All posts filed under: Culture

Sex and Symbol

I was reared in the cradle of Evangelical Protestantism. I passed from girlhood to womanhood in that world, and during the tumult of puberty an increasing awareness of my unruly female body introduced me to the contested terrain of “womanhood” itself. What is a woman? What is her place? What are her gifts and limits? In an Evangelical context, such discussions and demarcations focused primarily on the concept of roles. What is it that woman is supposed to do? Or, more to the point, what is she not supposed to do? I was something of a tomboy, with bushy eyebrows and generous facial hair. I was competitive, but also tenderhearted. I anthropomorphized everything, in accordance with the stereotypes of my sex, but I enjoyed doing boyish things. I loved sports. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to win. On the sports field, there seemed to be no limits. But lines were drawn starkly in church. A woman’s role, her task, was to be a helpmeet to her husband and care for her children. The …

Our Children Might Return to the Church, but Our Grandchildren Most Likely Won’t

It is no surprise that the children of the Church are growing up and growing out of Church. What is surprising is that they are not returning. Worse still, they are not bringing their children. A priest once told me that he was not worried about kids going to college and starting their careers out of the Church, because eventually they too would have kids and that that is when they would return. That way of thinking about Church attendance and growth just won’t do anymore. The problem is not just that the Church is hemorrhaging in attendance[1]; rather, the underlying problem, the reason why church association is hemorrhaging is that the American church has consistently communicated to the younger generations that their formation, membership, and involvement is worth less than that of their parents, who by the way have the money. I am routinely surprised by how often we suppose that children are too uneducated, too unsophisticated to understand the depth of faith. Having grown up in a fairly anti-intellectual tradition, I came to …

Whose Liturgy? What Sacrifice?

James K.A. Smith’s cultural liturgies project has concluded with his volume on political theology, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. In the three volumes, Smith makes an argument about the formative nature of Christian liturgical prayer. From the beginning of the project, Smith founds his liturgical theology of culture in an Augustinian anthropology: we are what we love. While secular culture has done an adept job at forming us in rites that shape our desires and imaginations (including shopping malls), Reformed Christianity has focused primarily on developing a worldview through an intellectual formation carried out in the Christian college or university. Smith argues that Christian education must turn away from an exclusive focus on the formation of the intellect to an approach grounded in liturgical practice. If we are what we love, then we need to cultivate those practices that shape the human imagination to love God and neighbor well. The first volume of the cultural liturgies project (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation) established the anthropological basis of the argument, focusing on the manner …

A Process of Evangelization in San Miguel of Guatemala

This essay makes a contribution to the sociology of evangelism or evangelization by first clarifying the basic concepts of proselytism, church growth, conversion, and spiritual transformation. The essay will use the example of a Guatemalan parish, which uses the SINE program (Sistema Integral de Nueva Evangelización). SINE was created by Fr. Alfonso Navarro of Mexico in the early 1980s.[1] The SINE program is followed by more than a thousand parishes in Central America, Mexico, and the South of the United States. Let me begin with a question of terminology. Evangelism is understood as the desire to evangelize, while evangelization is taken as the process, strategy, and structure of evangelizing. This distinction was formulated by the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974.[2] In practice, many Protestants use the term evangelism as both the desire to evangelize and as the process of evangelizing, while Catholics often use evangelization for both. For the purpose of clarification and scholarly ecumenism, I will use evangelism as the desire to evangelize and evangelization as a structure, in …

Forming Lifelong Disciples through Developmentally-Responsive Catechesis

A pressing question in the area of faith formation today is whether or not we are indeed forming people for a lifelong practice of the faith and celebration of the sacraments. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 42% of adults in the United States have left the faith of their childhood. In the book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell points out that the lack of attachment to one’s childhood faith is particularly significant among Catholics.[1] She cites an earlier Pew study that showed only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still attending Mass at least once a month. A number of parish catechetical leaders also report declining enrollment in their parish religious education classes for age levels that are not sacramental years, suggesting that perhaps parents are perceiving less value in the curriculum offered by the parish program in non-sacramental years. In addition, parish leaders continue to be frustrated that even the families who are involved in the parish religious education program often seem to treat it as one …

Christian Education and Residence Life

I woke up one Friday morning to shouts and pounding at my door. It was just before 6am, and I leapt out of bed and stumbled across my apartment, opening the door to find two frantic women from Building Services. They informed me that a resident had gotten sick and clogged his sink, accidentally leaving the water running for hours: it had flooded his room and the entire hallway outside of it. “I’m not even on duty!” I remember thinking. Welcome to Spring Break 2016. We Christians have been living in community since the very beginning. The Acts of the Apostles describes the first community of Christian believers, telling us that they “were of one heart and soul, and no one said any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Various forms of monasticism arose in the first four centuries, with St. Benedict of Nursia laying down his Rule around 530 AD. Today, we find scattered throughout the globe not only monasteries but parishes, schools, Small Christian Communities …

Jesus in the Movies: Challenges of Cinematizing the Gospels

If, therefore, the Son of God became man, taking the form of a servant, and appearing in man’s nature, a perfect man, why should His image not be made?[1] Gregory of Nyssa’s question has provoked myriad artists in the successive centuries since the advent of the God-man into answering. The Incarnation proffers an invitation to the artist; the invisible Godhead has deigned to become drawable: come and draw. With new advances in artistic technology, artists have sought to represent Jesus in each nascent medium. As photography developed, artists shot tableaux of actors in costume, recreating Gospel scenes with their static bodies.[2] When photographs began to move, religious movies were some of the first subjects: The Horitz Passion Play (1897) and Passion Play of Oberammergau (1898).[3] When talkies exploded onto the scene with The Jazz Singer in 1927, a whole new dimension of the movie-going element appeared. With all new technology comes new challenges, and the challenge presented to movies remained: how could an artist turn moving photographs of the natural world into images of incarnate …

The New Evangelization in Suburban Detroit: A Sociological Case Study

In response to Pope John Paul II’s call for Catholics to implement a New Evangelization (NE) in order to revitalize the Church, parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have been attempting to implement the NE through the day-to-day efforts of parishioners, lay leaders, and pastors. In particular, beginning around 1992 and gaining momentum from around 2005 to at least 2012, evangelization committees increasingly have been formed in Detroit parishes as part of the broad push of the Catholic Church’s efforts at the NE. Among church leaders, professionals, and academics, it is often taken as common sense that if new ideas or policies need to be implemented, then they should set about the task of informing people through educational efforts. Yet field observations and the theorists I draw upon point in another direction. Rather than educational or implementation efforts guided primarily by rational communication and bureaucratic procedures, I observed affective/emotional communication and practices as more accessible, more widely shared, and as a more effective means of evangelization. In the case study that follows, participant observational methods …

Her Spell on Them Remains: A Father, A Son, and Notre Dame

In the year 2000, I took part in the Universal Notre Dame Celebration on a warm May morning in Washington. It began with the celebration of Mass in a function room of the Capitol Hill Hyatt and followed with brunch and an enthusiastic talk by assistant to the president Lou Nanni. I was surprised that the event concluded with the singing of the Alma Mater. The singing was a bit ragged, but everyone knew the words well enough to sing and I found myself deeply affected by the words and melody, as I always am. We sang the Alma Mater at my father’s funeral in December of 1993. I did not know for sure at the time that Notre Dame had an Alma Mater, one that was still in use, at any rate, but when I received word of Dad’s death, I knew that he would want it sung, if it existed, on this occasion. So I walked over to the house owned by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the Berkeley hills to …

How to Talk to Young People about the Dangers of Pornography

As pornography becomes increasingly pervasive, the distinct divide between sacred image and profane picture is threatened; increasingly erotic images have less and less shock value. The previously middle ground between the two poles has been hijacked by “soft-core” pornography, which according to society, should no longer offend.[1] The day-to-day life of the modern person is fraught with pornographic images, as sacred or beautiful images, along with neutral images, are pushed out of the mind. What effect does this change in vision’s scenery cause in the human person, especially in the young child and adolescent? How can today’s parents, educators, and catechists properly form young children so that they might not fall prey to pornography? Theologians from Christianity’s beginnings have expressed the power found in viewing both icons and idols, and have much to say to today’s modern situation. A Christian understanding of idols, icons, images, and the transformative power of vision can uncover new tools for catechizing on pornography by closely examining the unique role that vision plays in the formation of the human self. …