Monday, September 17, 2007

Rootless, de facto ecumenism?

I don't know.

The area where I live and work seems to have a high number of churches. A lot of them are fairly small, so maybe there's not much to be said about the local demographics. One in particular I pass on my workday commute is a Church of God. They recently put up a sign advertizing something that I think is supposed to become a regular event, a Friday night fish fry.

Fish fry? Did they get a Knights of Columbus chapter recently?

Sorry, I don't mean to make light of it. It just seemed a peculiarly Catholic thing to be doing. On the bigger blogs you can read about how in various places in Protestantism, the groups that have rejected the various sacraments eventually come around to replacing them with pale imitations of sacraments. You could probably even make that argument for the end-of-October "harvest festivals" that replace Halloween, which categorize all the macabre and supernatural stuff as demonic and opt for a merely pagan celebration, are trying to get back to the idea that material creation itself is good, after having flirted at times (and in some cases more) with such things as puritanism.

So, some protestant circles are looking back to some of the older practices that are definitely Catholic, but perhaps predate some of the troubles that led to the Reformation, or at least have some antique historical continuity and were neglected by those outside of the institutional Church.

Even with the vaguest hand-waving explanations, though, I can't see how a Friday night fish fry really fits. Is it just one of those things that has worked its way into our culture that they're trying to make a special event out of, the way the KoC does as a fundraiser/service for all the Catholics in town who would be eating fish at home anyway? I'm having trouble buying the idea that it's just a nice thing the Catholics do that they want to adopt, the way some are starting to adopt the rosary or the Stations of the Cross. Sure, we eat fish on Fridays because we abstain from other meats as a penance, fine, but you can fast or abstain whenever you want, and even though Good Friday is an obvious good model to follow, how do you get from there to communal fish cooking events?

No idea. I'm not criticizing, mind you; I have a feeling that I'm going to come off as a little incredulous, but I don't mean it that way. It's just puzzled me these otherwise fairly dull few weeks, so here I am, mentally masturbating over it.

Actually, speaking of dull, something that isn't is the near-death of my main computer. I hope to replace the hard drive, which I've managed more or less to back up, but it's well past its prime so I mean to relegate it to travel use only. I hope to get a new one maybe this weekend; we'll see how things hold out. So...posting might be even more sparse than usual for a while yet.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Subway Hero

On January second of this year, Wesley Autrey jumped onto the tracks of a New York subway to save a man who had collapsed and fallen from the platform. Autrey, for his part, was rather modest about the whole thing; writing off any assertions that he did something remarkable, he visited the man in the hospital and went back to work.

Charles Colson's article at CERC makes a point I want to elaborate on a little:

While Autrey didn’t think that his actions were spectacular, other people did. At a time when most of the news is disheartening, Autrey’s actions inspired millions of people. Americans have become jaundiced and skeptical. We need heroes every now and then, a role model — and that’s what Autrey has become.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing that your actions might be considered objectively heroic because you put yourself at risk to accomplish something. In a way it's doubly heroic to do so under the assumption that saving lives is just what you're supposed to do, "I'm just doing my job, ma'am" cliches aside. When I first read the article, I was thinking it was kind of sad if we're so jaded that a small act of heroism can really inspire millions of people, if only briefly. Not that saving a man's life is small--Autrey's actions just made me speculate in that direction. Then I thought, while it might be sad in some ways that an isolated act of heroism by an ordinary person is newsworthy for seeming unusual, it's also great that we can inspire people at all with the most basic gestures of human charity, how natural it is for us to make some effort to help someone who really needs it and to make us all feel a little less lost, how easy it is to be made a little more willing to do something good for others in the future, even if it's just for a little while.

How often do we become disheartened because we look at the heroic actions of others and think "I could never do as much good as they do?" We never should. Most of us won't ever have an opportunity to make a single grand gesture of heroism, to save one life and inspire a million others in one fell swoop. It doesn't mean, though, that we can't make a difference. Most of us have our heroic moment smeared out into a million tiny events throughout our lives where we make a difference in the lives of a handful of people at a time. We may not get to take the mantle of inspiration and wear it in front of more people than we've directly helped (if even them), to serve as an example to everyone, but we can still help people around us, and still be a good example to them.