Culture-Makers or Culture Warriors (Part Two)

Part Two

“Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.  We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past…can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar

In part one of this article, I wrote of the tendency in classical education to train “culture warriors” rather than “culture-makers.”  That is, we arm students with logic, apologetics, and an ideological rhetoric, that enables them to argue and debate, but seldom persuade.  In warring with modern culture, but neglecting to create culture, we only ensure the deepening of the divide between the Church and society.

As von Balthasar claimed  in the quote I shared above, this practice attempts to divorce truth and goodness from beauty.  But beauty will have none of it.  She will not be taken from her sisters.  Truth, isolated from goodness and beauty, becomes little more than a blunt weapon to be used on opponents.  Goodness, isolated from truth and beauty, results in moralism.  And beauty, isolated from truth and goodness, results in postmodernism – as Gregory Wolfe observed, “With less and less substance in their words, the artists supported by the progressives have resorted to irony, political propaganda, and sensationalism to elicit a response from their audience.”  The attempt to form beauty remains, but without content.

Of course, this highlights the inseparability of truth, goodness, and beauty; but should also remind us that we – the Church at large and classical educators, in particular – are not speaking the language of postmodern culture.  By this, I do not mean that the Christian community should say the same things as postmodernism, but that the medium we use must take into account postmodern thinking.

What would make us think that formal logic and persuasive essays would affect those who have denied truth?  Yet, this is precisely our method – arming for logical argument, pointing out inconsistencies and fallacies to those who do not care.  In our time, ignoring beauty – that is, the creation of art, literature, music, poetry, and other works of the imagination – means giving our world the “silent treatment.”  Wolfe emphasizes this in quoting Robert Royal: “Art has become more important in the postmodern world…because the truth claims of philosophy, theology, ethics, and even nature seem weak.  The argument on many campuses over the canon has taken on added heat precisely because, where truth is assumed a priori not to exist, images and atmosphere will shape how most people think” [emphasis mine].

To bring this discussion back to the world of classical education, in particular, I need to be note that we are not curators.  Our work is about more than exposing students to the beauty of the past, as noble a task as that is.  Put another way, I fear our tendency has been to preserve the works of Western Civilization as museum pieces, rather than trying to bring their truth, goodness, and beauty to bear on the modern world.  Here I must quote Gregory Wolfe, at length, yet again:

When conservatives turn to art and literature they generally look to the classics, safely tucked away in museums behind marbleized covers.  Ironically, many conservatives don’t seem to have noticed that they no longer have anything to conserve – they have lost the thread of cultural continuity.  They have forgotten that the Judeo-Christian concept of stewardship applies not only to the environment and to institutions but also to culture.

In seeking to uphold and appreciate the Western tradition, we cannot give up on current culture; a culture that speaks more in images than argument, that upholds beauty more than truth and goodness.  We must search for and find more opportunities to once again weave together our love of truth and goodness with beauty, for these sisters cannot be separated without great devastation.

To be continued…

Reposted from my weekly column for the CiRCE Institute


“Naked As We Came”

I’ll let the song (and video) above stand largely on its own, save a couple of comments.  This work, the song and accompanying video (written, sung, played, and directed by Sam Beam), serves as a reminder of the beauty of family life and the message should be taken to heart deeply.  From vow to death, with mess and chaos, our homes are to be places of respite, peace, and deep joy.

Lessons from Toilet Sounds, My Wife & King Solomon

Three sounds – a loud shriek, splashing, and the slamming of the toilet lid – brought me quickly from the kitchen to the hall bathroom.  Greeted by a smiling, soaking wet toddler walking rapidly from the room, I knew I was in for something special.  I was not to be disappointed.  Toilet paper had been spun directly from the holder into the toilet and water covered the floor.

After cleaning up Asher’s bit of performance art, I walked back toward the kitchen to finish getting dinner together.  I stepped into the living room to find Ian jumping on the couch and his sister, Temperance, crying.  A quick word brought the jumping to an end and, just as I attempted to console our daughter, I heard another crash in the kitchen.  You get the idea.

When my wife descended the stairs, having prepared pajamas and the other necessities for bedtime, she looked my way and smiled, “How’s it going?”  By this point, I managed a laugh and muttered a vague comment about how fast our children are.

My wife, Shannon, is a homeschooling mom and has super-powers.  Somehow, in addition to doing an excellent job teaching phonics, writing, and math to our daughter (age 5), she finds ways to fuel Ian’s (age 3) great enthusiasm for learning, and still rebuild after Asher’s (18 months) Tasmanian devil impersonations.  And, what’s more, Shannon seems so excited about it.

Now, I could go on bragging on my wife and gladly proclaiming to you her sterling character, but I know (deep down) she’s not (entirely) perfect.  She gets tired and overwhelmed, just like every other parent and/or teacher.  Yet, even in those times I have learned from her.  Almost like clockwork, she reminds herself of the blessing of homeschooling.  She finds strength in the souls of her children, and the knowledge that God has given her the opportunity to feed and nurture them.

In Ecclesiastes 6, Solomon describes a man who is blessed with one hundred children and two thousand years of life, but still “his soul is not satisfied with goodness.”  He has “no burial” and even his long life is forgotten.  Having never learned to be satisfied with the goodness given to him, he goes to the grave having lost it all.  Never delighting his soul in his children, he has no one to bury him.  Never having delighted himself in the years of his life, he goes to the grave forgotten.

Blessings bring responsibilities, but even those should delight our souls.  Sometimes blessings are messy.  They can be wet, hyperactive, emotional, loud, and overwhelming; but, for all these “troubles,” we dare not forget that they are blessings.

School & Classroom Ethos

Reposted from my Circe Column (8/30/12).

“Ethos is the in articulate expression of what the community values.  It includes the quality of relationships within the school, the traditions, the professional comportment, the approach to classroom management, the out-of-class decorum, the aesthetic personality of the school reflected in the student and faculty dress codes, the visual and auditory imagery, and the physical plant itself…Ethos is the way in which the school expresses (or doesn’t) truth, goodness, and beauty through the experiences of every person who enters our halls.”

  – From Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn & Charles T. Evans

I vividly remember entering St. Michael’s chapel for the first time – the equilateral arch, the faint echo of the stone narthex, the coldness of the holy water. We were greeted by beautifully colored windows, portraying various scenes from the Gospels.  It was the first Friday Mass for our Kindergarten class and I cannot imagine the courage it took for Mrs. Crowley to take 15-20 five-year-olds to church.

Yet, among the things I remember most clearly is what was missing upon our entrance to the church. My teacher, the woman who (according to the 5-year-old me) made her living telling us to be quiet, never said a word.  She directed us to our pews, but never had to silence us. We were, for the moment, overwhelmed with beauty, awe, and the “differentness” of the place.  Across the parking lot, our kindergarten classroom was worlds away, and we knew it.

Pass over a few chapters, roughly ten years worth, to my first day of high school, just one mile from St. Michael’s.  Dedicated to keeping students safe, the school graciously introduced a barbed-wire fence around its perimeter.  My first day, and I felt better already. After walking through the metal detectors and past the armed resource officers, I entered the camera-monitored hallways to find my locker.

From the clash of locker doors to the loud click of the automatically-locking classrooms, the place seemed encased in metal.  To reduce violence and aggression, we were made inmates.  To provide safety, were made afraid.

We become what we behold.  When we surround our students (and ourselves) with beauty, we feed their souls and train their tastes on what is beautiful.  But, the converse is true as well.  Teaching in schools without armed guards and brutal fights in the lunch room is certainly a nice start, but we cannot content ourselves by stepping over the lowest bar.

How we adorn our hallways, classrooms, lunch rooms, and sitting areas does matter.  The music played during study times and what is sung during assemblies and “chapel” times forms tastes.  The color of the walls (or lack thereof), the desks or tables we select, and the way we arrange them says volumes.

Try this little experiment, either with a literal walk-through or just as a mental exercise.  As best you can, pretend you are walking into your school, classroom, or homeschooling area for the first time.  What does it feel like?  How would you describe the atmosphere or ethos of the place?  What matters to the people who put this place together?  If you spent dozens of hours per week in this place, how would it affect you, your tastes, and your soul?  And, with those answers in mind, what corrections need to be made?

Want to Feel Like a Man? Then Act Like One

Since starting The Art of Manliness nearly five years ago, I’ve interacted with thousands of men from all over the world. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that many grown men out there simply don’t feel like men. I’m not talking about “feeling like a man” in the cartoonish, hyper-masculine sense. Rather, I’m talking about “feeling like a man” in the sense of that quiet confidence that comes from moving from boyhood into mature masculinity.

Many of the guys I’ve talked to (particularly the ones in their 20s and 30s) have confessed to me that they still feel like a teenage boy walking around in a grown man’s body. Because they don’t feel like mature men, many of these young men are putting off adult responsibilities like careers, families, and civic involvement until they can look at themselves in the mirror and say: “I’m a man.”  In the meantime, these young men drift insecurely through life, wondering when they’ll finally start feeling like grown men.

Read more of this excellent article by Brett McKay at “The Art of Manliness

Connection Between Vaccines & Autism Proven?

Like many parents, I have been troubled by the rumors of vaccines causing autism in some children.  The conflicting evidence and reports make parental decisions on the matter confusing and difficult.  Now, in a recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, scientists have observed some disturbing connections between common vaccines and symptoms of autism.

If vaccines play absolutely no role in the development of childhood autism, a claim made by many medical authorities today, then why are some of the most popular vaccines commonly administered to children demonstrably causing autism in animal primates? This is the question many people are now asking after a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh (UP) in Pennsylvania revealed that many of the infant monkeys given standard doses of childhood vaccines as part of the new research developed autism symptoms.

For their analysis, Laura Hewitson and her colleagues at UP conducted the type of proper safety research on typical childhood vaccination schedules that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should have conducted – but never has – for such regimens. And what this brave team discovered was groundbreaking, as it completely deconstructs the mainstream myth that vaccines are safe and pose no risk of autism.

Presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in London, England, the findings revealed that young macaque monkeys given the typical CDC-recommended vaccination schedule from the 1990s, and in appropriate doses for the monkeys’ sizes and ages, tended to develop autism symptoms. Their unvaccinated counterparts, on the other hand, developed no such symptoms, which points to a strong connection between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders.

Read more HERE!

Education: Whose Responsibility?

What is education?  What should it accomplish?  What role do parents play in the education of their children?  What role should the government play in education?  All these questions and more were addressed in my interview with Phil Routszong, host of “Milk the Crisis” Radio!

Click HERE to listen!