Friday, April 23, 2010

Congratulations Tim Tebow!

To mark the occasion of the Florida Gators' football quarterback Tim Tebow being drafted yesterday to the Denver Broncos in the first round of the NFL draft, here is a link to an earlier post (Tim Tebow and a Special Date) that serves to remind us of the truly decent character he seems to possess.

Congratulations Tim! Congratulations, as well, to his parents for raising up a genuinely good and virtuous man. Let's hope that he continues providing this sort of example of real manhood as he moves into the NFL.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Formation in Noble, Dignified Relationships Between the Sexes: The Power of Example

In my previous post, I embedded a video clip of a couple dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires. I praised this clip because it manifests a pleasing compatibility between the music and the dance.

Here is the clip again.

In watching this particular couple dance in this video, I realize that I love this clip for another reason: it is a wonderful example of the civilizing and freeing virtue of chastity (i.e. that virtue which makes possible a noble, healthy, dignified relationship between men and women, enabling them to be passionate with each other without demeaning their value as whole, integral, unique persons who ought never be used but should always be authentically loved).

As I was looking for video clips of ballroom dancers, I noticed that the apparel worn by professional women dancers frequently makes the woman into a sex object. Their attire is often hyper-sexualized and emphasizes the woman's sexual attractiveness in an overly aggressive way as though the most important thing about the female dancer were her sexual desirability and everything else were of little significance.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not a prude, and I am not against female dancers appearing attractive and beautiful! But there is a difference between respecting the dignity of a woman as a whole person and lowering her to the level of a mere sex object to be gawked at. The latter demeans the woman and encourages men to look upon her as something less than a whole person to be respected and loved as a whole person--soul, mind, heart, body--reducing her to a body only.

As I watched this clip from Argentina, it struck me how this couple's dancing shows that it is possible to do the Tango in a way that is sensual and romantic, without becoming hyper-sexualized. The way they dance manifests a beautiful and subtle sensuality, revealing through their movement a little something of the enchanting spark that lives in the mystery of the attraction between the sexes. But, their dance does not reduce this mystery to mere animal attraction. They remain fully human; noble and dignified, even as they are passionate. I love this about the way they dance.

Wouldn't it be an awesome thing if boys, from a young age, were to consistently see the men around them treat the women in their lives this way? What if this were the normal example? If a boy were to see his father, uncles, older brothers, etc., act always with this sort of class and dignity around women, he would be given the gift of a powerful formation in the beautiful freedom of chastity even before any words were spoken. Then he, too, might one day dance a Tango as beautiful as this.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fittingness of One Art Form to Antother: A Need for Greater Artistic Compatibility on DWTS

I don't regularly get to watch it, but when I do, I enjoy watching Dancing With the Stars (DWTS for those initiated). The show seems to have done a lot to spur a resurgence in the popularity of more traditional couples dancing. My father teaches ballroom, and many young adults as well as folks a little older have taken lessons from him in the last few years. I danced a little bit myself when I was younger.

Despite the positive aspects of the show, I have one bone to pick with DWTS. It pertains to how they match music and dance together. I am not enthusiastic about some of their music choices for particular dance routines (and I understand that the dancers do not pick the music so they have to work with what they are given). Sometimes, the style of the music does not coordinate well with the dance style.

The effect, especially if you have an idea of what the more traditional music sounds like, can be oddly incongruous. It can seem like the dancing and the music have no significant connection with each other. By contrast, the music that is traditional for the various dance styles is traditional because it fits so well with the movement of the dance. The dance movement and the music developed together and they correspond well--one could say they were made for each other (indeed, the type of music and the type of dance have the same name; e.g. "rumba" is both a dance and a type of music). And not only does the dance movement fit well with the traditional music of the same name, the "personality" of the dance, also, is very harmonious with the character of its music.

I understand that DWTS wants, and needs, to be contemporary for the sake of a young audience that was not raised on the music of Bossa Nova, Tango, etc. However, I do think it would be possible to find better contemporary music choices than some of the choices they have made. Whether the music is traditional or not, it needs to be compatible, even better--well fitted--to both the movement of the dance and the characteristic "personality" of each dance. Otherwise, we viewers have to endure watching something with our eyes that does not fit with what we are hearing with our ears.

This basic artistic principle, the need for a proper compatibility between the experience of what is happening visually on the one hand and the experience of the music that is meant to accompany it on the other, is something that has been honed to a fine art by musicians who compose and direct music for film. They are masters at matching visual (physical) form with musical form. DWTS could do better at this. Perhaps they should get some tips from composers who write music for the visual medium of film.

But, then, perhaps they do this mismatching deliberately because it tends to make a terrible lack of rhythm in a celebrity dancer much less obvious to the average viewer.

Here are two videos of the same type of dance to demonstrate what I mean. They are both Tango dances.

In this clip from DWTS, Apolo Ohno (celebrity) and Juilianne Hough (dance pro) dance to music that is definitely not Tango music. The dance begins at 1:47. They dance pretty well, but the music and the dance just do not go well together and the overall effect is thereby much diminished.

Now, here is a clip of a couple dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires, to Tango music. What a difference! To my eyes (and ears) this one is far superior because the dance and the music are harmonious. It is also striking to see the beauty of a dance like this in the context of its native cultural home.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Imitating Christ: Uniting Exhortation With Suffering Solidarity

Here is an aspect of suffering that every Christian with the help of God is called to embrace and that seems to be especially rejected today: the interior spiritual, psychological, and emotional suffering that accompanies being closely involved with other human beings who at times fail us, who sometimes hurt us, who fall short of what they are called to be and yet not turning our backs on them, not walling them off from the deepest core of our own selves (and without giving up on their potential). It is a suffering we often do not appreciate, and that I all-too-often fail to embrace.

There are two poles of this type of suffering, two places or roles in a human relationship that feel let down. First, is the person himself. When we ourselves fail to do what we should (if we want to become better persons), we are sad and experience suffering as we realize our own failings. This is the suffering of Saint Peter, “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Lk 22:61b-62) These are our tears too. Second, is the suffering of one who loves us, who because of his love wants us to become the best version of ourselves we can be, as he realizes our failings. This is the suffering of Jesus, who loved Peter, in the very same scene, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Lk 22:61a) And imagine the human disappointment of Jesus when his friends fell asleep instead of remaining awake with him on the eve of his passion, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40b) But, despite this pain of disappointment, notice that Jesus did not give up on them, he still called them on to a nobler life. And neither did he pull away from being close to them.

This pertains to a dual calling that Christ modeled for us, the entering into which is a source of a hidden interior suffering to which we are especially averse. It is the calling to strive (in accord with our vocation and gifts) to inspire others to an ever-deeper faith, to an ever-deeper embrace of the highest ideal of what it is to be human, united with another call to a special personal solidarity with others—that is, of joining in compassionate union with others as they suffer in the realization they are not all that they should be (as do we in regard to ourselves). It is less challenging to focus on only one or the other facet of this dual calling than to hold both harmoniously together. I might be good, for example, at the former—at reminding others of the high bar that Christ has set and has invited us to attain with His help. Or, I may be good at the latter—of accompanying others in a union of one heart to another when they are saddened by the lack of their own progress (giving them the consoling presence of a compassionate and empathetic soul). But we are called by Christ to strive to embrace both in our relationships. This is very challenging, requires the help of grace, and brings into our lives yet another of the many faces of suffering.

Not uniting both together in ourselves—not navigating well the dual calling of Christ both to inspire others and to share in the interior burdens that accompany personal failings—is not to be an evil person. It is, rather, to miss a significant opportunity to become more like Christ. And it is a lost opportunity that I believe is especially common today. Perhaps one reason for this is the tendency of popular culture to recoil immediately against any form of interior psychological and emotional pain. Now, wanting to alleviate such pain is not a bad thing. But trying to live life as though it were possible to eliminate all psychological and emotional torment within ourselves or others is a recipe for despair.

I am reminded of this challenge by occasions where a religious leader (or any authority figure) preaches an exhortation to his flock to be better and more faithful Christians. The message is bracing, and, as far as it goes, matches the doctrine of Christ. But apart from the leader’s preaching, in his personal relationships with his flock, he demonstrates a significant lack of compassion—he has no heart to come close to those souls who want to heed his challenging words but who often fail and thus suffer a hidden inner pain because of this failure. They look for an understanding soul who will continue to inspire them but while doing so might also join them side-by-side as they walk the path of their interior crosses of unmet expectations. In other words, we want to continue to uplift each other as fellow disciples of Christ, but we also want to be able to have a meaningful brotherhood together as we share the journey in all its aspects—its failures and sufferings as well as its triumphs. Incredibly, this is what Jesus did with His followers.

Where in the Gospels do we see Jesus modeling for us this dual calling? In many places. But here are some that come strongly to mind for me: Jesus’ loving look at Peter just after Peter denied Him three times (which I mentioned above), paired with Jesus’ tender post-resurrection encounter with Peter on the shore (“Do you love me?” Jesus asked three times. And He responded to Peter, “Feed my lambs”; “Tend my sheep”; “Feed my sheep,” ending with, “Follow me.” [Jn 21:15-19]); and Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery (See Jn 8:2-11, Jesus asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And she responded, “No one, Lord,” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Note in this scene the beautiful union in Jesus of the look of love, of mercy, and yet of gentle exhortation to reform her life.) This should be the image of what we all aspire to be for each other.

Dear Jesus, please grant us the grace to love one another enough to encourage each other gently and hopefully toward ever greater transformation in you. May we do so with humility and mercy, not forgetting justice, never giving up on keeping the fire of love alive in our hearts.

[Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler for her excellent post, Safe Miracles, which inspired this post]

Monday, April 5, 2010

Marriage: Do the Two Really Become One?

The title for this post might conjure up many themes in regard to the unity that is supposed to obtain between a husband and a wife. But right now I want to mention only one (and admittedly not the most important): finances.

It seems to be a growing characteristic among married couples to maintain financial independence from each other after they get married. I see this as a serious problem.

When a man and a woman marry, at least in the Catholic understanding of marriage, the two become one. This does not just pertain to sexual union. Their lives are to be united together in an especially close and intimate way until death--a closeness of unity that is unique to marriage. Each spouse is called to grow, with the help of God's grace, more and more able to give selflessly to the other for the duration of their marriage. They are to form a single home. Without losing their personal dignity (indeed, in a way that enhances their dignity as one who relates deeply and profoundly with another), they belong to each other.

Personally, I do not understand why a couple who truly desire to be united to each other in the sacrament of marriage would plan to deliberately keep their finances apart from each other. Why would one spouse who earns a paycheck not want the other spouse to have access to that money? Why would one spouse think of income as his or her private funds as an individual, rather than theirs--collectively--theirs as a husband-wife union? Are there husbands out there who do not want to support their wives with the money that they earn? Or, if the wife is the primary breadwinner, likewise for them? If there are, I would suggest they either do not truly want to be married, or, they don't understand what marital union truly means.

What is one spouse saying to the other if each one intends to keep his or her money carefully segregated from the other? It's as if they are saying to each other from the start, "I'm committed to you, but not completely. I reserve the right to make it easier for me to break apart and leave. I don't intend, necessarily, to be committed to our union 'til death do us part. I am not committed to unconditional mutual support for each other when it comes to money."

I suspect that the growing practice of cohabitation before marriage contributes to this. Before marriage, a cohabiting couple naturally have independent financial lives. When they marry it is easy for them simply to continue this segregation because they have gotten used to living as though they were married, but without truly being so. Their union was not complete. And so after they marry they are already in a habit of living together but remaining separate financially. They unite, but not fully. They keep a part of themselves back from their union (just as they have already been doing).

But in some respects this is not surprising. Why should a couple who has been cohabiting, and thus become comfortable with living only as a partial union though under the same roof, not be comfortable continuing this same pattern of partial union when they marry? That the "two become one flesh" is now qualified by many footnotes has become accepted long before the marriage vows are made.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jesus Is Risen!

Christ our Savior is Risen!

Thank you, Jesus, for rising from the dead, that we might rise also to a new life in you. May we never neglect or take for granted the incredible gift of the grace of your divine life within us.

Since this man, Jesus Christ, rose from the grave, everything on this earth is different.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thank you, Jesus: Holy Saturday

Thank you, Lord, for opening the gates of heaven for those who could not have known you personally, but who embraced you in their sincere remorse for sin and their desire to live according to the good and the true and the beautiful.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thank you, Jesus: Good Friday

Thank you, Lord, for giving yourself for us on the wood of your Holy Cross--
For redeeming the whole world;
For showing us the depth of your love;
For defeating the power of death;
For revealing to us a glimpse of the inner mystery of divine love as a total gift of self;
For uncovering authentic manhood;
For unleashing new streams of grace into the world, enabling our hearts to be made new so that we might love with a small share of your divine fire.

Thank you, Jesus

On the start of the Holy Triduum, I want to say thank you, Jesus, for giving us the Holy Priesthood. For through your priesthood, we, mere mortal flesh, can receive your sacred Body and Blood. Through your priesthood, we might receive through the channel of a mere man configured by grace to you, grace upon grace, and thus come to have your life coursing through our very souls. Thank you, Jesus!