I write, speak, invest, network, and question to stimulate fruitful conversation. Let's talk about human flourishing! It begins with freedom. Holy leisure is the key to human being, freedom and generativity. Please join me in the adventure of realizing Christ!
I want to help Catholics:
(not to be self-sufficient or satisfied with virtual relationships)
(not to circle wagons or schmooze superficially)
(not to be suspicious or gullible)
(not to lecture or debate)
(not to be ‘artistes’ or to scribble)
(not to collapse or snap)
(not to react or to be silenced)
(not to remain confused or indifferent)
(not to over-rely on experts or be self-referential)
(not to remain afraid or be foolhardy)
(not to wait for big but hold hope for great possibilities)
Smile, have fun, play, enjoy other people, live life as an adventure
(not to be self-righteous party poopers or satisfied with inane amusement)
We live in a free country. You’re free to do whatever you want. The stuff you want is yours for next to nothing – free.
Focus on the Right ‘Free’
Let’s set two of these ‘frees’ aside quickly and focus on the one that matters most to you, personally – or should.
It’s a free country, right? Nope. A nation that is systematically killing off hundreds of thousands of its children and now pushing its elders into early graves is in bondage to sin and death, not ‘free’.
All that free stuff? Not so free. Many of the costs of producing it are externalized – damage to the Creation, for example – borne by the human laborers fed into the manufacturing process as ‘resources,’ put off onto future generations – or are unquantifiable opportunity costs we are less and less capable of counting. Free stuff has a price.
It’s YOU, Free
But, at least YOU are free. Not so fast. Not if your definition of freedom is wrong. Not if you aren’t putting up a fight for freedom. Not if you aren’t supported in freedom by external and internal structures. Again, let’s consider two of these ‘freedoms’ briefly so as to focus on the one that matters most to you, personally – or should.
But if You’re Wrong…
If you are wrong about what freedom IS, then you are not free. It is essential to know the truth about freedom in order to pursue it, achieve it, and set others free. If you think freedom is a right conferred by law; is a choice about which button to push, or which shoe to buy; is a quality of life you can enhance with money; is an escape from obligation, space, time, physics, or other constraints, or has nothing to do with virtue, you’re simply wrong. And your freedom is dangerously compromised as a result.
Or if You Lack Support for Freedom…
Can you be free without the support of divine grace, human organizations and institutions, excellent education, taboos and social norms, friendships and family bonds, physical and moral laws, an accurate historical narrative, demands and duties, or hard work? The answer is no in every case.
Your external atmosphere must be THICK with all these supports. Otherwise, you will inhale the illusion of freedom, but not experience the reality of freedom. Your infrastructure for freedom is generated by all that hard work of adjusting to and appropriating the external structures.
No Freedom Without a Fight
Freedom grows by every act of freedom, so let’s turn to that condition for freedom.
Fight for Your Freedom
Fulton Sheen said, “Free will is a gift, but freedom is a conquest.” Are you engaged in a battle for your own freedom? You’d better be, or you’re already losing it. Who is fighting against you? Demons, and those who have given over to demons the gift of their own free will. You resist your freedom yourself. Every support for freedom but one can be its enemy – your enemy – in this fight.
You are Fighting for Your Life
Though demons shouldn’t be minimized – as they are actual, active hostile forces arrayed against you – if you stand under the constant protection of Christ in His Church, they will not prevail against you. Since every human support is, well, human, the air you must breathe to be free is full of toxins.
Your Freedom Invites Others to be Free
Notice the broken families, distorted narratives, utter confusion of social norms and standards, institutionalized bondage, education for impotence. The bad news is, your freedom is under assault from every possible angle. The good news is, Christ in His Church promises victory, if you will fight the fight. In fact, the fight, the work, the struggle is the making of you, free.
I Invite You to be You, Free!
You, Free is my attempt to come along side as your companion in that struggle. May God bless you readers!
Why Am I Getting Hit??
Imagine you are standing up and, for some unknown reason, projectiles appear out of nowhere at random intervals. They hit. They hurt. Some you fend off. Some you catch and toss away. You feel a bit sorry for yourself. You didn’t ask for this treatment, don’t deserve it, and certainly don’t enjoy it.
Whoever is behind the madness seems to want to punish you. You ask, but nobody answers the question, “What is going on here?” Wherever you move, the assault continues, so you give up and just take it like a man, offer it up as prayer, stop trying to get away, defend yourself as you can.
Now imagine that this is simply batting practice. How foolish you look there, at the plate, your bat at your feet and your “poor me” look on your face. The coach has set the machine to aim at various angles and intervals to give you the practice you need to swing, to hit the ball out of the park, to find the bat’s sweet spot and learn to use it as an extension of your own body to great effect.
Hey, Batter, Batter…
If you will develop this skill, you’ll be hitting for your home team, initiating a delightful run around the bases, scoring points in collaboration with others who have taken the time to practice. You’ll be in the game instead of pointlessly surviving the baseballs of outrageous fortune.
Life comes at you like this. If it seems like an ordeal, like punishment, like unfairness, it may be because you haven’t realized it’s just practice! Pick up your freedom and swing.
Get hit, fail miserably, swing and miss, feel stupid, be lonely, go rest when you’re tired and come back refreshed, let a few balls pass without even trying, remember the team and the thrill of victory, look forward to the after-party, and thank God for all the opportunities each day gives you to practice the skill of freedom!
Consider the lure of the Ring in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. The power of invisibility has its advantages, but does it grant any of the pleasure we associate with habit-forming addictions? As I pondered the attractive menace of the Ring, I realized invisibility is actually a highly-sought pleasure, for ancients and moderns alike.
From the Buddhist’s desire to release all personal boundary and immerse the Self in nothingness, to the Gothic teen masking her vulnerability in studded leather, invisibility, or the yearning for it, seems to drive human behavior past reason – like the false promises of chemical happiness, sexual indulgence, or bloodlust.
Over-exposed, bared, naked, raped and violated souls crave the pleasure of darkness, privacy, anonymity, masquerade, and disembodied virtual existence. Please, please,” they seem to say, “Shield us, veil us, return to us our human dignity and personhood.” But they have difficulty emerging into the ‘danger’ of being real, being free, being visible, from the seeming safety of life in hiding – even as they grow ever less able to inhabit the sphere of encounter with reality.
A Catholic Church has a new tagline: “We exist to guide great stories.”
Setting aside my concerns about the new action-planning guide which fall under the general category, “Question Rhetoric,” I here take up those of my hesitations about what exactly is a “Great Story.”
While I appreciate the need to appeal to people’s innate sense of narrative, using the natural structure of story to convey meaning, I sense the possibility that the very notion of ‘story’ is so dangerously deformed in many of our ‘audience’ or ‘market niche’ members that the approach might backfire.
What Do We Mean by Great?
Is a ‘Great Story’ one in which I, the protagonist, achieve greatness? If so, it is important to know what we mean by greatness. We’ll have to let the audience know their story is only ‘great’ if it conforms to a true definition of greatness. Otherwise, they may misunderstand that we want to help them toward any of the false greatnesses that fill the culture with disorder and the mental wards with patients.
Fr. Giussani says, “The beggar is the protagonist of all history.” Will we be helping them learn to beg? To achieve career success? To become holy? To attract followers to an attractive narrative? To realize dreams, ‘make a difference,’ or what? What will make for the greatest stories? It is important to know, else how will we guide them?
Who is the Hero of a Great Story?
I worry that the post-modern audience is already vulnerable to the lure of being the protagonist, to any story-line that stars ‘me’, to any chance for fifteen minutes of fame. I would hate to fan those flames. Must one be the hero of one’s story for it to be great, and, if so, would a comic or tragic hero be best? Narcissism it at an all-time high, so a dose of comedy might help the would-be heroes take themselves a bit less seriously. How will being the fool and being great be reconciled in the stories we help guide?
What Makes a Story Great?
Is a ‘great story’ one which has the marks of great literature, great art, great rhetoric? Have our hearers been prepared by their educations and experience to make any good judgment about the aesthetic quality of their life stories? Will their stories be ‘great’ according to the conventions of biography, or detective fiction, or romantic comedy? Is all this concern for our stories just more self-referential metacognition?
Do You Have Capacity for a Great Story?
Do people raised largely without skill in the use of words, or practice in the creative arts have the skills needed to generate truly great stories (works of fiction, or life narratives)? What remedial help will be needed to successfully engage people in this metaphor of the storyline? C.S. Lewis commented upon the artistic difficulty of rendering virtuous characters well in stories. Flannery O’Connor’s work demonstrates the grotesque nature of many ‘real to life’ characters – none of whom (though her stories are of high quality) lead lives anyone would call great. There are real and difficult paradoxes here to be probed and addressed. What artists have faced in their work may be of great help to those who would help make, of lives, works of art.
Worse, probably, than vague definitions, poor capacity for judgement, scant experience in creative resolution of tension, and mal-formation in literature for the living or guiding of ‘great stories,’ are the messages about story which prevail in the current culture. Among them, “You write your own story,” “A hero defies the law for a greater good,” “One may choose an utterly new narrative to support each reinvention of Self (new gender, new relationship status, etc…),” “A story arc is the best way to lure someone down a sales funnel to a call-to-action button,” “To be great, a story should make a great movie,” or “The greatest stories get the most ‘likes’.” If they have absorbed such messages, parishioners will need pretty intensive ‘guidance’ in order to overcome the resultant pressure toward anti-greatness.
I offer my perspective as an exercise in thinking critically about slogans, taglines, brand promises, mottoes, buzzwords, catch phrases, message spin, and other rhetorical devices borrowed from the sphere of marketing. I suppose my quibbles about the efficacy of the ‘great stories’ concept makes me seem ‘not a team player’. I write, however, to offer real conversation to the team who came up with this new game plan, and to their fans. Given that, as Josef Pieper said, “Conversation is the context of truth,” conversations like these might actually be helpful in guiding great, Catholic, virtuous, beautiful, joyous, influential, poignant, satisfying stories with deep integrity and coherence. Those, by the way, would be my starting point for a working definition of ‘great’ as it applies to a life story.