Here we go again.
I already wrote about crappy Church music a while back, so I won't go there again (at least not today). But what happens when the music choices are actually good, but the performance of these songs stinks?
What happens when the cantor stumbles over the words because he or she hasn't prepared? What happens when the cantor sings like a soloist at a concert rather than as a leader of a congregation? What happens when the organist and the cantor don't coordinate their efforts, or when the organist plays like one of the DMV Sloths from Zootopia? Does slower mean holier? Does every last syllable of music need to be dragged out?
Liturgical music (good music, that is) is written to lead the people into prayer and to focus our attention on the substance of the Mass. Therefore, the way that this music is presented should be to enhance that mission and never to distract from it. When my mother was a choirmaster back in the day, she would tell us how difficult it was sometimes to work with organists. She said she had to make it clear to them that their job was to support the singers but not to overpower them or drown them out. I would add to that organists have an obligation to set the tempo of the music and to help the singers and the congregation maintain a good, singable tempo so that no one is rushing through but also, so that no one is dragging out the music.
Why so slow? I hear this sometimes in prayer services, and it drives me crazy! Recently I was at a prayer service at a local church, and the lady leading it pronounced each and EV-ER-Y SYL-LA-BLE the entire time. It was so slow and dragged out that it became a distraction and I found myself unable to focus on prayer. The same is true with liturgical music. I attended a Mass recently, and it was the same thing--music way too slow, too unrehearsed, and the cantor putting his own style into the music so that it was impossible to follow along.
I do sing in a Latin Mass choir, but I don't consider myself a musician by any means. I do have a pretty good musical sense, however, and I know enough to understand what's appropriate and what's not for a Mass. Here's my list of do's and don'ts for those in music ministry:
St. Augustine famously said that "he who sings prays twice." So let's be sure that the music we use AND how it's presented can either make that prayer possible or rob people of that opportunity to pray.
In this crazy political year, it's become pretty common for opponents of conservative candidates to drop the "r-word." No, not that one...the other one.
The most recent person to drop the "r-word" was Hillary Clinton, with her "basket of deplorables" comment about supporters of Donald Trump. Just to refresh your memory, here's what she said:
"You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that."
Sure, some of Trump's supporters fall into those categories, but half? Seriously? What she did in this truly offensive quote was to make a vastly unfair generalization about people she is incapable of understanding. In my own personal experience, I've come to realize that many liberals have no idea what a conservative is or what a conservative wants. Much of the time, liberals tend to characterize conservatives as cold-hearted, greedy, unsympathetic, and closed-minded who fear gays, hate Muslims and women, and don't care about the poor.
This may sound like I'm applying a broad brush here, but to be honest, that simply is not the case. I have found it very difficult to find even a moderately liberal person who doesn't share this opinion of conservatives.
For my part, as a conservative, I do care about the poor and the marginalized, I don't hate anyone (except the San Francisco Giants and USC, and that's only "sports hate," which is temporary), and I value hard work and personal responsibility. Like most conservatives, I want to see the market kick in and take care of the major problems our society faces. I want to be able to give more to charity rather than to see my taxes go toward institutions that don't serve the poor and the disenfranchised as they should. I want to see less regulation of business so that the job market can include more people, which would thus take people off the public dole.
That does not make me a racist, nor does it make any conservative a racist.
I think the "racist" epithet is a very serious charge, and should be used sparingly because it's an attack on someone's character without any attempt to understand that person. I don't like Donald Trump, but I'm not going to call him Hitler, nor am I going to throw the "r-word" at him. If he really is the Second Coming of David Duke or Tom Metzger, then his actions and decisions will bear that out. The notion of building a wall is not inherently a racist statement, nor is the desire to take strong action against Islamic terrorism.
"Racist" is an easy term to throw around, and like all ad hominem attacks, it means that no explanation is required. I say you're a racist, so now you have to prove you're not. I don't like the way you address a certain population, so rather than actually engaging you in debate about it, I just slam you with the "racist" label and then scamper off to hide behind my self-righteous, snobby friends.
There are people out there who genuinely are racist, and I'm sure that some of them support Donald Trump. There are also people who believe that killing an unborn child is just a "choice," and many of them support Clinton. Clinton herself praised Margaret Sanger, someone who truly was racist and wanted to see people of color exterminated from the face of the earth. She said:
"I admire Margaret Sanger enormously, her courage, her tenacity, her vision ... And when I think about what she did all those years ago in Brooklyn, taking on archetypes, taking on attitudes and accusations flowing from all directions, I am really in awe of her."
When called on it a while later, Clinton tried to walk her comments back to some point, but her hypocrisy is clear. I don't think this makes Clinton a racist, despite some on the right who tried to characterize her in that way. At the same time, we must consider that she surrounds herself with those who traffic in human body parts, does business with nations who torture gays and women, and who defended her sex-obsessed, pathetic excuse for a husband while at the same time reminding us that anyone who cries rape must be believed.
In the long run, therefore, I'd like to suggest that we all refrain from using the "r-word," and look more deeply at those who are running for office. Let's not go for the easy out of labeling others and instead, find substantive reasons for why we either support or don't support a candidate.
And if they are racist, hell with 'em!
As a tried and true tech-y nerd, I was so excited about the new Weebly feature where you can put video in your website header. So I DID IT!!! I'm completely over the moon! You can be sure I'll be abusing this feature quite a lot, so get ready.
And maybe one day I'll actually write a new blog!
Life is a little crazy ATM, so please forgive me. I keep coming up with ideas and then not writing about them, but I hope that one day very soon, I'll actually take some time and do it.
In the meantime, happy Autumn and many blessings to you!
There's a lot to dislike about Donald Trump, but one of the big things his detractors point out is the ugly things he says about people. He's insulted women, the disabled, Latinos, along with many others. People have rightly criticized the cruelty of many of his remarks, and the shallow values he supports through these remarks.
On Thursday afternoon, I chanced to turn on the local Pacifica station, KPFK--Pacifica stations are unapologetic for their very liberal stances on just about anything. That's their right, of course, and it's good to have a diversity of opinions on the radio.
What struck me, however, was the way in which the two hosts were talking about conservative figures, specifically TV personality John Stossel and Republican pollster Frank Luntz. The KPFK hosts ripped into both men's sexuality, insulted their appearance, joked about their supposed inability to get laid, and so on. This is the station that celebrates diversity and routinely slams the Right for being too vanilla. They promote the notion that people should be judged for their ideas and values, not for their appearance, yet here were two righteous social justice warriors doing exactly what Trump does.
This is in no way a defense of Donald Trump--I find him to be a thoroughly detestable, inconsistent, and patronizing huckster. This is merely a look at the hypocrisy of some of his critics. You're not supposed to insult someone's appearance or their disabilities or anything else that can't be helped. That's what's called ad hominem, taking on an opponent by going after the person's character or behavior or appearance rather than their ideas. It's a cheap shot, a low blow, something that solves nothing and makes the critic look like a jerk. Alexander Pope wrote about this in his "Epistle to Arbuthnot" way back in the 18th century:
Curs'd be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
In a way, this exchange on the radio helped me understand Trump's appeal to many voters, but it also made me see why so many cringe at Trump's insults and mean Tweets. Some people like his brashness because it's not rehearsed and because he doesn't use the typical political sweet-talk. He pretty much shoots from the hip and sorts out the bodies later.
But don't we all do that to some extent? How many of those who are so quick to point out Trump's nasty tongue, are guilty of the exact same thing? If it's bad to insult Megyn Kelly for being a woman, isn't it also bad to insult Frank Luntz for not being Brad Pitt? Who's to say that he doesn't get any action just because of his appearance? And who's business is that anyway? How many of us trash someone we dislike or disagree with by insulting their looks or their sexual prowess or their intelligence? That makes us just the same as Trump--it makes us just as ugly, just as nasty, just as vile. Sure, he's running for President and we're not, but that's not an excuse to engage in ad hominem, and it proves that at least in that regard, we're not much better than he.
Trump's flaws are on display because he's in the public eye, but isn't he just an ugly mirror of our own flaws? Jesus said:
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
"You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord
Who abide in His shadow for life
Say to the Lord
"My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!"
And He will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand."
Thus begins "On Eagles' Wings," by Fr. Michael Joncas. Many of you have sung this hymn for years at Mass, and it is beloved by Catholics and other Christians all around the nation. This song has been criticized for a very long time, but its defenders point out that it's a good song because it's scriptural, based on Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40. So what's wrong with this hymn? Why does it get so much grief?
It's a very pretty song, to be sure, with a nice melody that is memorable, so nothing wrong there. But take a careful look at the lyrics (I've linked the whole song), you'll notice the dominant pronoun is YOU, in reference to the congregation or to the self. It's easy to find this same sort of narcissistic bent in many contemporary hymns. Take for example "We Remember," by Marty Haugen:
We remember how you loved us to your death,
Again, as with "On Eagles' Wings," look at the pronouns: we, us, we, us, we, we, we, we, we. See a pattern there? While it's true that we are fully dependent on God and that His great desire is to love us entirely and let Him live through us, that's not exactly the purpose of liturgical music.
Vatican II specifically points out that, "By sacred music is understood that which, being created for the celebration of divine worship, is endowed with a certain holy sincerity of form." The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that, "Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve," says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy." That acknowledgement must be apparent in all aspects of the Mass, from the words and gestures of the priest to the attitude of the lectors and ministers, along with the mindset and active presence on the part of the people.
Unfortunately, many of us have witnessed Church music become more of a show than an act of worship. Personally, I'm a big fan of Christian rock, but I would never want to hear a choir belt out Third Day's "Cry Out to Jesus" for the post-Communion hymn, even if it's a great song. Some liturgists will defend their choices by saying that they want the music to be "relatable" to the person in the pew, presumably to keep them from getting bored and thus not returning to Mass. You hear that a lot in schools, too, where campus ministers want to keep it fun so the kids can get into it.
Then there's the post-Communion performance--it's supposed to be a meditation, but all too often, it's a vehicle for a choir or cantor to show off their skills, to thunderous applause sometimes (or we cringe under the oppression of bad singing). People afterward will talk about how great so-and-so sounded, or how awful they were, but not about how the song lifted their soul toward God. I realize I'm generalizing here, but this is something I witness a lot. Sure, there are many choirs and cantors that are sincere, including the showy ones. The problem is a deeper one than just the music, and it points to the damage that our secular culture has done to our very souls.
I think there are a couple of important things that we must do to remedy this problem. First, we really have to think about what the Mass really is and why we're there. If it's just that we're there because we're told to, then little will change. It's only when Catholic parents take charge of the spiritual lives of their families and really instruct their children that we can start to see a change, because then, the whole attitude among the congregation will be much more positive. But that means that parents need to educate themselves--unfortunately, a lot of parents these days were not given good instruction by their parents or religion teachers. They even may have encountered what I did in high school, where religion class consisted of "how do you feel about that?"
Along the same lines, parents should stop giving their children a choice of whether to attend Mass. That's part of a larger, permissive aspect of our culture that is resulting in the current issue of millennials being "offended" or needing "trigger warnings" because they're so oppressed by supposed micro-aggressions. That kind of stuff is fostered when mom and dad say, "OK, Dakota, do you want to come to church with mommy and daddy today?" Of course not! Little Dakota wants to sleep in! Little Dakota needs to learn that fostering a spiritual life takes commitment and sacrifice, which is trained from a young age.
The second thing has to come from music ministers and from the clergy working together with the shared purpose of using music to increase the level of worship and not just entertaining the congregation. Vatican II instructs music ministers to give "pride of place" to the organ, along with Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. Other instruments may be used, but only if they're appropriate. Musicam Sacram makes an important point, that "those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions." I believe drums fall into that category, at least in North American culture.
Also, these instruments (including the organ) "should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text." Musicam Sacram also goes on to say:
In selecting the kind of sacred music to be used, whether it be for the choir or for the people, the capacities of those who are to sing the music must be taken into account. No kind of sacred music is prohibited from liturgical actions by the Church as long as it corresponds to the spirit of the liturgical celebration itself and the nature of its individual parts, and does not hinder the active participation of the people...
That means that the choir and cantor have a sacred duty to lead the people in a way that promotes this worship. If a choir or cantor can't sing or properly lead people, then they should be disbanded and new, more competent people brought in.
What all this comes down to is that music has the power to drive the heart and mind upward to the heavens, so we shouldn't be satisfied with the sentimental slop that we've been given for the last 40 years. We as faithful Catholics shouldn't be satisfied with substandard music or singing. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be bombarded with drums that bash the spirituality straight out of us. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be oppressed with music that creates chaos within us, or that robs us of those quiet moments that we all need, especially in something as delicate as the Holy Mass. We need to demand more from our ministers and priests and not let them cheat us out of that worship that we want to be able to give to God during the Mass.
"On Eagles' Wings" or "Anthem" or secular songs like "Morning Has Broken" (made popular by a non Christian, but written by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931) aren't good enough, and it's time that we start to demand more.
**EDIT: I mistakenly identified "Morning Has Broken" as being written by a non Christian. It was made popular in the 1970's by Cat Stephens, who converted to Islam. It was written by Eleanor Farjeon about 20 years before she converted to Catholicism. HERE's the Wikipedia article on her.
If you thought these were quotes from the 1930's or even the 1950's, you'd be wrong. They are, in fact, Tweets in response to Jonathan Weisman's article in the New York Times about his experience with Trump supporters bombarding him with anti-Semitic attacks. Not only has Weisman been harassed in this way, but many other Jewish political reporters, specifically when the write articles that are critical of Donald Trump.
This doesn't necessarily mean that Trump himself holds anti-Semitic views, and in fact, his daughter, Ivanka Kushner, converted to Judaism when she married her husband, Jared. That being said, there also has never been a time when he ever denounced these kinds of statements from his own supporters. Orthodox Jewish journalist, Ben Shapiro, himself a victim of several anti-Semitic attacks from Trump supporters, had this to say: "But one thing is Trump’s fault: Trump has been reaching out to these supporters. They feel empowered by his rise not merely because they agree with his policies, but because of the language Trump uses and the people with whom he associates."
Something has awakened in people, and it's not pretty. In some ways, this is a case of "monkey see, monkey do," in that we humans tend to copy the behavior of those we admire. The disgruntled, disaffected, alienated populace, disenfranchised by political corruption, moral decay, and economic depression see Trump and his obnoxious, hideous, bombastic style as oddly inspiring and empowering. This rich, white guy with bad hair says what they have been too afraid to say. He tells off those political do-nothings who for years have been sucking at the governmental teat, draining it of our hard earned tax dollars. They feel satisfaction by proxy because someone is finally doing something, or so it seems.
This is another example of a Tweet received by Jonathan Weisman by an anti-Semitic Trump supporter.
In many ways, this is a lost opportunity on the part of Donald Trump, that is, if he truly wants to quell the surge in such bold displays of blatant bigotry. If Trump really wields the power many of us thinks he has, he could easily use that power to bring calm to his supporters. He could easily tell them to back off, and many likely would. IF he wants this to go away. Then again, maybe he doesn't want this anti-Semitic tirade to go away. After all, that has a power of its own that a savvy politician could use to his advantage, by playing on the extreme emotions of those he views as lower than he.
It makes me think a little of the first scene in Act 3 of Macbeth, where Macbeth plays on the anger and frustration of the three murderers to goad them into killing Banquo. Now don't get it twisted--I'm not suggesting that Trump wants to kill anyone. At the same time, his lack of response to these supporters just winds them up further, and emboldens them to an even greater degree. But the danger is that this could all come back to bite him in the ass if he's not careful. That's the problem with the mob--they live on their emotions, but their loyalties can shift easily as a result.
As a Catholic (with only a teeny bit of Jewish ancestry), I have to look at this phenomenon with tremendous concern and a lot of troubling questions. Some suggest that 2016 is turning into 1933, with Hitler on the rise and people hiding in dark corners to save their lives. I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, and I for one, do not believe that Trump is another Hitler. I don't like him and I'll never vote for him, but I think it's unfair to compare him to the Fuhrer. At the same time, something clearly needs to be done to put a stop to this crazy Trump Train with its band of bigots. The problem is that this country has been in a religious decline for decades now, so making an appeal to virtue or faith or kindness would likely fall on deaf ears. In addition, with emotions riding so high, a lot of these people would likely view a faith-filled response with hostility.
The problem is riddled with complexities, too: social media, lots of anger, a crass culture, a spoiled, entitled, aggressive, spineless generation, all living in an increasingly godless society. Churches have unfortunately become too political (including too many Catholic clergy and religious), so they've lost their credibility in many ways. At the other end is the growing traditionalist movement, which on the one hand has a desire to return to purity and grace, but on the other hand which is regarded as fanatical by the mainstream. Thus, we see these bigoted attacks against Jews, but mostly we shrug and say, "I'll pray for you."
Nothing wrong with that, of course, as we should approach all we do with prayer and intense faith. We should also remember to think long-term, that is, to remember that, as was said in the ancient world, "this, too, shall pass."
But for now, we have to deal with a new culture of intimidation--and it's not just Jews any more, but the #NeverTrump crowd (I'm one of them). Frankly, I don't think this will be fixed with a quick word because the culture has already gone too far and shows no sign of backing down. Therefore, the only solution is a long-term one, involving a massive cultural shift back toward faith.
In his Utopia, St. Thomas More wrote about how the residents of Utopia were required to adhere to a religion--an agnostic or an atheist was not considered reliable or stable because they were answerable to no one. In a large way, I think this is what needs to happen in our culture, that every single person strives to adhere to one religious tradition or another. That may sound extreme, and of course, it's true that religious belief and faith is a very personal journey that cannot be regulated by human law. Part of the problem is that we've been in a religious decline at the very least since the early 19th century, and perhaps earlier, as a result of the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing persecution of the Catholic Church across much of Europe and Britain. Coming back to faith as a culture, therefore, is a major challenge.
In Revelation 3:16, Jesus says, "But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." The USCCB comment that, "Halfhearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ." Therefore, we need to find our courage in this trigger-warning, paranoid, emotionally distressed society, show a little mercy toward others, listen to people's stories, and then, perhaps through good works and kindness, slowly guide them back to light and peace. Maybe then, false gods such as Donald Trump will be seen for the devils that they are.
Earlier this week, groups of angry protesters succeeded in shutting down pro-Trump campaign rallies in Chicago, and they caused disturbances in other cities, including Dayton, Ohio. If you've read the rest of this site, you'll know that I'm no Trump supporter, and that I share a lot of the disdain these protesters have for the man. That being said, their actions are part of a trend that isn't anything brand new, but troubling all the same. Basically, the trend goes that if a public figure or guest speaker says something I don't like or that I find offensive, then I try to shut down the entire event in the loudest, most obnoxious way I can, thus preventing that person from delivering his/her message.
No one likes to hear hate speech, and no one should approve of hateful rhetoric. But lest we forget that little thing called the First Amendment, people in this country have a right to say pretty much what we want, and we have a right to disagree with those we find offensive or obnoxious or wrong. To disagree and to debate is a healthy and necessary thing, because it holds haters accountable and lets the truth come out. But to shut that down is both un-American and dangerous.
Let's set aside what Trump himself has said related to the First Amendment, including that he would sue people that made him look bad. This isn't about him or all the lies he tells on a daily basis. This about how we as a culture respond to speech that we don't like or which is clearly hateful. I once saw a video of a Klan rally, and ironically, many of the police manning the crowd were African American. What if those cops had turned against the Klansmen? They might have gotten a lot of sympathy, naturally, but they also would have violated their duty to protect the public, including the racist jerks in the public. They don't get to pick and choose who to protect. The motto is "To Protect and to Serve," not "To Protect and to Serve, Except for the People We Don't Like."
On college campuses in recent years, pro-Israel students and professors have been under constant attack by the anti-Semitic BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). When pro-Israel speakers come to make a presentation, they are often met with loud protests by BDS supporters, and all too often, these speakers don't get a chance to speak their mind or to engage students of all sides in a healthy debate. Instead, they are met with shouts of "HATER" and ultimately, they never get the chance to accomplish anything or speak to anyone on any level. It's a real travesty and a tragedy. Aren't we supposed to be better than that?
This has also happened related to other issues. A speaker or celebrity might write an article about immigration or women's rights or LGBTQ issues, and suddenly find themselves the object of protests, or branded as "unsafe." The CEO of Mozilla, for example, was forced from his job because of a personal donation he made that had nothing to do with his business. The founder of Chick-fil-A has been branded as a hater based on his religious-based objection to same-sex marriage (he died in 2014), despite the fact that all customers are treated with respect, regardless of their orientation or religious affiliation.
In this increasingly hysterical society, I think it's time for all of us to step back a little, let people talk and express themselves, and if you don't like what they say, then have your own response ready, in a civilized way. There's enough chaos in the media, so let's just leave it there and use real life to build bridges, to work toward understanding, and to love each other, despite our differences.
The other day I was driving to CVS, and I had on the local FM station that plays 24/7 Christmas music during this season. It's such a great idea because it puts the audience in the mood for the holidays and family and gathering and just being together. In theory, it's a positive thing, and I'm thankful that KOST 103.5 FM has been keeping up this tradition.
OK, let's nitpick for a quick moment, before I return to the happy Christmas feels. But seriously, have you really paid attention to the lyrics of some of these Christmas songs? I'm not talking about the traditional Christmas carols, of course, because those are actually about the Christmas Mystery. Back to those in a moment. But let's take this one for example:
Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Cute song, to be sure. Fun to sing, yeah! Love this song! Christmas? Heck no. It's about winter and sleigh-riding, which I'm sure they didn't do in the Judean Mountains at any point in history, unless of course you blame Climate Change. Actually, it's more like a winter carpe diem song or something, akin to Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," where he famously says, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry; For having lost but once your prime, You may forever tarry."
Then there's "Winter Wonderland":
Gone away is the bluebird
Again, another fun song to sing, and perfectly innocent. But isn't it more like an ode to the coming Spring or something? One bird gone, the new one on its way. I suppose you could make a stretch and have the idea that the coming of Jesus is the end of the old age and the start of the new, but yeah, it's a stretch.
I guess I'm thinking about these lyrics because our politically correct, anti-Christian society has worked hard to secularize Christmas, which is both hilarious and offensive and insane and tragic all at once. Take for example, the Kentucky school that recently scoured out all references to Christianity for their production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Superintendent Thomas Salyer had this to say:
As superintendent of Johnson County Schools, I recognize the significance of Christmas and the traditions and beliefs associated with this holiday. Over the past few days, there have been several rumors indicating that there would be no Christmas plays this year at our elementary schools. I want to clarify that all programs will go on as scheduled. In accordance with federal laws, our programs will follow appropriate regulations. The U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th Circuit are very clear that public school staff may not endorse any religion when acting in their official capacities and during school activities. However, our district is fully committed to promote the spirit of giving and concern for our fellow citizens that help define the Christmas holiday. With core values such as service, integrity, leadership, and commitment, our staff and students will continue to proudly represent our district as recently demonstrated by our many student successes.”
This raises a big question in my mind: why would any society take on the "spirit of giving and concern for our fellow citizens" during the month of December specifically? Shouldn't we take on that spirit all the time? Why does the month of December somehow become a special time to think about that? Why not in August? How about mid March? Does that work? Early July perhaps?
In fact, those are excuses and signs of total weakness on the part of that district and any other school who has done that. This Superintendent promotes the values of "service, integrity, leadership, and commitment," which is fine, but what does that have to do with the month of December? Where does this individual think these values come from? Sure, one could say from basic human decency, and that would be correct, but more specifically related to Christmas, one would have to admit that these values are rooted in God's love for us, and the dignity that we possess precisely because we are His creation.
This painting, unlike the censored school play or the winter songs jingling from the radio, touches the very heart of the Christmas Mystery, the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Look at the serenity of the Blessed Virgin, the wonder of St. Joseph, the love of the angels at the Christ Child's feet. In an eternal sense, all "service, integrity, leadership, and commitment" springs from this very moment because Christmas is more than just a cute story about a baby born in a barn. Social justice types like to reduce the Christmas Mystery to a homeless teen mother and her husband who are denied shelter and must therefore resort to the indignity of a cave. Where the public school censors make Christmas a feel-good winter hoedown, the social justice crowd makes it political.
They're both wrong.
Rather than telling you what Christmas is, I encourage you to meditate on this painting and read these words from the Douai-Rheims Bible:
And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.  This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.  And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David,  To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.
Take a look at this picture. How many old people do you spot? If you said "none," you would be correct. This group of young people study Organ, Sacred Music, and Historical Keyboards at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Now take a look at this picture:
These young people are part of the Institute for Sacred Music at Yale University, where they keep alive ancient traditions and make them modern.
Knowing these programs exist and that they are well populated by young people is heartening, because it shows that there is true beauty within our very debauched, corrupt culture. For all the sacrilegious, blasphemous things that so often occur within our culture, there are also some very beautiful things that happen, even if they don't make the news on TMZ. The world may be tuned into the trials and tribulations of Bruce Jenner, but these programs quietly move ahead, despite everything.
In recent weeks, I had the privilege of attending a traditional Latin Mass, just like the ones your grandparents used to know. This one was conducted by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), done beautifully by the young priest, and very well attended by people of all ages. I saw families, college kids, teens, Millennials, along with a minority of older people. That was what caught my interest, that this is something that young people want, that people under 50 desire beauty and spiritual peace and tranquility. The Mass choir is also populated by young people, most of them well under the age of 50. That's good to see, because it means that despite the high tech age governed by political correctness and reality TV, good things are also happening.
Ordinations to traditional orders, such as we see in this picture, are becoming more common. Sure, you might not see this every day or in every city, but confraternities like the FSSP and movements toward the traditional Latin Mass are increasing in popularity. These do not cancel out the Novus Ordo by any means, so don't panic. That being said, more and more people want Church culture that goes beyond "We Remember" or "On Eagle's Wings." Those may have their value, to be sure, and many people enjoy those hymns, though a lot of young people are finding the beauty of the "Pange Lingua" and the "Veni Creator Spiritus," particularly when sung well and with devotion.
In many ways, we are in a post-Christian cultural decline, not unlike the decline of the Roman Empire and their culture that dominated the West for so many centuries. Any one of us could go on and on about the banality of the Kardashians or the raunchiness of Sex and the City (the show was way better than the crappy movies) or the horrific violence of Game of Thrones (you knew Sean Bean wouldn't make it past season 1). Many critics have talked about lewdness, misogyny, baseness, as well as general immorality. I recently saw a commercial touting the shows Wahlburgers, Donnie Loves Jenny, and some reality show with Nick Lachey, all peddled as "America's Favorite Families." Excuse me? They ain't my favorite families. My family is my favorite family. I like the Adams Family better than this bunch of plastic, overpaid, overblown goons.
Some might mistake reality TV slop like this as a sign of the End Times, but I refuse to go down that road. Our Lord said, "You do not know the hour nor the day," so I think we need to trust Him on that. Therefore, if we want our culture to thrive and grow and remain relevant and special and stimulating, then we're going to have to fight for it. And it's not about silencing anyone, because that is ridiculous. That's what, to quote Kirsten Powers, "the illiberal left" does. They do everything Natan Sharansky warned about: delegitimize, demonize, and apply an unfair double standard in order to silence any opposing point of view.
Good people should not go down that road, nor should they have to. Rather than silencing people and using the same bully tactics used by some on the shriller sides of the Left (not all liberals are shrill), we need to redefine what beauty is. I'm not talking about turning back the clock or throwing out our smartphones or boycotting Twitter. Many things in modern culture are good and should be kept. Apps that bring people together for a good cause, such as the Options United Life App, are great inventions. I recently used Facebook to raise awareness about the martyrs of the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result, hundreds of people wore orange on Pentecost in solidarity with those suffering persecution. Even shows like the Dog Whisperer are fun and really teach the viewer about the complexity of the dog's mind and psyche.
And as inspiring as the Latin Mass is, the Novus Ordo can also be beautiful and spiritually rich. I can think of any number of great Masses I've attended that have made me walk away feeling uplifted. So again, I'm not saying we have to turn back to the 1940's or anything.
That being said, however, people need to toughen up if the culture is to be saved from total money-driven, narcissistic hedonism. We've been fed the idea that we must not judge, and we must be accepting of all people. In theory, of course, that is true, but that doesn't mean turning a blind eye, nor does it mean that we must passively accept the crap that entertainment or culture has become. We need to value ourselves more, and we need to realize that we deserve a lot better than what's being shoved down our throats day after day, or what we are forced to accept as "the new normal," to quote Bruce Jenner. That only happens when passive people allow it to happen, so let's keep it real.
Here's an example. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a couple of episodes of The Office, supposedly one of the best, most popular shows on TV in recent years. Personally, I found it boring. OK, it was mildly amusing, but mostly it was embarrassing. It had some raunchy humor, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sadly, it wasn't Richard Pryor raunchy or Lenny Bruce or George Carlin raunchy. It was more like fourth grade boy raunchy. Then there's The Big Bang Theory, which I found profoundly unfunny, stereotypical, and not that smart. Just because you have supposedly nerdy characters doesn't mean the show will be intelligent. Pretty simple equation, right?
And then there's Grace and Frankie, on Netflix. I would guess that even someone in favor of Marriage Equality would find this show ridiculous, stupid, poorly written and dreadfully acted, despite the very fine cast of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. The show offends me less because of its premise about two men getting married and more because it throws aside any real feeling that the wives had about their husbands, minimizing and mocking the real pain they must have felt. Real women and men who have experienced not only a philandering spouse, but one who has been lying to them for years, go through real suffering and degradation and loss, and seeing that as a part of a politically motivated comedy to promote the notion that we just gotta get used to Marriage Equality truly is offensive.
If this is what we settle for as entertainment, then we're screwed. It's not that we have to watch Masterpiece Theatre or Firing Line or Charlie Rose or anything...at least not all the time. Sherlock is a smart show, as are BBC's Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. There's plenty of good stuff out there, to be sure. Even a simple reality show like Parking Wars is fun and sweet without exploiting anyone.
But saving the culture goes beyond watching certain TV shows. As I said before, we have to learn to love ourselves more, to treat ourselves better, to cherish our own dignity, and to be strong enough to say publicly that "I deserve better." We have to ask ourselves some serious questions about what we choose to place before our eyes, and whether that show is worthy of our attention. That may sound pompous, but I don't mean it that way. We need to stop undervaluing ourselves, and we need to be a lot more demanding.
Once we can do that, we're well on our way toward healing the culture.
There's been a lot of talk about courage these days, and it made me think about a few things. First of all, I decided to ditch my last blog post--I am dismayed that I ever weighed in on the whole Jenner/Kardashian issue, mainly because I believe that sort of thing is a private matter, not one for public exploitation or ridicule or anything else.
That being said, this caused me to consider what courage truly is. Technically, one could define courage as action in the face of fear or sorrow or grief. Conquering ones fear of heights, for example, takes courage. Overcoming an addiction also takes courage, as does living with a condition or disability that might draw unwanted attention. Those living with the terrible aftereffects of burns, for example, exhibit tremendous courage, knowing people might turn away or ask uncomfortable questions. I admire burn survivors because so many of them, health permitting, just get on with life.
To me, that is far different from daring, which is boldness, but not necessarily courage. Maybe that's nitpicking, but I do see a different. Granted, the world needs daring! We need bold leaders who are unafraid to be themselves and to forge new trails for the rest of us. St. John Paul II or Mother Teresa or St. John of the Cross are examples of daring--they followed the Holy Spirit and blazed new trails for the Church and for humanity, bringing about incredible change and hope and grace. If we didn't have the daring of those who saw a need and acted on it, where would we be today?
I included a picture of retired Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle, who was burned over 40% of his body after a devastating accident while he was on duty. His journey back to life never ceases to amaze and hearten me because of the courage it must take for him on a daily basis, not only to face a judgmental world but also, to forge ahead with life and being able to set aside what he's lost, despite his current success as a motivational speaker. Courage is also defined by the late Talia Castellano, a beautiful little girl who passed away recently at the age of just 13. Talia had lived with cancer for six years, and for the last two years of her life, Talia faced down the ravages of the disease by exploring the world of makeup and beauty. She was able to face the world with her head held high because she had the courage to reach out to others in the midst of her own suffering.
Courage means different things to different people, but what truly defines living with courage is that you press ahead with life, no matter what is going on or what people might say or whether people gossip about you or stare or ask odd questions. Courage means meeting those demons and stomping on their ugly heads, even if it hurts, and even if you are filled with fear or pain. I'm grateful for those who do live with courage and daring because that gives me the inspiration that I need to do the same, especially on those days when I'd rather shut off the alarm and go back to bed.
God bless them all!
witty; cunning; crafty
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