Monday, October 24, 2011

Welcome to the Culture

Once upon a time, when CatholicExchange.com had a Theology of the Body section, this article of mind had a home on the Internet. Now that the site is down, I thought I would reintroduce it to the web:

A couple of friends and I spent the first autumn-like Saturday evening strolling through the tiny town of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, clutching our pumpkin spice lattes to keep warm. The quaint town’s windy road, general store and 1950s pick-up trucks made me feel as if I had landed on the set of the Andy Griffith Show.

We meandered away from the live folk music played under a string of light bulbs on a small wooden outdoor stage, and spent 20 minutes in complete silence, praying, thinking and enjoying the clusters of sparkling stars above us.

Eventually we returned to the music, standing by a towering bonfire in order to feel warmth in the crisp, cool evening. Feelings of the days of yesteryear were jolted to reality by one brief conversation next to the fire.

“Do you ladies feel it’s difficult to find men who are your equal?” a 57-year-old woman asked, beginning a conversation none of us were expecting to have.

As we laughed, one of my friends asked, “What do you mean by that?”

The woman explained, “I have two daughters your age, and I was just discussing this with someone else. With women your age making more money these days, do you find it difficult to find men who are in your economic bracket?”

We were caught off guard. Since the three of us are engaged either in ministry work or in full-time studies, our economic bracket doesn’t pose much of a challenge.

Even more importantly, money doesn’t typically land on the top of our lists when considering what makes a man marriageable. One friend summarized, “That’s not really a problem for us, since we don’t make lots of money, but I find the equality issue is the case with other things.”

The woman seemed intrigued, fascinated that something other than one’s salary could elicit “three single women here tonight by yourselves.” Rather than begin a conversation on our desire for “equality” in faith and morals, one girl joked, “So, are there a lot of men in Rabbit Hash?”

Our new acquaintance quickly replied, “I found one.”

The three of us “aww’ed” in chorus, as she gestured to the man behind her. She must have met her husband here years ago, we all thought. We asked, “Are you from here originally?”

“No, I’m from Lexington, but I drove up today with a friend and we stopped at this man’s farm, and …. I think I’m in love.”

Speechless for a few moments, my friends attempted to say something, “Congratulations” was offered tentatively, as was, “That’s nice.”

The stranger around the campfire continued, “I’ve been divorced for four and a half years. I’m so happy now. And he’s really cute.”

With that, she walked away. Moments later she was in the arms of said man, both commenting along with their mutual friend about their excitement over their relationship.

Suddenly, it didn’t feel like we were in Mayberry anymore. In fact, our encounter with the 57-year-old Lexington woman jolted me to the reality of today’s culture. Money matters most. Love is just a feeling. Marriage isn’t indissoluble.

Fr. J. Brian Bransfield writes in his new book, The Human Person According to John Paul II, about the “perfect storm” that has caused a severe identity crisis for our world. With the swirling together of the Industrial Revolution (I am what I produce), the Sexual Revolution (I am what pleasure I obtain) and the Technological Revolution (I am getting things quickly), we have a new view of the identity of the human person.

In today’s world, one’s identity is viewed in terms of getting pleasure quickly. Despite the quaint backdrop of Rabbit Hash, our new acquaintance was a clear example of today’s vision of identity. Her focus on “economic equality,” and readiness to tell perfect strangers that she was “in love” with a man she had known for a few hours was the perfect – though painful in its eloquence – example of the human person getting pleasure quickly.

But that’s not the end of the story. Though the three of us never spoke about God, or explained Theology of the Body, or gave her a chastity talk, I suspect that we are not the only ones walking away confused. Clearly, seeing three young adults content without a date, without an overflowing wallet and without apparent concern for any of this was shocking.

The confidence of an identity rooted in being a child of God and the knowledge that love is a true commitment to will the good of the other, not an elusive feeling to chase, were just as surprising to this woman as her newfound “love” was to us. The bonfire encounter was a clash of cultures and identities. Our answer to the question, “Who am I?” can be glimpsed in our decisions, attitudes and desires.

Before leaving Rabbit Hash on that particular evening, we witnessed two proposals involving men fumbling for rings on the stage. One man asked his soon-to-be fiancĂ©e to hold his beer while he fished for the ring. Both proposals ended in a “yes,” sealed with much hugging and kissing before fading into the crowd. “Love is in the air in Rabbit Hash,” said the emcee.

No matter what each individual believed his identity was, each was searching for love, and each was created by God to be His son or daughter, receiving this gift before giving to others a love rooted in God’s. Despite the seeming allure of obtaining pleasure quickly, this countercultural message is the identity that will lead to happiness and bear fruit that will last. In the clash of cultures that occurred that night, the present ideology met what is hopefully the future in a setting of the past.

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