Missing the Essential

I have just come across the article Tragic Worship by Carl R. Trueman in First Things. This is something I have noticed in popular culture, notably the enthusiasm we have for celebrities like the ancients for heroes and demi-gods. I do believe that human history is cyclic and shows a certain number of constants. The “good old days” were not so good, neither the 1930’s for my parents’ generation, nor the 60’s and 70’s for me. Like most people, I am afraid of technological and scientific progress, which all too often exceeds man’s morality. Why is it that the greatest inventions are immediately made into weapons of war? We live in fear and we live in hope.

I have been quite fascinated by a translation I recently did of the website of a well-known French fashion menswear company and the way they seduce their market. The emphasis is definitely on the look and appearance, and clothes are our social signals like our body language, gestures and our use of spoken language. It is true that we feed good in our favourite clothes and the image with which we identify. I am acutely aware of this from the experience of wearing the priest’s cassock or suit in a world that no longer relates to what it symbolises. Popular culture is very definitely an affair of fashion, entertainment, fun and celebrity. At the same time as being incredibly superficial, there are characteristics of modern urban culture that need to be studied to know whether Christianity has anything to say. I have been learning about street artists and urban young people in general – they are not all bad or anti-social. There is something there, impalpable but transcendent in its own way.

I am quite amazed to see some of the things coming back in like the preppy style and the dandy look, which has evolved over the last few centuries. We are reminded that these things are not just from our own days, but that extravagance is less something of our time than the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries! It was a fascinating job to do – and get paid for!

The bottom line is how we deal with death, not only physical death but the changes and chances of this fleeting life. Within our lives on this earth, events come and go – they are born, they live and they die. Post-modernism definitely caters for the young, who no more want to be fettered by those of us who are getting old than we wanted when we were young. Age doesn’t always bring wisdom, but often brings bitterness.

The Middle Ages accepted death as an image, something that would stimulate us to seek wisdom and live our life now the way we would want to die. This is the mystery we live in the liturgy and which is beyond entertainment and the superficial. This is certainly a reason why revivals of faith happen in times of war and any event that reminds us of our mortality.

Read the article. It is worth it.

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