Monday, March 21, 2011

Working Catholic

Rather than writing a huge post about where God is in my life right now, I'm giving you a link to this New York Times article about Dorothy Day.  If I'm ever confused about where God might be in my life at the moment, I find it helpful to turn to the stories of those people whose lives were undoubtedly touched by God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Here and Now

It's a problem of our time.  The range of human knowledge today is so great that we're all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him.  The lunchtime here-and-now stuff is a specialty too.
Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Monday, March 14, 2011

De-Electrifying Life

     I was recently reading an article by David Pogue in Scientific American entitled "Gadget Politics."  I can just see many of you tilting your heads, wondering why I, the perpetually humanities obsessed bookworm, would ever be reading something that has anything to do with science, but I'll remind you that I very nearly chose to spend four years studying higher level physics.  In any case, apologetics aside, the article addressed some issues that have concerned me for the past few years, but upon which I was neither articulate nor astute enough to remark. 
What’s going on here? Why do people work themselves into such a lather over their choice of phone, for heaven’s sake?
First, tech companies these days work hard to link their products to style and image. Those colorful, silhouetted dancing iPod ads never mention a single feature—except how cool it makes you. The message seems to be, “You’re not worthy if you don’t buy one”—and suddenly, if someone disses your gadget, they’re also dissing you as a person.
A second factor is that gadgets are expensive, and they quickly become obsolete. You become invested in the superiority of your purchase. People see you using it, judging your choice—so you defend your choice. Insult my gadget? You’re insulting me...
But why gadgets?
...the Internet effect. The kinds of people who peg their self-worth to their gadgets are precisely the kind of people who live online, where the standards for civility are very different from the real world’s. When you’re online, you’re anonymous, so you don’t experience the same impulse control you would if you were face-to-face with somebody.
Is there hope for a d├ętente in the electronics wars? Not as long as nobody knows your real identity online, as long as the gadget mill cranks out new models twice a year, and the marketing machines make us believe that our self-worth depends on the brands we carry.
David Pogue, March 2011
      I hadn't thought about it until Pogue pointed it out, but he's absolutely right.  The uneasiness I had felt about all the incessant gagetry in the world comes not only from the effects it has on person to person interaction, but from the effects it has had on self worth.  I see it every day in my students who constantly judge each other on who's got the best phone (despite the fact that they're not allowed to have them at school).  I've had several students comment on how expensive my MacBook is with an approving tone.  (Mind you, I only bought it because my PC died, so I decided to try a different operating system.  I couldn't care less about the brand; I just want a machine that works.)  This self worth thing is a pretty big problem though.  So long as Americans keep pinning their self worth on superficial things like technology and not on the dignity of personhood, our culture is going to continue its downward spiral of moral decay. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dirty Foreheads

     Every Ash Wednesday, I am always led to contemplate just why Catholics (and Episcopalians as I found out) come crawling out of the woodwork, even and especially those who don't practice during the rest of the year, to attend a religious service during which we literally smear dirt over our foreheads.  What is the appeal?
     Why are we so enthralled and compelled to get dirty?  Is it because it's one of the days that you get to take something away from Church?  (Let's remember that the other day that the church-going population spawns, aside from Christmas and Easter, is Palm Sunday, the day when we get to take home a few palm fronds.  Give the people free things, and they will come to your service.)   Or is it to show that we belong to the cool religious club?  To brag silently that we are better than the heathen we pass during the day who don't share our ashen marking and smugly nod to those of our brothers who do?
     There was a meditation in the Lenten Magnificat on Ash Wednesday entitled "Actors."  It reads:
It takes someone who knows and loves art to know how sad it is to cheat oneself by only pretending to know and love art.  It is the same with God.  Jesus is not angry with the Pharisees for their practices of prayer, alms giving, and fasting.  He is angry and sad because they are content to take their practices as evidence that they have genuine knowledge of his Father.  They are actors who have forgotten that they are playing a part.
I think the point is that the outward symbol of a smudge of ash on our foreheads is not actually meant for outside observers.  That smudge of ash on my forehead is not for the other people I encounter in the day - it is for me, a symbol of my own mortality and weakness.  If we go into the Ash Wednesday services, and the Lenten season for that matter, with a spirit of showmanship, i.e. look at all the fasting I'm doing, look at how holy I am, we're going in for the wrong reasons.  This season is an intensely personal time to reflect on our own lives and how they might become better. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Change of P(l)ace

From Terrier to Cardinal?
     After a few weeks of wondering whether or not I had somehow failed in my quest to obtain a Masters degree, I just received word yesterday that I have been admitted to Catholic University.  I celebrated with Megan and a glass of wine.  I'm still waiting to hear back from the University of Pittsburgh, but it feels nice to have a door open after so many windows have recently shut. 
     The news forces the question though - am I ready to haul out to Washington DC after just one measly year in Los Angeles?  Maybe it's time for another change of pace - away from the frenetic rush of teaching middle school 55 hours a week, and back into the steady churn of higher education.  The theoretical side of my brain has begun to atrophy.
     In any case, I now find myself with more than a few options.  Washington DC, Los Angeles, maybe Pittsburgh, and I have been considering moving to France to teach English.  I had been wondering what the right choice might be, and how to begin making that decision.  I have friends in all of those cities and a million external reasons to choose each place, so I wasn't sure how I would begin to make that choice.  Recently though, I had a few doors slam in my face - perfect timing really - so it seems that God is helping me to make this discernment about me.  I have a habit of making decisions based on other people rather than for myself, but I think this next year is clearly going to be about what I need.