David Brooks has a hilarious piece in The New York Times today. (H/T James Taranto, “Best of the Web.”) Arguing that it’s not constructive to have culture wars, he offer some advice to…
David Brooks has a hilarious piece in The New York Times today. (H/T James Taranto, “Best of the Web.”) Arguing that it’s not constructive to have culture wars, he offer some advice to Christians –
We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.
His own argument belies the havoc of the sexual revolution. But apparently we shouldn’t talk about root causes. Instead we should fix everything without attending to the foundation…which, by the way, has something to do with sexual mores –
Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely. The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families.Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.
“Those people” are Christians and other social conservatives. He tasks us with helping to nurture stable families. But…apparently we can’t talk about what is a stable family and what sex has to do with that. Meanwhile, The Atlantic just published an article on the largest mental hospital that just happens to be Cook County Jail. Nneka Jones Tapia, a clinical psychologist who now serves as the executive director of the facility commented:
“We’re re-teaching them things they learned in their family unit because a lot of these individuals come from dysfunctional families, unfortunately. What you see in correctional institutions are, more often than not, [symptoms] of a larger problem. And then you go into the communities and it’s single-parent homes, no-parent homes—it’s tough to teach your children when you’re not there. So we’re going back and teaching them those skills.”
Brooks acknowledges the crisis in the family, thinks that Christians are uniquely poised to help the situation, but he just doesn’t want us to talk about the situations that create good or bad familial situations. This exercise in absurdity has given me something to laugh about. Thanks, David! And I have to laugh or else I’ll cry.
Then, move on to Fr. Raymond De Souza’s, “Laudato Si: The Cheers and the Challenges.” He gives a good analysis of how different interest groups will respond. He points out an aspect that some will see as a challenge, others as a weakness.
Laudato Si therefore explicitly is aimed at a comprehensive global climate change treaty. That’s very significant, as its endorsement of climate policies meshes with the priorities of the global progressive elite. This means that when Pope Francis arrives in Washington, President Obama will claim that no recent U.S. administration has had policies more in line with the priorities of the Holy See. To be sure, the Holy Father notes that natural ecology cannot be separated from human ecology, and therefore authentic care for the environment is incompatible with abortion (120) or approval of homosexual unions (155).
Technique and technology are not problems in themselves. The problem comes when they fill humanity’s intellectual horizon and moral imagination to the exclusion of all other considerations. For then everything tends to get instrumentalized, including human relationships and the human relationship to the natural world — and when everything is instrumentalized, everything is also brutalized.
In his challenge to all this, Francis, with John Paul II, insists that “we must safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology,” understanding that integral human development, in both the developed and developing worlds, is not measured by GDP alone, but by humanity’s growth in beatitude.
As I skim the document and review these articles, I’m also preparing to teach a session on St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families for the intensive graduate course I’m leading this week. (You may still be able to sign up for the Distance Ed part of the course which starts in July.) And it’s clear that Pope Francis has not lost sight of core Christian anthropology. Surely, this encyclical will influence policy, but he hasn’t lost sight of the order of creation and the centrality of the human person, not to mention the family.
What are you doing this summer? Vacation? Sounds good. But what about a graduate course on Christian Marriage? After all, marriage is a pretty hot topic these days. Plus, we’ve…
Photo by Pia de Solenni. Detail of the fragment of a Christian tombstone for a deceased spouse. Santa Maria in Trastevere.
What are you doing this summer? Vacation? Sounds good. But what about a graduate course on Christian Marriage? After all, marriage is a pretty hot topic these days. Plus, we’ve got the World Meeting of Families coming up, not to mention the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October.
Are you ready?
I’ll be teaching this course for the Augustine Institute in Denver, along with the esteemed Dr. Edward Sri and Lucas Pollice. Lest we rest in theory, we’ll be joined by marriage coaches Matt and Mindy Dalton, as well as Greg and Julie Alexander.
You can take the course in person in Denver from June 15-19. Or you can sign up to take it as a distance ed student, meaning that you’ll have access to the videos, discussion, and coursework via an online platform. The distance ed course will run July 6 – August 14. The syllabus for the course is here. For more info on the course, email our Registrar, Kristi Logan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And so it ended. Two weeks ago, the Mad Men finale aired. And – spoiler alert – Don Draper didn’t hurl himself out of the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, even though he did…
And so it ended. Two weeks ago, the MadMen finale aired. And – spoiler alert – Don Draper didn’t hurl himself out of the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, even though he did have a few desperate glances out of windows in some of the last episodes.
The series tended to generate two extreme reactions. Either people really liked the show or they had no patience for it – too dark, too retro, too whatever. I found the show dark, even disturbing at times; but I kept watching. The production quality was fantastic – story, writing, acting, costumes, directing, filming, etc. (Still, the finale was outpaced 2:1 by people viewing reruns of I Love Lucy.)
Over at Crux, Kimberly Winston suggests that maybe Don Draper got religion at the very end of the show. Zach Hoag sees redemption for many of the main characters, especially Don, he writes:
But this time, it’s not about “selling happiness” to enrich himself, fulfill his lusts or make his mark. It’s about being close to his children. It’s about finding his true identity in loving and being loved.
Art, in any form, has to allow for various interpretations. We see things through different experiences and perspectives. I recall a conversation with friends about Henry James’ novel, Portrait of a Lady. Three of us had vastly different understandings about the conclusion. Naturally, I was convinced I had it right; so I consulted the text. Based on the author’s own words, each of us had a legitimate interpretation. I was right. And so were the others.
No, no, no. I’m not saying that everything is relative. But interpretations of art certainly can be.
So let me offer my take on Mad Men. I wanted to see redemption, desperately. Once Don had his breakdown with Hershey, I thought we were getting somewhere. After six seasons, two wives and too many “other” women to count, Don actually told something deeply intimate about himself which was also true.
The episode concludes with Don standing with his children before the rundown building that was the whorehouse where he grew up. This is the first time they’ve seen anything of their father’s past. It helps to know who someone is by knowing where they came from.
I began to think that his redemption would conclude the series. Remember how the first episode of season one started? All we saw was a handsome businessman going about his day, visiting a woman who was not his wife, and so on. There was no indication that he was a married man until the episode concluded with him entering his large suburban home at night, lights turned out, wife asleep in bed.
In many ways, his struck me as a Pinocchio story, someone sort of wanting to grow up and be a “real” boy while enjoying all the fun and perks of being “naughty,” an echo of St. Augustine’s prayer for conversion when he asked that it might not happen too quickly. Throughout the last season, there were inklings that maybe the real man would escape the trappings he’d created for himself, not unlike the false world he created through his business of advertising, promising happiness with things that have nothing to do with true happiness. But along the way, someone else was changing: his teenage daughter Sally.
Episode two of Season 7, involves Sally’s discovery that her father has, in effect, been lying to his family by not telling them that he’s on leave from his job. They think he’s still going to work, as usual. After a strained car trip that eases up with a pit stop for gas and food (Don is smart; he knows that a lot of relationship building can happen around food.), she gets out of the car and tells him, “I love you.” He can’t, simply cannot, respond. It’s clear that he’s struggling. Go to 1’20” here. Or watch it all for a recap of the episode. By this point the series has offered plenty of encounters between Sally and her mom Betty. None of them were personal. And we’ve seen various scenes with Sally and her dad, mostly she’s angry, even disgusted. Always she is looking for connection. This time she connects.
Someone is growing up.
While Betty accepts her mortality and the reality of her terminal diagnosis, she still can’t relate to her children. She can’t even tell them that she is dying. The last we see of Sally, she has given up her trip to Madrid, ignoring her mother’s expressed wishes, and has come home to help. We see Betty smoking while Sally is doing the dishes. (0’99” below)
The series concludes with Don chanting his “om” outside at a beautiful California retreat, presumably in the Big Sur area, and fades into the famous Coke commercial, “I’d like to give the world a Coke.”
Pinocchio stayed Pinocchio.
In the moment that some call awakening or getting religion, I think he was just being the same old Don Draper we’ve seen since the very first episode. At 2’0” below,just as the meditation begins, he’s still trying to figure it out, how’s he going to make this work for him. Then his “om” becomes an “a-ha!” (See 2’37” below, when the meditation ends.) Think about it, after his “confession” to Peggy, she tells him to come back, that he’ll have work, there’s the Coke account. In that moment, he tapped into the next big idea. And presumably many other big ideas, including the Coke commercial.
Maybe Don’s a little more in touch with himself after crying and hugging on his retreat. But it’s hard for me to string this all together and claim redemption, much less family man. He starts as an ad man and ends an ad man, he can sell anything including himself. He doesn’t just sell ads. He creates realities.
As for the other characters, they seem pretty comfortable in the realities that they’ve created for themselves. But, really, does anyone honestly think that Pete has magically learned fidelity…when he now has a private jet at his disposal? We saw what he did with his own apartment… And Roger just continues being another little boy Pinocchio, he even jokingly refers to his new wife Marie as “ma mère” (“my mother”). Peggy finally got what she wanted: a man to go with her career. That may not last if her inner Don Draper surfaces again.
Joan was the exception, she was an adult from the beginning and always aware that actions have consequences, good and bad. She always took responsibility for herself. But the real grown up by the end of the show was just a little girl when the show began. Make sure you take note around 0’99” below.
Here are three things you can expect from the Synod – Chaos. The Vatican is not Italian. It’s Roman. Do not try to impose your standards on it. You want Romans to be in charge of things like food, fashion, all things epicurean and aesthetic. They do bureaucracy well if you think bureaucracy is a good thing in the first place, hence a Vatican that almost everyone acknowledges needs to be reformed/re-orged/rebooted/re-everything. Look at this. This is how Romans park their cars.
Here are three things you can expect from the Synod – Rome is a colorful place, to say the least, and it has certainly left its stamp on the Vatican.
Chaos. The Vatican is not Italian. It’s Roman. Do not try to impose your standards on it. You want Romans to be in charge of things like food, fashion, all things epicurean and aesthetic. They do bureaucracy well if you think bureaucracy is a good thing in the first place, hence a Vatican that almost everyone acknowledges needs to be reformed/re-orged/rebooted/re-everything. Look at this. This is how Romans park their cars.
Actually, this picture doesn’t do them justice. It’s a little too organized. But still, note the directions of the cars. I love Rome and Romans; if you know them, you understand the Vatican better and you don’t allow yourself to be uber American and maniacal about media. Instead, you do as the Romans. You know, when in Rome, and all that… You ignore the chaos and go about your life, you use the chaos to your advantage either to create more chaos, or to get away with something, or you sit back and enjoy the entertainment. Take your pick. Why do you think Pope Francis arranged for two consecutive Synods on the family (and perhaps even a pre-Synod of sorts)? It takes time to sift through chaos.
Ambiguity. Again. This. Is. Rome. This. Is. The. Vatican. #ThisIsTheUniversalChurch. You really think this is easy? Sometimes we barely agree on the articles of the Creed. Give everyone a little space to work things out and wrap their heads around things. Let them get over personal, geographical, political, and every other kind of difference so that they can see what they have in common. The great thing is that all of this chaos is making clear exactly what work needs to be done. St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio was largely ignored; so now things are even more of a mess than they were when he wrote it in 1981, after the 1980 Synod on the family. To change that, there’s going to have to be a lot of clear teaching. It’s everyone’s job, not just those who speak from the pulpit. St. John Paul II spoke of the “mission” that we all have to the family. Instead, way too many people ignored him or went back to sleep.
Part of a monument inside St. Peter’s, Rome.
So now we’re back facing the tired arguments of the 70s as if the 1980 Synod on the family and Familiaris Consortio never happened. Start teaching. If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, well, be honest. Decide whether you can work your mind around what she teaches or whether you can accept it without understanding it. If you can’t, then in good conscience, you really should find something that fits more with your beliefs. But, first, check out what the Catechism has to say about conscience and the “work” of forming one’s conscience. It really is work. It’s difficult. Part of that work is taking place now at the Synod. It’s messy. That’s normal.
No change in doctrine.The Church cannot change her doctrine. A recent example (recent in terms of a 2,000 year old entity), is contraception. Pope Paul VI formed a commission to study the question of whether contraception could be consistent with Catholic teaching. It hadn’t been so far, but maybe something had been missed. The majority of the commission voted to approve birth control. Guess what. Despite majorityopinion, Church teaching did not change. In fact, the confusion ensuing from Humanae Vitae proved fruitful in many ways. It demonstrated that there was a clear lack of teaching/understanding. After all, if the pre-Vatican II Church had been so strong, how could the sexual revolution have happened? Catholics as a whole had been experiencing a crisis of faith. Councils don’t get called except to address a crisis. There was no 1950s golden age of Catholic faith. Had there been, I maintain that the response to Humanae Vitae would have been very different and Catholics would have been a strong and beautiful witness that may have even kept the sexual revolution from happening with the quasi sexual intensity that it did. But the confusion paved the way for St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, a much needed presentation of the beauty of sex, marriage, and the family. I’ve also commented that Cardinal Kasper’s remarks have also borne fruit that we needed, albeit perhaps unintended by him. I’m convinced that more good will come. We just need to be patient about the process even if we don’t like it.
Things in Rome have a way of lasting, despite the Romans and the various invaders.
So what can you do in the meantime? Here are some suggestions –
Have a drink, if that’s your thing.
Go for a run.
Spend some quality time with family, friends, etc.
ReadHumanae Vitae. (C’mon, it’s a short document. The Vatican English translation is arguably better than the Pauline edition.)
Have an opinion on marriage prep or annulments? Find out what you really know. Ask about your diocesan or parish marriage prep program. Read the annulment paperwork on the marriage tribunal’s page of your diocesan website. If they don’t have it posted, call and ask.
Read something to enrich your understanding.
Spend time in quiet contemplative prayers and let yourself hear God speaking to you.
Let the Holy Spirit do its work.
Yes, there’s chaos, but this too shall pass. Ignore the alarmists. Anyone who disrupts a Christ-centered peace is doing someone else’s work, not Christ’s. Read Church history. We have always been a rather muddled mess. That’s what proves the Church is divinely instituted. No merely human institution could withstand humanity and all its foibles as long as the Church has.
St. Peter’s, with the dome reaching towards heaven and the arms (braccie) of the piazza embracing and drawing together humanity.
Scott Behson at the WSJ recently did a post on a man who gave up a high level position to spend more time with his family and… he’s happy. Last…
Scott Behson at the WSJ recently did a post on a man who gave up a high level position to spend more time with his family and… he’s happy.
Last month, Max Schireson gave up his job running a billion-dollar startup to spend more time with his family. And he couldn’t be happier.
Part of me thinks this is a fantastic article. The other part of me finds it incredibly funny in the ironic sense. Think about it. It’s newsworthy for a reason, perhaps for many reasons. We don’t see a whole lot of men who say that they’re cutting back on work for their family. Usually, they say that they’re working hard for their family even if they don’t get to spend much time with them.
Behson asked Schireson about the notoriety:
What do you make of all the publicity your decision has generated?
This whole scenario has gotten way more coverage and attention than I ever imagined. I thought I was just writing a blog post for friends, family and a few colleagues. I didn’t expect it to go viral, and for major media to run with the story.
Lots of people, and lots of dads, make decisions to accommodate their careers to their families. What I did was ordinary—actually most have far harder decisions to make—but my position as a CEO gave the decision notoriety that I didn’t expect and that resonated with a lot of people.
But the publicity may have done some good. We all struggle with work-life balance and there’s no easy solution. I think everyone needs to find the right balance for themselves, and to do this, we need to have more dialogue about work and family, especially among men, and at higher levels of the corporate hierarchy.
And Schireson has some great wisdom about what really matters in family life – the little things.
Now that you have more time, what are you most looking forward to being able to do with your family that you couldn’t do before because of your career demands?
The best thing is being able to be so involved in all the day-to-day aspects of being a parent- helping with homework, reading to my kids, being there for bedtime every night, just the little moments that happen in life—making lunches and driving to school.
The joys of parenting aren’t just in the big fun times or special events, it’s in these smaller moments where you can really be with and be connected to your wife and kids. That’s what this decision has enabled me to do. I couldn’t be happier.
Sometimes it takes big decisions to be able to enjoy the little things in life…
Schireson is fortunate to be leaving a prominent career to which he can likely return and which has left him with the means to be able to enjoy his decision in a stress free way. Not everyone has that luxury. But maybe more people have more luxury than they realize…. It’s just a thought. Feel free to weigh in below in the comboxes.
The Telegraph, a UK news publication, reports that the top ten things that children put on their Christmas lists, included siblings and a dad. The number one gift children requested…
The Telegraph, a UK news publication, reports that the top ten things that children put on their Christmas lists, included siblings and a dad. The number one gift children requested was a baby brother or sister. But it’s their number ten request that speaks volumes: a dad. In my book, that’s something that a child shouldn’t have to put on a Christmas list. That should be a given, no pun intended.
And yet, the fact that a sibling and a dad ranked so high on wish-lists gives me great hope. Even though we can see many sociological indicators that suggest all is not at all well with the world, these children seem to suggest that they know it should be better, starting with their own families.
In his homily for Midnight Mass, Pope Benedict, reflecting on Mary and Joseph as they are turned away from every inn, asks, “[W]hat would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them?” He ties the situation of Mary and Joseph to our own lack of willingness to open the doors of our hearts to God, including “children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world,” in whom God is reflected.
While these children may not all be writing the type of Christmas letter that the Pope wrote when he was a boy of 7, I find at least two of their requests to be profound and a hopeful indication that their hearts are very generous. And without wanting to suggest that children cast off all their lessons on stranger danger, I think they would open their doors to Mary and Joseph. They’d know a family when they saw it.