Critiques & Controversies: August 2005 Archives

Yesterday our Parish Priest did something in the homily with which I strongly took exception. And the oddest thing was that I, in large part, agree with his point.

In the course of a homily that stretched wide and far our priest brought up two points that he thougth related. The first of these was clearly church doctrine. He said something to the effect that society takes an out-and-out sin, such as abortion and turns it into a right. Clearly he was articulating a truth of the faith.

But then he said something that, while not destroying the first statement, certainly cast some doubt upon it. He said, the Iraqi war was evil, unjust, and should be brought to an end.

Now, I have no problem with any priest expressing this opinion clearly as his opinion. Every person has a right to look upon these circumstances and decide for him- or her- self what a just war looks like. This priest decided that it did not look like Iraq.

Since I largely agree, you may find my demurral somewhat odd. But it has two prongs. The first of these is that while every individual is entitled to his or her private opinion, a priest, serving in the role of priest, breaking open the scripture and sharing with the congregation is required to make clear if he speaks his own opinion or church teaching. For the most part, the fewer opinions that issue from the pulpit, the better. And I say that not to try to clamp a gag on the clergy, but because their role is so sensitive, delicate, and crucial to the congregation, particular as they enact the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Word and Eucharist. They are the trustees of the bounty of Church teaching. Our Priests feed us. And if what they feed us is a plethora of opinions we will starve to death. No matter how much I might agree with any given stand, it should not be presented in the same breath as something that is unarguably church teaching (the evil of abortion). This is the first half of my objection.

The second half consisted of this--how would I feel sitting in that congregation if my son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, any member of my family were serving in Iraq? How would I like to be the mother who is trying to explain to her child how she must support her father overseas even though what he is doing is evil? I know the good priest did not intend these ramifications--but while it is right and proper to convict someone of guilt in a case when we are clearly talking Church teaching, it is wrong a terrible to wave that brand when the question is debatable. As a Pastor it is the Priests terrible and glorious responsibility to uphold Church teaching in its entirety and purity, and to support the members of the congregation in following that truth. What is left to prudential judgment should not become the black mark of sin because of the preaching of Father. It should not create the internal struggle and the terrible weight it will for all of those families already burdened by the absence of their loved ones.

I didn't speak to our priest afterwards, because his point was short, and I hope because of his long tenure at this church the congregation understood clearly what he did and did not mean to say. Nevertheless, I say it here because it confounded me yesterday and I have been brooding on it for a while, trying to figure out why, when I so clearly agreed with the sentiment, I found its utterance so thoroughly out of place.

I'm not trying to lecture, merely to offer a perspective from the pews. Something I'm sure too many priests hear way too much of. But I truly think it's very important to clearly distinguish fact from opinion in so controversial and debatable a matter--both to defend Church doctrne and to support those who are so valiantly giving their lives in service to their country. They were not asked what they thought of this conflict--they stand and serve. For this they deserve our respect, our gratitude, our loyalty, our prayers, and our help. As they stand and serve, we need not to sling barbs and arrows, but to help in substantive ways the families they have left behind.

I may not agree with the war, but I have no disagree with those who chose service to their country as their life's ambition, and who now do so at the behest of our government. So long as they conduct themselves according to the laws governing such conflict situations and the laws of God, they deserve everything we can offer them, because they are offering us everything. Everything. In their service, they serve each of us with all that they have and all that they are.

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Perhaps what I am about to describe has never happened to you. If not, then you are an exceptionally strong person. But I write this as encouragement. It took me a long time to learn my lesson, but once learned, it is one of those things I wish I could share. However, while it might be learned, it can seldom be taught.

Have you ever been embarrassed, shame, or just plain bullied out of enjoying something because of the derogatory opinion of others? Have you ever found yourself apologizing for one aspect or another of your taste.

I write this because this afternoon I was listening to Brad Paisley's version of "In the Garden," and I found myself thinking how much I disliked that song, how maudlin and mawkish the lyrics. And suddenly I realized that those were not my opinions at all, but the opinions of one of those "sophisticated" music critics who are always informing us what is wrong with what we like. While I genuinely don't care for "Beulah Land" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic," I have always liked "In the Garden." I don't know if it is good hymnody or bad hymnody or indifferent hymnody. It speaks to me. I don't find it mawkish and sentimental. I like it. And it took me a long time to shake off an opinion by someone I respected and considered better informed.

We should not be cowed into liking, disliking, or feeling any particular way about anything we encounter. Who are these arbiters of Good Taste--these paragons of understanding and purveyors of opinion? They are, just like us, people. They may have a better notion of what subjectively is considered "better music," that is all it amounts to.

I think back a a bit of ugliness that transpired when Jonathan Franzen demurred at being selected for Oprah's Bookclub because it was so middlebrow. Oh, what a vaunted opinion Mr. Franzen, or any person advancing such an opinion must have of themselves. In order to call anyone else middlebrow, you must perforce be seated on the throne of the highbrow. And where exactly is that situated? Where exactly do these paragons of taste find a place to call their own?

Who cares what anyone else thinks? If it is licit and it is pleasurable, enjoy it. Don't ever apologize when your opinion differs from those you respect. Don't ever feel that your taste is not good enough.

Fortunately, I have outgrown most of my prejudices--recently conquering a life-long aversion to country music, and just this afternoon unearthing an untruth I had taken as my own belief. Sometimes these things just slip in. I don't know how it happens, but it does.

And so to my few readers--never let my opinions, strongly expressed though they may be deprive you of rightful enjoyment of works of literature, music, film, or art. My opinion may differ. I have different information and experience influencing those opinions. There are things to which I simply do not have access--emotionally or intellectually. There are arguments I cannot hear and truths that I cannot bring myself, quite, to fully espouse, even if I recognize their truthfulness. These are the struggles of a lifetime. Do not allow what I say, or what anyone says, to add to your own array of struggles. It would be a shame.

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I despise labels.

I think I've made that clear before in entry after entry, but in case I haven't. . .

I despise labels.

Other than scientific names and nomenclatural assists, human beings most often use labels as offensive weapons. A label is simply a tag that then typifies everything about a person. A label in many ways serves the same function as a car surrounding a person. Once a person is in a car, it is no longer people we are dealing with but cars. We can weave in and out, cut others off and do the most amazing things that most of us would not consider doing outside of a car. But within a car we are insulated from humanity--our own and that of others. So too with labels--we insulate ourselves from the humanity they are presumed to define.

Those who take labels upon themselves do so for a myriad of reasons, but it does not lessen the onus of the label. When I am dealing with a communist, I am no longer dealing with a person but with a mass of ideology. That we so easily fall into the habit of labeling is a sign of intellectual laziness and of a certain desire to define ourselves outside of the label.

The most recent example of this is a label imposed by persons who are afraid of what deviates, even by a small amount, from supposed norms. I don't even know for certain what a "metrosexual" is. Seems to me that this is some variety of heterosexual who can now be despised for his or her supposed differences from all those around him or her. By my reading a metrosexual has a heterosexual's orientation with a "homosexual's" interests. Now, what precisely describes a homosexual's interests and why do they fall outside the realm of what a heterosexual man should be interested in? Can a heterosexual man read and enjoy Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and the collected works of Angela Thirkell? Can he delight in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and Cole Porter? Can he have any interest outside of his car, his toolbox, and the Sunday game? From my reading, it certainly doesn't seem like it. A metrosexual (whatever in the world that might be) is a man who is hardly a man at all (as defined by those, who I suppose think they know what a man is).

Metrosexual is another label, even more useless and damaging than others that have arisen. It is a label designed to narrowly circumscribe the interests that a fully heterosexual male might consider. What idiocy! As though because a label has arisen I intend to sit around all day watching Spike TV and CNN, drinking beer, and waiting for the next season (for whatever sport) to start.

I'll admit it. I despise competitive sports. Greater damage has been done to our society and to me personally in the name of competitve sports than nearly any other facet of our entertainment industry. Early on I swear I tried, but I could not fathom the interest in one group of men or another chasing around one form of spheroid or another to some end that didn't seem exactly earth-shattering. Nope--just don't see the attraction--haven't for a long time, probably never will. I don't despise and hate it as I once did--when those who were interested in these things used them as a bludgeon for those of us who were not conversant (thus my header).

I see the label metrosexual as a way of distinguishing where there should be no distinction. I do not self-identify as a metrosexual (fortunately, for one thing I don't dress nearly well enough, and my taste in Hawaiian shirts is enought o refute the label for life). Even if my fashion sense did not exclude me automatically, I would still refuse to accept a label such as this which is designed to set apart.

When will we learn that separate is never equal. A metrosexual, separated out from the heterosexual mass, will either be greater or lesser, as indeed a homosexual, distinguished from the general humanity of male sex will be regarded either as greater or lesser depending upon his surroundings. Why is this a necessary part of our interaction with one another? Why do we insist upon hurtful distinctions? How does it help us navigate society and serve the Lord? I don't recall the great saints spending their time telling each other, "Well so and so is a well-known metro." They even accepted and embraced the humanity of those who disfigurements and diseases had far removed them from the ordinary run of humanity.

Labels do not help us to grow in love. The finer the distinction, the greater the possibilities for thinking of reasons why we need not love the person as an image of God.

As with all labeling--I repudiate and reject it. The labeling disfigures us, dismantles us, makes us less than human. It serves no useful purpose except to breed prejudice and disregard. Think about it--what do you think of when someone says, "NASCAR fan" or "Country Music Fan" or "Marilyn Manson Fan" or "Barbara Streisand Fan." The words themselves conjure a reaction, usually gut-level. They breed a prejudice that alienates us from the humanity of the individual. All on the basis of what we like in the world of entertainment--hardly a significant criterion for judgment. And yet we are so anxious to feel good about ourselves that we seize on any label, any pretext for forming a difference that will somehow enhance our own status--most often at the cost of another's.

Reject labeling. In your Christian walk refuse to identify any person as anything other than a person--someone made in the image and likeness of God, someone loved beyond all bounds, without reservation, without qualification. Prepare yourself for heaven where all will be as they are without label or insignificant distinction. Make the kingdom of Heaven on Earth, by refusing to classify and pigeonhole God's most marvelous and wonderful creation.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from August 2005.

Critiques & Controversies: May 2005 is the previous archive.

Critiques & Controversies: September 2005 is the next archive.

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