Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Be, not do"?

That comes from a popular devotional blog for women. A good friend of mine shared a post from it on Facebook yesterday. It caught my attention because I think it's trying to make a good moral point and missing the target by just a tiny bit.

Here is the meme from the top of the post:

I'm on record as a fan of Catholic Romanticism and that image is something very close to it that is sometimes called Romantic Catholicism (it makes a positive difference if our Catholicism defines our Romanticism as opposed to the other way around). And it's almost good solid virtue ethics—as opposed to the rule-driven ethics that has been the curse of Catholic morality, both liberal and traditional. There is a lot to like here. And there's even more to like in the body of the post.

It begins by accurately identifying a real and significant problem with our moral culture.
An incessant to-do list runs in the back of my mind, and I’m constantly finding myself flitting from one task to another. Even pausing to enjoy entertainment is a struggle against the pull to be useful, so typically you’ll find me folding laundry while watching TV or scrubbing dishes as I listen to a podcast. Kill two birds with one stone, right? 
Our culture’s blaring message of BE PRODUCTIVE and TAKE ACTION are constantly nagging me. In and of themselves, they aren’t bad, but when my accomplishments define my value and vocation, that’s when I know something is wrong.
"When my accomplishments define my value and vocation". That's a profound and radical critique of the morality of our age. And notice that it's not a critique of a narcissistic and empty consumer morality. This is a criticism of what morally serious people teach their children. The people who think that our accomplishments define our value and vocation think of themselves as good. That is rather Jesus-like in spirit.

The writer, her name is Sarah Ortiz and you can see her blog here, has bravely challenged some of our moral pieties. And I think she is right on target. The word "duty" appears nowhere in the article but the kind of morality she identifies is one that is built on duty. The tasks she is struggling to perform above—washing dishes and folding laundry—are her duties. But did you notice what is competing with them? The answer is watching TV and listening to podcasts.. Those are harmless enough activities but they are pretty empty. If you're alternating between duties you hate and mere distractions, you have a big problem at both ends of the scale.

The solution she proposes is that we be servants to one another. She does that on the basis of a pretty dodgy interpretation of today's Gospel reading, which you can find at the link.

Magical thinking versus theology

The thing that's missing here is a realization that is we are our actions. They are the only measure of who you are and what you are becoming. Yes, grace is giving you the ability to do but what you do is sine non qua: we are called to be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

I think this is hard because really embracing this requires us to care a whole lot about what we want to be and that can look like selfishness. Indeed, we are surrounded by people and institutions who work non stop to convince us that our most important moral task, growing in the likeness of God, is mere selfishness. To succeed, we have to set aside what our parents wanted us to be, what our bosses want us to be, what the beauty industry wants us to be and what the entertainment industry—including Catholic mommy blogs—wants us to be and think seriously about what we want us to be. Jesus taught us to be servants to be sure but he taught us that was the way to be first, that was the way to be a leader.

The measure that we are on the right track is happiness in the sense of flourishing. We are to aspire to happiness and that begins now. There are limitations to what we can achieve in this life but there is much we can do within those limitations. We are not taught to wait and suffer patiently until that great day when we are magically made whole. If the plot line of salvation you're working on in any way resembles the one where the heroine debases herself in front of others so that one day her fairy godmother will make it possible to go to the ball where a beautiful Prince will fall in love with her then you believe in a silly superstition and not Catholic Christianity.

Our faith is not magic but hard and real and sensible. Here is the meme from above with two slight, but crucial corrections:
Our value is in who we are created to become, not in what our sense of duty tells us we should do.

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