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SAW 18: Church vs Culture
1. What activities, traditions, practices that are part of your life really “define” your family “culture”? You might compare/contrast your family’s culture with that of some other family you know or view your family through the eyes of someone from a foreign culture.
Our Friday Open House, long conversations with guests at the kitchen table, pig roasts and bonfires, homemade beer, and Christmas caroling events probably characterize us to others. We all attend Mass as a ‘given,’ and say grace together at meals, but the Rosary as a family event is rare, and usually relates to some crisis. Alas, I sing the Divine Office alone.
2. What cultural activities do you enjoy (out in the wider world…not just your own family’s culture, but interacting with others) that are “Catholic”? How about those you enjoy that are “not Catholic”?
Catholic: Communion & Liberation, Well-Read Mom, Northeast Kansas Chesterton Society, Catholic Creatives Salon, Apostle of the Interior Life Family meetings and retreats, Lessons & Carols
Non-Catholic: NKCS is now mixed religions, Girls & Moms Literature group, Shakespeare in the Park, Contra Dances, Fiddle & Pick weekends, city band concerts, Bard Party, husband’s bluegrass gigs, concerts and other shows in community venues
3. What aspects of the secular culture are compatible with your faith?
There is still a generally law-abiding norm, with the expectation and practice of common courtesies. Some movies and local shows work for us, as do some secular books, magazines and music. We aren’t fashionable, but our clothes are still typical for the day. We celebrate secular events like 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Mother’s and Father’s Day.
4. What aspects of the secular culture are incompatible with your faith?
Many of today’s books, movies, and fashions definitely do not work for us! I hate the piercing/tattooing I see everywhere. We don’t have kids in school, but the Sunday sports and other activities would be a problem for us. The fertility technologies, acceptance of gay marriage, and the assumption that everyone of every age and capacity must be sexually active are hugely offensive to me.
5. Have you “baptized” any secular activities—added Catholic elements, practices, significance to otherwise nonreligious events or elements of culture? (For example, the annual neighborhood Fourth of July parade to which you add a Catholic prayer in the home before participating, or putting holy cards instead of candy into trick-or-treaters’ bags, or taking St. somebody’s picture to work as patron saint of your profession…or whatever you can think of!)
I like the All Saints party instead of Halloween/trick-or-treating, with saint costumes. We sing Christmas carols at a winter dance, say our Catholic grace at Thanksgiving, and sing religious songs when gathered for round-singing in the public park.
6. Have you adapted any Catholic cultural elements to secular life, or adjusted them so that they accommodate participation by people of other faiths? (For example, saying your dinner grace without the sign of the cross when Protestant grandma is present…you get the idea!)
When with Protestant friends, if asked to pray, I tone down the specifically Catholic kinds of phrases. I can’t think of any others.
7. Please describe the various “cultures” in which you spend your time (family, ethnic neighborhood, workplace, Internet communities, etc.). How do age, ethnicity, income, religion, education, nationality, gender, and special interests create/affect the cultures that form your context? Are you active in creating/affecting these cultures, or are they pretty much “givens” for you? Are they hostile to your faith, neutral, or encouraging?
I actively cultivate friendships, but have not spent a lot of time developing friendships with non-Christians. I realize there is some selfishness in this, as I just enjoy spending my time with people who share what is most important to me. I don’t spend any time with groups that are hostile to the Faith, and none in groups that are age, income, nationality based. I do have just-the-girls groups, and my special interests are the Chesterton group and Salon – both mixed genders and ages. I think I should, perhaps, step out a bit more into the ‘world’ to make some more connections with very different people.
8. Please think of a “teaching situation” you recall (for example, you were learning or teaching the Faith, or something else that is important to you). How were you, or those you taught, prepared by your (or their) dominant cultural experiences to receive, or reject, or understand what was being taught? How did this preparation affect the way the material needed to be taught? Please describe the way culture and education interconnected in this experience.
I taught a class on poetry to high school kids who had no real experience with poetry. It was hard to express to them why poetry is meaningful, because it just wasn’t in their field of experience. I got help from using the Magic Eye pictures as a metaphor for poetry.
I was asked to teach about beginning the interior life, but the group really wasn’t beginners. I had to think and pray what ‘angle’ of approach to take in order to connect with them and deepen the experience they already had with the interior life. That talk became ‘the Triangle talk’ which led to much else of real value. I feel that God did intervene in the creative process to help me connect with them and others via this new metaphor.
9. To whom are you “alien” because of big cultural differences? Who is “alien” to you? (This is more than just “having differences”—it is truly feeling like you come from different worlds or are having serious trouble with even basic interaction, understanding, empathy, and identification.)
I suppose I am ‘alien’ to most young people today, even to some at the Catholic Center where I worship. They just don’t seem much able to relate to ‘old people’. As a homeschooler, I’m alien to most of those who choose the regular school approach. As a Catholic, I’m an abomination, at worst, and a stranger in the midst at best, to non-Catholic Christians.
To me, the whole bo-tox, nip-and-tuck crowd seems alien, and sometimes ‘the rich’ are unfathomable to me. Apathetic Catholics are harder for me to understand than enthusiastic wacko-liberal Catholics. Gay culture, gang culture, heavy metal and hip-hop culture, Goth culture and the culture of computer gaming + high tech are alien to me.
10. Please give examples of someone going “too far” in being “countercultural.” How about examples of someone going “too far” in being in line with or accommodating a culture? The culture you are thinking of might be religious, ethnic, age-oriented…any of the categories we’ve been looking at. Your “counter” and “accommodating” examples might refer to different cultures or to the same culture.
I realized that ‘going too far’ counter-culturally is usually ‘accommodating too far’ the less-dominant culture…two sides of the same coin. The Amish style dress that seems ‘too far’ counter-cultural, is just a close observance of their culture. Ditto pierced/tattooed Goths, and everyone else I can think of who seems to be trying to be ‘above’ cultural accommodation, but is actually just accommodating a different culture. I’ve seen older women go way too far trying to look like they fit into the youth culture. In this instance, they don’t seem to have any belonging anywhere else, but just have left the sense of self entirely behind to ‘become’ something they are not. The pretense of culture seems sadder to me than cultural conformity. I don’t see how anyone can really be counter-cultural if all they do is stand out as a particular other culture. The message of modesty, for instance, will get sent better to those who most need it by someone who looks completely comfortable in ‘their’ world, but just dresses with dignity and grace in a way that still fits in enough to prevent her being re-labeled. Sad, that all these expressions of self just help everyone dismiss one another with a quick label.
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