The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

By now you may have seen this video produced by BuzzFeed. I saw it late last night when I read this story by Mollie Hemingway on Twitter. Then today I was sent this piece written by Matt Walsh.

I can only say that two passages from Scripture immediately came to mind as I watched the video and followed this story. The first is from Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The second is from Revelation 3:15-17,19-20:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. … Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I wrote to a friend of mine while we discussed the video, this world is filled with too many lukewarm Pharisees, but too few tax collectors. None of the lukewarm relish the thought of being chastened by Jesus or having to repent. That would mean having to admit to sin and we can’t have that.

In his latest book Hints of Heaven Father George Rutler writes about the parables of Jesus, including the one above from Luke. In his commentary on this parable Fr. Rutler writes:

The Pharisee went to the Temple to boast, like those who go to funerals to praise the dead and by so doing smile at death with nervous bravado. The Temple was the Pharisee’s sounding board and its arches a frame for his virtue. … The Pharisee “trusted in himself and despised others.” He thanked God that he was better than the publican. It was not gratitude. It was self-canonization, and self-canonization ends with the self, for the self has not the metaphysics to haul itself up to the holy altars.

Of the publican (tax collector) Fr. Rutler continues:

The publican dares not raise his bloodshot eyes to the blinding glory of heaven. … He is a sinner, and he knows it, sensing a splendor that the miniature mind of the puffed-up Pharisee missed. Both have souls, but only the publican knows what his soul can yet be. The Pharisee’s charade of holiness struts like Napoleon who, as Victor Hugo said, “embarrassed God.” Sins hurt the Divine Mercy, but the chief sin of pride is immeasurably worse, for it embarrasses the Divine Majesty.

I won’t go so far as others I’ve read and say that those in the video aren’t Christians, but if they are they have almost no idea what being a Christian truly means and are bringing scandal upon themselves and the rest of the Church by saying such inane things.

The martyrs did not lay down their lives for warm and fuzzy platitudes. They gave their lives for Christ because of their zeal, their knowledge of themselves as sinners, and because of the One whom none of these misguided kids could bring themselves to name in the video.

For example look no further than the saint whose feast we celebrate today, St. Peter Claver. While not a martyr, can you imagine any of those in that video (or using a trending hashtag on Twitter to pat themselves on the back) giving of themselves the way Claver did?

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

Along with Father Sandoval, Pedro (Peter Claver) would go down to the docks to meet the arriving slave ships, keeping an eye out for them from a watchtower. The ships came from all over West Africa, and the slaves spoke many different languages. The spectacle of what they saw being offloaded was shocking: a terrible smell, half-starved men, women and children chained in groups of six, having not seen daylight nor washed for months. It was usual for a third of the poor souls to die en route. The slaves were extremely frightened when they came ashore, convinced they were about to be sacrificed. Pedro tried to put them at ease with his retinue of interpreters, and gifts of blankets and fresh fruit. Sometimes Pedro would not wait for the ship to offload, but paddle out in a canoe.

Pedro began to show strength where other priests showed weakness. He would often kiss the open and infected wounds of the slaves, telling them that God loved them. … He would baptize the dying first, then the sick.

Brother Nicholas was his companion for many years, and recalled there were times that he could not cope with Pedro Claver’s work. Many times he went to see dying slaves, held in stinking dungeons in the slaveowner’s houses, where others could not enter due to the stench of death and sickness. … In 1633, they both went to see a slave girl dying of smallpox. Brother Nicholas took one breath of the foul air in the girl’s room, fell down, and could not continue. Pedro gave the negress his crucifix to kiss, cleaned her wounds, and prayed for her. The girl recovered.

[snip]

The last 4 years of Pedro’s life were very tragic. He was afflicted by a degenerative disease that slowly made him bedridden. He was given his own slave, Manuel, who was charged with feeding and helping him. Manuel is known to have mistreated his master, pushing him roughly when helping him get dressed. (Source)

As you would imagine, Claver was not a popular person with the slave traders or even other priests. But to this saint it was never about popularity or the accolades of this world. He would not have been interested in making videos extolling how accepting he was. Like most saints, and those to whom Christianity is not a popularity contest or something worn on their sleeve one hour a week, he was too busy getting things done.

From today’s Office of Readings, a letter written by the saint:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

This is the type of example we celebrate, remember and honor with our actions…and this is just ONE DAY out of 365! The lives of the saints inspire us to give our all as they did to…I dunno…Voldemort? At least you’d think that was his name, since none of those in the video could bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Buzzfeed video one of the participants says: “A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal.”

To this I reply as Matthew Henry did when in his commentary on Psalm 82 he wrote: “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

To miss the good and the beautiful in Christianity and its adherents each and every day you truly must be willfully blind. Those who have eyes that see what God sees find ways to help the helpless and imitate Christ like St. Peter Claver. They don’t participate in naval-gazing passive-aggressive self-congratulatory exercises for BuzzFeed.

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What St. Francis de Sales pointed out to me about social media

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

If unholy words are used secretly and with deliberate intention, they are infinitely more poisonous; for just as in proportion to its sharpness and point a dart enters easily into the body, so the more pointed a bad word, the further it penetrates the heart. Those who fancy that it is clever to introduce such things in society, do not know its aim, which should be like that of a hive of bees, gathered together to make honey, that is for pleasant and virtuous intercourse; and not like a nest of wasps which will feed upon anything however unclean. If any foolish person speaks to you in unbecoming language, show that your ears are offended, either by turning away from him, or by whatever means may be most discreet at the time.

A spirit of mockery is one of the worst imperfections of the mind, and displeases God greatly, so that He has often punished it most severely. Nothing is more hurtful to charity, and still more to devotion, than contempt and derision of our neighbor, and such is inevitably found in mockery. For this reason it has been said that mockery is the greatest insult a man can offer his neighbor, inasmuch as in other offenses he does not altogether cease to respect the person whom he offends, but in this he despises and contemns him.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), An Introduction to the Devout Life (Chapter 27)

There was a time in my life, mostly during college, when I wielded my tongue like a sword, sarcastically ripping to shreds anyone who entered my crosshairs of the moment. Persons who wronged me, wronged friends of mine, or those who were just plain wrong (in my opinion) were all sliced and diced. Disguising this “talent” with dry humor and a quick flash, I left many a bloody body in my wake. Or at least I fancied that I did. Truthfully my targets rarely knew they’d been cut. My comments were made mostly to a group of friends who enjoyed engaging in such exercises as this with me. They were underclassmen and I’m ashamed to say I learned later that they really looked up to me as an example and even carried on this behavior after I graduated. I was to learn of this a year or two later while seated around a bonfire at a college party when I went back to visit them.

It was embarrassing and quite frankly horrified me to learn this. When the mirror was held up to my face I saw just how angry, bitter and wrong I was to speak like that about people, but also that I’d set an example that influenced guys that I really cared about, perpetuating the behavior. The odd thing was that during my senior year I had been the opposite of angry or bitter. It was in fact when of the happiest years of my life.

Looking back on that experience causes me to shudder when I think of how I would have acted were social media around in those days. I do not envy at all my children or their peers who are navigating through this minefield now. But as adults we now use the tools of social media and what I see is not encouraging to say the least. Those who are supposed to be the more mature among us are setting a terrible example for the next generation by acting like, well…children. It finally got so bad that almost three weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. The final straw for me came when a man whom I’ve known for thirty years reacted strongly and in a defensive posture when I posted a rare (for me) meme involving a politician (if you consider Donald Trump a politician). It was merely the latest of such “conversations” I’ve watched unfold between old and dear friends, and it was disheartening.

When I first joined Facebook in 2009 it was to monitor my oldest son who had opened an account. As I made new friends and found old ones, it was a really cool place to catch up, discuss events in our lives, and tell stories. There seemed to be some thought put into comments that were typed, and the replies contained even more thought. But then the worst thing that could happen, happened. The Facebook smartphone app was invented. Facebook became a home for photos of food (I love you dearly but I do not need to see the awesome grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup you had for lunch), videos of funny (or unfunny) cats. Viral video was born, and memes. Facebook became more of a visual cafeteria than one of discussion because it was easier. Have you ever tried to type out a coherent well-thought out sentence on a smartphone screen with one finger? It took too much time in a world that wanted speed over substance. Speed caused a reduction in courtesy, and quick reactionary (and often inflammatory) commentary rules the day. Reading some comments one can imagine hearing the slamming of fingers onto the poor phone’s screen as the words were pecked out.

Facebook-Twitter-on-mobile-phone

I watched this play out in real time on Twitter this morning. One of the first things I watched was an autoplay video someone retweeted from BuzzFeed of the live on-air execution of a television reporter and her cameraman as they interviewed a representative from that Virginia city’s chamber of commerce. With the horror fresh on the screen and their screams still echoing in our ears the feed was cut back to the studio and the stunned face of the woman behind the anchor desk. Amidst the cries from Twitter in the comments asking/telling/demanding/begging BuzzFeed to remove this video out of respect for the families of the dead (the cameraman’s fiancé was in the control room back at the station watching the entire event live), almost immediately ugly politics entered the fray. Comments screamed out that the shooter was obviously a Muslim/Black/White/Democrat/Republican/NRA-supporting/illegal immigrant/Tea Partying nutjob, amirite???

(I’ve provided no links nor further commentary as this story continues to develop as I write. I understand the shooter just shot himself a few minutes ago. You’ll have to seek out information on your own.)

I decided to avoid Twitter for the rest of the day.

The political realm is the worst, followed by “the cause”. But this would involve a whole other post that I don’t wish to write about now. Mostly what got to me was the sheer hypocrisy of most. Posts or photos of Zen sayings quoting Buddha or some other eastern mystic extolling the virtues of maintaining peace by being kind to others were followed by photos or news stories mocking a politician/celebrity/reality show star. I had one friend who did this regularly. She would quote Rumi one minute and in the next shred Sarah Palin with a “smirk”. I’m not a Palin fan necessarily, but after awhile the hypocrisy of it all got really old.

Our attentions spans have grown so short that we contradict ourselves within minutes.

We say things to each other (or passively-aggressively past each other) in our status updates or Tweets that we would never say directly to the face of our targets. What I’m seeing is a very public repeating of the crap I pulled as a 21-22 year old by people whom I respect and who, quite honestly, should know better. Should we really be surprised when our children do the same, or speak that way to us? Before I closed my Twitter today I saw a tweet from a priest I follow in which he pointed to evidence that our children are, in fact, watching how we conduct ourselves as adults. Not just in the homes, I would add, but online as well.

I will be reactivating my Facebook soon, though not after today’s events in Virginia. I’ll wait awhile. I realized yesterday that it is the only place I can access some poetry and song lyrics sent to me by a good friend who is pretty good at those things. I will not access it with my phone’s app and my time there will be greatly diminished during the day. I’ve kept Facebook all these years because it is a great way to stay in touch with family and close friends from around the country. But I will also be removing those who “poison” my well, so to speak, by conducting themselves more as wasps and less like bees as alluded to by St. Francis.

The more cynical or those considering themselves the paragons of irony will no doubt sneer at this statement. They are the wasps. I truly do not care. Someone has to draw the line somewhere and Saint Francis de Sales carries more weight with me.

Besides, he was right.

bees_wasps

Resisting the modern palantír

The Lord knows I try my best to stay positive. It is a difficult thing to do these days and the best antidote I’ve found is the reading of good books and much prayer. It’s all too easy to fall into despair as Denethor, as pointed out in this wonderful piece by T.M. Doran. As a commenter beneath the article wrote: I often find myself falling dreadfully near to Denethor’s despair (until now never having made that comparison!!). But how could it be otherwise, as I’m getting most of my information from our own day’s Palantír — an information source under the complete control of the enemy.

Image source: art-brainstorm.com

Image source: art-brainstorm.com

A brilliant analysis of our modern use of media. Any media. There are days when I swear it can’t get any worse on Twitter and then I’m proven wrong the next day.

So I’ve thrown a cover over the seeing stone and limit my peeks as best I can.

An immediate benefit I attribute to my reading is coming across nuggets, phrases or whole paragraphs that bring you to pause, reread it again slowly, and either highlight the words or write them down in a journal. (Or at times in my case, talk-to-text them into your iPhone’s Notes program or snap a picture of the page and email it to myself for later use.)

The old Baltimore Catechism stated that “To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.”

It is with that thought in mind that made me write the following passage down and place it in my Sunday Missal so that I might add it to my prayers before Mass, because I succinctly and directly mean every single word:

O Holy Mother, stand by me now at Mass time, when Christ comes to me, as thou didst minister to Thy infant Lord–as Thou didst hang upon His words when He grew up, as Thou wast found under His cross. Stand by me, Holy Mother, that I may gain somewhat of thy purity, thy innocence, thy faith, and He may be the one object of my love and my adoration, as He was of thine.

Meditations And Devotions, by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Part III: Meditations On The Christian Doctrine (Hope In God – Redeemer, paragraph 13).

There is no palantír with its fleeting images to peek into when at Mass. There is only the eternal fabric of time during which I pray for a small portion of the purity, innocence and faith held by Mary, so that I may love and adore (serve) Christ.

And while Thomas à Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ that “At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived” I must echo that I do not believe I will read my way into heaven. But by reading good books I’ve found that I am able to bring order to my knowledge (wisdom) and when combined with prayer I find the strength to “do” and to “live” in a manner I pray is worthy of the Kingdom.

The day the (satellite) signal died

Calvin-worship

Saturday was our last day with DirectTV. After 34 months with them and the twelve previous years with Dish Network we’ve decided enough is enough. Enough with spending over $1200/year. Enough with the open sewer pipe pumped into the house. Enough cycles around the remote control in search for something to pass the time.

Enough.

Netflix costs $79/year and we’ve gotten used to it since beginning a trial subscription in June. I’ll likely add Amazon Prime and am already checking into subscribing to MLB.tv next spring. Combined these three things would equal a small fraction of what I was spending annually for satellite service.

As it was the final things we saw piped through the dish and into our home were pretty special. I saw this on Wednesday night:

Followed Saturday morning by the parade through Boston that ended with this:

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

And then there was this on Saturday night from downtown Lincoln:

On Sunday my daughter went to the library with my wife and came home with three books. She eagerly tore into them Sunday afternoon and finished them by supper. She read them again on Monday and is ready to go back to check out more. While she read on Sunday our 10-year old was playing outside with his buddy and our beagle and our 17-year old was finishing up his homework and his binge-watching of Breaking Bad on Netflix. I’d never watched it but he heard all the hooplah as the series came to a close last month and has been watching the entire series ever since. My wife having spent three weeks with me watching the Red Sox through the entire post-season and cross-stitching has been trying to finish our oldest son’s Christmas stocking.

And me? Other than the installation of an antenna so that we can pick up local channels in high definition I plan on spending more time with family unfettered by Spongebob, zombies and commercials for Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family (which really is the opposite of a family channel but that’s another rant for another day). My wife and I are thinking of setting aside time each night for a family rosary once again as we used to do years ago. It’s only been a few days since the satellite signal ceased but everyone has already adjusted to it pretty quickly and with little complaint. Sure we can afford the bill but I can afford the price of crystal meth, too. Just because we can afford something doesn’t mean it absolves us of the responsibility my wife and I have as parents to be good stewards over the young minds in our care or our family finances.

Ok, so that’s perhaps a reductio ad absurdum. How about I just say that I find it to be an expensive time vampire?

miss-havisham-gillian-andersonWith the “fall back” due to daylight savings time it’s darker sooner. So when I get home from work and finish spending time with the kids before their bedtime I’ll more times than not be found catching up with one of my books. I’ve amassed a sizable library during our satellite years and aim to work my through many of them. I do admit I spent time last night watching part one of the 2011 Masterpiece Theatre broadcast of Great Expectations. It’s one of my favorite books and the film adaptation has been very good so far (Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham [see photo at right] was a pleasant surprise). I look forward to watching parts two and three sometime soon.

I’m looking forward to regaining a semblance of balance and putting the tool that is television back into a supporting role and not one of dominance. To it being used as something enjoyed in limited amounts and in the quality of what is shown instead of watching my kids (and yes, me) turn it on as a background noise generator.

Mostly, I look forward to some quiet. A little extra money in the bank account won’t hurt either.

It gets inside you

I heard the news today, oh boy.

Death. Violence. Sex. We are a culture obsessed by them.

Are we, or is our media? Does the media simply reflect our tastes, or is it projecting its own upon us?

Some of the headlines found on the NBC News website this morning were as follows:

  • Second teen arrested WWII vet’s fatal beating
  • ‘Nice little boy,’ 3, critical after NYC shooting
  • Crews raze homes next to Cleveland house of horrors
  • 11-year-old lung transplant patient on her way home
  • New ovarian cancer test may speed up detection
  • Popular Pa. teacher vanishes in Calif. Wilderness
  • Are they cuckoo? Sex drive-in opens in Switzerland
  • Parents face the student loan double whammy
  • Those secret recipes mostly a heaping helping of hype
  • Where cockfighting is ‘just making a living’
  • Estranged wife abducted, held hostage for 30 hours
  • VIDEO: Daily sex for  a year? Here’s what she learned
  • Second teen arrested WWII vet’s fatal beating
  • Spain’s millennials despair in dismal economy
  • Billions wasted on paperless vet health records
  • 4,000 run from the bulls in Virginia event
  • How Snowden did it
  • Boy fighting brain-eating infection on ventilator
  • School districts struggle to bolster security amid dwindling resources
  • Celebs confused, horrified by Cyrus at VMAs
  • Stars on Batman casting: Give Affleck a chance!
  • Miley gets embarrassingly raunchy at VMAs
  • ‘Breaking Bad’ is burning down the house

And these don’t include political or international headlines that would have included the ethnic cleansing of Christians from the Middle East, the gassing of thousands in Syria, or the political sex scandals of about anyone running for office in New York City or disgraced ex-mayors of San Diego.

All of which leaves us looking at our media screens with expressions much like the Will Smith family at the Video Music Awards show last night:

smith_family_vmas

But for every negative there is a positive. For every yin a yang. And here I use yin and yang as examples of complementary, not opposing, forces. There is good to be found within those headlines if one digs deep enough and past the superficiality of our sound bite culture. I believe this. I must. The alternative is just too dark and dismisses God and His Creation. Grace. Redemption. Salvation. All would cease to exist or have meaning in that alternative reality.

We are more than the “now” of this moment in time. Things we do today do in fact echo throughout eternity. Giving it to the darkness is easy. Lazy, in fact. There’s nothing to it.

To do otherwise is hard. It’s challenging. As Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) said to his star player Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis) in the movie A League of Their Own:

Dugan: Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.

Hinson: It just got too hard.

Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

Substitute the following words in place of the word “baseball”: God. Jesus. Faith. Beauty. Put any one of those words in place of the word baseball and say those lines out loud. They are “too hard” and too easily neglected or untried. Many try and give up. Because it got too hard.

Perhaps all of this sounds too pollyanna-ish to a hard, cold cynical world. Maybe I should wait until I speak to friends of mine later this week. They, along with their youngest son (a senior who is a baseball teammate of my son) escaped their burning home Saturday afternoon with nothing but the clothes on their bodies and a vehicle parked curbside. Their home, and a lifetime’s possessions, destroyed. Almost immediately our baseball family organized relief efforts, as did others who know this family. In the immediate aftermath of this event which fortunately saw no lives lost they might tell me I’m wrong about my outlook. With the passage of time, and reflection, their response may be different.

Perhaps.

We will never know the good, if any, that comes from the stories listed above. I wish I had the answers. But experience has taught me that the good does exist and reveals itself in Time. It can depend upon what we choose to see and where we place our emphasis. It depends on whether we take the short-attention-span-sound-bite view and move quickly on to the next thing, or if we have an eye looking towards eternity and on the things close to us in our own lives over which we do have some control, or at least a greater illusion of doing so.

*****

As an antidote to frustration, or despondency, or anger at the state of the world today I suggest that you watch a little classic from 1963, Lilies of the Field. It is, as one Amazon.com reviewer puts it, a “story about growth, sacrifice, faith, and the power of human beings to occasionally work a small miracle or two.”

This scene is one of my favorite among many:

Broken Links

dandelionbreak

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains. – Anne Frank

We live in an age of seemingly endless connectivity. We are all “one” though the benevolence of wireless technology. Never before has more information been available at our fingertips (or Google glasses). Information can be found for just about any subject, replete with images or links to relevant information. Opinions are expressed with a string of comments or we grant our approval with a “like”. An endless array of Tweets, Timeline updates, pinned images attempt to sate our thirsts for involvement. The media fills hour after hour of air time with empty rhetoric debating with and interviewing itself about the issues it deems important enough to mention, while sweeping stories that do not fit into its monolithic narrative under the rug. For if it is not mentioned on the Internet it never happened.

*click*

We snicker and we snort at the stereotypical “people of Wal-Mart”. We “hate” celebrities like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, two people whom I am fairly certain we’ll never knew one-on-one, for things that they do or are alleged to do by a media that has no one’s interest at heart but their own. Human beings and their stories are marginalized to the point where we do not understand that every unkind, uncharitable and inhumane comment we make through our electronic eye-rolls and sarcasm strips our very neighbors and fellow human beings of their dignity. People like Ronald Davis of Chicago.

We fancy that we know everything and as such are the gods and goddesses of our domains. We are nothing of the sort. We are broken. But the array of endless imagery and soundbites keeps us distracted from our brokenness and focused on the faults and trials of others in an impersonal way. Ignoring our brokenness we feast upon the pain of others. We possess a contagious selfishness, and even Wired.com notes that the new Facebook Home is “transforming vice into virtue”:

Critics have already commented on how the ads exploit our weakness for escapist fantasy so we can feel good about avoiding conversation and losing touch with our physical surroundings. And they’ve called out Zuckerberg’s hypocrisy: “Isn’t the whole point of Facebook supposed to be that it’s a place to keep up with, you know, family members? So much for all that high-minded talk about connecting people.”

However, the dismissive reviews miss an even deeper and more consequential point about the messages conveyed by the ads: that to be cool, worthy of admiration and emulation, we need to be egocentric. We need to care more about our own happiness than our responsibilities towards others.

ChainIf the victims happen to look a little like us or exist in circumstances we can relate to (a person who is a parent like us. Or wears glasses like us. Or drives a car like us. Or has kids like us.) we pause a little longer and cluck our tongues in pity and thank (who, exactly? Ourselves?) our lucky stars that it wasn’t us. There is a twinge of…not pain exactly…but something that makes us slightly uncomfortable about that person’s misfortune and so we pause a few extra moments before clicking on the next piece of theater, that something we felt quickly forgotten. Desperate for heroes, we laud a man for doing the right thing by helping women held prisoner in a Cleveland house on Seymour Avenue for a decade and entertain ourselves by watching the obligatory auto tune treatment on YouTube, and within 24 hours read a headline that says the “hero” was a domestic abuser in his past. “Kick ‘em when they’re up. Kick ‘em when they’re down” as Don Henley sang in his song Dirty Laundry over thirty years ago. Heroes rise and fall within a 24-hour news cycle.

And our search for more heroes goes on.

*click*

I see good people taught to hate. The Two Minutes Hate from Orwell’s 1984 was a daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies and express their hatred for them. In chapter one of his book it is described thusly:

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

Don’t think it’s that bad out on the Internet? A few minutes on Twitter or in the comments of almost any YouTube video or news site will make your head spin.

*click*

Yesterday I happened to read an astute summary of our media by Rod Dreher that touches on this very subject. A few evenings each week I will turn on FOX News, MSNBC or CNN for a few minutes to see what each talking head and screaming “panel” is “debating”. Sean Hannity gives me heartburn and Rachel Maddow makes me want to drive an ice pick into my temple. What group or groups are they blaming for our woes? To whom are we to direct our Two Minutes Hate on that day? As Dreher says in his column “How Will We Know Whom to Hate If the Media Don’t Tell Us?”:

The only points being made are those made with their fingers.

The only points being made are those made with their fingers.

I went to get lunch, and afterward ran into another friend. Because I was downtown, not far from the Capitol, we talked about politics. He’s a liberal Democrat, and knows I’m a conservative Independent who writes for a conservative magazine; neither of us care about politics enough to let it come between friendship, ours or with anybody else. He mentioned that he had been over at a pal’s house the other day, and spent an hour or two watching MSNBC with him.

“Good grief, you ever do anything like that?” he asked. No, I told him, I don’t watch TV news.

“Don’t,” he said. “After a couple of hours of that stuff, you either hate everybody or hate yourself. It’s poison. I can’t imagine what filling your head with that stuff does to the way you see the world.”

Read it all, if you can, especially the section on the late David Foster Wallace’s 2005 graduation speech at Kenyon College. In the end Wallace (and Dreher) point out that we still have a choice as to what we take in to our minds.

cow - actual dangerThe world isn’t getting worse. It only seems to be because like never before every horror, tragedy and disaster is broadcast onto our screens within moments of their happening. Our media thrives on getting it first (notice I didn’t say “right”) and we lap it up in a manner that would make Pavlov proud. And if it isn’t the news media emphasizing the base and the banal, it’s our tv shows and movies. We seem to revel in the mud like pigs.

But I have the answer on how to make it feel like a better world and in turn make it a better world. You have the answer, too, right in front of you. Or next to you. Across the street or across the cube farm in which you work. It’s that individual right over there.

Heather King got me to thinking of all this while reading her blog this morning. She was writing about a retreat she had just returned from leading for women recovering from alcoholism. She was writing of the individual. Of involvement.

And let me tell you something: if you have never gotten that close to the beating heart of the world, you are missing out. If you have never looked into the eyes of a human being who has suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as a child that would have felled a lesser person–and who is telling you, “I have to get better. Because I’m worth something“–you have not entirely lived.

When I am actively involved in the lives of my family, my children, neighbors and friends, I am most alive and fulfilled. When I am most absorbed in the screen held in the palm of my hand, on the tv stand or on my desk I can tell myself I’m connected with my fellow man all I want but it isn’t true. That’s when I feel most empty and helpless. That’s when we begin to lose our sense of empathy for our fellow humanity and degenerate into apathy. That’s when the knives come out.

I quoted Anne Frank at the beginning of this blog. I have always imagined she’s talking of the misery and beauty in the world. Today I considered for the first time that she could also have meant the misery and beauty inherent in each individual. I think it applies either way.

Involvement. Individual. Let them be our pair of “eyes” going forward.

two people_shadows

*****

A Postscript

I have read Christ in Dachau by Fr. John Lenz and am currently reading With God in Russia by Fr. Walter Ciszek. I am well-versed in the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe and his time at Auschwitz before and during the events leading to his death.

  • Fr. Lenz at Dachau during WW2 in a camp that held over 2400 Catholic priests from over two dozen countries. Over one third of them were killed, the survivors tortured as “the scum of the camp.”
  • Fr. Ciszek a prisoner for twenty-three years in the Russian prison camps of Siberia.

Along with Kolbe in Auschwitz I see commonalities in their stories: Faith and Trust in God, and Involvement with Individuals.  They recognized themselves as broken, living in a broken world, and involved themselves with broken individuals. It gave them a purpose. Those who didn’t connect in that individual way lost their purpose and eventually their will to live. They didn’t survive.

Are we not fortunate? We do not need to journey into a concentration camp to find our purpose. It is all around us, waiting for us to engage.

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just wanna hold you
And let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other
Try to rise above

We’re not afraid to admit we’re all still beginners
We’re all late bloomers
When it comes to love

God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. – Vance Havner

Friday Five – Volume 59

Friday Five_notepad

— 1 —

On Tuesday the hard drive of my work laptop went kablooey. As I had some time I took an early lunch to walk to my favorite used bookstore to look around. I hadn’t paid them a visit in many moons and the owner, Cinnamon, was quick to greet me and point out several shelves of books that had new titles that she thought might interest me. They did, but mostly I was there to pick up a copy of Huxley’s Brave New World for a friend of mine, which I did.

HLECinnamon was eager to show me the current jewel of their story, a two volume Folio Society edition of David Roberts’ The Holy Land and Egypt and Nubia. She pulled them from under the glass counter and I spent the next twenty minutes slowly turning the pages of these incredible and beautiful books. I’ve purchased volumes from The Folio Society before and these are among the finest I’ve seen. Big, heavy, well bound, large slip covers, and thick paper. I swallowed hard and asked her how much. “$1600 for the set,” she said. It’s a very fair price and I couldn’t argue with her. They are number 719 of a limited printing of 1000 and in pristine condition. The text is wonderful, but the lithographs are truly fantastic. “I’ve had offers from people of their kidneys or children,” she laughed. For twenty minutes I turned the pages and tried to figure out how I could purchase them and be allowed to sleep in the house over the next year. Not being able to come up with an answer to that question and not wanting to sleep in our shed I reluctantly passed them back across the counter.

She hasn’t made it available on their website yet as she always gives the locals a chance to purchase finds like this first. A three-minute video showing lithographs from the book is on YouTube.

— 2 —

While in the store I also looked at a copy of The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade. The opening paragraph was beautiful and I wanted to share it here.

Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows. Of these obscure heroes, philosophers, and martyrs, the greater part will never be known till that hour, when many that are great shall be small, and the small great; but of others the world’s knowledge may be said to sleep: their lives and characters lie hidden from nations in the annals that record them. The general reader cannot feel them, they are presented so curtly and coldly: they are not like breathing stories appealing to his heart, but little historic hail-stones striking him but to glance off his bosom: nor can he understand them; for epitomes are not narratives, as skeletons are not human figures.

You do not need to change the world. It’s big and so vast. But you can and should change your world. There is no such thing as an obscure person. You are the entire world to someone.

We tend to forget this.

— 3 —

You know that there is a rabbit hole in which the media buries stories it doesn’t want the public to see because it doesn’t fit with the way they view the world when Snopes.com is compelled to publish a page confirming that the story is real, not merely an urban legend.

I remember when journalists were objective reporters. Now they are activists wanting to “change the world”. Just stop already.

— 4 —

Speaking of the story-which-must-not-be-named:

2RAMclr-050113-gosnell-IBD-_jpg

Source: Michael Ramirez at IBD

— 5 —

I’ll be brief today (hold your applause). The new project continues its slow progress and is taking what little free time I have. I considered naming the new blog “500 Words or Less” but I know better. However the reason for my creating it is in fact brevity.

I’ll wait until you are able to stop laughing and catch your breath. All done? Good. Where were we?

Ah yes, brevity. That and wanting to carve out a space where I am free to anonymously experiment a little. I’ve got an e-mail inbox dedicated solely to all the story notes and blog ideas I’ve had for the past 3-4 years and I’d like to focus there awhile.

This song’s title (see video below) was what I wanted to name my new blog, but sadly it was not available on either WordPress or Blogger so I’ve gone with Plan B. The lyrics to Josh’s song sum up the direction I am going with the new project. But instead the new blog will owe its title in part to this song. And also this one. At least for now anyway. I’m still mulling it over.

Stay frosty.

I was wrong, everybody needs someone, to hold on
Take my hand, I’ve been a lonesome man, took a while to understand

There’s some things we can’t live without,
A man’s so prone to doubt,
Faithful are the wounds from friends.
So give it just a little time,
Share some bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine,
My friend

Walls fall down, where there’s a peaceful sound, lonely souls hang around
Don’t be shy, there’s nothing left to hide, come on let’s talk a while

Of the places we left behind,
No longer yours and mine
But we could build a good thing here too
So give it just a little time,
Share bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine

If I fall, I fall alone, but two can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too,
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
My friend