Lesson 31- Summary and Conclusions [part 3]
I ended my last program with the song, “If I Can Dream”, that with the aid of modern technology, has Celene Dion and Elvis Presley doing a duet. The song was written in commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and Elvis is suppose to have been so touched by it that he said that he never wanted to do another song that lacked meaning. What he was saying is that there is so much of our entertainment that is fluff that when we finally come in contact with something that has substance, we can’t tolerate the fluff anymore.
It reminds me of a friend who recently told me that after accepting the Lord in his life and converting to the Church, some of his former friends, who were annoyed by his conversion, asked him why he couldn’t return to the way he used to be. His answer was simple and profound. He said, “Once you know, you can’t go back.” It’s like a man who has been drinking from a filthy glass of water full of dirt, grime and slime who suddenly discovers a clean glass of pure crystal water. It’s a no-brainer. Who would choose the filthy glass over the clean one once he sees the difference.
And that is the way it is with God, once we understand that His way is the way of Love and Wisdom and that it leads to the “fullness of life”. At that point, there begins to be a growing discontentment with “the world as it is ” as we start to see how foolish and meaningless our own lives had been and how much the same is still true of those around us. Then we begin to yearn for the “world as it ought to be” and eventually begin to act in ways directed towards making it a reality by seeking out and bonding with those who share the same vision. And that is what a parish community is suppose to be: an army of Gentle Revolutionaries who, although they are still physically within this world are living and acting out a common vision according to the principles of a world that is yet to come. They are, as the scriptures say, “a people set apart”, “a royal priesthood”, “a pilgrim people”, who have their hearts and minds set on a prize that Jesus referred to as “the pearl of great worth” whose value was so great that a person would sell all that he had to purchase it. When Jesus was asked by one of his apostles to show him the Kingdom of God whose coming was the central theme of his ministry, he responded by saying, “The Kingdom is already here and it is yet to come.”
What he meant was that he had planted the vision in their hearts and now it was their job to go throughout the world, planting the same vision in the hearts of others until the time when the Kingdom of God would exist “on earth as it is in heaven.” That should be the “focal point” for all of our lives and for over two thousand years it has been the dream that has been transforming Western culture from its barbaric roots to its world dominance. However, it can be sustained only so long as that dream is passed from one generation to the next because if we lose the dream we will lose our way and its coming will be delayed. I say “delayed” because the coming of God’s Kingdom can’t be prevented because, being based on Wisdom and Love, it is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life. And that is why we need songs like “If I Can Dream” to remind us that we were not place here to simply exist and twiddle away our lives with meaningless fluff. If, as the song suggests, we can dream, we will be motivated to become part of the negentropic forces of the universe that are driving it towards the “fullness of life.” So let us ponder the words of the song with the hope that they will stimulate and reinforce in us the importance of dreaming.
Unfortunately the quality of this song when I ended my last program was not too clear. It was a copy of a copy of a copy and my recording technique was not the best. I am going to play it again using a better recording technique and I hope that you will be able to understand the words. Here it is: Elvis Presley, with the aid of modern technology, singing a duet with Celene Dion. “If I Can Dream…”
There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true
There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear
We're lost in a cloud with too much rain
We're trapped in a world that's troubled with pain
But as long as a man has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly… and fly
Deep in my heart there's a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer's gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle, yeah
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream come true, oh
Right now, let it come true right now
Our culture is full of songs and statements expressing similar sentiments and they all flow from what I have termed “The Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian/Concept of History.” Because we grow up in a culture surrounded by this theory, we don’t appreciate how unique it is. Throughout most of the world and history, the vast majority of people saw life and history as a repeating circle in which freedom, choice, and progress were mere illusions. This is a view that flows from Eastern religions and philosophies. A recent movie, Slumdog Millionaire, which involves a young man from the slums of India who wins the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” by answering questions that no one would expect him to know, expresses this attitude.. The movie begins with the question:
Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?
- a. he cheated
- b. he’s lucky
- c. he’s a genius
- it is written
The answer according to the movie is “d”, “it is written”, indicating that Fate or his Karma had arranged a series of experiences that led him to this moment where he was predestined to win. Of course, there were other “slumdog children” in the movie who were turned into beggars by having their eyeballs scooped out with a spoon by predatory adults. That was their Fate or Karma and there was nothing that anybody could or should do to change it.
It’s a vision of reality that is totally fatalistic and lacking in hope in this life. The only hope in this system is that if one accepts his Karma in this life, he will be reincarnated to a better Fate in his next one. And hopefully one day he will reincarnate totally out of this life and find eternal peace when he escapes the wheel of life and enters Nirvana, the state of Nothingness, where he will totally losing his identity by uniting with God. There is no Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey in this vision. There is only a series of reincarnations which are stepping stones towards total annilhilation.
Western culture, on the other hand, because of its Jewish and Christian roots has the attitude of “pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you”. Although God has a plan for every one’s life, it is not written in stone, because, through “free will”, we can chose to follow or ignore it. When we follow it, we activate all the hidden potentials that God has place in us. When we ignore it, we muddle through life and fail to discover the “hidden self” that God meant us to be. Or, as Eric Fromm, might put it, “Our whole life is the process of giving birth to our self and we should be as fully born at the moment of our death as time and opportunity allows but unfortunately, most people die before they reach that point.”
What this suggest is that salvation is more about attitude than accomplishment. Or as Mother Teresa put it, “God doesn’t expect us to be successful. Rather he expects us to be faithful.” Should we die with a linear attitude that is striving towards the goal of the “fullness of life”? Or should we die with a cyclical attitude that has given up the quest and has settled for some limited cyclical form of existence that survives by repeating known patterns. In other words, are we the finite in pursuit of the unreachable Infinite, who have come to accept that it is quest or the joy of the pursuit that really matters. Or are we the finite who, having never experience the joy of the quest, have settled for some limited form of life instead of its fullness? Once again, the answer to this question is found in Western art. In the play, “Man of LaMancha”, which is based on Cervantes, “Don Quixote”, there is a scene where Quixote decides to reject “life as it is” to pursue “life as it ought to be.” He says:
“Life as it is. I’ve live for over forty years and I’ve seen life as it is.
Pain…. Misery….cruelty beyond belief. I’ve heard all the voices of God’s noblest creatures. Moans from bundles of filth in the streets. I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them at the last moment. These were men who saw life…. “as it is.” But they died despairing. No glory….no… bray of last words. But in their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I do not think they were asking why they were dying but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies. Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams, this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all to see life as it is and not as it should
Then, having reached a point of decision, Quixote bursts into song and declares, “I am I
Don Quixote, the Lord of LaMancha. Destroyer of evil am I. I will march to the sound of the trumpets of glory. Forever to conquer or die.”
What does it mean to be a “destroyer of evil”? May I suggest that since EVIL is LIVE spelled backwards and
that anything that is the reverse or opposite of life is EVIL. And, if we place a “D” in front of EVIL, it becomes
the Devil, who, as the leader of the entropic forces of death and disintegration, is pulling the universe back towards
chaos, while Jesus, as the leader of the negentropic forces of life and integration, is pushing it towards higher levels
of order and beauty and the “fullness of life.” The Church is right. The battle today is between the Culture of Death
and Culture of Life and we are called to be the army in support of everything that is “life enhancing.”
Recently, I was complaining to my seventeen-year-old grandson about the violence in the games and videos that were part of his generation’s entertainment. He surprised my by saying, “Pop, I would like to do something heroic and noble with my life.” What he was really saying is “I want to sacrifice myself for something that is higher than myself.” It was then that I saw that these games were a distortion of a healthy need in all of us, especially the young, to overcome an enemy that represents evil. Unfortunately, the answer that these games provide is always expressed in physical terms of violence and force as though they were the hallmarks of a real man. Mark Twain once said, when speaking of conditions in California during the Great Gold Rush of 1849, that there was no shortage of men who had physical courage but a real shortage of men who displayed moral courage. He was speaking about men who faced the hazards involved in the search for gold but stood idly by while a mob lynched an innocent Chinaman for no other reason than he was a foreigner. And that is what the world needs now. Men, women, and children who possess moral courage: people who are not afraid to oppose the entropic forces of the world through their lives, words, and actions. In other words, we need what Thomas Merton once referred to as “Gentle Revolutionaries” who transform the world by the example of their lives.
This, in my opinion, has been one of the greatest failures of our Catholic educational system. It’s the failure to implant in our students a dream or vision of reality that that they are being sent out to transform the world. They want to do something heroic and noble and if we don’t provide them with the right one, they will find a wrong one to take its place.
When I was a child we were made to memorize poems like “The Village Blacksmith”, that had no reference to our own lives or to our Christian mission. Instead, every Catholic child should be memorizing verses like these:
To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar.
To try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star.
This is my quest to follow that star no matter how hopeless no matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or pause.
To be willing to march into hell for a heaven cause.
And I know if I only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this that one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star.
Cervantes meant for Don Quixote to be a symbol for Christ and if we listen to these words with that in mind, the whole message of salvation is transformed for us from a “self-serving motive” of saving ourselves from eternal punishment to an “other-serving motive” of the furtherance of life. Like Jesus we are sent to save the world, not to condemn it. Any condemnation that the world receives is simply the logical consequences that flows from their unwise actions. So let’s teach ourselves and our children to “Dream the Impossible Dream.” But all dreams need specifics if they are ever to be transformed from the world of imagination to the world of reality. So let me continue my summary and conclusions for these talks.
I have already mentioned the critical lack of involvement by both young people and men in the Church. So obviously one of the most critical areas has to be young men who seem to desert the Church before or upon graduation from high school. The Archdiocese is trying to address the problem of male involvement through the Men Spirituality Conferences that I mentioned in my last talk. Although they hope that this will draw both the young and old, it seems that an extra effort is needed to draw the younger men who often seem to be confused about the role they are suppose to play. And, part of the problem stems from the fact that we do not have a clearly defined “rites of passage” that marks and defines the transition of young men from boyhood to manhood.
There is a natural wisdom that many primitive people have that they intuitively use to initiate members of their society into the roles they must play. We, so-called moderns, could learn a lot from them if we are opened to learn and the “rites of passage” from childhood to adulthood is one worth considering. We have muddied the line between childhood and adulthood by creating creatures known as a “teenagers” who are caught in a no-man’s land that is neither adult nor child. Biologically they are adults but socially they are still treated as large children or incomplete adults.
One of the things that I’ve learned in my years of teaching is that you get what you expect and part of the problem with our so-called “teenagers” is we often don’t demand or expect them to act like adults. Thus, they often adopt the symbols of adulthood, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, without the attitudes and responsibilities that true adulthood requires.
This is not generally true in primitive cultures where the line between childhood and adulthood is clearly defined and once that line is cross the demands and expectations of adulthood follow. And these demands are clearly defined so that each initiate knows what is now expected of him or her.
For females the line between childhood and adulthood is their first menstrual period, which is nature’s way of indicating that they are biologically mature. For males, it is the onset of puberty. What we hide and ignore, most primitive cultures celebrate and the child’s new status is followed by instructions from the adults defining their new role in the community. Girls are often instructed by the older women and boys by the older men, who, because they are often not members of their family, are freer in addressing some of the more delicate issues. In our culture, these issues are either ignored by parents or touched on so lightly and abstractly that they are of little use. As a result, whatever information or misinformation acquired by our young people comes from other sources that often present a limited or distorted version.
What is needed is a clear demarcation between childhood and adulthood that is recognized by the total community, followed by a “mentoring system” by adults who are role models for adult behavior. Too often the community has passed these responsibilities on to professionals, such as teachers, who are not a part of the community or its shared values. What should have been personal and intimate, has become impersonal and abstract. In fact, this may be a problem that has undermined the sense of community in other areas. For example, when I was a child, events, such as weddings, birthdays, and even entertainment etc…, were community events that drew upon the talents of its members. Weddings receptions were held in the parish hall and the food and entertainment were provided by members of the community. There were women who specialized in certain dishes who were valued and honored by the community for the contribution they made to the event. There were singers, dancers, comedians, and story tellers who contributed their talents and were equally valued and honored. As a result, people had roles to play and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Then we began to commercialize these roles by renting halls, hiring caterers, bands, or disc jockeys which, even if they were better, made little or no contribution to the sense of community. I said “even if they were better’ because I have never had a catered meal that ever reach the quality and variety of the “pot luck” meals provided by the women in my childhood parish. Another result was the rising cost associated with these events that often resulted in a competition to see who could throw the “biggest bash.” The cost of some wedding receptions today could make a good down payment on a house, and, it appears that there is a growing trend with our young people of rejecting a church wedding for some more exotic location. What this indicates is the diminishing sense of belonging to the Church or the parish community. We are reaping what we have sown. But let me return to the issue of mentoring our young boys into adulthood.
In most primitive communities, the movement of a boy into manhood involved some test or trial that challenged him in areas of strength and courage. For example, some Indian tribes initiated a young boy into manhood by dropping him off in the desert where he was expected to survive and find his way back to the village on his own. Once he accomplished this, he was accepted as a warrior and was no longer treated as a child. In a sense he was “born again” from one level to the next and his sense of self and belonging increased proportionately. The strength of this experience was illustrated by his willingness to face danger and even death for the sake of his community.
We have similar experiences in our own culture but they are not universal or patterned into the culture as a “rite of passage” that all young men must go through. One such experience is the Armed Forces in general, and the Marine Corps in particular. As a high school teacher, I have seen young men who after twelve years of public education were slovenly, unfocused, unmotivated, and undisciplined and nothing that we could say or do was able to change them. Then, upon, graduation some of them entered the Marine Corps or some other branch of the Armed Forces. Three months later they would return completely transformed. They were well-groomed, focused, motivated, and disciplined.
Now we may agree or disagree with their new focus that involved the skills of warfare but there is no denying that the techniques used in “boot camp” were far more effective than those employed in the homes and schools. But a technique used to create a “killing machine” should be equally effective in creating a Gentle Revolutionary imbued with moral and physical courage and dedication in the Cultural War. Maybe what we need is a “rite of passage” that is a spiritual “boot camp” designed to teach our young men to, as St. Paul recommended in
Ephesians6:10-17 “… be strong in [the] Lord…Put on the amour of
God, that you may be able to stand against the arrows of the devil: because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual [powers] of wickedness in the heavens. Gird your loins with truth,… put on the breastplate of righteousness, and shod your feet with…the glad tidings of peace: …take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the inflamed darts of the wicked one. (Put on) the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God's word;”
If young men have a natural need to display courage and strength by facing dangers and challenges, then we should tailor into their lives a vision that allows them to exercise and test these qualities. However, often in the past, it has been tests of physical strength and courage as in sports and war. And, although the first is harmless and effective and the second is sometimes necessary they fall short of the mark if they do not include what Mark Twain referred to as “moral courage.” They have to be made to understand that life always involves a moral struggle between the entropic forces that seek to destroy what is good and beautiful and the negentropic forces that seek to preserve them. And it is cowardly to remain neutral and traitorous to support our enemies by joining their efforts in destroying what is good and beautiful.
It is of little value to society if our young men go off to Vietnam in the name of freedom and come back drug addicts who undermine the fabric of our own society. We need moral warriors, who as men, having the courage to overcome “the demons within themselves” are then able to confront the “demons within the society.”
I know a group of young Catholic men who in order to break their own addiction to pornography formed a ministry known as “The Kings Men.” Not only do they meet weekly at various sites to support, encourage, and hold each other accountable, they also carry the battle to the rest of society by demonstrating against “porn shops” and other sources that degrade sexuality. Recently, they began to sponsor “Into the Wild” trip where nearly 100 young men camp out for a weekend to share their faith and develop their sense of manhood. There are other programs that sponsor similar events but what makes this special is that in focuses on moral courage and growth and not just the physical aspects. I plan to take my oldest grandson on their next excursion. Young men need other young men to mentor them into manhood.
The Christopher, a Catholic organization founded by a priest, based their program on an old Chinese proverb that states, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” and we need young men who are candle bearers.
By now you should have guessed that I love songs that have a message because they often say in a few phrases what I struggle to say in a long talk. Therefore, my ear is atuned to hear those songs that have a negentropic theme. And so, I would like to end today’s program with a country song by Randy Travis entitled, “Points of Light.”
Points of Light
There is a point when you cannot walk away
When you have to stand up tall and straight and mean the things you say
There is a point where you must decide just to do it cause it’s right
That’s when you become a “point of light.”
There is a darkness that everyone must face
It wants to take what’s good and fair and lay it all to waste
And that darkness covers everything in sight
Until it meets a single “point of light.”
All it takes is a “point of light”
A ray of hope in the darkest night.
If you see what’s wrong and you try to make it right
You will be a “point of light.”
There are heroes whose names we never hear
A dedicated army of quiet volunteers
Reaching out to feed the hungry
Reaching out to save the land
Reaching out to help their fellow man.
There are dreamers who are making dreams come true
Taking time to teach the children there is nothing they can’t do
Giving shelter to the homeless… giving hope to those without
Isn’t that what this land’s all about.
One by one, from the mountains to the sea
“Points of light” are calling out to you and me
All it takes is a “point of light”
A ray of hope in the darkest night
If you see what’s wrong and you try to make it right
You will be a “point of light.”
If you see what’s wrong and you try to make it right
You will be a “point of light.”
Well I see that my time is up…