The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Culture (page 2 of 3)

Waking up from the American Dream

There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to direct our own lives. As Americans, we brandish this badge of progress—this stamp of sovereignty. It’s an ideal that has been instilled in many of us from childhood, fueling us to aspire toward some great career or purpose. This encouragement to do something great—and the presence of such an opportunity—is a very good thing. Our Land of Opportunity, despite its shortcoming, is still a tremendously blessed one.

Yet, there seems to be a cloud of disillusionment that’s rolled under the sun of optimism, especially with many younger Americans. There is a loss many of us are experiencing—a sense that things are not coming as easily as we had hoped, maybe even had been implicitly guaranteed. According to a new study by Bensinger, Dupont, and Associates (BDA), Millennials (Americans born between 1980 – 1999) are more likely to experience depression in the workplace than any other generation.

This disillusionment—a lament for the loss of the unadulterated and fully-fledged American Dream so many of us grew up clutching—is causing many to lose their way. It’s not totally surprising, as we’re still recovering from one of the worst recessions in recent memory. In a culture that affirms individualism and the freedom to make choices and push into them with unabashed vigor, something isn’t working out quite right. However, despite the recent findings, this is by no means a new wellspring of angst in our culture. For decades our culture has wrestled with the tension of the American Dream with the American reality. In literature, books like Death of a Salesman and The Grapes of Wrath have explored this tension. In more recent memory, movies like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road (originally a book) have done so as well. Continue reading

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Giving Up the Faith That Leads to Loss

I had a conversation with a friend once. It was well past midnight and we were sitting outside a bar patio along a sparse, urban street. My friend was talking about what he wanted to do for a living, and specifically, what he hoped to accomplish professionally this next year. He knew he needed a good job and that when it came to plucking one of those the harvest wasn’t particularly abundant. He was worried, unsure of his ability to be successful competing against a swath of qualified prospects just like him.

“Well, at the end of the day, I have to have faith.” He continued, “But not faith in God, or something like that…but faith in myself. I have to trust that things will just work out.”

As human beings, many of us feel compelled to believe in something—anything—in order to secure a remnant of comfort. Even if we believe in nothing, we make a decision to claim that vision of existence for ourselves and then live in it with a vague sense of understanding, expectation. We choose to believe something, igniting a torch that gives light to our reality. If we choose to believe in God, we believe in a world infused with meaning, intentionality, and love, even when it glares back at us. If not, then we have to confer our own sense of meaning in order to get by.

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.
Saint Augustine

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Sin, Happiness and Spiritual Boredom

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

The word “sin” is out of fashion these days. There is something medieval sounding—puritanical—to this short, three-letter world. It also has an air of judgmentalism, an ironically unforgivable faux pas in today’s culture. Without an acknowledgement of sin, and more broadly, truth, we can find ourselves drifting slowly and comfortably into a sea of numbness, or a “culture of relativism” that many in the Church have spoken about.

I think part of what makes such a descent so easy for us is the comfort our modern lives afford. We aren’t ever hungry, thirsty, cold, warm or lacking in any basic need. Instead, we have constant recourse to a host of pleasures and goods that literally—only kings had in the past. Our potential for the good life—what modernity in all its brilliance can lift us up to achieve—seems limitless. Yet, even in the midst of this great human achievement, we see an undercurrent of something. It’s a dulled monotony seeping out from behind a culture of consumerism, pleasure, entertainment, excess.

It’s boredom. Many people aren’t happy or sad, they’re just bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.

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Opening True Happiness: How Do We Become Happy?

When I was at the movie theaters a little while ago a commercial for Coca-Cola rolled across the screen in front of me. I don’t remember the actual commercial, but I was struck by the tagline that swirled to the sound of an opening bottle at the end: “Open Happiness.” It’s been Coke’s tagline for a few years now, but it always annoys me slightly whenever I see it. Don’t get me wrong—when I drink soda, I’m a Coke man, through and through. But I’m slightly irritated because their claim of “Open Happiness” is absurd. Or at least it should be clarified…which, I know, would make for an unwieldy and much less memorable tagline.

When they use the term “happiness,” what does Coca-Cola mean? Does one really become happier during and after drinking a crisp, cold Coke? The company has really taken this whole “happiness” theme to heart; they have even dedicated a nook on their website devoted to happiness. This digital space includes several quotes about happiness, “happy music”, “happy people” and even tips on how to be happy. It’s good content, and the overall message is obviously a positive one, but, I mean, come on Coke… Now, I know Coke is not genuinely trying to convince people that buying their product will make your life happy in a deep, fundamental sense. I get that they are simply trying to correlate good and fun memories with their product. Happiness, used here, is more like “delight,” “enjoyment” or “fun.” This would be, as Christoph Cardinal Schönborn in his book, Happiness, God and Man discusses, an example of the “small happiness,” like a “good meal, a refreshing sleep, [or] a cold glass of beer on a hot summer day.”

But what do you think when you hear the word “happiness”? If we take happiness to mean joy, peace and meaning in our lives (the “big happiness”), then how do we go about achieving it? It apparently takes more than uncapping a bottle of Coke… Continue reading

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What “Jurassic World” Teaches Us About Pope Francis’ New Encyclical

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains details about the movie Jurassic World.)

Fourteen years after the third installment of the Jurassic Park trilogy, the fourth film has finally come to theaters. Unlike the last two, this one takes place on the fictional island named Isla Nublar, home of the original Jurassic Park. Like Disney World to its older, smaller and less awe-inspiring sister Disneyland, Jurassic World towers over the original park with its vast technological advancements, luxurious amenities and, not surprisingly, much bigger and more terrifying dinosaurs.

It’s an enjoyable summer film. I don’t think it rivals the original one, which still holds a special place in my heart. My preference for the first one might partially have to do with nostalgia over merit, but Spielberg’s version has stood the test of time. With quirky characters like Dennis Nedry and Dr. Malcolm and unforgettable scenes involving night vision goggles, a rippling cup of water and a toilet, there was just no way this one was going to top it. Still, Jurassic World is a decent film. The story is very similar to the original one–throw in a big dinosaur that makes its way out of an enclosure, some greedy and arrogant businessmen, two awkwardly-aged siblings and, of course, some velociraptors and you have the recipe for a summer blockbuster.

It’s interesting that this film, which is blatantly cautionary about the misuse of nature, science and technology, came out right before the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home). At moments, it’s as if the filmmakers anticipated the papal warnings about the exploitation of technology, the moral implications of genetic modification and the unhindered drive toward “progress” for the purposes of consumerist entertainment and soaring profits.

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The Tightrope of Technology

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

One hundred and fifty. That’s how many times a day the average American checks his or her phone (according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s annual Internet Trends report). I don’t doubt it. In fact, it could have said 250 and I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. I can’t tell you the number of times I check my phone, but I’m embarrassed to say, it’s probably right around the average. I’m no different than old Pavlov’s dog at times, rooting that little contraption out of my pocket at every alert. Just the other day I caught myself driving home from work and reaching for my phone at nearly every stoplight, reviewing my emails, texts, Facebook, etc. When I realized this, I committed to fasting from my phone for the remainder of my trip home. It was surprisingly difficult.

We live in an incredible era. The access we have to information is magical. We can tap into a seemingly infinite repository of information with a device that tucks snugly in our front pocket. We can know exactly what’s going on halfway around the world in the time it takes to say “halfway around the world.” The amount of knowledge and information, thousands of years’ worth of human development, toil, and discovery, is a mere swipe of the thumb away. We’ve been submerged into a stream of abundant knowledge that’s dulled just how miraculous this is. As Pope Francis observed in Evangelii Gaudium:

This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid, and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

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Mad Max and the Quest for Redemption

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains some spoilers.)

Much of our entertainment these days seeps of Christian imagery and symbolism—what can rightly be called a Catholic imagination—that Hollywood just can’t seem to avoid. Our culture has yet to shake a rooted Christian worldview that served as the foundation of modern Western civilization. Filmmakers who don’t intend to draw on Christianity’s wisdom and beauty, by exploring general human themes and struggles, still find themselves unintentionally pointing to Christ.

One of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster flicks, Mad Max: Fury Road, is loaded with this religious imagery and symbolism. In this case, I don’t believe the director and creator, George Miller, set out to draw parallels to Christ. Yet, with a depiction of a fallen world in search of redemption, it’s hard not to see, at least loosely, a story redolent of the Christian Redeemer.

This film marks Miller’s fourth installment of the cult classic trilogy originally starring Mel Gibson and it’s masterfully done. Aside from the out-of-this-world special effects, oddly endearing though grotesque characters and a gripping story that never lets up, it provides a level of depth that one would not expect from a sci-fi summer action flick. And what a lovely action flick it is. Continue reading

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Have You Found Your Soulmate Yet?

The other day, amidst the otherwise forgettable and (mostly) obnoxious commercials that flood the in-between of any show or sporting event these days, something caught my eye. The crisp, artistic visuals, the dramatic music, building steadily toward a majestic reveal, and of course the message—one of hope for the weary, fortune for the impoverished, love for the loveless.

It was a commercial for ChristianMingle.com, everyone’s favorite Christian dating site.

Now, if you’ve watched it, hopefully you’ve come back to read the rest of this post. If not, then I can only assume you’ve been swept off your feet by the invitation to meet your “soulmate” and start your wonderful life together.

I wish you the best of luck.

Before I delve into my point, which is aimed at the commercial itself and not ChristianMingle.com, or any other dating site, let me first say that I’m in no way badmouthing dating sites. It’s become quite normal for people to meet and start dating via the world wide web. I know people who have met online and are wonderful, happy and completely normal couples. It’s the way of the future, and when finding a job (LinkedIn), shopping (Amazon), schooling (online classes) and pretty much anything else can—and at times, must—be done online, it’s understandable that dating would be no different. It’s simply one more way to meet someone—another pond to fish. Continue reading

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Your Worthless Identity

Do you ever get that feeling when meandering through a mall, snaking in and out of the varied assortment of stores and shops? It’s this subtle temptation to think that if you purchased that one article of clothing or piece of merchandise—just the one—you would be set. That you would be happier and more fulfilled. Do you?

A few months ago during Christmas Time, as is the case whenever I set forth with my Yuletide shopping, I found myself struck by this very thought. I remember a particular moment walking by The Art of Shaving, a store which sells classic shaving sets, brushes, shaving creams, pre-shaving oils (because there is nothing more manly than oiling up your face before shaving your mug to avoid redness and skin irritation) and other instruments reminiscent of life in pre-1960’s American suburbia.

When I stumbled upon the store I was gripped with the unyielding conviction that I needed to buy a shaving kit. It must have been the aroma of the Sandalwood Shaving Cream wafting in the air, the vintage, masculine look of the shop’s interior, or maybe the glints of silver from those handsome blades hanging on display. I don’t know. But I remember strolling in there, convinced that if I purchased an overpriced razor and badger-haired brush that things would be different for me. In fact, there was a part of me that believed I would be more of a man. Somehow, my identify as a man could be shaped—strengthened even—by the purchase of these products.

I would be somebody now, which, naturally, would make me happier. I mean, what woman now wouldn’t be drawn to me with the mingled scent of sandalwood and wild beaver…or badger…or whatever hair emitting from my face? Exactly. None. Continue reading

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Why So Few?

I can’t say there aren’t days when faith requires more work than others—when the feelings don’t match the doing. It’s not so much an intellectual doubt of my faith, rather just a lack of being able to make sense of the why certain things are the way they are in the context of faith.

This happens most often with suffering. The experience (or witness) of suffering or evil can definitely cause us to hinge our heads toward the heavens and cry out with unreserved ire, hurling questions at God with a self-righteous expectation of being answered: why is this happening? How can this be of your will? Aren’t you with us? I demand you to answer me!

God always responds promptly to such questioning.

But sometimes the creeping doubt doesn’t come from suffering at all. Sometimes it stems from the ordinariness of life. I’m fortunate in that most days aren’t bad days. There may be some peppered in here and there, and there are also a healthy dosage of forgettable, mediocre days. Of course, I have good days too.

Yet, sometimes in the ordinary, when I’m commuting to work amidst a throng of cars bottlenecked due to road construction or waiting in line at the grocery store impatiently (behind someone buying way more than 15 items in the express line), I look around at all of these people who probably aren’t necessarily concerned with God, and just wonder (of course, I can’t judge who is or isn’t). They may render some vague form of devotion to God, like attentively putting out their nativity scenes for Christmas, offering “God Bless Yous” after a stranger’s sneeze or even reciting pre-meal prayers in the company of their older, more traditional family members. But when it comes to a calcified concern with God and a life lived in relation to him, many people simply can’t be bothered. Continue reading

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