Something tragic happened to me today. It’s really hard to talk about without getting a little choked up and a bit scared even. Here goes… I bricked my phone. Yep. It’s done. Some hardware issues I’d been limping it along despite finally got the better of it, and my shiny, high tech, artificial intelligence device is no more. Truly horrific. Have no fear though, I’ll be able to get a new one… in 4 – 10 BUSINESS DAYS!!! AAAAAAHHH!
Okay, all joking aside, it’s been a pretty interesting experience already. Now, I’m used to going off the grid in the back-country, or out of the country. I’m comfortable not being connected all the time, but something interesting happened to me today. I’m in Edmonton doing some work and I went out to find a local Best Buy, and I got lost! Lost! Think about that for a minute. When was the last time you didn’t have a pleasant, likely British female voice, and a nice interactive map to tell you not only where to go, but the fastest route, with alternatives for traffic, walking, biking, or public transit.
So, how does one cope with getting lost in today’s world? Well, mostly I wandered around in the area I thought it would be, eventually got sore feet, then gave up and walked back to my hotel. I looked around for a phone booth with a false hope that it might have a phone book in it, but none was to be found (no kidding captain obvious!), and I didn’t pass by any friendly looking strangers to ask directions from.
Okay, now is the point in the story where I make a giant leap to how this connects to living our faith. A couple of days ago Lance posted an article on Facebook asking for thoughts. As I read through it I got more and more sad. Not specifically about the fact that we live in an increasingly secular world that doesn’t see our values as true or attractive, and not that the era of Christendom (Christianity being a dominant cultural force) seems to be more or less over in the west. I’ve lived in countries where Catholic morality was the dominant force, and places where the exact opposite was true, and both had very significant challenges. In fact, I don’t really see the rise of secularism as a threat to our collective faith at all. When I lived in Chile, Catholic culture was predominant. There were processions on feast days, Stations of the Cross enacted throughout the streets of the town I lived in on Good Friday, shops closed on Sunday… a lot of the cultural connections that I’ve witnessed Catholics at home pine for. At the same time, there was a complacency built in. For example, in the Stations of the Cross I was in, people were there, but it was more like a neighborhood block function than a prayer. This is just one example. Eventually that road leads to empty churches, rote catechesis with no real connection to daily life, lack of orthodoxy, and ultimately, as I see it, the end of the passage of faith from generation to generation. Once the faith is gone from the traditions, they start to disappear too, or get altered so as not to really be about the faith anymore. That’s why I’m not scared that secularism will crush the Church. A complacent culture is one you lose, a culture that you have to fight for is one you strengthen.
What I am scared of though is getting lost. As I see it, the rise of secular culture presents us not with a crisis, but a new challenge, and this challenge brings us much closer to the early disciples. The challenge is to be in this world that is apathetic, or even worse, angry and hostile, without the ease of being surrounded by a Catholic culture, and to find our way to meaningful evangelization. It’s tough because the old markers (think phone booths) are gone, and the strangers who we ask for directions might be angry and hostile, and the voice we hope to hear, telling us to turn right in 500m isn’t always loud and clear.
The other thing I’m scared of is getting isolated. I’ll be honest, I have a pretty negative reaction whenever I hear of a Catholic family homeschooling because they don’t like the curriculum or that schools just aren’t Catholic enough. A common mantra I’ve heard in my school division since becoming a teacher is that the only way we’ll lose the right to Catholic education in Alberta is if we give it away. If we withdraw from the system. If we stop producing faith filled teachers. If we stop having parents who will stand up for a strong Catholic culture in the halls and classrooms. If we stop having kids who grow up in strong Catholic homes with the courage to lead or stand apart from their peers (there’s no lack of child and teenage saints who give testament to the fact that young people are capable of this), and parents who are open, frank, and courageous in talking to their kids about the difficulties and rewards of living their faith.
If the Catholic response to the rise of secularism is to go back to our safe little rooms, then we lose our say in our culture, and more importantly, we lose opportunities to walk in the footsteps of the disciples who went out in the world with no map, courageously to the strangers, to share God’s love. I know this is hard. I’m really shy, so the thought of doing that makes my stomach clench, but it’s what we’re called to do. In my wanderings today I got to see this in action. Nothing crazy… just some dude on a bike with a basket who would stop every time he saw a homeless person, offer them some food and water, and have a little chat with them before moving on. He was living a courageous example of God’s love and fighting a culture that says our faith belongs in private, by showing love to people who needed it. No map. No phone. Just courage.