Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Can Only Break A Nose So Many Times

Two weeks since my last post. Mea culpa, readers. Let’s get to business.

Earlier today, I prayed with friends in front of an abortion clinic in Kansas City. We didn’t do much. Two Rosaries, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Sign of the Cross, and a litany. On finishing those, we walked slowly away. As usual, I looked back at the building, still unable to process what was happening within. I had seen a girl walk in there, clutching her stomach. Were they seriously going to… do that to her? Murder her baby? Murder?

I finally get a grasp on it, sometimes. And whenever I do, I want to go start a fight. And that’s why the man I saw today was such a distraction from the praying.

I think he was Protestant. I don’t know many Protestants, but there’s a stereotype I have of them, and he fit it like a club in a hand. A white man, not very old but not very young. He stood with another man, flanking the road, right where it comes into the clinic parking lot. In their hands were signs. The pictures on them were grisly.

The first man had a bullhorn and a voice with a bull’s fury. With those, he barraged every single person who walked in that clinic with a condemnation of what they were doing.

I can’t remember the precise words, but it sounded something like this…

“Do you realize that what you are doing is murder? That this is the work of the devil? See these pictures? That’s not God’s work! It’s the work of the devil! Stop now before it’s too late!”

“I have a wife! And eleven children! Homeschooled ‘em all! They take care of me!”

“You know there was a case in California, where a man murdered his pregnant wife? He was charged with a double count of murder! Killing an unborn child is murder! The only place where this law doesn’t apply is an abortion clinic! These men are not doctors! They are abortionists!”

He’s right. Dead right; pun intended. At the moment, he had my ear. I was trying to listen for when to chime in for the Hail Mary prayers in my group’s Rosary, and this man was leaning forward like a whipped-up Puritan judge, and hollering and carrying on like an elephant with a spear in its rear. Not too menacing when you read it, is it?

In real life it was loud, jarring and dangerous. I was half-expecting him to whirl round on us and berate us for not being more militant like him. And I would have welcomed it. I could feel his rage, and I loved it. I wanted to fling it right back in his face, and then in the face of the security guard, strolling back and forth with a loaded pistol.

But I didn’t. As I reflected, and talked with some friends here (including the venerable Patrick Button) I found out why, and made some conclusions.

If I try to be offensive like that man, I will not accomplish half as much as what my friends and I did with presence and prayer. The biggest result he got was someone yelling, “You’re an asshole!” I said he was right, but I didn't say the delivery was right. He appealed to what seems to be hate. We appealed instead to a Universal Love and Power that will not fail us. I would not be surprised at all to learn that our intercessions helped somewhere, somehow. In fact, I will be so bold to predict it will. I cannot be sure, of course. And I do not make such statements lightly.

While we’re at it, shock tactics like that man’s pictures must be used only in hour of greatest need. I’m fed up with people displaying, in public where children can see them, pictures of murdered fetuses. I’m not even 100% it will work in a nation that helped Saw get seven sequels.

But it is reality, and it cannot be ignored. And it is because they are reality that we must treat them with gravity. This is documentation of evil in one of its most disturbing incarnations. Such a shocking thing must only be used when there is no other choice. If I were to use them, I would save them for a private friend who was pro-choice. If all else failed in my efforts to show him the evil of abortion, then I would show him the pictures. 

As a last resort.

P.S. While we're on pro-life issues, I have another one of a sort. I don't know if you believe in the power of prayer but if you do, I'd like you pray for the soul of Keenen Charles Dunn, an old high school classmate of mine. He crashed his car Monday. He didn't make it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Tragedian

If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, read it. It’s a story C.S. Lewis wrote about heaven and hell. In it, the protagonist takes the most unusual bus ride of his life. Heaven and hell aren’t the only ideas explored. The protagonist takes the bus trip with a mob of passengers whose frailties get exposed like naked children in the cold.

It’s one of these passengers I want to look at. He only ever gets called the Tragedian. If you don’t any spoilers, read no further.

Technically the Tragedian isn’t the actual character, not at first, anyway. He is a half of the character. The other half is a short, shriveled man, leading the other half (the Tragedian) on a chain. The dwarf holds the chain, and shakes it to make the Tragedian, a tall, black-hatted man, talk. He speaks to his wife, who died and went to Heaven, and is happy, and is trying to get her husband to join her. The dwarf nearly caves in, but keeps yanking his chain and making the Tragedian howl miserable accusations and “woe is me” quotes. Slowly the dwarf gets smaller. By the end of the conversation no one can see him.

I have never seen a better description for self-pity. Is this not exactly what we do in real life? You’ve been there. Maybe you were a child, sulking in your room, and feeling your fiery rage die down. And as your mother walked in you screamed at her, even though you didn't feel like it, because you wouldn't let go of that anger. Maybe you’re holding a grudge against someone right now, and the pain of what they did feels so good that you cling to it.

And you diminish, just like the dwarf. You know it. You feel it. And you can’t stop it. And you’re not the only one. If a man or woman tells you they’ve never felt it, either God made them pure like the Virgin Mary or they are telling one of the worst lies in our world.

Just think for a minute. The signs are everywhere of this disease. You can find the Tragedian in other literature. Fyodor Doestoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov describes a girl trying to stir herself into a love that does not exist as self-laceration. Soap opera have been feasting on wild passions for decades, and reality television has ensured it’s not going anywhere. “Emo” and “screamo” rock bands like My Chemical Romance and The Devil Wears Prada shot into fame with songs flaming with dramatic anguish and misery. I’ve never seen an opera, but I’m guessing they tap into the same thing.

It’s good to listen to that kind of music, and feel the emotions in real life. Are you really human without a little melodrama? It’s one of the few things that fits the scope of our feelings, and if that’s not a compliment for our species I can’t name one. With that said, don’t overdo it. Have you been watching Lindsay Lohan crash and burn? Learn a lesson from her and the Tragedian. Pray. Find your way to peace and control.

Friday, January 14, 2011

You Should Read These Blogs, Too

If you’re new to this blog, the good stuff is a post below. I dare you to read it.

And then come back and check out these awesome blogs.

BadCatholic Marc Barnes chases the truth in his post like a thirsty digging for water in the desert. He's not always completely correct in his theology, but his points are always compelling.

Button’s Blog Patrick Button is a friend of mine in college. He specializes in making barbed and witty remarks about politics, often with a Catholic angle.

… the hell with it She's blunt, and she might offend you. She's also a blast to read. Check out the Drink Thursday posts in particular.

A Mustard Seed Is A Funny Thing Snippets of poetry. Original stuff; it just might blow your mind. Take a chance!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Post-Modern College Kid

I was a superstar my senior year in high school. Only two things swelled my ego more than watching clueless freshmen get in trouble. One was praise from parents and teachers, and their pats on the back and sugar-sweet phrases. “You’re such a good student! And we’re going to miss you next year!” The other thing was the college admission process. By the time I took my SATs, I had a respectable collection of college brochures.

And anyone who has seen a college brochure should know how cool they are. They shine and shimmer like gold. Some even have multiple pages, depending on how much they like you. The pictures of campus look like someone put Oxford University in the fields of Elysium. The students smile like they’re living in paradise. And their testimonies burst with passion and purpose. And the list of luxuries and majors make your eyes water. How do you choose between such paradises?

I did. I’m currently a freshman at my own “Oxfelysium”, Benedictine College. I loved the brochures. And when I went to an overnight, I was completely seduced. I completed my first semester in December.

This experience gives me the right to say something authoritative about college students. I think there’s a conception people have about them, and I don’t like it.

Take a look at one of those brochures, if you have one. Or Google some college websites. I guarantee you will see a picture of a student, of a special kind. He (or she) is physically attractive, not like a movie star but never ugly. Usually the person’s wearing a comfy hoodie, or a polo and khakis at the most. Casual wear. Comfortable wear. They always smile, practically boasting of what a wonderful time they’re having. That’s the image of the conception.

And here’s the expectation. Peers and superiors tell me, as I go to school, to study hard and have fun. They want me to put in the time, and keep the grades up, and do activities and make friends. Oh, and don’t drink or get anyone pregnant. Keep that up for four years. Get the degree. And take on the world! I tell them sometime, with a playful smile, that I’m not working as hard as they think. Laughs ensue. Life goes on. It’s okay if I slack a little.

In essence, from what I gather, the college student is expected to stay out of trouble, get along with everybody, get fine grades, do a plethora of activities, have good times and good friends, and graduate in four years to the acclaim of all. I cannot accept this ideal.

That whole “don’t get in trouble” idea cannot be right. I have friends who drink. If I have a drunk friend who needs to get back home, I’d like to think I would find him and get him home. Even if it means getting caught at a party where people are breaking the law. Friendship should be more important than putting up a good show. We still have moral obligations, understand. But what if those run against what people consider “getting in trouble”?

And about that degree. What good is it? Is it truly why we go to college? Our purpose there cannot be the fun times or friendships; both are everywhere, and not just at school. The degree, then? No! The degree can help get a job. But that’s only to get a home, clothes, food and the other necessities. It gives knowledge and understanding about a subject, but it’s just one subject in the end. Something else must be involved. Something that covers all the subjects. That something is the quest for truth, or God.

This quest won’t always fall in line with what people want. What if Johnny McCharming disagrees with Brad Darling about abortion, and neither presses the issue? Neither of them will challenge each other. They will hold their opinions. They will learn nothing. They will grow no closer to the truth. Surely that is not what college students are meant to do! When you’re trying to find the answer to everything, you will step on someone’s toes. Can that image of sweet complacency hold you back?

These concerns may seem trivial. But I cannot dismiss them. In the end, everyone must understand oneself, and what is going in the world, and what the world is, and why one isthere, and why he’s there, and what he’s going to do in it. If people are caught up in that college image I described, and not those questions, then there’s a problem. Purge your mind of that smiling, hip youngster in the hoodie. He needs all the prodding and pushing he can get to confront the big questions. The ones whose answers spell his fate and that of his world.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What The Huck?


Normally I don’t feel the urge to lynch anybody, but right now I’d like some rope, if you have any handy. I saw reports on Twitter that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is being sanitized. I checked some headlines. It’s true. A new edition is coming out that’s taking out two terms: “Nigger” and “Injun” (See NPR or CNN's report).

If you have ever read Huckleberry Finn, you know this is not a minor adjustment. Mark Twain sprinkles the words in his novel the way my father sprinkles salt and pepper on steak and potatoes. That means a lot. Altering the text that much will have consequences. One of them is, as the links above mention, that more schools might let kids read the book. According to the links above, it’s grade-schoolers that the editors have specifically in mind.

This isn’t the first time people have tried to do this to Huckleberry Finn. Nevertheless, here comes the rant. I’m not buying it, and this is why.

First off, the action itself says something that I don’t like. These fellows are changing the words of a document from another age, and fixing it to fit the beliefs of this age. The implication is that it is only the beliefs of our age that are important, and that all that has come before can be destroyed and forgotten. I denounce that. Utterly. I am not saying that what was believed in the past is necessary “just as true”. That is moral relativism, which I also denounce.

What I am saying is that it is vitally important for the truth to stand. If it was common in the 1800s to call a black person a nigger, then that’s a clue to understanding that century. We cannot take that term out of 1800s documents. The people in the 1800s did some things wrong, and some things right. So do we. We have enough trouble deciding who got what right without changing up the words that the people in the 1800s wrote. It’s part of the conversation we have with the rest of humanity, trying to piece together what has happened- and what it means for us, here and now.

Now, obviously this isn’t happening to all copies of Huckleberry Finn; just this special edition. Regardless, I scorn the message implicit in their actions. Do you think you can separate an action from what it says?

Now the grade school thing is kind, and well-meaning. But it’s not enough to justify my problem above, and I’m not sure I buy it itself. If you won’t have your 8th graders reading books with controversial words, wait until you think they’re old to handle it. One of the three high schools I attended didn’t mandate Huckleberry Finn until junior year. I was there junior year. The discussions I had with my classmates were great. There are things going on in that book that grade-schoolers will have trouble getting at. And don’t even get me started with the dialogue.

That doesn’t mean they can’t try. But how can one justify letting them grapple with deep literary devices and metaphors, and not let them grapple with the historical context of “nigger”? In fact, showing it to them in Huckleberry Finn may be healthy. I think it’s fair to say that many schools have a swearing problem. I don’t have statistics or first-hand knowledge of grade schools, but I’ve seen plenty of high-schoolers, public and private who use a host of foul words and I don’t think it happened overnight. Where are our kids going to hear this word? In a book with historical context and discussion, or laughing with their schoolmates (or listening to a Lil Wayne rap)?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One Man With A Candle

You wouldn’t expect people to be spending more money on fun, would you? The Great Recession is gone here in the U.S.A., but times are still tight. And it shows. According to USA Today, 2010 was one of the worst years in history for movie theater attendance. Movies? The one thing Americans are supposed to love? The thing that helped them get through the Great Depression? Uh-oh. With news like that, there’s no way any form of entertainment could prosper this year. Right?


I was flabbergasted when I found this article at CNN. Turns out Disneyland, and another theme park next to it, had so many people coming in over the holidays that they had to stop selling tickets.

Normally, I might laugh at the good ole Cable News Network. Around the time of trouble in the Ivory Coast, killing in the rest of the Middle East, and a spying accusation by Iran to the U.S.A., an amusement park craze doesn't seem newsworthy. At all. I can feel my lip curl in a smirk already.

But no. This is significant. In a nation where everyone seems to be tightening their belts still, Disneyland is still getting floods of customers. Floods! The film industry had to raise ticket prices to hide their dwindling attendance- and Disneyland had so much holiday attendance that they can’t handle it all. Something’s going on with that park, and whatever it is, it’s persuading thousands of Americans to flock to it and spend insanely (admission alone is $68 for one kid!).

Anything with that power deserves a look. And this Walt Disney fellow has been knocking on my mind's door for a while. Yes, let’s take a look. What’s the lure behind the Disney brand?

In 1901, a boy was born in Missouri. He liked to draw. He had a knack for it. After a stint with the Red Cross in World War One, he went to Hollywood. During the Depression he had a big break in animation. He made a feature-length cartoon about an old fairytale, and it was expensive, and it was risky, and it paid off. Success came after success, and soon Walt Disney was king of cartoons. He even made an amusement park in the 50s, and another (even bigger one), later on. He created a company that has only grown bigger since he left.

No, that doesn’t help. All I see there is the story of one more successful businessman. We Americans aren’t surprised to hear about such things. I don’t think of that when I think of Disney. I don’t even think of a man at all, usually, when I hear that. Break it down. Dis-ney. Sounds kinda Polish, or something Eastern European, when you think about it. Is that the first time you’ve ever thought of that?

It is for me. I’ll tell you what I think of when I hear Disney. I think of my childhood. Don’t you? I, like many, grew up watching all the classics. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Peter Pan. The Lion King. Pinocchio. Toy Story. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (that was the old fairy tale mentioned above). Yeah, some of these are princess stories, and I am a man and proud to admit I want to watch them again.

Because there’s something about these movies that make them utterly unlike any other movie. You’ve probably read enough DVD covers and seen enough commercials to know people hype “the Disney magic”. Well, it’s true. Maybe Walt and his successors were just that good. Or perhaps their work was marketed so well they seem like they’re special. Either way, the magic is real. You don’t hear kids talk about Shrek or Bugs Bunny the same you hear them talk about Mickey Mouse. Or Snow White, or Simba, or all the other Disney heroes and heroines. They’re all on a whole different level. I’m sitting here typing these, and they’re all washing out my eyes, and bringing me back to when I was so tiny and innocent, sitting captive before a screen, eyes wide open as Jiminy Cricket croons in front of an open window.

I can feel it in my chest. No lies. Something is welling in my soul even as I type this. And I look all across the Disney empire. Look at those theme parks! Disneyland is still going handsomely, as we've seen. So many billions of dollars, and tons of wood, steel, plastic, and manpower… to create such a grand, overpowering illusion. It’s every kid’s dream. Go to a castle! See a princess! Pirates! Heroes! Villains! Just like Neverland. Look at the toys! I know I’ll never list all the action figures, plush dolls, and costumes that sprang around those stories, over all these years. Look at the music! I’m at a liberal arts college, and I have enough classmates who know and adore “Disney songs” to fill a choir.

Think of all that! I don’t know if you love this stuff, but darn it, I do! And there it is, right there. That feeling. Call it sentimental or deluded, but it will not fade without a fight. I’m going to use a cliché, and it’s name is imagination. Disney was famed for that. And somehow, after all the corporate soullessness that brought us Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, and all the hotels and bars at the theme parks (resorts, they call them now), that still captivates me.

I’m not the only one. I think at least one person who is reading this post right now can relate to this feeling I have. What I feel is contact with something extraordinary. There is a part of us that, for better or worse, loves fantasy. That part wants an adventure. To go into different and colorful lands, and see fairies, and kings, and monsters, and sorcery, and good and evil, and all those things we saw in Disney’s movies. He brought that escape to life better than anyone I can think of. And I look at his famous signature, or see those three circles that form Mickey’s head, and I feel it. I feel contact with that escape, with a pulsing, glorious land of magic. And dreams. Sweet, soaring dreams. Something disconnected from our dreary world in a way that sweeps away our woes and frailties, and makes us golden like babes once more.

That’s what drove those people to Disneyland over Christmas. That’s what takes us in, every time. And it can’t be what we want more than anything; that I see now. God has something waiting for us that will be so much better than Disney’s dreams, we could discard them for a dime. But so long as we recognize that, it is beautiful and it can be enjoyed. This is the nectar and ambrosia of the human soul on Earth. Enjoy it! Just don’t let it become something that it’s not. I saw some comments on that article ranting about how crowded and miserable the park was. Don't stake everything in a human institution.

The way it is, it could change your life if you let it. I truly believe that. And I would have no trouble believing that the Disney magic has a connection, somewhere, somehow, however slight or alluding, with the experience of God Himself. A promise of what is to come? I'll have to think about that.

In the meantime, I have just the song for you below this sentence. Have a magical 2011.