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Arturo Vasquez has written a piece for Inside Catholic that – while exploring the problems of homogeneity specifically within the Catholic church — excellently analyzes how “official” versus “traditional” religion in our cultural context is somewhat of a false dichotomy; once a tradition dies, it is gone forever, and any resurrection of it is just that, a re-creation based on source material.  It may be a good imitation, mind you, but it’s not the same.

You don’t just see this in Catholicism. Conservative Evangelicalism — which has a much more of a presence in my local area — has done a tremendous job of taking away local distinctions and making everyone, more or less, operate on the same program. So while a Church of God—Cleveland, Tenn., church may still have some mountain religion flavor, it’s not really all that different from the Assembly of God down the road or the non-denominational “House of Praise” in the next town; and if you want to break away from charismatics to those of a more generic mega-church flavor (and even their smaller-church aspirants), things really are the same everywhere you go. Some folks just do it slicker. This is nothing more than survival of the lowest common denominator.

A few excerpts from Vasquez’s piece (read the entire thing here ):

In many ways, the American experience is all about forgetting. Since this is a nation where almost everyone descends from immigrants, homogenization of cultural differences is necessary for creating a harmonious social order. It is only a matter of time before this affects the religious sphere of any given group. It is at least arguable that religion in the United States must inevitably become individualistic, consumerist, and fascinated with innovation. What came from the past, from ancestors in another time and society, must be forgotten since it is irrelevant; or at the very least, it must be subjugated to the needs and prejudices of the present.

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These Catholics — call them “Neo-Caths,” “traditionalists,” or “conservatives” — seek to satisfy their hunger for a “thicker” Faith through books, Web sites, clubs, and even specialized “niche parishes” where they are allowed their own liturgical and devotional particularities. While such aspirations are legitimate, they must be tempered by the realization that these efforts do not necessarily create an organically traditional Catholicism, but rather can be yet another manifestation of American consumerism on the religious level.

In these circles, arguments over what Tradition is can miss the forest for the trees. Having been deprived of a tradition, properly speaking, many try to recreate it using books, Internet forums, and popular media. What often results is a parody of the ancestral faith; a version in which certain practices are preserved while others are conveniently dropped. Variations on the theme of remembering and forgetting are often at the heart of the arguments among members of the Catholic right. Some want one thing done at Mass, others want another. One group says we must follow this page in the book, others say that we must follow that page. These arguments often have nothing to do with what we were taught at the home by our parents, or what was passed down to us by our forbearers. In other words, they have little to do with tradition proper, and more to do with personal taste.

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I have come to learn the hard way that such debates over what constitutes tradition have little foundation in what tradition actually is. I confess here that I first learned to pray the rosary out of a book. I had joined my local Legion of Mary as a teenager and said the rosary the way the Legion did. After a long youthful period of religious exploring, which included a stop in the Eastern Church, I ended up once again where I started from: in the house of my grandparents.

I began to pray the rosary in Spanish with them, and in the process realized that this was not the rosary I had learned as an adolescent. The method of saying the rosary that they had brought with them from Mexico was a rushed catechetical poetry, an echo of generations of prayer that I could never learn from a book. There was nothing wrong, in principal, with what I had learned as a youth, but the way my grandparents said the rosary seemed better precisely because it was old. It belonged to me. It was my birthright. It was almost in my blood.

It is that organic tie with the past that is missing in many of the polemics over liturgy, devotions, and the general shape of Catholic life in this country. When some pundits speak of capital-T Tradition, they are often speaking of a disembodied ideal that they want for everyone that was lived in the past by no one. It is found only in books, beamed to them directly via satellite feeds from the Vatican, packaged in cellophane wrap complete with a user guide. It is often disconnected from real life, and negligent in terms of the little details of the Catholic ethos. How does one pray the rosary, bless the food, decorate a home altar, etc.? Like learning to drive or raise children, there is only so much one can learn from a book (or from a blog, for that matter).

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A little late, but better than never.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a very patriotic person (at least as it is defined in current political discourse by either the left or right); my loyalties lie with my family, the Church and the local community.  But on the Fourth of July I don’t mind watching fireworks displays with my children, and so we headed down to the local riverfront to watch the annual show over the Mississippi River.

Somewhere in the middle of it, I was struck with a thought: these fireworks are supposed to represent “the bombs bursting in air.” This is the reenactment of battle, albeit with a lot of artistic license.

I apparently wasn’t the only one with this thought. Iraq II veteran Ryan Harvey had these thoughts:

I tend to believe … that the fireworks celebration is not about Independence, it’s about explosions. It’s about war. It’s a yearly mass-experience that reminds us that we live in a culture of violence and that we are safe enough from war that we can celebrate it from a detached position. But it’s not a conspiracy by some branch of government or some multinational fireworks company, it’s a cultural practice, an unwritten consensus.

You can read the rest of Harvey’s essay at Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Image source here.

For a while now I have held my tongue about the ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the men who were killed in the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon were local, and I have spoken with their families, heard their grief and

promised my prayers. Before this was a national ecological tragedy, for me it was a local human tragedy, one that has been a repeat of accidents in days past.

I have had numerous people tell me of losing family members in similar accidents, and on a personal level for my in-laws oil well explosions are more than — as some have put it — just one of those risks you have to be willing to take when you work in oil: my wife’s grandfather was killed in an oilfield explosion, dying before his last child, the child who would eventually become my father-in-law, was even born. With the memories of their own losses now refreshed, and the deaths of two men they knew, went to high school and attended church with still fresh in their minds, people around here can’t talk about what is going on in the Gulf without talking about the loss of human life.

And now, due to the ecological disaster, there is a significant potential for a second wave of human tragedy. SBTS Professor and Biloxi native Russell Moore sums it up well, demolishing the logic behind BP Representative Randy Prescott’s flippant remark that there are places in the world other than Louisiana that have shrimp.

We’ve had an inadequate view of human life and culture.

What is being threatened in the Gulf states isn’t just seafood or tourism or beach views. What’s being threatened is a culture. As social conservatives, we understand…or we ought to understand…that human communities are formed by traditions and by mores, by the bond between the generations. Culture is, as Russell Kirk said, a compact reaching back to the dead and forward to the unborn. Liberalism wants to dissolve those traditions, and make every generation create itself anew; not conservatism.

Every human culture is formed in a tie with the natural environment. In my hometown, that’s the father passing down his shrimping boat to his son or the community gathering for the Blessing of the Fleet at the harbor every year. In a Midwestern town, it might be the apple festival. In a New England town, it might be the traditions of whalers or oystermen. The West is defined by the frontier and the mountains. And so on.

When the natural environment is used up, unsustainable for future generations, cultures die. When Gulfs are dead, when mountaintops are removed, when forests are razed with nothing left in their place, when deer populations disappear, cultures die too.

And what’s left in the place of these cultures and traditions is an individualism that is defined simply by the appetites for sex, violence, and piling up stuff. That’s not conservative, and it certainly isn’t Christian.

You can read the rest of Moore’s essay at The Christian Post.

From a story in the New York Times about the St. Cono Day procession in a Brooklyn neighborhood now overrun by hipsters.

As a little more than 100 people and a brass band accompanied the saint’s statue through the neighborhood, onlookers were sparse. Younger residents in cafes barely looked up, or stopped to take a picture, but nothing more. There used to be small altars honoring the saint set up in front of old houses. Now, entire families in new condos stood behind their windows and looked curiously down onto the street.

The sight of the police’s closing off Graham Avenue to traffic piqued Chris Tocco’s curiosity. The procession itself was puzzling.

“It was a tiny parade, and they shut down Graham Avenue?” said Mr. Tocco, 26, an actor. “There was one float and a horrible marching band. It was very ironic. The Latino parades are more festive.”

Two young people standing on the sidewalk looked a little puzzled after one of the faithful sold them a prayer card featuring the saint. “It seems very old school,” said one of the onlookers, Jon McGrath, 27. “It’s kind of like a vestige of the old neighborhoods of Brooklyn.”

[…]

Which is not to say the newcomers do not relate to saints, just in a different way. Inside an old storefront, Jack Szarapka was going over preparations for a juice bar he was about to open. In one window, a statute of St. Francis Xavier towered over a patch of wheatgrass.

The statue, he said, was owned by his landlord and business partner, who grew up in the area. They had hauled it down from a stairwell and put it in the window. They might — or not — name the place the Saint Francis Xavier Juice Bar. “We have a collection of odd things in here,” he said. “This is another odd thing. We have bottles for a lamp fixture, found objects.”

Ironic? Sigh.

Just to let you know, I have two other blogs. I know this demonstrates hubris on my part, that I would even think that I have enough thoughts in my head to generate three blogs worth of work (heck, I only average a post a week here), but the other two exist so as  to keep the clutter here to a minimum.

The first of the others, Bone Saved, averages two posts a month (though not even all of those are substantial). It’s my considerations of American popular religion. I had much higher hopes for this when I started it, and I would love for this to become a group blog.

The second, Etude in V, is new. It’s more or less a personal musical listening archive.

(I thought I’d borrow Serge‘s posting style)

From Fr. Ernesto:

To me hobbits are a wonderful picture of holiness in daily life. No, they are not perfect. But, they are mostly content. They live their lives in simple joy, carrying out their family duties generation after generation, faithful to their families and to the land. They are not worried about massive acts of asceticism, neither do they write long theological tomes. They are not the “great” of the land, nor are they pictured that way. But, they are a people of faithfulness and promise-keeping. They are committed to each other and their community.

But, when the time of testing comes, the hobbit turns out to be much more than what one expects. Their life of quiet family holiness, of consistency and of promise keeping, stand them in good stead when great evil befalls them. It is their actions during the time of great testing that is the proof of their quiet holiness.

If only we could all be Hobbits.

From Arturo:

In my life as a Catholic, it has veritably all been a game of “the more you know, the less you know”. You go through most of your life thinking that such-and-such is traditional, only to find out that it is less than a hundred years old: a drop in the bucket in the vast well of human history. The obsession of the Catholic Church, even prior to Vatican II, was an obsession for novelty, which was often compensation for the shame Catholic scholarship felt before that bitch goddess we know today as “historical scholarship”. Having not paid attention to what was really thought and believed, we found that what we had been doing and saying for centuries was all the fruit of novelty. And the only anecdote for novelty was more novelty. God forbid that we should actually stay the course.

What Arturo goes on to discuss is the evolution of Thomistic thought in the Catholic Church, a discussion that is about five levels above my pay grade, but his initial point certainly rings true, both in the traditional communions and in the lowest of the low church traditions: what we label as traditional Anglicanism is actually the work of 19th century Anglo-Catholic tract writers and the 1928 BCP, and many of those in the Orthodox convert movement are guilty of mistaking pious practices that aren’t that old in the grand scheme of things as dogma; in the low church arena, what is considered traditional Baptist practice is mostly the codification of 1920s and 1930s fundamentalist reaction to modernity and Pentecostalism, with Pentecostalism itself being barely a century old. Old time religion, indeed.

From Peter Leithart:

Marjorie Garber argues that our view of Romeo and Juliet has been altered by contemporary trends and events.  Romeo has become the standard American high school Shakespeare play, and some of its themes and sensibility were taken up by the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.

As a result, the play ends up being part of the framework for our interpretation of the play: Romeo affected our conceptions of love, especially young love, and our conceptions of generational differences, and we now read the play in the light of those conceptions.

Literary mores become social mores, creating an interpretive echo chamber; what was tragic and foolhardy (albeit an elegant observation) in the 1600s seems like the obvious end result to kids who would otherwise be reading novels about a teenage girl lusting after an undead centenarian with a glitter problem.