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Have missed my usual Sunday blog over the last few weeks, but almost every weekend has had me dashing in so many directions that something had to give. And honestly, I think I’ve blogged steadily through the lectionary to its full measure–is that like nine years? So that, like an old Episcopalian, it’s probably time to just rummage around in a file cabinet and dig out whatever I was thinking nine years ago. Though this immiserated world is not like that old one. For one thing, I didn’t have Grammarly shoving its way into every sentence, trying to wreck the flow of my thoughts.

Anyway, I came across an interesting question and its answer in The Catholic Herald. Here’s the question:

Concerned grandparent: I grew up before Vatican II. I have spent much of my adult life frustrated that the Church never really followed the spirit of the Council. Only under this Pope have I begun to hope! But now I find myself arguing with my granddaughter about traditionalism. She wants to turn the clock back and loves the Tridentine Rite. I find her very judgemental. How am I to understand all this?

I had to stop and read this again because I was so surprised. And the reason that I was surprised is that, in my narrow world, I haven’t met any Christian grandmothers recently who were complaining that they don’t like the Christian preferences of their grandchildren. I have met many many grandmothers who are deeply sad that their grandchildren do not believe, or who are bringing their grandchildren to church because their children do not believe. But the trend, at least as I’ve been able to tell, is that grandmothers are sad because their granddaughters are all failing to show up to any kind of service, let alone a Tridentine one. If her children and grandchildren make a move toward Christianity at all, she is not usually fussy about what kind it is.

That said, we have done pre-marriage prep with young people whose parents are upset that they won’t live together before marriage, or think they are too young (late twenties is too young, apparently). And, our church is stuffed with younger people. We’re always sort of relieved when older people join–balances it out a bit.

But setting aside the church bit, I do get where this grandmother is coming from, because it is really hard to value something very deeply, and then have the younger generation come along and try to tell you that you are wrong and that whatever it is is not that great.

The answer given, I think, is insightful and kind and I commend the whole article to you. But here is one bit I thought particularly helpful:

The world is very different from the 1960s; 1968 has become symbolic of a revolution in secular society. From human rights to putting a man on the moon the following year, modernity appeared wholly positive, in sharp contrast to the events of the first half of the 20th century. In the spirit of 1968, solutions to our problems could be found here in this world and in technological advances. This was “a world come of age”, said Bonhoeffer, in which “everything gets along without ‘God’”. The secular revolutions of 1968 were mirrored in many parts of the Church. The liturgy was modernised with more focus on the people and less on the transcendence of God. Altars were moved forward, priests faced the people, the vernacular was used and music became more secular. There were theological arguments for these changes, but part of what made them seem compelling was the contemporary cultural context. To those who, for cultural reasons, embraced the modernisation of the liturgy, the fact that some young people wish to return to earlier styles is baffling.

I love the word “baffling.” It is the word of the moment. I think all of us, no matter our age or assumptions, are in a constant state of bafflement. What we thought we were doing did not turn out to be what we were doing. It’s like perpetually living in the meme:

Only “what I really do” is also obscure and unknown. Where is the church version of this? Anyway, here’s a bit more:

Technological advances and hopes have given way to anxieties about the environment and AI. Many freedoms have made them feel life is directionless and meaningless; sexual freedom has resulted in sexual exploitation. These things, along with the resulting breakdown of family and society, have exacerbated mental-health issues. Far from coming of age, the modern world can look confused and does not “get along without God” after all. In short, modernity is experienced as nihilistic and empty. When young people feel this about the world, they can move in one of two directions: they either decide the world is nihilistic and just try to get on with it (not every young person is a traditionalist), or they seek transcendence and something stable and substantial to help them resist the cultural pressure of nihilism. Young people often sense that modernity is destructive of Christianity.

That last line might be the understatement of all understatements. It’s hard to fathom the degree to which so many people seem to have just given up because they don’t know what else to do. I was trying to explain to one of my children–which one, only God knows–what people dressed like back in the eighties and nineties. Teachers, I said, and she could hardly believe me, wore skirts and nice blouses, or dresses, and my second-grade teacher wore heels–heels–every day. You would never see, as I do when I walk through the park, lots of Elementary School teachers in sad, badly fitting jeans or, in one case, sweatpants.

This child–which one, only God knows–has a theory that reading Little Women too much ruined the American feminine psyche. What she particularly hates is how prudish all the characters are about clothes, like it’s a little bit wicked to think about what you look like and what you wear. I disputed her hypothesis. People spend tons of money on what they look like, especially since everything is so expensive. It’s just that what is de rigueur to wear can only make you feel ugly and terrible. Modernism and postmodernism and whatever nihilism we have now have been cruel to the human shape. Clothes today are both demeaning and depressing, it’s no wonder everyone wants to be a different gender, to mutilate themselves. Why not? The clothes do it already.

The few young people who flee despair have to go somewhere, and if they are going to go to church, they are not going to want half-baked, boring, badly executed praise choruses and really awful altar dressings and vestments. They are not going to want, as I have seen sometimes, to have shuffle up to a rickety card table perched in front of the altar rail to receive communion from an angry clergy person in jeans and a rainbow stole while just behind there is a sublime, marble altar overshadowed by a handpainted blue dome. If they are going to make the effort to get up in the morning and slide into a pew, it had better be beautiful. It had better be glorious. It had better carry them, even for a brief moment, away from the brutalizing ugliness of every American town and fashion inclination.

What has all this to do with the readings? Well, the bit that lept out to me this time of that primordial story which over and over again plumbs the depths of the human condition, is how ugly was the lie that the serpent told. God had made such a beautiful world, had arranged everything so perfectly–the way everyone, even wicked people, all long for it to be arranged, even those that hate Him. At the core of the human person is a deep, desperate, in some cases, hopeless longing for order and beauty. And Satan came and invited Eve to question, to ponder in herself, whether God was up to the task. And the resulting subjugation of the person and the world to sin was, at base, ugly. And yet, at the end of the chapter, there is that astonishing line, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

And so, generation after generation, we have had clothes and had church. There has been the constant striving to discover how best to worship God, to break past the dismal lunacy of sin. And, after centuries and centuries, Paul finally came along and said this:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

No matter how much ugliness any one generation descends into, the eternal weight of glory, of beauty will always ultimately win the day. It is so comforting to me that there are some young people out there–I know some of them in person–who are having the sense and gumption to walk away from the mediocrity of modernism and look for better things. It’s like there is a God!

Go to church! And find me on Substack.

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