Thursday, March 23, 2017

Budweiser and other Brews

My parents made sure that my siblings and I were exposed to ballet, opera, plays, a monster truck rally, robo-wars, and bullfights (which are totes legal in California - matadors from Spain and South America come to California to train in bloodless bullfights and they are AMAZING). Catholics are a "yes, gimmie that...and that...and OH HELL YES, ABSOLUTELY THAT!!!" kinda culture. We're highly inclusive; we engorge ourselves on being.

Evil is when something that should be lackless has some lack. It follows that anything truly human is truly Catholic, since to be authentically human is to be more what we were created to be (Imago Dei).

But there is a tension between the high-brow and low-brow forms of enjoyment - a conflation that the closer you are to God the more refined your tastes (particularly in art) should be on earth. The more otherwordly and dispassionate, the better (except for The Passion - that's ok)!

Thus it is, for example, that pious religious art drivel is put out and an implicit claim is made that such fare is better for us than movies with no religion in them and characters who do naughty things and perhaps (quelle horreur) show naughty bits.

It is true that man is a rational animal our excellence is acting in accord with right reason, i.e. in loving God and all that naturally flows from that.

It is not true that this entails that it is wrong to desire and enjoy lesser goods.

It is also not true that something which treats of refined/heavenly/rational things imbues it with a certain excellence or necessary priority.

It is, further, not true that a lack of refinement/explicit religious sentiment makes for wickedness.

If I want to kick back with a Budweiser and turn on a mindless anime series, where is the harm in that? There are better things I could be doing - better things I could be enjoying - but that is not the measure by which we measure. The eager convert who jumps straight into seminary is positively salivating for a higher good -- but is it good *for him* and *at that time*?

Life can still be full low-brow stuff like this or high-brow stuff like this. Or a whole range of things in between!

We're affective corporeal creatures with a shared destiny. We don't have to pretend that we like only explicitly-religious things or that we don't have passions that wax and wane and occasionally cause us to explode in a puffball of expletives that stand in contradistinction to the virtue-types proffered by religious films. There is some virtue in madness if it's at the right time, place, etc. It's good to be riled up about some things (abortion, death penalty, euthanasia, unjust wars, etc.) and to express that through various mediums (da solo, in a group, in art, etc.). We also don't need to ignore that there are aspects of human actions that are unsavory, bawdy, or vulgar -- and that sometimes such things are funny (*cough* Chaucer's Wife of Bath *cough*).

If a movie, if a play, if a book, if an event, if a thing leads us closer to understanding those aspects of human nature in its myriad of expressions and motivations - and if our enjoyment of that does not contravene God's laws - then we are better equipped to penetrate deeper into reality, into truth, into being. At least, so I'd contend (with a healthy quantity of caveats and conditions as regards the particular individual and object of their appetite).

We should not despise things that are low-brow or not explicitly Catholic -- or instances where we experience and express human passions -- it might have some worth to it, some goodness, some being. It might be Catholic, just not in name.

As Catholics, we want ALL THE THINGS that are good and we want ALL THE PEOPLE to get to heaven. Budweiser and top-shelf booze are both welcome.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

World Poetry Day - A Poem for Today

Interior, by Dorothy Parker

Her mind lives in a quiet room,
A narrow room, and tall,
With pretty lamps to quench the gloom
And mottoes on the wall.

There all the things are waxen neat,
And set in decorous lines,
And there are posies, round and sweet,
And little, straightened vines.

Her mind lives tidily, apart
From cold and noise and pain,
And bolts the door against her heart,
Out wailing in the rain.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Be Not Afraid

Nietzsche once wrote, "To have joy in anything, one must approve everything." While Nietzsche was a rather sad and disconsolate figure in the annals of history (really, the poor sod never struck me as being happy; if what you do doesn't lead to happiness then what even is the point?), he was going in the right direction with that bit. We should not be afraid to embrace the unfamiliar if it is good, to take delight in it however preposterous or foreign it might seem -- to cast out into the deep unknown waters.

For deep calls unto deep.

We are always on guard against the snares and wickedness of the devil. And rightly so - it's not like, pffffffffft, there's eternal beatitude or damnation at stake, right?! Yet, sometimes we are so much on guard that not even goodness slips past our watchful gaze. If something new presents itself, we dredge up a list of criteria it must meet in order to be considered a legitimate good and worrisomely tick off every pass or fail as we gnaw critically on a pencil. Our first concern is not whether the object is good of itself but whether it meets our notions of good.

Younger children, if they get a chance, will often harshly impose rules of right and wrong on even smaller children. Maybe it's because they are finally in a position to tell rather than be told -- or perhaps it's because we are creature of habit, structure, and laws. The unknown makes us uncomfortable; if something doesn't fit our notions, how should it be categorized? It's easiest to err on the side of caution and stricture.

St. Francis would strip naked and roll around in the snow - I'm pretty sure that if I saw something like that going down I'd give it some serious side eye. But what seems like a violation of modesty in human eyes is a challenge to a deeper understanding of purity. *cough* Abraham and Isaac, anyone? *cough*

God is not encompassed by our notions of good. He constantly pushes, stretches, and opens us up to new vistas if we allow Him to. Our notions are shattered, remade, then shattered again as we see what is good, stagger after it, and realize that all along we've been holding only a few pieces of something so big that not even all the hands in the world could grasp it.

We should not be hasty to judge negatively or be fearful when something new presents itself. We should be eager to cast out into the deep. That doesn't mean being dumb and heading out without an analogical life vest on, setting aside what we know of good. But it does mean that we should not immediately assume something unknown is from de divil.  Evil preys upon good, not the other way round. We are told to assume the best of people - and that same assumption should extend to other aspects of life.

Sometimes, the object is bad either for us or of itself. But if it is good then it can enrich our experiences and give us a few more glimpses of a reality that refuses to fit into our own categorizations.

And that is why I really enjoy things like the clip below (ohhh, segue, didn't see that coming!), where there is a joyful affirmation of different forms of dance, without any begrudgement, by artists from very different understandings of movement and tradition. The classic and the new are encompassed by a reality with space for both.

Really, this post is just an excuse to share this wonderful video as an example of old and accepted territories versus new and what some people would dismiss immediately as a lesser or stupid dance:

Montreal Swing Riot 2016 - Vintage vs Modern Street Dancers - Part 1 of the Invitational Battle from Alain Wong on Vimeo.