Breathing air into ideas: thoughts on the need for community

We need community! When we lived in Virgina, our family experienced life within an exceptional community. It is what happens in academia. Individuals, like minded or not, but like-passioned, live and work near each other, exchange ideas, develop their thoughts through discussion. It is a wonderful experience. After the birth of our first child, it became clear that I could not continue full time studies. Therefore, we closed up shop after I received my M.S. in Clinical Psychology at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, and we moved home. Home, home. In my little novella about a girl and her king, he takes her home “inside the walls” into a world of simplicity and humility. When I wrote that I was 19, and was in the process of transitioning from missionary work to life at home. It was a spiritual transition, from a daily life focused on nothing but God, his riches, suffering and service, to a daily life focused on family interactions, work and study…real life, as it were. When we lived in Virginia, it was a cultural Mecca. But we were called to leave.

Books like The Little Way of Ruthie Leming helped me along. What is that longing for the big city, the culture, the arts, the shopping if not a search for pleasure? The greater way lies in the narrower way, through family, relationships, and our roots. What will matter more in the end? You cannot build the same relationships in a metropolitan maze as you can in a small town neighborhood where, ahem, everyone knows your name.

Now I find myself still longing. We are exceedingly happy here, more happy than we’ll ever deserve. We are close to family and my family is part of our regular life. We have steady work, thanks be to God. We have found a parish where we feel at home and finally, after three years have managed to invite a priest to our home (the associate pastor of that parish no less, a sign, I think). The book club I proposed in an earlier post is, electronically, taking place with a group of women I know from around the country. We write when we can, and how it all works will smooth itself out, but more to the point for myself, I’ve finished two books because of it. I’m crafting again, and loving it. Writing as well, as you know. Our home is beautiful, our neighbors are wonderful. Why should I long for more? Isn’t it wrong or ungrateful?

I don’t think it is and here is why. My husband and I passionate people. When I did missionary work, my teammates pointed out to me my extensive use of the word “love.” I love waterfalls; I love peppermint ice cream. Now that I have a four-year old imitator in all I do and say, I realize I also “hate” a lot. I hate this seat belt (that gets stuck); I hate these shutters (that break easily and cannot be fixed). I feel strongly. As far as temperaments go I am choleric-melancholic and my husband is melancholic-phlegmatic. We feel deeply.

We discuss. We exchange ideas. But since we are like-minded on the things that matter most (we married each other after all), and in our discussions go deeper on this path together, as a married-couple journey, which is wonderful, we are not challenged enough. It is better to have one’s ideas tested and threatened by those who think differently. Then we must adapt and our ideas truly grow. Ideas in captivity, in a closed safe environment become weak once they face a threat in the real world.

It’s not only good intellectually but an absolutely must spiritually:

Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote in a Christmas homily, those who are rich in knowledge “have to do a great deal of gymnastics to extricate themselves from their neat and tidy concepts, opinions, perspectives, experiences and worldviews” before they can approach in humble faith “the naked earth where the Child lies in the crib.” And then, at the crib, they must offer their “intellectual riches . . . to holy poverty,” accepting “the inner poverty of all human knowledge [in order to find] their way to the divine poverty.” (from George Weigal’s article “Christmas and the humbling of the Wise Men”)

Upon our return from Virginia, my friend and ministry-colleague and I began a lecture series called the John Paul II Lectures for the New Evangelization. The goal was to create a forum for intellectual discussion and creativity, our own Inklings. I had just one child born at the time. Now I have three. My friend moved, returned, married. The future is unclear. I think a more informal setting would be better, perhaps in our homes for discussion, drinking, and camaraderie.

My husband had a similar idea, but in his own field. Cantus cum cervisia, chant and beer. A group of men could gather, chant some old hymns, then drink good beer together and commune. Though he found some men interested, again with the children, the idea never got off the ground.

We are dissatisfied with our home and the incredible gifts God has given us. But we long to grow in wisdom and virtue, so we continue to seek. We shall see what the New Year holds.

 

Unfriending the Stranger: on the need more stratification in relationships

Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.

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Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.

We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.

Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.

If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.

If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me,  by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.

Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.

So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.

Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.

It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.

Black Friday: A look ahead

Black Friday. That ominous day for some, a thrilling adventure for others. Every Thanksgiving we made the eternal long drive to my aunt’s house in Redding. In reality the drive took three hours. We spent several days there. Thanksgiving was spent cooking, sitting around, eating, watching professional and college football. That evening, individuals waded through the thick packet of advertisements and joked about what ridiculous toy they would go after, just for the hunt. Friday morning, more ads were gone through. The gentlemen left early for the hunting ground, returned, and lounged around the house. Later on the ladies left and went to departments stores, a discount store with a little bit of everything, and lunch. It was relaxing, fun and not too expensive. We’ve lost most of our traditions but Black Friday, for me, remains a day, stress-free and nostalgic, with deals to be had.

 

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m an extrovert. I like the crowds, feeling like I’m in the wild, and I like the sentiment it brings me: the memories, the mess of ads on the dining table Friday morning along with turkey leftovers for lunch. It’s like that for a lot of people.

But Black Friday can be an ugly day. It sounds like an ugly day, named after Black Tuesday and the stock market crash. Who would want to join in that? So stores began the rumor that it is named “black” because the stores “go into the black” aka, go out of debt. Myth! No, it’s a day that many feel demonstrates what is most regrettable about American culture: materialism, madness, greed.

Now Black Friday encroaches on our whole weekend. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday (which I whole-heartedly support), Cyber Monday, and, what-to-call-it, throw-out-tradition Thursday? I feel that retailers have an amazing amount of power in American society, through advertising, through the raging desire to score a deal. Thanksgiving, once a day of family feasting, once a day of revelry, once a day of sitting around a television watching football, once a day of traditional gender roles (women in the kitchen, men around the aforementioned TV), once a day of mythological pilgrims and Indians and Mayflowers (remember that one?), retailers do their best to usurp every opportunity possible to “make a buck, make a buck.”

So social media groups start up, boycott this, boycott that. Because we couldn’t just…stay home that day, right? We have to throw out the entire thing. I love point made that movie theaters have for ages been open on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day, as are drug stores, hospitals and all kinds of organizations and businesses. So regarding the complaint about employees being with families, is it fair to complain now when so many other employees have been through it for ages? I’m not saying Thanksgiving should become a shopping day, I don’t think it should be, but we should look at the big picture.

I do often wonder if we only perceive society coming to this. I mean, communities used to be driven by communal groups within their community. So what you knew is what your neighbors knew and what the banner across Main street said. Now, what do we know? We know what we choose to read online (social media, carefully selected new sites that align with our views or at least do not wildly offend them) and whatever is advertised. Speculation of the number of advertisements the average American is exposed to each day varies widely. Needless to say, it is a lot, especially with widespread advertising online. We are again and again picking up messages that shopping and sales are where the activity is at on Thanksgiving, no longer at dinner. For myself, I think this impression is caused more by the uproar over stores opening on Thanksgiving than the stores themselves. For good or ill, social media is a powerful thing.

I prefer the positive fight. How about, instead of “Boycott Black Thursday,” ending the day with a block party? Imagine if we connected more deeply with our communities with big family celebrations, church gatherings or, as I mentioned already, block parties. Is it simple? No. Are our gatherings set up for it? Likely not. But it’s a good idea, right? I’m sure it would help if family lived nearby or something. We’re so huddled into our little homes in our little suburbs that we rarely see what happens outside. So we see advertisements and group after group lamenting the loss of American culture through shopping, evil materialism at every turn. It’s a problem, but there is a vacuum in our society and retailers are just making the most of it. We have to build up society if we want to save it. We can’t do it if we won’t sit outside a spell and see our neighbors.

So take it to the front porch this year (if it doesn’t snow). I hope you won’t be sorry. God bless you and your November. Let the holiday madness begin!

The Christian Mission

Since this devastating persecution of Christians and other non-radical-Islamic-terrorist/thinking persons began in the summer I’ve been posting a number is articles from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com. I’ve never gotten a comment on these articles. Perhaps it is because the topic is too gruesome or upsetting, perhaps it is because clicking a “like” button just isn’t the right thing to do, perhaps because people don’t want to think about it, like contemplating death.

St. Francis

I just don’t know the reason. More recently, I posted this:

“Is anyone hearing about the slaughter/exile of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit? I feel like I’ve only heard about it twice and today the message was we should be more concerned with what’s happening here at home, which while that is important, with everyone plugged into their own personalized digital world, it seems like a little global awareness of our fellow man could be a good thing for us.”

Only one person responded. She wrote “I heard about it once.”

Next she posted this on my page as food for thought and I thought it was very good. To summarize: the internet floods us with news from the minute to the magnitude, from what happens in my no-stop-light hometown to New York to Nigeria to the Kardash ians. We can become so passionate of what’s happening over there that we fail to feel for what is happening here. Live locally he says. Do not be telescope Christians, as Peter Kreft says, with only our sights and sighs set on what happens far from neighbor. Here is my response:

I agree with what he says. I really do. I think we can live too much of our lives on the internet. However (if I could italicize that word I would) I think no matter where we hear about ISIS, internet/newspaper/pulpit, the awful thing is that as Christians are we suffering for our brothers and sisters? Do we hurt knowing the reality that they are dying in the name of Christ? Being exiled or sold as slaves? We should hurt for our fellow man, our local fellow man, we can’t bleed for every cause, but God help us, can we tear away from the leisure and entertainment to care that a massive persecution is taking place? Those places are relevant to us. The Church, the place of the ancient Church is relevant to us. We are one Body and all that jazz. Christ is being crucified, and nobody is talking about it (or so it seems). This is not the same thing as Cardinal Dolan or Fulton Sheen’s cause or celebrity gossip. It’s not even the same as Israel and Gaza. They are Christians! They are our people, our heritage. I heard more about the movie on the Mexican persecution than this one. Are they not just as much our people as the people who lived during through the Cristeros war are our people or the people of those whose families or are themselves from Mexico? We share the same Blood in Holy Communion. They are our people! And so my brother and my sister are being killed because they are in my family. Yes, there are people dying here, people on drugs, people committing suicide, and I care, I really really do, but this strange silence about ISIS…”

The author here makes some great point on a similar path as mine. She says “We must stand witness to these our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying for Him. We must. It is our charge, our call and duty. It is our vocation before God. We must write about them and develop a literature for them as the Jews did for those who died in the Holocaust. Because this is another holocaust. It is the holocaust of Christians in an entire region of the world.”

So why the silence? What if it is because the question that arises is, what can I do about it? And quickly the devil answers, nothing!

Today I read this, Ephesians 3:13-21: Brethren: I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which are for your glory.

If we are remotely alert to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we should not be overcome. We should not held in fear for the fate of non-Muslims or Sunni Muslims or moderate thinking Muslims here in the US. We should not lose sleep. Our thoughts should not be consumed.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.

We must pray for them. In all we do, we must pray for those suffering. Yes, those for suffering locally and those suffering in far off lands. We are called to pray for the innocent. Pray for strength, pray for endurance, pray for an end to this terrible, horrific thing.

That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In this old translation, these words sound so lofty. The Christians he writes to are shocked at his suffering, they are overcome and he tells them not to. He says to use the scandal of his sufferings to deepen their prayer, their faith, to find strength in what he endures. When we hear about someone enduring, somehow, it gives us to the strength to endure more. When we hear about them starving, we can be thankful for this meal we have. When I am home with my children I experience an acute awareness of their existence. They are always on my mind because I must be mindful of them for their well being. I can carry an awareness of my brothers and sisters in the Middle East in this way, praying for them, allowing it to deepen my gratitude and my charity towards my neighbor. Each man on the stret is Christ to us. If I want to help those suffering there, I can help those suffering here and offer that sacrifice as a prayer for the safety and survival of those persecuted.

Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

And it will not be in vain…

Le_Grand_Saint_Michel

Why not preach about that?