The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Culture (page 1 of 3)

The Spiritual Pitfalls of Wandering Thoughts and Streaming Music

I have to admit, when it comes to doing menial and repetitive tasks I tend to look for distractions to temper the burden. For instance, when I work out at the gym or clean my bathroom, I insist on doing these things with the aid of one of my custom playlists. I do this because I get bored. Really bored. If I could, I would listen to music or a Podcast whenever I did any routine or mindless task: rooting out weeds from a yard, folding laundry into uneven squares, washing myself with soap in the shower. I find focused repetition boring and dull. I still manage to get these tasks done — otherwise I wouldn’t be a functioning adult — but when I do them I’m usually distracted. If it’s not music, then in my head I’m trying to solve a problem related to my work or replaying a conversation from earlier that day — usually while doing something mundane like checking for cracked eggs in a carton at the grocery store.

I’ve gotten much better over the years, and now I make it a discipline to do certain things without the relief of external or internal stimulation. I have to make sure I’m intentional about living in the moment—in its total and unflattering fullness—as much as I can.

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To Be Born (Yet) Again

There is something about the purchasing of a new product that is exciting, and this desire for an experience of “newness” extends well beyond the latest iPhone to all sorts of purchased items and experiences. In fact, compared to purchased items like phones and cars, experiences — vacationing in Oahu, camping at Yellowstone, parasailing off the coast of Miami — may promise a greater and more enjoyable level of “newness.”

A 2014 article from The Atlantic, “Buy Experiences, Not Things,” points to recent studies revealing that “experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions.” The reason for this, the article explains, is because there is an emotional benefit that accrues in the anticipation of an experience that doesn’t for material goods. Experiences also provide a lasting benefit after they occur, since their memory can now elicit positive feelings of nostalgia. Although experiences seem to edge out material things in offering a more meaningful and lasting level of happiness, experience shows we all still fall back into a state of restless pursuit of something new. Continue reading

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Why Marrying the “Wrong Person” Is Reason for Hope

A sobering article in The New York Times written by Alain de Botton came out recently, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” As the seemingly pessimistic title states, the article proposes that no matter who we end up marrying, we will ultimately find ourselves disillusioned, disappointed and if not unhappy, bereft of the unadulterated joy we had hoped for and downright expected. To de Botton, the remedy for such discouraging news is to denude our culture of the pervasive romanticism that has haunted it for the last 250 years: a collective lowering of the marital bar. Then, with such ringing hopes dulled and diluted, we can better go about our business when it comes to the institution of marriage.

There are obviously elements of truth to the article. In the piece, de Botton discusses the inherent impossibility of any one person to fulfill us in the way we so ardently desire:

“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement.”

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Why is God so Demanding of Us?

From a very young age we’re taught the value of accruing knowledge, relationships, popularity and success—a storing up and clutching onto good things that can help us sail effectively toward a happy life. We’re groomed not to dispense of anything we own or acquire that has value, but instead to cultivate it, protect it, hold onto it with tireless resolve. What we have and collect—our education, gifts and talents, intellect, possessions—we are expected to use strategically to our advantage. We become hoarders so we can navigate the world and be victorious within it.

From a rational vantage point, it makes complete sense. It seems an absolutely necessary mindset to have in order to be successful in the world. These things, in their goodness, can point to God and allow for happiness. When I review the many good things in my life—my family, group of friends, job, health, home in San Diego, access to delicious food at will—sometimes I’m met with an overwhelming sense of comfort and contentment. For me, such a realization invites me to thank God, acknowledging that such things can work as refreshment on life’s journey. These moments, as good and nourishing as they can be, though, also have the capacity to dim my reliance on God. I can easily take comfort in the things around me, becoming resistant in handing them over to God should he ask for them.

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Algorithms That Rob Us of Our Dignity

Has the gift of broadened technology begun to narrow us?

It sounds almost apocalyptic, but as I read an article in The Atlantic titled “What Tinder and Halo Have in Common,” I began reflecting on the dark sides of the modern convenience of being spoon-fed our shopping, news and entertainment choices.

The article explores the surprising similarities between the complex algorithms used by Halo to match a video game player with an online opponent and those used by Tinder to pair a person with a potential date.

The author of the article, Michelle Ehrhardt, voices a distinct wariness to a mechanism used to match individuals based on culled data. But while she questions the overall effectiveness of such a process, the article is suggestive of a potentially larger issue.

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How to Avoid a Fractured Spirituality

If you look at what all successful people have in common—from sports to entertainment to business—it’s that they have a singular devotion to a specific goal. They have concentrated all of their efforts toward some end, harnessing all of their talent, energy, stamina and will into achieving that particular thing—even to the point of sacrifice, suffering. It’s no mystery that in order to be great at something—not just good, but truly exceptional—you have to give it your all, literally.

When it comes to the spiritual life, for some reason that logic doesn’t seem to sway so obviously. Maybe it’s because at a certain level, we know the journey toward spiritual greatness—to sainthood—is tremendously difficult. We may see the gap from where we are to where we have to go as equivalent to a vast ocean running endlessly into the horizon. Instead, it’s easier to throw up our hands and concede how laughably far from sainthood we are. And besides, it’s God’s job, right? His grace? Of course, we can do nothing without the grace of God, but still, we have some skin in the game, so to speak—we have to respond to his gift of grace. And we’re called to respond with the whole of our lives. Not a sliver, not a fraction, not even a good majority. All of it. God doesn’t ask us to be good, very good, or even extremely good. No. He asks us to be perfect, just as he, our Heavenly Father, is perfect. And so if God is asking for perfection, why do so many of us still lack a singular devotion to the life of God?

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The Ignored & Quieted Few

The following article was selected as the Essay Contest Winner and first published by Catholic Stand.

Adversity has taken on a different form today in our culture than in times past. A lot in the way of adversity is hurled at the Church—to be sure—and in some ways it looks that things may only get worse. Of course, we also know that in other areas of the world, many are being horribly persecuted and killed for their Christian faith. And although we are called to unite our sufferings with them, for most of us, the hand of adversity is subtler. Ours comes through apathy. Ours comes through neglect.

In my own life, I’ve come across my fair share of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiment—and at times even a blatant disrespect or animosity toward the faith—but mostly, adversity for my faith comes in the form of a shrug, a polite nod of feigned interest, a blank stare. The proclamation of our faith has become dulled, a blunt instrument, which has seemingly lost its power to cut through the noise of the culture. The heralding of the Good News has become old news—mundane and ordinary to blasé and bored ears. Whereas our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ before us endured prison and death, we now endure marginalization and disregard.

It becomes apparent when attending a disappointingly sparse or disengaged Sunday mass, viewing a late night TV personality wrest yet another easy laugh from the audience with an unoriginal and ignorant crack about a Catholic priest, or having to refute the eager assumption that I somehow don’t believe in science or reason (sigh…as if either necessarily negate the need for faith). Catholics are tolerated for the most part as a quaint relic from the old days, back
when people weren’t educated or reflective enough to sustain society without a Divine enforcer, a cosmic watch-keeper to account for all of the mysteries of the universe. Continue reading

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Why We So Desperately Need Community

I frequent a certain coffee shop during the week. Just about every time I’m there, I see two older men sitting in adjacent faded red chairs. They both usually have headphones on and are engrossed in a show or movie playing on their laptops. They sit quietly for the most part, laughing in short, distracting bursts occasionally (though never at the same time). I can’t be sure, but since I see them whenever I visit this coffee shop, I suspect they are there every day. Sometimes they talk to each other, suggesting a worthwhile new movie release or repeating a joke from a recently watched TV episode. They appear to be friends, or at least companions. It also seems that they both live alone (although, to be fair, I can’t say for sure). Everyday they come to sit in a room with quiet, indifferent strangers to watch movies by themselves, together. They participate in a paradoxical sharing of their aloneness.

There is something appealing about a life of “aloneness,” not to be—at least on the surface—confused with loneliness. For in our aloneness we can corroborate our capacity as self-directing agents. We affirm our liberation and ability to live a life geared toward our own, self-fancied end. We can come and go when we please, busying ourselves in whatever activities or hobbies that suit us without having to answer to anyone but ourselves. And to be fair, it’s a satisfying modality of life in some aspects. However, like the two men who make a familiar home of a public coffee shop, there seems an underlying need to be grafted onto something other than our own selves. In a culture that places so much stock in autonomy, we’re caught in the tension of enjoying unmitigated freedom while still identifying as part of a larger whole.

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Is Busyness Jeopardizing Our Souls?

Today it seems everyone’s favorite response to the common, probing introductory question, “How are you?” is this: I’m busy. Very busy. Extremely busy. I’m guilty of this response more than I care to admit. Of course, many of us are—actually—extremely busy. Many of us are stretching ourselves razor thin, fulfilling the necessary obligations of life: tending to our jobs, families, and children, addressing the infinite list of errands and to-do’s, scheduling time for exercise, friends, entertainment, bills, volunteer work. The list goes on. Endlessly.

Technology, despite its aim to lessen our collective human burden (which it no doubt has in some ways), has helped fuel this increasing and widespread condition known as busyness. The ease with which we can connect to the world—be it to our work emails or social media relationships—allows us to be permanently “plugged in.” We can get away from the crowd and commotion of our lives physically to seek rest, but we can still pick up our phones to engage with them just as if we never left.

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The Danger of Being in Love with “Love”

We are reminded of the power of love often today in our culture. We see it smeared across sun-faded bumper stickers, visually enchanting Pinterest boards, chic posters from trendy boutique shops. It drips from practically every Top 100 pop song and even advertisers “love” to wield it with unconvincing confidence (McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” is a fantastically awful example…). It’s only logical to expect that our familiarity with the word—this unrelenting inculcation into our minds—would yield love in overflowing abundance.

Despite how in love with love we are these days, we are becoming less loving, or to clarify, less compassionate. A recent article in The Atlantic titled “The Kindness Cure” references a study’s findings that point to this unfortunate state:

“…research by Sarah Konrath at the University of Michigan suggests we’re actually getting worse on this score. In reviewing the results of a standard assessment of empathy and compassion taken by 13,000 college students between 1979 and 2009, Konrath discovered that self-reported concern for the welfare of others has been steadily dropping since the early 1990s. According to this analysis, levels of compassion and empathy are lower now than at any time in the past 30 years, and perhaps most alarming, they are declining at an increasing rate.”

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