When the Greatest Gift is No Gift

          Conversation starters generally take the form of, “How are you?”  “What’s going on?”  “Good to see you!”  But when one is pregnant, the most common conversation starter is: “How are you feeling?”  It stems from a genuine concern for that person’s well-being, I believe.

          I am overjoyed to be on the receiving end of that question once again.  Although I have been grateful for each of my previous pregnancies, never have I been so grateful to be pregnant..  This time, however, I have been given a great gift, the gift of perspective.

          Prior to this pregnancy, I had experienced a year of infertility.  As much as I wanted another child, I believe that God wanted to teach me a lesson I would not soon forget:  He is the author of all human life, and He alone determines when that gift will be given and when that life on earth will end.  Of course, I was aware of that fact before the infertility.  But there’s a difference between knowing something and experiencing it.

          After going through the experience of infertility, the experience of pregnancy is completely different.  Oh sure, I still have all the nausea, discomforts, aches, and pains.  It may even be worse this time than ever before because I’m older.  But I am embracing all of that with open arms this time around.

          No longer do I yearn for my due date, feeling that time is passing slowly because I’m counting down the weeks.  Oh, no!  I’m savoring every minute of this pregnancy.  Every precious minute.  I’m much more cognizant of how temporary it is… and how soon it will pass.  And, yes, I’m painfully aware of the reality that it may be my last pregnancy, considering that I’m nearing the end of typical child-bearing years.

          With this renewed perspective, I rejoice in every little kick and movement of my baby.  There is nothing in the world like the feeling of life within you.  Even the memory of it pales in comparison to actually experiencing it here and now.  It’s a miracle in every sense.  I am thrilled to have my baby with me wherever I go, whatever I do.  There is no separation, no good-bye – even just to go to a different room!  There is only togetherness – all of the time.  Oh, what bliss.  Mother and baby are made for this togetherness.  It is truly a foreshadowing and taste of Heaven, where there will be no separation or good-byes.

          Pregnancy is a gift, a wonder, a joy.  I cannot thank God enough for allowing me to be the unworthy recipient of this great grace!  The only greater gift He gave to me, was the experience of having this great gift withheld for a time.  So I could come to learn, albeit painfully at the time, a new appreciation for it.

          Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn some lessons.

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Ora et Labora et Suffragium

Pray and Work and Vote

I have been politically active since my high school years, especially in pro-life causes. I must admit that, in my early years, I viewed political action as very much something that we could achieve by the force of our will alone, our mere action.  As I matured and grew in the Faith, I learned that, while God does require us to work, we must not work alone, but rather we must cooperate with God in prayer.  St. Benedict truly got it right so many centuries ago: Ora et Labora – Pray and Work.

Being a student of history, an event that really drove the point home for me years ago was the Battle of Lepanto which took place on October 7, 1571. It was in this pivotal battle that God bestowed a great miracle on Christian Europe by defending her against the attacking Muslim Turks, a horde that greatly outnumbered the Europeans.  This miraculous victory was the direct result of Pope Saint Pius V’s call on European Catholics to pray the Rosary on the eve of the battle.  That is why, for centuries, October 7 was celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (not “just” Our Lady of the Rosary as the feast has been watered down recently).

For years, we have organized an Election Eve Rosary for our homeschool group on the night before presidential election days. We typically meet in a church, pray the full Rosary of all four sets of mysteries, and read specially prepared reflections/petitions for each decade.  This year, with so many forces gathering against Life, Marriage, the Church, the Truth, and Religious Freedom, perhaps even more prayer is needed.

A 54-day novena (https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/novena-for-our-nation-seeks-marys-aid-for-america/) has been planned by a Catholic organization in Wisconsin called the Holy League (https://www.novenaforournation.com/).  Interestingly, they also reference the Battle of Lepanto.  The novena starts on Monday, August 15, 2016, and ends appropriately on the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, October 7.

I am posting here (the link below will open the document as a pdf) for your use the reflections/petitions that we use for each decade of our Election Eve Rosary. I hope you find it helpful as you commence this great work of prayer for our Nation, our children, and our children’s children.

Election Eve Rosary 2016

Our Lady of Victory, Pray for Us!

Leadership 101 for Dads (Part 1)

How We Can Apply Proven Lessons from Business to the Family

 

This is a summary of part of the talk I recently gave at the Southern California Catholic Home Educators conference in Costa Mesa, California. You may watch the entire talk in three parts in the videos embedded at the end of this summary.

Responsibility of Fathers

In his book Lifeline: The Religious Upbringing of Your Children author James Stenson observed:

“Your children’s souls are forever. Where will your children’s souls be when time has passed away?  This question should haunt you, press on you daily, drive you to surpass your limitations.  Your children will exist for all eternity in one of only two states: everlasting happiness with God in heaven, or everlasting pain and sorrow in hell.  Your children will freely live and die in God’s friendship – or they will freely cut themselves off from His love while they live, and then suffer the ‘second death’ for all eternity.

“You, as a loving parent, must never lose sight of this horrendous threat to your children. There is a hell.  Hell exists, and all its evil forces are poised at the souls of your children.  Our blessed Savior warned of hell repeatedly, more than a dozen times in the Gospels.  He warned each of us, all of us, of the dreadful fate awaiting those who reject His love and forgiveness.

“He calls upon you, as His loving servant, to save your children and lead them to Him. He calls on you to love your children as He loves them, to the point of sacrifice.

“He will hold you answerable for the eternal destiny of your children. After your death, when you pass to judgment, He will ask you:  ‘How well did you teach our children – yours and mine – to know me, love me, and to serve me?’”

Although written by a modern-day Catholic lay man rather than a canonized saint or Apostle, Mr. Stenson’s premise is true and Biblical. Pondering it or the many Bible references it brings to mind (Revelation 21:8, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, and Matthew 13:49-50 to name a few) should fill us parents with speechless awe at the tremendous responsibility God has given us.

It must be emphasized: GOD HAS GIVEN US PARENTS A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY.

This one word, responsibility, should be ever-present in our minds as fathers, and should guide our every decision and action with respect to leading our families and raising our children.

This great responsibility requires leadership in the home. Each family must have a leader or the family will drift with no aim toward Heaven and away from Hell.  Like it or not, gentlemen, whether in the well-known Ephesians Chapter 5 or countless other Scriptural references, God has placed husbands and fathers in a position of leadership within their families.  Believe me, I know it would be a lot easier if that weren’t the case, but….

FATHERS HAVE THE GREATEST RESPONSIBILITY of anyone in the family.

 

The Father’s Leadership Role

Pondering this in the light of my occupation in business, has helped me to better understand my role in the family, and I hope that it will help you too.

If we liken our families to a business, say “Smith Family, Inc.,” what would the leadership structure look like? We would have a Chairman of the Board who chooses the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and the Chief Operating Officer (“COO”).  The CEO is the senior leader in the business, while the COO is the senior implementer in the business.  In a family, these roles are filled by God as Chairman of the Board who chose you and your wife as CEO and COO of your family.

In case there’s any doubt as to the need of a leader in a family, we can learn from Fifth Century B.C. Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu: “If the general is weak and not disciplined, his instructions not clear, the officers and troops lack discipline and their formation in disarray, this is called chaos.” (from “The Art of War”)  Based on my experience in business, if there is chaos in an organization, that organization is doomed to failure.  And, recalling what James Stenson wrote (“Hell exists, and all its evil forces are poised at the souls of your children.”), if our families fail in the very real battle for salvation, we as fathers will have a grave price to pay.

 

What is Leadership?

Noted business expert and author of “The One Minute Manager” Ken Blanchard says: “Anytime you use your influence to affect the thoughts and actions of others, you are engaging in leadership.”  Put another way, leadership is engaging with your organization (your wife and children) to influence their thoughts and actions.  First and foremost, this requires us to live in a godly way as a real example for our family to follow. But that example will only bear fruit if you are actively engaged with your family.

In Paragraph 55 of his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis says: “The absence of a father gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society.  This absence, which may be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, deprives children of a suitable father figure.”  We are sadly all too aware of the absent father in today’s culture of broken marriages; however, Pope Francis makes a keen observation that a father may be absent in more ways than just physically.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual absence can deprive your children just as harmfully as physically leaving.

So, are you at home as much as you can be when you are not at work? When you are at home, are you emotionally and psychologically engaged with your family?  Are you spiritually engaged with your family in prayer, study, worship, and the sacraments?  If you are not, you are not exercising your responsibility of leadership.

Raising your children is not “just my wife’s thing.”  That goes doubly if your wife homeschools your children.  Like a business, this enterprise we call the family requires active and engaged mothers and fathers.

A final word on leadership. Unfortunately, too often in history and some cultures, leadership has been confused with the image of a dictator or “strong man.”  In Spanish, they call it “machismo.”  As noted business expert Peter Drucker says:  “Rank does not confer privilege or give power.  It imposes responsibility.”  Ken Blanchard puts it this way:  “Leadership is not about power.  It’s not about control; it’s about helping people live according to the vision.”

 

Leaders Plan

Speaking of “vision,” every leader needs a plan.

Peter Drucker says: “Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.”  To orchestrate that energy, you must have a plan.

The obvious question is “what should our family plan look like?”

To answer that, we need to understand what the primary “business” of our family is. Is our primary “business” about financial security, love, fulfillment, opportunity, success?  While each of these things is, to varying degrees, good, the absolute answer is, “NO.”

To revisit a part of James Stenson’s quote from the start of this posting: “He calls upon you, as His loving servant, to save your children and lead them to Him.”

Furthermore, recall the good ol’ Baltimore Catechism:

“Why did God make you?”

“God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

Your children are entrusted to you for a short period of time to be formed so as to seek eternal life with God in Heaven.  This is your first and foremost duty to satisfy your profound responsibility as a father – to form your children in the Faith.  You must teach them, not “what to think” like robots, but rather “how to think” critically and in the light of the Truth so as to be firmly rooted in the Faith despite the inevitable attacks by the forces of Hell as described by James Stenson.

This must guide your family plan.

Steven Covey, noted author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” says: “A mission statement is not something you write overnight…. But fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values.  It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

This is the same for a plan. It may or may not be formally written.  What matters is that your family plan has been formulated with your wife (your COO who will help implement it day in and day out while you are at work) and that it becomes “the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

It cannot be overstated: every decision you make as the CEO of your family must be informed and measured by the criterion of your plan which must be founded on the formation of your children.

What are your goals? Have you ever thought about goals?  Have you ever discussed goals with your wife?

Steven Covey says: “The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritize their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.”

The benefits of you and your wife agreeing on a plan will be time, peace, and success in what matters most.

So, as CEO of your family, you must put together a plan which must be based on your foremost priority which must be based on your foremost fatherly duty of leading your children to Heaven.

 

Leaders Care about Morale

“People who feel good about themselves, produce good results.” – Ken Blanchard

Remember that leadership is engaging with your organization (your wife and children) to influence their thoughts and actions. If they do not feel good about themselves, you will have little or no influence.

First, your wife’s morale. If you are a homeschooling family like us, it’s important for you as the father to understand and accept that your wife has a full time job.  In fact, with an incredibly complex job myself, I can easily recognize that my homeschooling wife also has an incredibly complex job.  Do not fall into the trap of thinking that your wife is “just a” stay at home mom.  Because of this, you must give your wife the support she needs, especially emotional support.  You must give her and the homeschooling “subsidiary” of your family “business” the time and attention she and it deserve.

One way to support your wife is by helping to maintain order in the home. This is absolutely critical – remember what Sun Tzu said about leadership and chaos.  Again, this doesn’t need to be as a dictator (although some circumstances do require the father to “lay down the law”).  Rather it is a matter of you as the leader a) modeling order, b) stepping in to redirect persons or activities back to order, and c) managing the many different personalities you have in your family.

Another way to support your wife is to properly set expectations – both yours and your children’s. For this, remember that your foremost priority must be leading your children to Heaven.  So, all of the other distractions presented by the modern, worldly view of family (extravagant vacations and activities, never-ending sports or ballet, the single-minded pursuit of academic and financial success) are just that – distractions.  Do not let them burden your wife because she feels like a failure due to her inability to “do it all.”  Do not let your children become attached to these worldly expectations, and, thereby, burden your wife leading to poor morale.

Experience with friends over the years has proven that a homeschooling mom with poor morale inevitably leads to “burnout” which leads to the decision to “just put them all in school.” And, unfortunately, today, most schools (even many Catholic schools) are not conducive to your fulfilling your primary responsibility as a father – to lead your children to Heaven.

To briefly address the morale of your children: “Help people reach their full potential; catch them doing something right,” and “Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. But remember, give praise immediately, make it specific, and finally, encourage people to keep up the good work.” (both from Ken Blanchard)

Of course, this works for your wife as well. Have you ever told your wife that she’s a good teacher?

In my next posting, I will explore three other important aspects of leadership for Dads informed by a business perspective:

  1. Resource Management
  2. Reporting and Measuring Success
  3. Decision Making

For now, fellow family CEOs, let us resolve to pray for each other that we will take our God-given responsibility seriously, and work on our leadership skills for the good of our wives and children.

The entire talk may be watched in three parts below:

 

 

Song and Poem of the Month: May

Each month, I select a poem for the children and me to recite on a daily basis, and a song to sing to start our day. The goal is not necessarily to commit the poem and song to memory, although that is oftentimes what happens, since the children have such great memories.  Rather, I hope to instill the message of the poem and the song deep into their hearts.  As the month progresses, the lines, stanzas and melody sink deeper into our thoughts, and we start to ruminate on the meaning more.  Sometimes this leads to discussions, and sometimes it is just a shared experience that we have together.

For the month of May, I selected a poem written by Patrick’s grandmother, Rose Collison. We especially honor our Blessed Mother this month.  Ever since I first read the poem, I was struck by its truth and beauty.  More importantly, it drew me closer to my sweet Mother in heaven as I could identify closely with her daily activities.

I felt the amazing dignity to be a woman, and came to a more profound understanding of what “immensity in little space” really means as a homeschooling mother who rarely leaves this “little space”.

What a gift and blessing to have the children recite a poem penned by their very own paternal great-grandmother. I hope they will pass it on generation after generation.  May it bless you as well.

The song we are singing this month is “Bring Flowers of the Rarest”: http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/rarest.htm  As a child, I attended a Catholic School named “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”.  We sang this song every May at our May crowning.  I always knew this song just had to be passed on to my children, considering how formative it was to me.

 

Our Lady of the Broom

By Rose Collison, © 2016

 

The large and lovely lessons

You taught with little breath

In the liturgy of labor

In the house at Nazareth

Are such fantastic simple things

That mortals may presume

To call the Queen of Seraphim

“Our Lady of the Broom.”

 

For you who rule the angels

Built up our legacy

By living a life of little things

That we do every day.

 

You cooked, cleaned, washed and mended,

Scrubbed the kitchen floor

Teaching a world the woman’s way

To worship and adore.

 

How beautifully you taught us

Where all perfection lies

By seeing all salvation in

The work before your eyes,

Immensity in little space

The world in the humble room

You swept and kept and cared for,

“Our Lady of the Broom.”

 

A Farmer's Wife Sweeping - Jean Francois Millet

Jean Francois Millet – “A Farmer’s Wife Sweeping” 1867

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What does Conversation Have to do with Prayer?

Conversations are something we engage in all of the time. It’s part of who we are, as persons, and how we relate to each other.  The dictionary defines “conversation” as an “informal spoken exchange.”  But what is its purpose?  I believe that understanding the purpose of conversation will help us all engage in it with much more meaning and love, and, believe it or not, help us to grow in our prayer lives.

As I was reading about having intimate conversation with God in Divine Intimacy (Edited by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen), it struck me that I don’t really know how to properly converse with God.  Upon further thought, I believe that is because I never really thought about my natural conversations with other persons.  Conversation is just something I grew up doing without thinking about it.  I observed others’ conversations, and learned by imitation and practice.  Eventually, I developed habits in my conversations.  Some good, and some, perhaps, not so good.  So I found myself wondering, “Do I converse properly?  Do I understand its purpose?  How is a Christian to properly understand and engage in conversation?  If I improve in my conversations with others, does it follow that my conversations with God will deepen and grow?”

St. Teresa of Avila says the heart of prayer is “nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse with Him who we know loves us.” The goal, or “heart of prayer”, is intimate conversation with God.  It is personal and spontaneous, without preoccupation about form or order, and proceeding only from the superabundance of the heart.  Not only does the soul speak, but God often answers – not audibly (for most of us anyway), but by sending the soul graces of light and love.  It is good to stop often and listen interiorly to perceive the movements of grace, which are really God’s answer.

As I continued reading the meditation in Divine Intimacy, it went on to explain that sometimes we don’t even need to use words.  We can remain silent and just fix our gaze on the Lord, to listen to Him and love Him in silence.  It keeps the soul in intimate contact with God, in a real exchange of friendship with Him.

As I pondered these instructions, it occurred to me that this can only come naturally to a person who has learned to converse this way with others who are physically present to us, and whose voices are audible. Examples of bad conversational habits that come to mind are:

  • If we are used to conversations that are one-sided, for instance, in which we do most of the talking (talking “at” another rather than “with”), then it will be difficult for us to learn the “remaining silent and listen to Him” part.
  • If our conversations tend to be only a means to an end, such as mostly focused on attaining information or gaining something for ourselves, then it will be difficult for us to give ourselves to God in prayer.
  • If we never get below the “surface” in our conversations, but rather prefer to just chatter and “chit chat”, it will be difficult to be still, attentive, and love God.

To compound it, with the pervasiveness of “smart” phones and the use of “social media,” the art of conversation is gradually being lost. This technology encourages only little bits of attention, scattered and distracted, rather than a true giving of self with full attention to a developed conversation.  This runs the risk of further imperiling our ability to conversationally connect with God.

In order to fulfill the greatest commandments, to love God first and foremost with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, it is important to understand the role of prayer and conversation. The right purpose must be to love more purely.  The true aim must be to understand rather than to be understood.  This requires that we listen with rapt attention so as to give ourselves to others, rather than to find a place in the conversation to jump in and take over.

It’s hard to pay attention to God or others at the same time as thinking of ourselves. We must focus our attention on others in our conversations, and learn to do likewise in our prayers and intimate conversations with God.  In all humility, I must realize that I have much to gain from God and others, and He has nothing to gain from me.  And others can only gain from me if it is God working through me.

Ultimately, the purpose of conversation is to share: to share our hearts with God and others, and to be open to receiving their hearts.  This requires trust, safety, and openness – without any barriers erected due to fear or pride – in order to promote a meaningful exchange of one to the other.  We are so blessed to have been given the gift of language as a way to communicate (base word is “commune”, related to “community”, and “communion”) and understand one another.

After thinking through all of that, I have determined to set up some resolutions to follow in my conversations with God and others:

  1. Have the proper attitude at the start. Understand that conversation is not meant for entertainment or personal gain, but for expressing love and giving of oneself. Be other-centered and not self-absorbed.
  2. Give my full attention to the other person, and reduce the distractions of “multi-tasking” as much as possible.
  3. When listening, reflect back what I hear to ensure that I’m understanding what the other person is expressing.
  4. Connect with and relate to what the other person is saying.
  5. Ask questions, and develop an honest interest in the other person.
  6. Make it a top priority to communicate love and gratitude to that person, even if that means just smiling at strangers and letting them know that I am happy to see them and to be around them.
  7. Find joy in the goodness of others.
  8. Avoid gossip or other near occasions of sin in speech, while focusing on thinking highly and kindly of others.

Let us pray to Our Lady and St. Elizabeth, who surely had beautiful conversations during The Visitation, and ask them to pray for us as we learn to share ourselves with one another in conversation, and with God in prayer.

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Finding the Beauty in Joy and Sorrow

On our dining room table, we have our traditional Lenten centerpiece: a clear, glass vase wrapped with dried palm branches, containing three bare branches covered with large, sharp thorns.  This week, we added another vase containing the largest, most beautiful blooms of irises, daffodils, and geraniums from our yard.  The contrast is striking.

It seems to be a fitting image and depiction of what my soul has experienced a great deal of these past 6 months since our daughter entered a Benedictine Priory. The joy of having a child called to the religious life is indescribable!  It’s an incredible honor, blessing, and reward that Jesus would call her to Himself in such a complete way.  Her renunciation of the world and all its pleasures, along with her family and her very self, is inspiring and fills one with wonder and awe.  Knowing she is going to live the abundant life, both now and in eternity, fills one with a great deal of satisfaction and peace.  Oh, joy!

On the other hand, and this came as more of a surprise to me, is the sorrow of having to let go of that child whom I nurtured and loved and cared for. Being my firstborn, it was she who taught me, as a young mother, how to love and give of myself like I had never given before.  The love of a mother is so very sacrificial in nature.  It’s a purifying love, as you learn to give even when it seems you can’t possibly give another ounce.  But the day comes, when, even though you want to keep giving, you are no longer needed, and the only giving left to give, is that of giving back to the Lord what was always His anyway.

The contrast is striking indeed.

In my meditations, I have noticed that the Joyful Mysteries are intertwined with the Seven Sorrows of Mary completely. The 3rd Joyful Mystery, the Nativity, is followed very closely by the Flight into Egypt.  The 4th Joyful Mystery, the Presentation in the Temple, corresponds with Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart.  The 5th Joyful Mystery, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, relates with losing Jesus for 3 days.  The 1st Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, follows the crucifixion, the taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross, and the burial of Jesus.  Oh yes, Mary understands.  She understands as only a mother can.

It seems that the joy and sorrow in life necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.  The greater the joy, the greater the sorrow, and vice versa.  It is truly a mystery.  One worth pondering as we experience it more and more deeply as life goes on.

In the book, Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst explains in great detail just how necessary it is to lose, in order to gain.  We see this easily in our natural lives.  We must give up the warmth, comfort and protection of the womb in order to grow and develop further, distinct and separate from our mothers.  We must give up the frivolity of playing as children in order to pursue the more serious tasks of adult life.  In each phase of life, we must let go, or lose something we once held so dear, in order to mature, develop and grow.  Finally, at the end of our lives, we must let go and lose our natural lives in order to enter into Eternal Life.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus is redefining what it means to be a “loser”.  In order to be a winner, you have to be a loser.  In children’s games, it’s clear that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  Children can take the losing really hard.  But it sets them up for the reality of life.  You can’t experience one without the other.

There is grief in these losses. There is sorrow in letting go.  But we can embrace these sorrows in life with great courage when we realize the growth and progress that is in store for us.  It’s a sign of God’s favor, really, as paradoxical as that seems.  There is unspeakable joy in detachment and dying to ourselves, because we are then attaching to Christ and living in Him.  As St. Paul says in Galations 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

St. Therese said in her autobiography, “Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude. Has he not said:  “Offer to God the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving”? (Ps 49:14).

I can learn to see the beauty and goodness in the barren, painful thorns of life as well as in the fragrant, glorious blooms. I thank God, with all of my heart, for both.

A Star Wars Review You Won’t Read Anywhere Else

This isn’t your ordinary movie review. Sure, the new installment in the Star Wars saga, “The Force Awakens,” is a fine enough film as far as the cinematography and special effects.  But, there’s something that I’ve been pondering after recently watching it with our 17 year old son.  And it’s something that’s disturbing me more the more I’ve pondered it.  No, it’s not the thinly veiled politically correct transformation of Princess Leia into a pant-suit-clad general (this could provide fodder for another blog posting if I had the luxury of time).

What’s disturbing me is…. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and don’t want to know how events play out, stop reading now.  Otherwise, to read on, just scroll down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s disturbing me is the death of Han Solo, or rather how Han Solo died.  “What’s wrong with how Han Solo died?” you may ask.  There are at least three ways the depiction of the patricide (the murder of a father by a son) of Han Solo in this film should cause us great concern:

  1. The film is not an appropriate forum for the depiction of patricide.
  2. The illustration of the patricide in the film is more harmful to viewers than the violence portrayed in classic literature, and that should be avoided.
  3. The inclusion of patricide in the film may have a farther-reaching incremental effect in our society.

1. The film is not an appropriate forum for the depiction of patricide.

The portrayal of patricide in literature is, of course, nothing new. From Oedipus to Mordred and beyond, we have many literary examples of sons who, for one reason or another, murder their fathers.  It is certainly a worthy theme to use for exploring the human condition, our fallen nature, and the fallen world.  Therefore, I am not at all saying that the theme should have been excluded from a film for adults.

The problem is, however, that this film (regardless of the PG-13 rating) is made by Disney for the sole purpose of appealing to children. If you don’t believe this fact, just peruse the Disney Store’s Star Wars collection:  http://www.disneystore.com/star-wars/mn/1023301/

Not sure about you, but we didn’t read “Oedipus Rex” until 12th grade. I would hope it wasn’t just because of the advanced language, but also because the themes explored are of a mature nature.  The fact is that children are just not psychologically or emotionally mature enough to grapple with certain topics which we, unfortunately, must confront and deal with as adults.  Just because some things happen in the world doesn’t mean that children under the age of around 16 or 17 are ready to process those things in a healthy way.

Is this “sheltering”? That is what the World calls it.  The reality is, however, that exposing children to themes for which they are not developmentally ready is, at best, disturbing to them and, at worst, potentially harmful.  The analogy I would make is that of forcing a seventh grader of normal intelligence to study trigonometry.  In this case, I bet we would all agree that the effects would be, at best, frustration and, at worst, perhaps a deep seeded aversion to mathematics.  In other words, that trigonometry example makes it easy for us to acknowledge that children are not ready to process some things until certain milestones of maturity are reached.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy for us to fall into the World’s philosophy of the “teachable moment” in which we just go along with material that is not age-appropriate figuring that somehow our children are mature enough, especially with our superior parenting skills such that we can surmount the natural limitations of childhood development if we just have a brief conversation about it.  Hog wash.  The reality is that our children’s maturation is no more accelerated than anyone else’s children.  And, most of us (myself included) are not supernaturally gifted with parenting skills.  Back to the math analogy, even the most skilled mathematician in the world would fail miserably at teaching any non-genius seventh grader trigonometry.

Therefore, patricide is not and cannot be age-appropriate for thirteen, fourteen, or even fifteen year olds despite the PG-13 rating. And this film is definitely not appropriate for anyone under 13.

  1. The depiction of the patricide in the film is more harmful to viewers than the violence portrayed in classic literature, and that should be avoided.

It is interesting to recall that there was a similar conflict between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-DeI3ohVbY) and a confrontation between them in “Return of the Jedi” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en8bh60K7m8). Although there was plenty of light saber dueling, not to mention the loss of a hand, George Lucas thankfully avoided an up close and personal murder.  You will recall that even the end of Obi Wan Kenobi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kpHK4YIwY4) was devoid of the vivid portrayal of “pulling the trigger” that we experience in “The Force Awakens.”

In order to objectively discern whether the cinematic portrayal of patricide was more extreme that what we find in classic literature, I would suggest that we consider what verbs, adverbs, and adjectives would be required to describe on paper what we witnessed in that scene on film. If you have seen the film, you would have to agree that a detailed description doing images justice would require at least a page, and would involve many “heavy” words that would be well beyond what we find in most classic literature.

While much of classic literature includes war, duels, killing, etc., it leaves the details to our imagination (which rarely, if ever, affects our minds as forcefully as seeing the images with our eyes).  In fact, in Oedipus Rex, we never directly witness Oedipus’ murder of Laius.

One might rebut with, “Well what about classic literary plays like Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’?” True, the words “blood” or “bloody” occur no less than 41 times in “MacBeth,” one of the most gruesome of Shakespeare’s plays.  But, again, nearly all of the bloodshed ensues offstage.  And even the stabbing of MacDuff that does occur onstage is described by Shakespeare merely as a “stab.”

That enables our minds to ruminate on the ideas presented by the action rather than our minds being forever marked with the realistic image of cold-blooded murder. That realistic image of cold-blooded murder is not “good, holy, and true.”  (Philippians 4:8)  So, even if we accept that the film is an “adult” film that rightly explores the theme of patricide, it could have done so without the “up close and personal” depiction of the act which should have been avoided.

  1. The depiction of patricide in the film may have a farther-reaching incremental effect in our society.

I know this is the assertion that will cause the naysayers to exclaim, “Come on, Patrick, it’s just a movie!” That’s true.  It’s also true that our state and Federal governments have for years waged war on tobacco advertising (Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man in particular) because they conclude (rightly) that it draws youth into smoking.  I’m not aware of anyone who argues the validity of that conclusion.  But somehow, many, if not most, people insist on looking the other way when it comes to the vivid violence portrayed in the media today and how that might possibly relate to the rise of mass shootings perpetrated by disturbed individuals.

As sick as it may seem, the fact is that the character Kylo Ren (Han Solo’s son) will become a role model of sorts for many young boys (and probably girls, nowadays). I have to admit that, as a young boy (I was 9 when the original Star Wars movie came out), I had a Darth Vader poster in my bedroom.  It will be no different today.  Witness the following:

http://www.disneystore.com/costumes-costume-shop-clothes-kylo-ren-costume-for-kids-star-wars-the-force-awakens/mp/1382278/1000396/

http://www.amazon.com/Disney-Episode-Deluxe-Microfiber-Sheet/dp/B019ER5WSO/ref=sr_1_3?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1452915300&sr=1-3-spons&keywords=kylo+ren&psc=1

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Episode-Cuddle-Buddy-Pillow/dp/B018WUFWIY/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1452924752&sr=1-1-spons&keywords=kylo+ren&psc=1

The difference is that, as bad as he was, Darth Vader, didn’t murder someone (his father no less) in cold blood in the same way that Kylo Ren is depicted doing. So, when my friends and I role played Star Wars (which children will undoubtedly do today and for years to come), we certainly dueled with our light sabers and even pretended to choke our friends in mid-air like Darth Vader did, but nothing like what Kylo Ren does to his father.  Call me Chicken Little, but I can see this being just one more way in which our boys (and now probably girls) are be molded by big media in a destructive way.

Bottom line: I would absolutely counsel against taking any child under sixteen to this film, and am even reluctant in recommending that anyone of any age see it.

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