Culture

Star Wars: Our American Mythos

My childhood, like so many, was the combination of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and of course, John Williams. I would often sit, perhaps unhealthily, for hours in front of a TV watching VHS tapes of dinosaurs eating people, a professor stealing holy artifacts, and lightsabers crashing. I absorbed it all, and my brothers and I practiced it. We would duel with our plastic (the old sturdy ones) lightsabers, hurting each other's’ fingers and feelings. Around high school, I had somewhat of a “nerd-retreat,” a time when being a fan of Star Wars was for some reason uncool. College reopened my love for the great saga, and now, I unashamedly utilize the galaxy far, far away in my classroom teaching economics and government.

Every fandom has its gloriously diverse and vast fan-fiction with theories that range from the plausible to conspiracy. Star Wars, through the former Expanded Universe (dubbed “Legends”) and the official Canon, is ripe with opportunity for fans to write, speculate, and imagine. My three younger brothers and I constantly engage in this activity, debating over the merits of Emperor Palpatine as the murderer of Padme Amidala, and the like. But while all of this is fun and engaging, it seems to lack a certain gravity of importance. I asked this question a few weeks ago: if it lacks importance, why do so many love to do it? What brings millions to engage in such an activity?

In order to understand this question, we need to understand the definition of a key word: mythos. A mythos is a common set of stories that can be used to explain the world, and more often provide a foundation for a cultural morality. A mythos is not the equivalent of religion. Religion tends to provide an explicit and prescriptive morality. A mythos provides more of a cornerstone worldview, a basic layer for other to build morality upon it.

Any discussion of mythos has to include renowned mythologist, Joseph Campbell, whose seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, elaborated on what’s called the “hero’s journey.” Essentially, the hero’s journey is a basic story-structure, where a seemingly boring individual rises to become a hero, with the aid of mentors and friends, and must brave great adventures and villains. Campbell identified the hero’s journey across all of culture. The same basic myth-narrative is repeated across nearly all geographies and ethnicities. The hero’s journey is, at heart, the common human story repeated everywhere.

This monomyth, as its called, has been studied and examined ever since Campbell’s work. It’s changed here and there, with different scholars adding different things, but it remains more or less the same. The monomyth can be clearly seen through the Star Wars saga, but especially in Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke, a seemingly unbecoming farm boy, is called to the adventure of saving a captured princess from black-cloaked villain, and initially refuses. With the help of a wizardly mentor, and a band of unbecoming allies, he becomes entrapped in the belly of the beast in the Death Star, where they escape with the reward of the Death Star plans, but not before Luke endures the pain of watching old Ben Kenobi die. The final trial, destroying the beast, is Luke’s great transformation from the boy on Tatooine to the next generation of Jedi Knights.

This is fascinating stuff, and very exciting. Not only was the 1977 cinematic experience great, but the entire saga’s story is wonderful, however much it may be masked by poor dialogue and acting. Even then, film critics have never been a fan of the movies, even for their stories. They say it’s too easy, made for children, cartoonish, etc. I read that as, “This isn’t morally ambiguous, and therefore, not a good story.” Such nihilism is apparently cool, but I don’t buy it. No, the stories aren’t all that complex, but the thing is, that’s the point. Remember, a mythos is supposed to aid us in developing an understanding of the world from a certain point of view. Through stories, we lay a foundation to build an ethical code and of morality. The purpose is to get us to think about how we act, and why we act. If we get bogged down Inception-class complexity, we lose that powerful purpose.

The story in Star Wars is intentionally simple. The characters are stereotypical, but archetypical, and resonate a certain set of traits we can easily identify. It can sometimes feel like a children’s story. Again, that’s the point. The essence of a mythos should make us wonder in awe, tap into our imagination, bring out our inner child. When I watch these movies, I’m like a giddy boy, relishing in the narrative. When the movie is done, it’s almost as if my inner child, having finished the adventure, returns and consults with my adult on what just happened. That’s mythos; the dialogue between wonder and reason.

The master of this myth-creating process was J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He saw that England lacked a true mythos, one separated from reality (thus eliminating anything relating to King Arthur and Beowulf). He set out to create an entire universe that he could populate with stories; thus born Middle Earth. His goal wasn’t necessarily to write great stories (which he did), but to provide an epic universe with histories, a genesis (see: The Silmarillion), and languages with dialects. LOTR has a distinctly English feeling to it, one his countrymen could understand. He wrote it so others may think about the world in a certain way. Some of these stories, like The Hobbit, are so relatable, they feel like a children’s story.

Now, George Lucas is no Tolkien. He is a controversial creator, one who nearly destroyed his saga. His storylines can be disjointed, almost contradictory, and he can seem self-serving. Nevertheless, his universe is nevertheless a fountain of myth, and one that resonates with millions of Americans. Why?

America, at its core, is part of Western Civilization, and relies heavily upon its philosophy and religions. As such, it is greatly influenced by morality that there exists objective good and evil. But we are also a multicultural nation, one that has accepted and welcomes many Eastern philosophies as well. As Americans, we are intrigued by the at-first exotic beliefs of the East, and we find a certain tranquility in them. We are drawn toward the idea of a Buddhist monk devoid of personal possession and at peace with everything. We see his balance, and we desire it.

Star Wars seeks to establish a clear dynamic between good and evil. The Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire; the Jedi and Sith; Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. There is great conflict between these easily identified sides (I mean, for crying out loud, the lightsaber colors reveal it all). Yet, the theme of balance is always present. The Chosen One was to bring balance to the Force; a Force which is at once an inanimate energy field made up of microorganisms, and yet also a personal, willing thing. Is this a contradiction? No, it’s the basis of a mythos worldview.

You see, Americans love a good cops and robbers story, the cowboys and Indians conflict. But we also seek a peaceful tranquility of balance. Star Wars gives us that battle, but breathes of a peaceful spirituality. Destiny must be fulfilled in this universe, but personal choice never disappears. Americans, historically, believe they have a duty, a manifest destiny, in the world. But liberty is at our heart to, and we can choose to reject this duty. We are drawn to Star Wars because it mimics what we feel in the first place.

Why does this matter? I believe it is very important for great societies to have a basic cultural commonality. For America, we used to be fairly homogenous in our Protestant religion. That’s not the case anymore, and when it was, there was no unified denomination. Religion doesn’t make the cut, and politics certainly doesn’t. We need a myth, one with an acceptable starting point, a square one. Star Wars is arguably one of the only viable mythos for America. It has such a wide arrangement of characters and messages, that different people can gain different things from it. It embraces our Western-Eastern dichotomy, and quite frankly, it’s pure fun.

We need Star Wars not because it is a masterfully created cinematic experience, has great dialogue, or anything like that. We need it because the story, much like the Force itself, can surround and bind us together.


 

The Argument Against Fighting Crudity with Crudity

These last few weeks of January have been alive with pictures, videos and coverage of the Women’s March. Thousands of women protested Trump’s actions and anticipated policies, as well as reproductive rights- namely birth control and abortion. Colorful signs, colorful language and colorful costumes populated the event, and while some displays were cute, a huge number of them were incredibly explicit and outright vulgar. These vulgar displays featured vivid verbage and imagery of female genitalia to emphasize hatred for Trump’s notorious message of grabbing women and enforce the mantra of, “My Body, My Choice.” A quick Google search will yield a plethora of images from the March. But, in my opinion, combating Trump’s –and society’s- crude and sexist behavior with equal vulgarity doesn’t uplift women, but further degrades them.

I’m a woman and a definite feminist who believes that women are entirely equal to men. And yes, a woman’s body is beautiful and awesome and should be cherished and respected. Someone who reduces women to purely sexual objects through language, words and deeds is definitely in the wrong and should be reprimanded.

But combating hypersexual and disrespectful words and imagery with more hypersexual words and imagery does not uplift the dignity of women. Women aren’t showing that they’re equal to men while angrily touting pictures of vulvas and screaming offensive words. Instead, it emphasizes the notion that women are reduced down to their sexual parts. A woman’s body parts are put on display, usually sexually, instead of being cherished as sacred. We are led further and further down the rabbit hole of disrespect.

In addition, the culture behind birth control and abortion boldly proclaim that a woman’s body must be chemically altered, or sterilized or life terminated, for a woman to have full bodily agency and power in her life. These suppress the awesome functions of a woman’s body, rather than working with them. The Women’s March also prevented a pro-life group from marching with them, claiming that being pro-life is “anti-woman.” Since the Women’s March was supposed to be inclusive to all women, it is clear that women must adhere to a very particular brand of feminism, and thus subscribe to a particular way of life.

In a meditation on the Blessed Mother, Sr. Helen Pashkevich says, “Who is woman? What is she? She is God’s call to Beauty, the one who holds a singular place in the cosmos, the one whose destiny will never occur again. God has never breathed the same breath into any woman before. And he never will again.”

Being a woman is incredible and should be celebrated. Women have important missions in life and have the ability to make their own choices. Women are more than a sum of their parts. I think a march for women is an incredible thing. However, the messages displayed at this year’s event-perhaps inadvertently- only intensified disrespectful and hypersexual agendas. And why should women who are pro-life and believe that women can be still be empowered without choosing abortion be ostracized? That is hardly inclusive.

Fighting vulgarity with vulgarity does not lead to human dignity. It is still possible to protest and celebrate the dignity of women’s bodies while still having respect for oneself. So put away the vulva hats and march for the uniqueness of women and foster respect for the sacredness and dignity of life and women’s bodies- like the March for Life!

Don't Let Your Fear of Commitment Set Boundaries on Your Life

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend which turned to me landing a second interview for a great job. I went on to tell my friend that I'm happy about the way that my life turned out. I told her that despite what society said, my life was not stifled by getting married young and finding out that we're expecting our first child.

My friend made a face and shrugged, clearly thinking me crazy. It's a reaction I'm used to when people inquire about my life. I have to defend my choices and list reasons why my existence hasn't been ruined by committing to marriage and having a child in my early twenties.

But I shouldn't be surprised. Fear of commitment is a common sentiment, one that I struggled with in my past and sometimes still grapple with.

When I began dating my now spouse, I feared that being in a serious relationship would somehow prevent me from reaching important milestones in my life. I wanted someone to be there, but I felt like being committed would keep me from excelling in my career as a new college graduate, that being "tied" to someone would keep me from being a writer or chasing my wanderlust. But we loved being with each other and didn't want to miss out on something great. 

My fears resurfaced when our relationship became more serious and we began talking about marriage. Immediately, the inevitable "ball and chain" metaphor came to mind. Of course, I thought, taking my relationship to the next level would keep me from achieving everything that I wanted to do in life, even though I had evidence to the contrary. Further commitment would condemn my life to bland child-rearing in suburbia. Because I was afraid to move forward, our relationship began to feel strained. 

Never mind that my boyfriend supported me academically and professionally. Never mind that he encouraged me to go abroad to Spain for a few months over the summer and even helped me financially. Never mind that he was an emotional pillar whenever I spiraled into an existential crisis about my future. Never mind that he always treated me with incredible patience and respect, and we had the same goals in life, and were deeply in love.

It wasn't until my mom, exasperated at my rants against marriage asked me, "if you got married, why in the world would it keep you from doing anything that you want to do? Give me one thing that you couldn't do when you get married. Has being in this relationship so far taken away anything from you in your life?"

I paused. Could I still have a career while married? Yes. Did I have a valid support system, did we want the same things out of life, and share the same belief system? Yes. Could I still travel? Yes. We both love visiting new countries.

What I was afraid of were ghosts of my own invention, specters wrought into being by my own fears and the angry voice of society that said marriage kills love and destroys dreams. I listened to my own insecurities and wallowed in them. 

What I slowly began to realize was that my fear of commitment was my fear of growth and change. I wanted to stay stagnant in my position, instead of moving forward and growing. I was like a plant that had outgrown its pot: needing room to grow but comfortable in my surroundings. But if I didn't embrace this change, this commitment, and leap into my future hand-in-hand with my new partner, then what we had would die.

Now that we're expecting our first child, again I feel some fear and trepidation about the future and how having a baby will impact our lives. 

But then I remember that deciding to commit to my relationship didn't take away anything, but actually expanded my horizons in unexpected, but definitely incredible ways. The fear of commitment-not the actual commitment itself or its effects on my life- tempted me to set restrictions based on stereotypes and my own insecurity. Yes, my life is different each time I commit to something new, but it's always made me grow in such profound ways and helped me achieve things I never thought I could.

Of course, choosing to commit is a huge decision and one that comes with great responsibility and growing pains. Great discernment should go into moving seriously forward with anyone or anything. But don't let the fear of what could happen (usually the worst things come to mind) when you commit prevent you from doing so. Look at the matter logically, weigh the pros and cons, and try to screen out unreasonable fears and stereotypes preached by society. 

Don't let the fear of commitment sink you into angst. Don't build boundaries for yourself. Commitment is not stagnation, but rather, can be one of the best platforms for wonderful change.

Sigh Away Sundays

“Shall I never see a bachelor of three-score again? Go to, i’ faith, an thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays.” - Much Ado About Nothing [Act 1 Scene 1]

At the end of a long semester of weighty texts from St. Augustine and Dante to Milton and T.S. Eliot, my students and I sat down to enjoy the after-meal digestive of a Shakespearean comedy.  As a father of three and husband of one, I strangely sympathize these days with its confirmed bachelor Benedick. The quote above comes from Benedick reproving his erstwhile bro-buddy Claudio who has given up his freedom for the first pretty face on returning from war.

But the phrase “sigh away Sundays” is what really sticks in the back of my mind. I hear it while changing diapers, during interminable rounds of tag in the backyard, and as I wash the boys’ muddy and scratched knees in the evenings. Yes, Benedick, I have sighed away my Sundays.

But then I think of my single friends, and more especially, my young college students who, too, have sighed away their Sundays even in their bachelorhood. I could go on ad nauseam about Josef Pieper and his “Leisure: The Basis of Culture”, but in three little words Shakespeare handles what Pieper did in a whole book.

When our work is play (just think of the culture at any millenials’ startup company) and our play is work (the fraternity houses here on campus), leisure ceases to have meaning. While I have sacrificed my Sundays to children, too many have given up their Sundays for video games, checking in on social media, and organized sports. The re-creation of Sundays was not meant to be the artificial creation of a social media image, where we drive from place to place making sure our online persona has just the right lighting (#nofilter). Does the number of “likes” drive our leisure on Sunday more than the one-on-one relationship of ourselves with God or family or friends (in person, rather than via wi-fi and satellites)?

In the culture and cult of the “weekend”, where Sundays are the worst day because they signify hangovers and work on Monday, Benedick’s “sigh away Sundays” makes little sense. Why not “sigh away Friday and Saturday nights”? I hear the hew and cry across the Catholic blogosphere of reclaiming Sunday as a day of leisure, but to do so might mean to sigh away our Friday and Saturday nights. To restore leisure to Sunday, we may have to restore work to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, FRIDAY and (modern blasphemy) SATURDAY.

So as summer approaches, I encourage the Benedicks and Beatrices of the world next Sunday to grab a Boulevard Ginger-Lemon Radler or a Shiner Ruby Redbird (both excellent summer drinks) and a copy of Pieper’s “Leisure: the Basis of Culture”. Find a shady spot with freshly mown grass. And leave the phone in the car.

10 Artists You Should Be Listening to If You Aren't Already

Looking for new music? Look no further.

This isn't comprehensive, and it's pretty much all in the indie-folk genre, but if here are some bands and singer-songwriters who will inspire you with their sound and lyrics.
 

1.     Tow’rs
If you don’t know this band, you need to be listening to them. Now. Not only do they have a beautiful sound (despite a 7-track album, we can forgive them that), but "Belly of the Deepest Love" in particular has a sophisticated and subtle beauty. Also, it’s actually about Good Friday.

“Do you remember back on that day/ When the trees swayed in the same way/ How the clouds hung low over kings and thieves/ How your mother stayed by your side/ Watch the curtain tear in your eyes/ All the heavy hearts could have cracked the ground/…Like the flowers on a dogwood tree/ blush with blame you took for me/ oh, how you wish to be with me/”
 

Click the link to listen on Spotify:
Tow'rs

2.     Roo Panes
His lyrics are poetry. His arrangements are beautiful. This is one of those rare artists that few people know about, but when you discover him, it’s life-changing. Every song has a profoundly deep meaning with layers applying to so many situations of life. He doesn’t know Jesus, but his songs are definitely about Him. This song in particular shows the beauty of how God sees us.

 “Well you know me with that ancient gaze, strip me down with yesterday’s eyes/ You know me as I was, you see me as I will be/ And I still had a lot of growing when you took me and you shaped me with those hands/ You know me better than myself, make me better than I am/…When I think upon my past, I see I loved you many years before you came/ …And you saw what I could be, please teach me how to be what I was made to be/”

 

3.     Jose Gonzalez
Not quite as profound as Roo Panes, but hey, Jose is solid. He has a hopeful tone (“See old tracks lead you out from the dark/ See old tracks lead you up to the stars”) and — if the mountains had a voice, they would sound like him. (Don’t ask me why, it’s just great mountain music.)

 

4.     James Bay 
His soulful sound and upbeat tunes are irresistible. This song in particular is about getting to know someone deeply.

 

5.     Brooke Fraser 
Fraser said, “Someone once told me truth is often two opposing things held in tension…and with [my new album] I’m exploring those opposites and everything in-between, both lyrically and sonically.” Her album is about “the poetry in trauma. The beauty in banality. The necessity of both the wrestle and the embrace.”
Fraser’s sound is refreshing in it’s sunshine-y tone, as well as the depth of her lyrics. This is an older song, but definitely still a goodie.


6.     Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
With a little bit of folk, a bit of bluegrass, and a bit of soul, this band is a well-rounded listen.

 

7.     Stu Larsen
He's one of those Christian artists that isn't your typical Christian artist. His music is actually good. (Sorry for the dig.)

8.     Sufjan Stevens' new album, Carrie & Lowell 
Lots of people are already listening to Sufjan, but his new album is a return to his original folk sound, and this song is pure gold.


9.     The Oh Hellos 
Again, one of those bands that lots of people are listening to already, but they’re the kind of artist that never gets old — both in their sound and in the profound meaning to their songs. Like, this one: on one level, about Adam and Eve. On another, about romantic love. On another, the Eucharist.

“I was sleeping in the garden when I saw you first/ He'd put me deep, deep under so that he could work/ And like the dawn, you broke the dark and my whole earth shook/…At last, at last/ Bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh, at last/ …And like the dawn, you woke the world inside of me/…And you will surely be the death of me/ But how could I have known?”


10. Seryn 
Seryn is a recent discovery for me. Still up the folk alley, but I was impressed with their harmonies and upbeat sound — on top of that sound, the lyrics in this song about change speak to trying to change our culture.

“We can shape but can't control/ These possibilities to grow/ Weeds amongst the push and pull/ Waiting on the wind to take us/ We can write with ink and pen/ But we will sew with seeds instead/ Starting with words we've said/ And we will all be changed”

 


Any other suggestions? Leave a comment!

#FOMO

As a student abroad, I keep up with friends and family by emailing and video chatting. I haven’t, however, for the last month, been able to actively participate in their lives. I haven’t had the chance go to social events with them, I haven’t met the new people they are telling me about, and I haven’t been able to share in the experiences they are telling stories about. For the early part of my college career, the fear of missing those things kept me from wanting to study abroad. Now that I am living in Austria, experiencing incredible new things, as well as intensely missing my friends and family, I am simultaneously shocked and also not at all surprised that I let FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) keep me from doing this sooner.

Psychologists, in recent years, have started to pay serious attention to FOMO. It has been “defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” (1), or “a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interactions” (2). Articles have been written in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle that “highlight how a mix of social media and a fear of missing out may be linked to general unhappiness”(1).

As research investigates FOMO in the modern world and it’s connections to social media, however, increased social media usage seems to be a symptom of FOMO, rather than the commonly assumed other way around (1).

This is no surprise; to fear missing out is human. As human beings, we desire to know and be known by others. We desire to connect with others, and to experience joy, beauty, and wonder. As human beings we have all experienced rejection and disappointment, and we often fear we will experience these things again, and in the process miss out on something we desire. FOMO is not just the result of social media; it is a part of being human.

 The thing about FOMO, as it has come to be known in recent years, is that the fear we have started to harbor (potentially fostered by increased social media and internet usage) is a fear of missing out on what we see in the lives of others. We see it as a fear of missing out on the things they are experiencing, the people they are hanging out with, and state of life they are in.

What if the problem with FOMO is not that we experience it, but that we experience it with respect to the lives of others? What would happen if we all lived with a healthy sense of fear of missing out on our own lives? A fear of missing the encounters, events, and experiences God has placed in our own paths each day, and an understanding that providence has ordained them all, from the mundane to the sensational?

 

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. –John 10:10

 

To live abundantly is not to squeeze as much excitement or enjoyment as possible out of each moment, but to appreciate each moment by paying attention completely and totally to whatever it may hold. When half of our heart is where our feet are, and the other half is texting, scrolling, or even daydreaming, we aren’t experiencing any of the things we are doing to the full. Quantitatively, we may be getting more out of the moment, but qualitatively we are cheating those around us, those we are texting, or whose profile we are viewing, whose article we are reading, and most importantly, ourselves. When we let ourselves be fully present, the ups and downs of a social interaction become a beautiful, natural rhythm. We can experience the anticipation of an awkward moment like the quiet moments in a song before something grand happens. And then we can also fully relish the excitement that follows when it actually gets there. If we distract ourselves during the quiet, not only do we miss out on the thrill of anticipation, but on the exhilaration as well.

Let me take a moment to clarify; this doesn’t mean we should never text our friends, use social media, think about the future, or daydream. What it does mean is that we should be conscientious of doing so at times when we can give the friend, the Facebook album, the thought or the daydream our full attention, when we aren’t distracted by work or the people around us. We should also choose a time when we aren’t using these things to distract ourselves from something else. We should simply be as intentional about these things as about being present to people we are with.

For most of us, the thought of living every moment intentionally scares us. It means when we are uncomfortable, we let ourselves feel the full extent of that discomfort. It means we can’t scroll through our day and choose to only tune into the moments that catch our attention. It means being fully present where we are, even if we wish we were somewhere else. It means paying full attention to the person in front of us, even when we wish to be with someone else.

To fear missing out on each moment in our own lives means to fear missing out on awkward, boring, painful, mundane, and uncomfortable moments. But, as it turns out in practice, this fear is not so much a fear as it is a trust that God has ordained each of those moments to teach us and stretch us. This fear is based on the understanding that behaviors become habits, and it is only by practicing full presence in these less than stellar moments that we can be sure we will be fully present in the wonderful moments. Most importantly, this fear acknowledges that it is in the midst of these imperfections that we will find moments of unexpected joy, indescribable beauty, and awe-inspiring wonder. This fear believes it is better to experience all the difficult moments, however frequent they may be, than to miss an experience of the true, the good, and the beautiful, which God has hidden amongst them.

 

           

 

 

[1] Przybylski, Andrew K, Murayama, Kou, Deltaan, Cody R, Gladwell, Valerie. “Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out.” Computers in Human Behavior 29.4 (2013):1841-1848. Web.

[2] Dossey, Larry. “FOMO, Digital Dementia, and our Dangerous Experiment.” The Journal of Science and Healing 10.2 (2014): 69-73. Web.

 

           

 

Nazionale boots

Nazionale boots

I had gone through so many shoes in the months I studied in Rome, not just the regular wear to expect from the walking in a walker-friendly city every day. My summer sandals literally lost the soles. Leather along the heels ripped. Toes of my boots came unglued.  My feet, like you might guess, took a...