Perhaps the most personally enlightening moment of this last election season came a few weeks before ballots were cast. A friend’s church was having a “living room” meeting to discuss the election and concerns particular to Christians in light of the candidates. I attended as a frustrated but willing to learn listener. What I found over the course of the evening were Christians who were frustrated with a broken system and who were trying to think ahead . . . not just to the November ballot but to ten or twenty years down the road when the current two-party system might be obsolete. They saw themselves as laying some kind of long-term foundation that might benefit their children and churches decades from now. But that meant something of a break with the system as it stands today.
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I’ve been thinking about “the Benedict Option” as articulated by Rod Dreher for some time (mostly since reading this post). The quote that Dreher takes from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue draws a parallel between ancient and contemporary situations that point to the need to redraw some lines, rethink some tactics, as culture shifts and changes. Events like that “living room meeting” or even the events of this past weekend remind me of that quote:
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.
What is the best way to react to the times in which we find ourselves, whatever those times may be? At what point to you take a step and decide to direct your energies elsewhere? This is true, of course, for more than just life after an election. (And let’s not kid ourselves. Most of us, regardless of who we voted for, need to have a good and long think about what we do next.) And it’s true for more than just a nation: it’s true for cities and schools and churches and anyone figuring out how to make a way through the world. From MacIntyre:
What they set themselves to achieve instead often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.
MacIntyre published those words in 1981, which means we’ve been off our guard for a long time. Whatever the cure for what ails us might be, it would include civility and an intellectual and moral life that includes a virtuous tradition.
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I’ve been trying to process lots of thoughts on multiple levels for a while now. As a citizen, for sure. But also as a member of a church, as a teacher at a school, as a son and a brother, as a friend, as someone who loves stories both read and performed, as someone frail and fallible but also in some way responsible. Culture matters. Ideas matter. People matter. And the reality in which we find ourselves (and the eyes we have to see that reality) matters.
I still plan on posting previews for The Flash and trailers for upcoming movies that have my attention. I still plan on posting the best of the four-color funnies throughout the week (and particularly on Sundays). But I’m also going to start loading this site with quotes and reflections about the space and time in which we find ourselves. I’ll tag these entries as “2017” until I think of something better. If you see something that piques your interest, please comment and let me know.
(image from xmito.com)