for those whose life is already fairly empty, boring, pointless, lonely, painful or depressing. Heaven is a fantasy, and besides that, wouldn’t be very entertaining as it’s merely endless choral music, thumb twiddling and prudery. What shall we do to resolve the fear that we may have immortal souls?
At all costs, if we must live forever, we must stay young, attractive, sexually fulfilled and rich to make it tenable. Enter the vampire: our alter-ego if we identify with his suave erudition and smouldering power; our super-ego if we prefer to be the one he seduces. Whether you’re the vampire, or his ravished lover, all pre-requisites for a bearable eternity are met in this inversion of new life in Christ, whose own blood restores life to and purifies the soul who rests in Him.
For you, the same night life forever. For me, the endless newness of life in the Son’s light.
Memo to unbelievers: demons and evil people exist, and you know it. But nothing in your philosophy helps you deal with those awful realities from the pit of hell. Reject them with a smirk, and still you’ll feel the dread of them oozing up from time to time. Keep pushing your fear down and your subconscious becomes a fertile ground for some vivid imaginations you can’t quite control. What to do?
Make a movie of them. Your compatriots, who want help explaining where their own horrible imaginings originate, will come watch it. That little thrill you get when the psycho-sexual, demonic violence plays on the screen (of your mind, or your theater) helps you believe you’re actually in control. You’re choosing to be a spectator and this is all make-believe. Right? There’s nothing evil threatening you, or influencing you, or drawing you to crave more and more horrific, explicit violence in exchange for the pleasure. More important, there’s nothing in you that corresponds to evil, that resonates with perversion and demonic rage…no bloodlust…no vulnerability to oppression or possession…nothing hellish is real. Right?
For you the thrill of make-believe evil. For me, a Savior to vanquish all-too-real evil.
Magic Gone Awry
Here I include technology as a form of magic – manipulation of the material universe with a view to obtaining amazing power over it. Many plots turn magic, technology, man’s creations and his own karma against him. Thus does he face judgement for his pride and his deeds – in this-worldly terms that carefully balance the scale of retribution for him through his own efforts. Somewhere in the depths of man is the awareness that he’s going to get what he deserves. Since there is no God to make that call, he fends off that possibility by gently judging and forgiving himself.
His own creations – clones, robots, computers, dinosaurs – might turn on him. (He will need to realize he’s created the problem, but will be suitably chastened by the challenge of dealing with it.) Or, he might get a high-tech revenge on someone who deserves it. (Revenge – justified violence – is like a backfire that puts out a wildfire. There’s no worry about being judged while you’re indulging in self-righteous mayhem.) The natural world he has exploited, ignored, accidentally radiated, or destroyed might rise up against him. (Of course, he’ll win the battle to subdue it, and be absolved by the harrowing ordeal.)
Movies like these can be cautionary tales, I suppose, but perhaps numb the soul a bit to the reality of a judgment that can’t be paid off with effort, or pain, or victim status.
For you, only natural consequences and high-tech restoration of your control over reality. For me, personal judgement and supernatural means – the atoning death on the Cross – to provide reconciliation with the Creator.
Well, that’s the end of these reflections on modern art and the work of the imagination…I wonder what you think of it all….