Off Topic

Going back to my (Episcopal) roots with this one . . .

Lent has begun in earnest (does Lent ever begin in-earnestly?) and that means that the coffee and lunch table discussion among Catholics and Episcopalians (of whom I know a great deal) will turn to What I'm Giving Up For Lent.  Inevitably the focus will be on food.  With each Lenten conversation my mental list of these forbidden foods will grow: chocolate, cookies, cakes, sweets in general, candy, soda, chips, fried food, carbs . . . and I will stare at my friends, coworkers, and loved ones and silently wonder, "Savior or diet guru?"  Because I'm pretty darn sure that the point of Lenten forbearance is to practice meaningful self-sacrifice, to reflect on our weaknesses and our privilege, and work to live a more charitable and thoughtful life.  If we give up dessert, shouldn't it be to help us remember all those for whom dessert is not an option?  Not because pie is bad (in the interest of full disclosure - I just baked a pie).  The goal of any fast is spiritual renewal and a turning away from worldly things.  Does God want me to be a better, kinder, more patient and giving person?  Or does he want me to drop five pounds?  I'm betting on the former. 

True, self-sacrifice of even the smallest variety can teach us about discipline and self-control, and can help us to think outside ourselves for the moment.  The problem with giving up is that it only lasts for forty days.  Once Hallelujah is sung again, the fast is broken and, often, forgotten.  This is the problem with so much religious showmanship - the meaning and essence are watered down and washed away until it's just another motion you go through because you're supposed to.  There's no (pardon me) meat in it.

So this Lenten season I'm not Giving Up - I'm fixing up.  I'm going to really work on . . . wait for it . . . being less quick to judge.  This is so hard for me, so please bear with me.  Step 1: when someone tells me What They Are Giving Up for Lent, I will engage in actual meaningful dialogue instead of snarking in my head.  It's a start.


Amusing, no?

In another life and time, Postman and I would have had a great deal to discuss. Perhaps we would have done so publicly, in large arenas, complete with cheering audience and five-hour time limit. Alas, destiny precludes it, so I am left to read and digest and respond to no one and everyone all at once. This blog, it is literary - steeped in typography. In its own way, it is also another piece of (mostly irrelevant) information contributing to our culture's information glut. It may even be entertainment.

I suppose, at my core, I am a relativist. My essential quarrel with Postman is not that television has reshaped our public discourse, our sense of truth and knowledge, our definitions of intelligence and information, but that we are in any place to pass a judgment on these changes. Things are not as they were 100-200 years ago. Much has changed, for the better and the worse (e.g. while I bemoan the heaps of irrelevant "news" trumpeted from every corner of the world, I embrace the mind-opening exchange of information and culture). I do not believe that it is possible to get enough perspective from inside today to accurately judge it against yesterday. We need a little distance.

But distance is a luxury that we will never have, for we are here right now, teaching and learning in this quagmire of headlines, tweets, texts, hypertext, moving images, and typography. Sure we can lament the "fall" of print, the "rise" of imagery, the shorter attention spans, the perceived decrease in complexity of thought and lack of exposition, the "reading problems" and learning disorders that Postman argues did not plague the students and educators of yester-century. Or we can work diligently and thoughtfully to provide kids today the best ways and means to process, analyze, reflect on, and thrive in and shape (for the better, the meaningful-er, the serious-er!) our culture.